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Columbus, Ohio, Is a Creative City of Superlatives for Meetings and Events

Photo of Short North Arts District.

Surprising is the first word that comes to mind after touring Columbus, Ohio, through the lens of a meetings and events planner. Surprising that this relatively under-the-radar destination is the largest city in Ohio—take that, Cleveland and Cincinnati!—and the 14th largest in the U.S. Surprising that Columbus is home to 16 Fortune 1000 companies and five Fortune 500 companies, including Nationwide, AEP, Cardinal Health, Battelle, Wendy’s, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Bath & Body Works, Express, DSW and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Also perhaps surprising is that Ohio’s capital city is out and proud as a center of LGBTQ+ community and culture, hosting the biggest Pride celebration in the Midwest and consistently scoring a 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.

[Related: Unique Offsite Venues to Consider for Your Next Columbus Event]

It was also somewhat of a surprising choice for some major recent meetings and events industry events, such as the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition and 2023 PCMA Convening Leaders, which posted a robust attendance figure of 3,272, up roughly 1,000 from the association’s 2022 Convening Leaders in Las Vegas. Outpacing Vegas, even right on the other end of the pandemic, is always something to take note of!

Photo of Battel Ballroom, 2023 PCMA Convening Leaders.
Battelle Ballroom, Greater Columbus Convention Center, 2023 PCMA Convening Leaders. Credit: Experience Columbus.

The secret is out. Columbus is primed for your meetings and events with the infrastructure, dining scene and entrepreneurial, youthful citizenry—perhaps owing to The Ohio State University, with nearly 60,000 students— that is always crafting something fresh and interesting for those willing to explore.

[Related Podcast: Experience Columbus CEO Brian Ross on Its 2023 PCMA Convening Leaders Triumph]

A ‘Wild’ Guide

To get our bearings, the destination’s DMO, Experience Columbus, led a pre-Convening Leaders fam trip that showcased some of its top draws.

Helping out on one of the evenings was Coyote Peterson, the creator and Emmy Award-winning host of YouTube’s Brave Wilderness, which started on Animal Planet and has since been viewed over 4.3 billion times worldwide, laying claim to being the largest wildlife brand in the digital space.
Ohio State alum and Columbus resident Peterson—perhaps best known for being bitten and stung on camera in exotic locations by some very pain-inducing critters—sings the praises of his city, which is also the business home of Brave Wilderness, at every opportunity.

Photo of Coyote Peterson.
Coyote Peterson

“It’s sort of like a magnet for creativity, and the more and more we are seeing this, the more it makes me want to be a part of the city,” Peterson said of Columbus. “Between Ohio State and Columbus College of Art & and Design, we’ve got a lot of very gifted and talented individuals that seek this city out to get their start with their careers.

“One of the reasons I just love Columbus so much is the accessibility that the city provides any young, aspiring business entrepreneur or creative,” he continued. “This entire city is a working organism that seems to love helping itself, and nobody ever tells you that an idea is not a good idea. People will jump on board to support different artists or business visionaries. And sure enough, that’s what I experienced here, not only through college, but also post-college and developing my own businesses and brands. And we’ve been here pretty much ever since.”

Peterson singled out Columbusite Cameron Mitchell, who operates a fine-dining juggernaut that boasts over 40 restaurants and more than 20 in Columbus alone, as an example of the entrepreneurial moxie on display in Columbus. If you’re offering a group dinner in Columbus, there’s a good chance it will be at a Cameron Mitchell Restaurants venue.

“Cameron’s probably one of the greatest success stories in Columbus, and the restaurant empire that he has built,” Peterson said. “I mean, if you come to Columbus, if you are not hopping around Cameron Mitchell restaurants, I don’t know what you’re doing.”

[Related Podcast: "Brave Wilderness" Host Coyote Peterson on His Home Range of Columbus, Ohio]

Experience Columbus Pre-PCMA FAM

Our fam group’s two-day itinerary hit some of Columbus’ top attractions, both for leisure visitors and those arriving for meetings and events.

North Market

After landing at John Glen Columbus International Airport, we fortified ourselves via the staggering F&B variety at North Market, a 147-year-old public market packed with stalls serving cuisine styles from throughout the world, along with fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses and just about anything else you can think of food-wise. North Market is a short stroll from the city’s convention center and can hold events with a variety of vendor and entertainment options available.

Photo of North Market, Columbus, Ohio.
North Market. Credit: Maddie McGarvey.

National Veterans Memorial and Museum

Serving as a gateway of sorts from downtown to the rapidly developing Scioto Peninsula, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum describes itself as the only museum in the U.S. that is devoted to telling the stories of veterans from all branches of the military. A must especially for any veteran groups visiting Columbus, the privately funded museum offers a hallowed space for events of 50-950, with private tours available as well as the services of an onsite events team. A list of preferred vendors is available. The venue’s Rooftop Sanctuary affords spectacular views of the Columbus skyline and presents an open tableau for events.

Photo of National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Columbus, Ohio.
National Veterans Memorial and Museum. Credit: OSP Images.

The Junto

Perhaps the biggest hotel development news in Columbus is The Junto, a 198-room boutique property set for a mid-May opening across from the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), which will also offer a great option for event activations between the two venues. Billed as the first independent boutique lifestyle property in the city, The Junto will offer 11,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and 6,000 square feet for outdoor events. Our group got a tour of the construction site, with the property’s rooftop bar featuring a massive deck with a stone fireplace that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Keeping up with what seems to be a theme in Columbus, The Junto, part of the emerging Makeready brand of nine properties, bills itself as a hub for the city’s creative community. The building is coming to life at the front door of what’s essentially an entire new neighborhood dubbed The Peninsula, encompassing 27 acres immediately west of the Scioto River from the heart of downtown. Guests, in fact, will be able to rent paddleboards and kayaks to enjoy forays into the river, part of the $36 million, 33-acre Scioto River Greenway project to restore the once neglected part of the city.

View of Center of Science and Industry from The Junto hotel.
View of Center of Science and Industry from the under-construction Junto hotel. Credit: Tyler Davidson.

Hilton Columbus Downtown

While The Junto is the new boutique darling of Columbus, our host during the fam, Hilton Columbus Downtown, fills a need at the upper end of the room count; with 1,000 rooms, it is not only the largest hotel in Columbus, but also Ohio. The Hilton also boasts the tallest rooftop bar in the city, Stories on High, towering 28 stories over High Street and primed for events with a lofty patio off a lounge where patrons can drink in panoramic views.

The Hilton opened a new 532-room tower in September that will further feed the attached Greater Columbus Convention Center. The hotel’s two towers are connected via skybridge over North High Street and the property offers its own 75,000 square feet of meeting space. 

Highlights of the hotel include its live-fire, chef-driven FYR restaurant, where fire and smoke are features of most dishes, with giant flames leaping into the air in its open kitchen. Helmed by Argentinian chef Sebastian La Rocca, a standout dish not to be skipped is its massive, meant-to-be-shared tomahawk ribeyes.

Another standout of the property is its stunning Central Ohio art collection—there is $7 million in art between the hotel and the convention center—with Columbus’s own Aminah Robinson, who specialized in representing Black history through art, a featured artist.

Photo of FYR restaurant, Hilton Columbus Downtown.
FYR restaurant, Hilton Columbus Downtown

Greater Columbus Convention Center

Site of PCMA Convening Leaders, the Greater Columbus Convention Center is an art-forward facility, having 150 pieces of its own Central Ohio art and design flourishes such as ballroom lighting that can be programmed with 100 different color combinations—great for reinforcing organizational color schemes. The venue’s iconic As We Are installation allows attendees to step in, get their photo taken, and then have their face displayed in perpetuity as part of a giant projection of a head.

The nearly 500,000-square-foot convention center features the Battelle Grand Ballroom, site of PCMA’s general sessions, offering 74,000 square feet of premium space—the second largest in the Midwest—divisible into five configurations and with a massive stage.

Photo of exterior of Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Greater Columbus Convention Center. Credit: Randall L. Schieber

Middle West Spirits

Part of the new Columbus Distillery Trail, this true “grain to glass” craft distillery rises four stories and is filled with gleaming copper and steel spirits distillers producing four vodkas, two gins and three dark whiskeys. The venue, the first in-city commercial distiller in Columbus since the Prohibition era, contains a vintage bar area where groups can gather for tastings and elevated bites based on Midwestern favorites.

Photo of Middle West Distillery, Columbus, Ohio.
Middle West Distillery. Credit: Middle West Spirits.

Additional Stops

Other Columbus venues visited on the tour included the Ginger Rabbit, a speakeasy-style jazz club near the convention center with that secret cellar vibe, and a number of stops in the Short North arts district, a 20-block district with some 300 businesses—almost 90% local—that unfolds right off the convention center with myriad shopping, dining and drinking establishments:

  • Samson, A Men’s Emporium, well-appointed with items lovingly curated from owner Travis Samson, and also known for its monthly Speakeasy cocktail events.
  • Penn & Beech Candle Co., where groups can let their noses guide them through walls of candle scents on an olfactory journey to create the perfect candle blend.
  • The Guild House, a Cameron Mitchell restaurant that was fairly buzzing with conversation during our lunch in its small private room. 
  • Hammond Harkins Galleries, a 40-year Columbus arts community institution that features rotating exhibitions and a selection of noted works from local African American artists such as Aminah Robinson and others. 
Photo of The Guild House, Columbus, Ohio.
The Guild House. Credit: Wendy Pramik.


Experience Columbus
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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.