Neighbors Omaha, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa, home to CenturyLink Center Omaha and Mid-America Center, as well as a great variety of group-friendly hotels, also offer an intriguing lineup of venues for off-site receptions and banquets.
Following are seven standout options in different settings, including a museum, garden, historic hall, bar and a bridge named “Bob.”
The Omaha Design Center, a chic event venue with an open industrial design concept, has hosted everything from receptions to boxing matches. “We pride ourselves on executing the imagination of all our clients,” said COO Ryan Ewing.
Located in the Downtown North area, the venue provides a state-of-the-art sound system, in-house catering and LED downlighting that according to Ewing sets the right tone for any meeting.
Spaces include an 8,000-square-foot grand ballroom with a polished concrete floor and crystal chandeliers, and the 4,000-square-foot Downtown Club that features lounge furniture and offers access to a hidden speakeasy.
Each venue comes with a VIP suite that can be used as a green room for a keynote speaker, Ewing added.
The Durham Museum, located in Omaha’s historic Art Deco Union Station, features charming amenities, including an original soda fountain that serves hand-scooped ice cream and candy.
The venue accommodates a variety of gatherings, from small meetings to receptions complete with a bar, sit-down dinner and dancing.
After hours, groups can rent out the entire museum, which includes a conference room that accommodates up to 40 people, and a lecture hall and a banquet room that each accommodate up to 250.
“The museum itself can be open and provide a unique and interesting group activity for any who would like to tour the permanent and temporary exhibits,” said Alise Hernandez, special events manager.
She added knowledgeable staff is available for tours and historic talks about the building itself.
At Lauritzen Gardens, attendees will find more than 100 acres of botanical gardens, a new glass conservatory filled with rare plant life, and both indoor and outdoor meeting spaces.
“We offer stunning indoor facilities and ever-changing outdoor gardens,” said Daneisha Hall, rental coordinator. “From small intimate corporate events to large festive celebrations, our incredible venue will impress your guests with the beauty of nature and the Midwest.”
Lauritzen Gardens accommodates groups ranging from 10 to 320 people in spaces including the community room, which is well suited for traditional board meetings, the visitor and education center for evening receptions and banquets, and the horticulture library for small gatherings.
“Many groups also choose to include fun garden-related activities such as guided tours, scavenger hunts or even something as lovely as a formal afternoon tea,” Hall said.
The beloved Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, aka “Bob,” is a unique Omaha event venue with scenic views of the Omaha skyline.
“This stunning 3,000-foot-long pedestrian bridge is suspended—almost magically—across the Missouri River, giving pedestrians a spectacular, almost airborne experience,” said Cathy Keller, vice president of sales and services for Visit Omaha.
Situated within walking distance of Omaha’s downtown convention district, and often used as a riverside location for festivals, concerts and other local events, Bob and the adjacent riverfront plaza also acts as an off-site space that can accommodate hundreds of people, depending on the set-up.
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“The space is a blank slate, leaving options open to the meeting planner’s imagination,” Keller said.
It’s worth noting the bridge is connected to 150 miles of nature trails for interested hikers and cyclists in the group, and it also connects Nebraska and Iowa.
“The state line runs right through Bob, so you can actually stand in two states at the same time,” Keller explained. “It’s called ‘bobbing,’ and trust me, it’s a thing.”
Located in downtown Council Bluffs is the historic Victorian-style Bayliss Park Hall, which has a ballroom on the second floor that accommodates up to 200 people, as well as several other rooms that may be used for smaller breakout sessions.
The venue resides across the street from Bayliss Park, which provides a scenic backdrop with its picturesque fountain and colorful gardens.
“It’s a perfect location for outdoor pictures or other gatherings,” said Arlo Burk, manager.
Group pictures can also be taken inside on the grand staircase, surrounded by authentic antique decor.
Barley’s Bar and Grill, Council Bluffs
Barley’s, a full-service restaurant and bar, is situated in the 100 Block of downtown Council Bluffs, a historic district that places it within walking distance to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, the Historic General Dodge House and the Lincoln Monument.
“Our town is rich with history and we love being in the middle of it,” said Jill Johnson, owner of Barley’s.
Planners can arrange for pre-planned plated dinners or a buffet, or attendees may order directly from the menu, which includes pizzas, salads, burgers and more.
Barley’s private party rooms, both facing the 100 Block, accommodate group functions.
“Decorated with vintage charm, the taproom boasts personality with an antique bar, exposed brick, over 180 beer tap handles on display and posters of beer advertisements from times gone by,” Johnson said.
The taproom accommodates up to 50 guests, and the upstairs party room, with library-style shelving, exposed brick, a private bar and repurposed doors turned into large round oak tables, accommodates up to 80 guests.
The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College, Council Bluffs
The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College is a modern performing arts space located on a picturesque wooded campus.
According to Tim Dickmeyer, the venue’s executive director, the main stage theater hosts corporate meetings and performances for up to 650 people, and the smaller on-site Black Box Theater is used for tabled events for up to 120 people.
The college also has its own food service, which caters events at the community college’s Arts Center.
LATEST + GREATEST: NEW & RENOVATED VENUES AND HOTELS IN OMAHA/COUNCIL BLUFFS
The first phase of the newest addition to Omaha’s downtown convention district opened in August 2017. The new 333-room Omaha Marriott Downtown Capitol District, located directly across from the convention center, features 17,500 square feet of meeting/event space.
The Marriott was the first phase of the new $205 million entertainment district, which will include retailers, restaurants and an outdoor entertainment venue.
Plans are underway for a new six-story 105-room Marriott Moxy Hotels property, located blocks away from the Convention District in Omaha’s popular Old Market Entertainment District. The lobby will have billiards and ping-pong tables, and the hotel will also have an on-site restaurant and bar.
A 120-room Aloft Hotels property is being built in West Omaha. The property will also have billiards and ping-pong tables in the lobby, and it will feature tech amenities including digital scrolling news ticker tapes, four-panel video walls and keyless room entry, among other features.
Recent changes at Mid-America Center include new lighting in the exhibit hall and prefunction areas, upgraded Internet and refreshed paint and carpeting.
At press time, a new 131-room Courtyard by Marriott with 1,000 square feet of meeting space, an on-site bistro and indoor pool was on track to open in late spring.
The 185-room Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Council Bluffs-I-29 is scheduled to complete a guest room renovation in summer 2018. The property will start remodeling the lobby and public areas this winter.
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