Old Capitol Building, Springfield
Illinois boasts plenty of top museums and galleries for events
By the end of 2017, Illinois can boast it’s been a U.S. state for a full 200 years. And by mid-2020, our sixth-most populous state will house Barack Obama’s presidential library, in addition to Abraham Lincoln’s.
Given Chicago’s access from both U.S. coasts, plus its vibrant cultural and entertainment options, it’s little wonder the Windy City fills its 42,000 hotel rooms. Add the appeal of massive McCormick Place, which hosts 35 citywide meetings this year. And adjacent McCormick Square, which will have a new, 40-story Marriott hotel and 10,387-seat arena by early fall.
Between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is Rosemont, a meeting-and-convention-focused area in the “Golden Corridor,” with its many Fortune 500-company headquarters. Known widely in meetings circles for the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont also boasts a host of hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.
West of O’Hare lies a group of upscale communities marketed as Chicago Northwest. Near the center of the state, Champaign and Springfield have the hospitality infrastructure for meetings and events for 20 people to more than 1,000.
In Springfield, a campus of the University of Illinois affords groups ample spaces. And downtown, where Abraham Lincoln spent most of his adult life, various historical and entertainment venues are walkable from the major meeting hotels.
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
Chicago Marriott Downtown
Near Rush Street restaurant district and Magnificent Mile; outdoor deck atop meeting space; 1,200 guest rooms; 66,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort
In North Shore area; $25 million renovation completed; four restaurants; theater; golf, tennis, spa; 389 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park
AAA Four Diamond property; overlooks Grant and Millennial Parks; Aria restaurant; 687 guest rooms; 63,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Chicago Hotel
Overlooks Grant Park and Lake Michigan; closest major downtown hotel to McCormick Place; 1,544 guest rooms; 234,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency Chicago
Near Magnificent Mile, House of Blues and Navy Pier; five restaurants; 2,019 guest rooms; 240,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency McCormick Place
Connected to convention center; near Museum Campus and Magnificent Mile; indoor pool; 1,258 guest rooms; 43,500 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Luxury property opened in 2016; only trilevel rooftop bar in city; Chicago River views from its glass tower addition; 452 guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Marriott Marquis Chicago
Set to open fall 2017; linked to McCormick Place; Great Room concept features food court; 1,205 guest rooms; 93,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Largest convention center in North America; 2.6 million sq. ft. of exhibit space; 600,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 2,463 hotel rooms connected to facility.
Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel
Lakefront location; Filini restaurant seats 200; 334 guest rooms with minimalist design; 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel
Theater District location; rooftop bar, artist studio and library; indoor pool; 520 guest rooms plus 40 suites; 34,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Sheraton Grand Chicago
Set on Chicago Riverwalk; five restaurants; 1,218 guest rooms; 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes two ballrooms and 43 breakouts.
Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel; 92-story tower offers lake, river and city views; Michelin Two Star restaurant, Sixteen; 339 guest rooms; 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The range of themes covered by the more than 60 large museums and galleries in town is sure to satisfy the tastes of any meeting group. Actually, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago might be able to do that all by itself. Opened in Grant Park in 1879, the second-largest art museum in America has more than 300,000 permanent works on display plus 30 rotating exhibitions each year, all managed by 11 different curatorial departments.
Galleries, gardens and auditoriums are available for use by groups as large as 4,000 or as intimate as 75 people. Possibilities include a cocktail reception in the historic Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room followed by a private gallery viewing of priceless Old Master and French Impressionist works, or an elegant dinner in the huge Modern Wing designed by Renzo Piano.
Art Institute of Chicago
The Hyde Park neighborhood along Lake Michigan is home to the Museum of Science and Industry, with its more than 2,000 exhibits set across 75 sizable halls. Many exhibits are interactive, such as Genetics: Decoding Life which contains a viewable chick incubator and hatchery plus housing for genetically modified frogs, mice and drought-resistant plants. ToyMaker 3000 is a working assembly line that lets visitors order a toy and watch it being made. Fab Lab MSI is a working lab where guests can build almost anything they choose.
Other exhibits are stunning to look at: There’s a full-size replica coal mine; two warplanes plus a German submarine U-505 captured during World War II; a 3,500-square-foot model railroad; the first diesel-powered, streamlined stainless-steel passenger train; and the Apollo 8 spacecraft that first carried humans around the far side of the moon.
The Field Museum, Chicago
Just north of McCormick Place along the lake shore is The Field Museum of Natural History. Among its 24 million artifacts is the largest and most complete T. rex ever found. In Stanley Field Hall, more than 7,500 reception attendees can congregate around the 67 million-year-old skeleton and a set of huge marble columns before moving on to Ernst & Young Theater—the city’s only fully digital 3-D show venue. Other areas open to reception guests include Cyrus Tang Hall of China; Inside Ancient Egypt; The Ancient Americas; and the Grainger Hall of Gems. Meeting spaces for 10 to 700 people include the elegant James Simpson Theatre plus Rice Hall, featuring a stunning mural of the Serengeti plains.
Adler Planetarium, Chicago
Along with The Field Museum, both Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium make up Chicago’s Museum Campus park overlooking Lake Michigan. The Adler was America’s first planetarium (1930), and is home to three large theaters, several space-science exhibitions, and an impressive collection of antique scientific instruments and print materials. For receptions of up to 475 people, the Solarium features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake, plus adjacent outdoor terraces with skyline views. The Grainger Sky Theater seats 195 people and features a 36-foot-high domed ceiling for panoramic sky shows.
Shadd Aquarium, Chicago
At the Shedd, 1,500 species of fish, marine mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are on live display. For sit-down dinners, candlelit tables can surround a colorful glass-enclosed Caribbean coral reef, while receptions for 1,200 can take place among blue pools featuring white-sided dolphins and ivory beluga whales. The Main Foyer is a soaring space featuring Greek architecture, while the Abbott Oceanarium and Rice Foundation Amphitheater can seat 1,000 for a welcome presentation featuring resident marine mammals.
Chicago History Museum, set next to Old Town historic district on the city’s north side, presents large dioramas explaining Chicago’s rise from a desolate frontier outpost to the bustling city that hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Chicago: Crossroads of America is a 16,000-square-foot space that explores the city’s development and its influence on America. Groups can use the Chicago Room for up to 400 attendees to sit among backlit cases displaying stained glass panels from Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Comfort Tiffany. The two-level North & Clark Cafe has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Children’s Fountain and Lincoln Park, and can hold 80 guests for a plated meal or 120 people for a cocktail reception.
Bub City, Rosemont
Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center
Steps from convention center; restaurant; 503 guest rooms; 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
One mile to O’Hare International Airport; Great Expoteria food court on site; 840,000 sq. ft. of flexible exhibition space; 92,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Rosemont Chicago O’Hare
Connected via skywalk to convention center; one block to MB Financial Park; free airport shuttles; 300 guest rooms; 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency O’Hare
Connected to convention center; three blocks to MB Financial Park; free airport shuttles; 1,096 guest rooms; 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Just 18 highway miles from downtown Chicago and one mile east of O’Hare International Airport (ORD), this village is designed for conducting group business in formal and informal ways. In addition to 840,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space and 50 meeting rooms at Donald E. Stephens Convention Center—and more than a dozen major-brand hotels within a half-mile—Rosemont offers sizable spaces for attendee entertainment, too.
Opened in 2012, MB Financial Park is a 200,000-square-foot entertainment and dining complex that’s home to 12 venues offering upscale cuisine, live music, comedy, film, bowling and more. The outdoor square between the venues is used for seasonal activities, including a 200-foot-long, climate-controlled ice rink.
For receptions and music events for up to 1,500 people, Joe’s Live is a performance venue and bar that frequently hosts country and pop music performers. It’s attached to Bub City, a barbecue restaurant that caters. Also in MB Financial Park is Zanies Comedy Club, with a full bar and select food items for group events. And Kings Rosemont is a 27,000-square-foot facility with a retro vibe. It offers 20 bowling lanes, five billiard tables, a shuffleboard court, 50 HD televisions, two bars and a full-service restaurant.
Nearby is Fashion Outlets of Chicago, which opened in 2013 with 150 upscale stores plus social-event space. And only a mile from this district is Rivers Casino, Des Plaines, with 140,000 sq. ft. of gaming and a high-tech group venue called Cube.
In early May, the 1,700-attendee Food Safety Summit took place in Rosemont for the second year. “With several hotels across the street from the convention center and a bunch of nice steak houses and other restaurants within two blocks, our event benefits from a community feeling rather than being spread out across a city,” says Scott Wolters, show director.
Rivers Casino, Des Plaines
Chicago Marriott Schaumburg
Two miles to Schaumburg Convention Center; BlueFire Grille and Bevande Lounge; two pools; 402 guest rooms; 28,700 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel
Connected to convention center; 500 guest rooms; 51,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Schaumburg Convention Center
10 miles west of O’Hare International Airport; 97,200 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space with another 51,200 sq. ft. available in connected Renaissance Hotel
The Westin Chicago Northwest
Set in Itasca; 1 mile to TopGolf facility; restaurant; 416 guest rooms; 56,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Schaumburg and Itasca are home to the major meeting venues within this eight-community region, which is about 25 miles from Chicago and 10 miles from O’Hare. The 148,624-square-foot Schaumburg Convention Center has a 500-room Renaissance, 458-room Hyatt Regency, and 209-room Embassy Suites within walking distance, while Itasca is home to the 295-room Eaglewood Resort & Spa (37,000 sq. ft. of meeting space) and the 408-room Westin Chicago Northwest (45,000 sq. ft. of meeting space).
Schaumburg Convention Center
“It is much less expensive to meet here than in the big city, and groups can still spend a half-day or full day in Chicago if they choose,” says Dave Parulo, president of Meet Chicago Northwest. Local hotels have free shuttles to nearby Metra rail stations; the ride to Chicago takes about an hour, though charter buses returning from the city in the evening need less than 40 minutes.
For after-hours fun locally, Medieval Times Schaumburg offers a four-course feast in a dining area that overlooks an indoor arena featuring jousting and other old-time competitions. At Woodfield Mall—one of the country’s largest, with 300 shops—there is Level 257, a 42,000-square-foot entertainment facility with modern and retro video games, pinball and bowling, plus a restaurant and bar. Also nearby is Trickster Gallery, the only Native American-owned arts institution in the state.
Besides the 18-hole golf course and practice areas that groups can use at Eaglewood Resort & Spa, the neighboring village of Wood Dale has a TopGolf facility that specializes in enjoyable receptions for golfers and nongolfers alike. There are many boutiques and restaurants in trendy Arlington Heights as well as in Long Grove Historic Village. Long Grove Confectionary Co. conducts factory tours, too. And Roselle is home to the best vineyard in Illinois, Lynfred Winery, where groups can have a tour and tasting event.
Memorial Stadium, Chicago
Eastland Suites & Conference Center
Five-minute drive to University of Illinois campus; 126 guest rooms; 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Place Champaign/Urbana
In downtown restaurant/entertainment district; 145 guest rooms; 3,200 sq. ft. of meeting space.
I Hotel and Conference Center
At edge of University of Illinois campus; 125 guest rooms; 38,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Home to the University of Illinois, Champaign hosts various national academic conferences and competitions, along with sporting events. In 2005 and 2010, U of I hosted the National Science Olympiad Tournament, attracting young scientists from every state. The city also hosts Illinois’ Science Olympiad every year.
The very first Farm-Aid concert was held at U of I’s Memorial Stadium in 1985, with 80,000 in attendance. The stadium—particularly the Colonnade’s Club high above the playing field— can be used by business groups for receptions, with entertainment such as the university’s marching band performing below.
In town, Virginia Theatre is a Broadway-style venue that features classic Hollywood films as well as live plays and musical acts. Though built in 1921 and on the National Register of Historic Places, its 50-foot tall movie screen can be flown offstage to provide flexibility for groups as large as 1,500.
Krannert Art Museum houses the U of I art collection; there are more than 10,000 pieces, dating from 6,000 years ago to the present, across a broad range of cultures. Or groups can gather at the second-largest planetarium in Illinois, William M. Staerkel Planetarium, located at nearby Parkland College. Lastly, Alto Vineyards will pair local cheeses with its wines during group receptions at its picturesque facility.
Prairie Capital Convention Center
Downtown 7,700-seat arena with 40,000 sq. ft. of exhibit and 21,800 sq. ft. of meeting space.
President Abraham Lincoln Springfield DoubleTree Hotel
Connected to convention center; one block to state capital complex and Lincoln Presidential Museum; 310 guest rooms; 15,000 sq ft. of meeting space.
One of Springfield’s top event venues relates to it being the seat of state government. The Old Capitol Building allows receptions to use not just its impressive lobby—where Abraham Lincoln gave his “house divided” speech—but also the legislative chambers and an outdoor lawn.
Even so, Springfield is perhaps better known as the longtime home of the 16th U.S. president. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, easy walking distance from the 61,800-square-foot Bank of Springfield Center (formerly Prairie Capital Convention Center) and two major hotels, accommodates 400 people for meals and 650 for receptions. What’s more, Lincoln’s home and law office are just a few blocks away. Add in the town’s Route 66 district featuring retro buildings, eateries and an Americana museum inside an old gas station, and Springfield is ideal for group walking tours.
Also in town is the Hoogland Center, home to 19 different art and cultural organizations. It can seat 300 for meals. And just 10 minutes away is University of Illinois at Springfield. Its 124,340-square-foot Public Affairs Center, 2,000-seat Sangamon Auditorium, 350-seat Studio Theater and 250-seat Brookens Auditorium all accommodate outside groups. At the Illinois State Fairgrounds, the historic Expo Building hosts parties and interactive sports games in its 60,000 sq. ft.
Rob Carey is a business journalist and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight, a content marketing firm for the group-business market.