As the meetings industry works through the economic fallout from COVID-19, many are wondering: When will meetings come back, and how? Although no one has the “magic crystal ball” answer to this question, top travel experts like U.S. Travel Association’s President and CEO Roger Dow, are predicting that domestic travel will be the backbone of leisure and business travel during the recovery from coronavirus, and the first meetings to return to business may be small meetings that are easily reachable by car.

For Midwest-based business, the metro area comprised of Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska is centrally located and drivable from most surrounding states.

“Omaha offers accessibility, affordability and fun. Conveniently located at the crossroads of the country, whether flying or driving, getting to Omaha is a breeze,” said Tracie McPherson, director of communications for Visit Omaha, noting that Nebraska’s biggest city is also consistently ranked as a “best value city.”

[Related: Omaha and Council Bluffs Offer After-Hours Fun for Groups]

The meetings infrastructure in both Omaha and Council Bluffs are built on these pillars of accessibility, affordability and Midwestern hospitality, able to host large meetings and small—and a handful of charming venues will be ready to welcome back groups first when the time is right.

Following is a roundup of meeting venues to keep on your short list for small gatherings in the growing Omaha-Council Bluffs area.

River’s Edge Pavilion, Council Bluffs

Open-air meetings and events are favored by many attendees, and Council Bluffs’ two-story River’s Edge Pavilion at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park gives planners plenty of options paired with scenic views of the Missouri River. Each floor can be rented on its own, or the entire venue can be rented altogether. The maximum occupation of the first floor is 68, and the rooftop deck can hold up to 122.

Wrap-around deck space on the first floor adds more opportunities to network outside. Rental of the pavilion also comes with a catering kitchen and AV system.

Exterior of Pavillion
Photo: River's Edge Pavilion, Council Bluffs; Credit: Courtesy Council Bluffs CVB

Barley’s Bar, Council Bluffs

The 100 Block is Council Bluffs’ most historic district, with many of its buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Groups can tap into this heritage by attending private events at Barley’s Bar, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Three event space options are available:

  • Taproom: An antique bar and exposed brick put Barley’s history on display in its main taproom, which can be reserved for semi-private events seating up to 50 people. AV is available.
  • Upstairs: Exposed brick continues in the larger private room upstairs, complemented by oak tables. Parties of up to 80 can rent the room exclusively, and it comes with a private bar. AV is available.
  • Back room: Small groups can reserve a secluded area behind the main bar and dining space for dinner.

Interior of Barley's Bar Taproom
Photo: Barley's Bar Taproom, Council Bluffs; Credit: Courtesy of Council Bluffs CVB

Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center, Council Bluffs

New to the Council Bluffs scene, the Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center, which opened in February 2020, is a 95,000-square-foot multi-use facility that’s a result of new construction and renovations to the old Harvester II building.

Exterior of the Hoff Center building
Photo: Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center, Council Bluffs; Credit: Courtesy of Council Bluffs CVB

The four-story complex brings a new era and commitment to the arts, home to Chanticleer Community Theater, Kanesville Symphony Orchestra and performances by American Midwest Ballet. With this comes new opportunities for meetings and events too—the center has a 280-seat theater, 15 meeting rooms, an onsite bar and options for event catering and AV.

During its revitalization, original building elements like wooden beams and brick walls were kept intact to add extra flare for special events and conferences.

The Capitol District, Omaha

Conveniently across the street from the convention center, Omaha’s new $205-million entertainment district comes with a variety of event space options. McPherson called it “a modern twist on a town square,” anchored by a 333-room high-rise Marriott with six meeting rooms for a total of 15,077 square feet of meeting space.

The Capitol District
Photo: The Capitol District, Omaha; Credit: Visit Omaha

Restaurant and bar options abound too, ranging from a bar with a Wall Street theme to a traditional Irish pub serving curated whiskey flights. For small corporate groups, McPherson recommended the district’s latest addition, The Jewell.

“The Jewell is a jazz club that pays homage to Omaha’s rich jazz heritage and the many legendary jazz musicians—Duke Ellington and Count Basie, to name a few—who performed here in the 1920s through the 1960s,” she said. “The Jewell is a great place for meeting planners looking to host a private event with a more intimate feel.”

[On Topic: An Event Planner Perspective: Holding an Annual Event in Council Bluffs]

The Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, Omaha

Slated to open summer 2020 in the historic Blackstone District, the $75-million renovation of the 1916 Blackstone Hotel to The Kimpton Cottonwood is a highly anticipated addition to Omaha. The reimagined hotel will have 204 rooms and 13,500 square feet of meeting space, including a top-floor restored grand ballroom and rooftop cocktail lounge.

Reuben sandwich
Photo: Original Reuben recipe at Crescent Moon, Omaha; Credit: Visit Omaha

The iconic Blackstone District’s claim to fame is the Reuben sandwich, whose origins date back to the 1920s, first appearing on the Blackstone Hotel’s lunch menu. Visitors can now sample the original recipe at the Crescent Moon, consistently ranked as one of the country’s best beer bars by Draft Magazine, and located across the street from The Kimpton.

Connect:

Council Bluffs CVB | 712.256.2577

Visit Omaha | 402.444.7762

Read next: How to Plan Your Next Event in Omaha’s Historic Old Market Neighborhood​