Special Venues
Destination / 2 years Ago

State College, Pa., shows off its varied venues

by Jeff Heilman

  • Medlar Field

    Medlar Field


    Medlar Field | Photo by

    Medlar Field




  • Vertical Adventures

    Vertical Adventures


    Vertical Adventures

    Vertical Adventures

In 1794, explorer James Potter climbed central Pennsylvania’s Nittany Mountain. Awed by “the prairies and noble forest beneath him,” he reportedly declared to his companion, “By heavens, Thompson, I have discovered an empire!”

Named Centre County in 1800 for its central location within Pennsylvania, Potter’s paradise later became the “Happy Valley.” Anchored by the town of State College and main University Park campus of The Pennsylvania State University, or Penn State, the area also includes the historic towns of Bellefonte, Boalsburg and Philipsburg.

Between three and five hours by car from its closest major markets, including Philadelphia, D.C. and New York City, the region rewards groups with a comprehensive set of products and offerings, including award-winning conference facilities; entertainment, sporting and cultural venues; and outdoor adventure programs.

Conference Champions

Owned and operated by Penn State’s Hospitality Services, the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center and the Nittany Lion Inn offer two distinct meetings destinations flexibly hosting a wide range of groups.

With over $800 million in annual research expenditures, Penn State ranks among the nation’s top 20 research schools. Notably, it is also one of only two institutions in the country accorded land grant, sea grant, sun grant and space grant status. One major center of action is the university’s Innovation Park. Minutes from campus, this purpose-built “ecosystem where business, education and research come together,” covering 118 acres, is home to the landscaped, campus-like grounds of the Penn Stater.

Opened in 1994 and expanded in 2004, this leafy, airy escape offers major market appeal as one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s preeminent conferencing facilities. Featuring 300 guest rooms and suites, the Penn Stater offers more than 58,000 square feet of space, including 41 IACC-certified meeting rooms.

Consisting of 10,650 square feet of space in four adjoining halls, the expansive Presidents Hall can host up to 936 guests banquet-style. Suitable for group discussion, the Forum Rooms can accommodate up to 61 delegates in two levels of U-shaped seating. Three Senate Suites, at 624 square feet each, include a lounge with full-service bar and outdoor balconies, while the 100-person Executive Conference Room and 14-person McKinnon Board Room are ideally equipped for corporate and executive meetings.

Key services include the Management Development Technology Center, providing advanced technology and audiovisual support, plus available group facilitators. On-site amenities include the Gardens Restaurant and Legends Pub, lap pool and 24-hour fitness center, and complimentary Wi-Fi and parking.

On campus, the Georgian Colonial-style Nittany Lion Inn is “Penn State’s Living Room.” Opened in 1931, this National Historic Landmark, invitingly presented in Penn State blue and white, offers 223 guest rooms and more than 20,000 square feet of space. Groups can choose from 12 meeting rooms, including the 300-capacity ballroom; 25-guest boardroom; Alumni Fireside Lounge, accommodating 90 banquet-style; and intimate 50-person Mount Nittany Room.

Other gathering spots include the Dining Room, with its celebrated wine list, Whiskers Bar and an outdoor patio. Amenities include 45 exhibition booths, free Wi-Fi in public spaces and meeting rooms, and complimentary valet parking. Plus, groups can also take advantage of the hotel’s corporate retreat program, offering a one-stop resource for organizing strategic planning sessions, interactive teambuilding exercise and other unique experiences.

Other full-service meetings hotels in State College include the 102-room Toftrees Golf Resort & Conference Center, offering flexible meeting and event space, PGA-rated 4.5-star, 18-hole golf course, and farm-to-table Field Burger & Tap restaurant. Multiple national brands include the brand-new 165-room Hyatt Place State College, with 5,000 square feet of versatile space; 285-room Ramada Conference Center & Golf Hotel, offering 20,000 square feet of versatile meeting and banqueting facilities; and 103-room Hilton Garden Inn, with 2,350 square feet of divisible space.

Venue Variety  

With Nittany Lion football anchoring a historic sporting tradition in the Happy Valley, athletic venues headline a diverse roster of off-agenda options in the region.

Following multiple expansions through the decades, 106,572-seat Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in the Western Hemisphere and among the largest sporting venues in the world, offering function and event space at the climate-controlled Mount Nittany Club, outdoor patio included. Adjacent to the stadium, the Penn State All Sports Museum, enshrining the history and heritage of Penn State athletics, offers group tours.

Across the way, the approximately 16,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center is the region’s largest multipurpose arena. Home court for Penn State men’s and women’s basketball, this versatile venue is also well equipped for conventions, tradeshows, concerts, meetings and functions.

Penn State’s baseball diamond, Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, was the first stadium in the U.S., professional or collegiate, to earn LEED certification. Also serving as home field of the Minor League State College Spikes, the venue offers tours and rental options that include the clubhouse, batting cages, executive boardroom, 20 luxury suites and subject to availability, the field itself.

The State College area has equal muscle on the cultural, artistic and heritage fronts.

Built by Warner Brothers in 1938 as a prototypical new movie house, the State Theatre has long served as one of the region’s primary cultural centers. Presenting wide-ranging entertainment, including music, theater, opera, dance and film, the lovingly restored venue, featuring superior acoustics and unobstructed sightlines, rents the 571-seat Friedman Auditorium and 60-plus seat upstairs Attic for meetings and functions.

Opened in 1972, the free-admission Palmer Museum of Art offers docent-led group tours for 10 or more people of its genre- and century-spanning collection. The on-campus museum is part of Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture, which also includes the university’s Center for the

Performing Arts. Established in 1957, the Center includes the multipurpose Eisenhower Auditorium. Opened in 1974 and renamed in 1977, it flexibly seats between 2,455 and 2,551 people. In addition, the Schwab Auditorium presents year-round performances in music, drama and dance.

Adjacent to campus, the Centre Furnace Mansion is a restored ironmaster’s home from the 19th century. Serving as headquarters of the Centre County Historical Society, the tour-capable national landmark hosts outdoor gatherings for 160 people on its landscaped grounds and heirloom gardens, with indoor events for 50 guests.

Founded in 1947 as a small delicatessen in Victorian-era Bellefonte, family-owned Hoag’s Catering evolved into a complete catering service, with Penn State as a major customer. In 1994, Hoag’s relocated to State College and established Celebration Hall, its headquarters and banquet facility. Perched on a hillside with views of Mount Nittany, the building offers six private rooms that can be combined to form two large rooms seating up to 250 guests each. Amenities include working fireplaces, atrium lobby with bar, outdoor balconies and free onsite parking.

Groups can memorably “stamp” their agenda at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte. Reviving a red-brick industrial site once serving as the home of the Pennsylvania Match Company, the center, home of the world’s largest nonprofit organization for stamp collectors, hosts groups in evocative spaces, including the 200-capacity Sundman Hall and 50-capacity Air Mail Room.

With strong claim as the birthplace of Memorial Day, the 1846-era community of Boalsburg, about 10 minutes from State College, is also home of the Pennsylvania Military Museum. Featuring exterior displays of tanks and heavy artillery and the striking military ribbon-inspired “Wall of Honor,” this shrine to heroes offers indoor and outdoor space in its theater and on its parade grounds, respectively.

Outdoor Options

With fresh-air agendas starting right on campus with Penn State’s event-capable 30-acre Arborteum and its Overlook Pavilion, the Happy Valley’s natural appeal is a primary group and visitor draw. Backed by the Appalachian Mountain range and rolling with farmland, the region is within reach of more than 2 million forested acres, including popular state forests Moshannon, Sproul, Bald Eagle and Rothrock.

Considered the gateway to Rothrock State Forest, the Tussey Mountain Ski Area in Boalsburg operates year-round, hosting annual celebrations such as Wingfest, Celticfest and Oktoberfest in its outdoor amphitheater, along with a range of indoor business and social events in its multipurpose lodge.
Billed as Penn State’s “outdoor classroom,” Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, which opened in 1976 some 12 miles from campus in the Stone Valley Recreation Area, is presently closed as its undergoes the largest expansion in its 40-year history. In the meantime, groups can still participate in customized team networking and teambuilding programs offered by the center.

Operated by Penn State, the center offers Vertical Adventures, a preeminent high ropes challenge course, plus rental facilities for groups of up to 100 people. The excitement goes sky-high at Ridge Soaring Gliderport in Julian, about 10 miles from State College. Established in 1975, this renowned operator offers unforgettable flight experiences in two-seat modern gliders with FAA-certified instructors.  

Groups can also go subterranean in the limestone-rich substrata of Centre County, where since 1855, Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park has been one of Pennsylvania’s leading visitor accessible caves. Located in an especially scenic agricultural valley, this historic visitor attraction offers boat tours of prehistoric underground watery caverns leading out to Lake Nitanee and back. Set on a 1,500-acre preserve, the venue also features a working farm, wildlife tours by bus and a pavilion for outdoor events. 

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