Several of the state’s buildings were designed by the nation’s most acclaimed, ground-breaking and flat-out brilliant architects—visionaries such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Lucas Pfeiffenberger, Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan, who turned structures into art.
The virtuosity of these and other masters is present not only in Chicago, which has a legendary history of design, but in cities throughout the state, from Peoria to Galena to Springfield. From modern high-rises to historical marvels, this backdrop of ingenuity ensures meeting inspiration at every turn.
Chicago’s skyline is a feat of architectural vision—an oasis of soaring skyscrapers crafted by the greatest minds in design. Its history traces back to the 1880s, after the Great Chicago Fire destroyed many of the city’s original structures and a cadre of architectural pioneers moved in to rebuild downtown using steel frames, masonry cladding and other features that broke the mold of conventional building. The distinct style was originally known as the Commercial Style but has since been dubbed Chicago School. In addition to its Chicago School designers, the city has also hosted such architectural legends as Frank Lloyd Wright, who left his indelible stamp on many of the city’s residential structures.
Groups who come to the Windy City today can enjoy the metropolis’ design masterpieces, including the Willis Tower—formerly known as Sears Tower and the tallest building in the U.S.—the Wrigley Building, the modern structures in Millennium Park and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frederick C. Robie House and Unity Temple. They can also utilize Chicago Architecture Foundation Tours, which allow visitors and meeting attendees to explore the city’s most striking structures via foot, bus, boat, river cruise or Segway.
Chicago’s architectural integrity also endures in many of its event-friendly hotels. A prime example is Hotel Burnham, a Kimpton Hotel, housed in the Reliance Building, a circa-1895 structure designed in the Chicago School style by John Root, Charles Atwood and the hotel’s namesake, Daniel Burnham. The property includes a restored version of the building’s historic facade and its original marble columns, terrazzo floors and elevator grilles. Planners who host meetings in the hotel can utilize 122 guest accommodations and the Reliance Room, where up to 40 can meet overlooking Washington Street.
Daniel Burnham’s legacy is also present in the JW Marriott Chicago, a property that opened in November 2010 inside the architect’s historic Continental & Commercial National Bank Building. The property features 610 guest rooms and suites, a 20,000-square-foot spa and wellness center, and 44,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in the heart of the city’s financial district.
For a taste of history, try The Palmer House Hilton, a structure dating back to the 1920s that was once known as the largest hotel in the world. While it can no longer claim that distinction, it still leaves a formidable footprint, thanks to its 1,639 guest rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of event space.
As befits a city of Chicago’s stature, it is also home to some of the country’s most luxurious hotels. A prime example is the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, which houses 339 guest rooms and suites, 53 of which are Spa Rooms, in which guests can enjoy in-room spa treatments, private yoga sessions and easy access to The Spa at Trump, a 23,000-square-foot oasis perched on the hotel’s 14th floor. The Trump offers 20,000 sq. ft. of high-tech meeting space.
Another property fit for the most discerning of guests is The Peninsula Chicago, which offers the finest in amenities, including a spa that has been rated the No. 1 Urban Hotel Spa in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler and dining at the nationally acclaimed Avenues restaurant. The property can accommodate groups in 339 guest rooms and suites and 9,500 sq. ft. of event space.
Other elegant hotel options include the Affinia Hotel Chicago, which is located in the heart of the city’s famed Magnificent Mile shopping district and offers 215 guest accommodations and 3,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; and the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park, a Four-Diamond property with 692 guest rooms and suites, an 11,000-square-foot spa and 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The hotel will host The Smart Mart this August.
Rooftop lounge at Affinia Hotel Chicago.
Many of these first-rate properties are conveniently located near Chicago’s meetings hub: the massive McCormick Place, which hosts about 3 million attendees annually in its 2.6 million sq. ft. of exhibit halls, 600,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, assembly seating for 18,000, four theaters—including Arie Crown, which can seat 4,249—and four ballrooms, two of which are the largest in the city. The space is housed in four separate buildings—the Lakeside Center, North, South and West, which is LEED certified—all linked via promenades and sky bridges, with access to on-campus retail shops, cafes and restaurants. The massive venue is also connected to the Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, which offers 800 guest rooms and its own dedicated meeting space, including the 12,000-square-foot Regency Ballroom.
Another sizable option for events is the University of Chicago Gleacher Center, a six-story, stone-and-glass structure designed by famed architect Dirk Lohan. It offers a five-story atrium, 41 meeting rooms that can individually accommodate groups of up to 350 and catering provided by Wolfgang Puck.
Besides its event meccas and meeting hotels, Chicago is also home to several unique meeting venues. Perhaps the most well known is the Navy Pier, a 3,300-square-foot pier that extends out over Lake Michigan. When it opened in 1916, it was the largest pier in the world, and it went on to house soldiers and the Red Cross during WWI. Today, the structure is home to several restaurants, shopping, a Ferris wheel, museums and more. It also offers an assortment of venues fit for groups, including the Festival Hall, with 170,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space, and an additional 36 meeting rooms with 44,000 sq. ft. of space.
According to Tim Sharp, executive director of the American Choral Directors Association, Chicago’s dense assortment of venues—both conventional and unique—makes meeting planning easy. In March, Sharp brought a citywide group to Chicago for the organization’s biennial national conference, with 53,000 registrants, 2,000 student participants and an additional 4,000 visitors. To accommodate the throngs, he utilized several spaces, including the Chicago Hilton and The Palmer House Hilton as headquarters hotels, and the Swissotel Chicago, Hotel Burnham, Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel and Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center.
Sharp says the experience was well above par. “All of the venues and hotels were exceptional,” he says. “This particular combination worked beautifully, as our desire was to have a mostly walkable conference. The attendees were very enthusiastic about the entire event.” They were so enthusiastic, in fact, that he already has plans to return. It’s no wonder, since he notes: “Chicago has produced two of the highest-attended conferences in our 52-year history.”
A short 25-minute drive south from downtown Chicago, Southland—a collection of 62 Windy City suburbs—provides its own assortment of architectural feats, including several homes on the National Register of Historic Places and Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University, which is home to 27 striking sculptures.
Besides these design works, the area is also a great place for planners seeking accessibility and affordability. Bob Lukens, PR manager for the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau, says, “We’re close to Chicago yet we don’t have some of the costs associated with having a meeting in downtown. The parking at all our facilities is free, and we’re very well connected to the city through our commuter rail system—so if people do want to go downtown for their meetings, they can be there in a half hour.” Plus, he says, “We have hundreds of restaurants and a lot of fun off-site activities, including a harness racing racetrack, a NASCAR facility 10–15 miles away, lots of outdoor activities and a huge network of trail systems that runners and walkers can utilize.”
The region’s meeting focal point is the Tinley Park Convention Center, a venue slated to debut an additional 24,000 sq. ft. of space next month. Holiday Inn Tinley Park, which adjoins the hotel, is also on track to debut 68 new guest rooms, bringing its total up to 270. The hotel offers about 15,000 sq. ft. of its own space in addition to what is housed in the convention center.
Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, Chicago.
A short drive north from downtown Chicago, Rosemont is another option offering bargain rates and easy access to the Windy City. And with O’Hare International Airport just a mile or so away, it’s convenient to boot.
Planners looking to take advantage of the city’s proximity to the airport can book the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center. The property offers 503 freshly remodeled guest rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness center and 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 23,000-square-foot ballroom. Another property convenient to the airport is the InterContinental Chicago O’Hare, where groups can utilize 556 guest rooms, 70 suites and 53,000 sq. ft. of event space. The property includes Art/Museo, a visual arts exhibition space.
Larger groups can gather in the Donald E. Stephenson Convention Center, with 92,000 sq. ft. of space spread among 50 meeting rooms, and the Allstate Arena, which offers 18,500 sq. ft. of space.
An hour west from Chicago, St. Charles houses one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s many iconic Illinois structures: the Fabyan Villa Museum, a farmhouse Wright redesigned in his famous Prairie House style in 1907. The venue is available for group tours and is attached to a century-old Japanese garden.
St. Charles is also where you’ll find Pheasant Run Resort, a sprawling option for functions and events. The property features 473 guest accommodations, three swimming pools, a comedy club, a shopping and entertainment district, two golf courses, tennis and basketball courts, award-winning restaurants and a spa.
For planners, its meeting options are equally expansive and include 45 meeting rooms totaling 100,000 sq. ft. of space, a 320-seat auditorium, a 20,000-square-foot IACC-certified training center and two exhibit areas.
Another venue with scope to spare is the Q Center, which comes equipped with 150,000 sq. ft. of IACC-certified meeting space and 1,042 guest rooms, many of which front a pond, wooded groves or prairie landscapes. The property’s pre- or post-meeting amenities include The Oasis, which offers hair services and massage treatments. A dedicated team-building staff is also on-site.
Along the northwestern edge of Illinois—within striking distance of Iowa—Galena is a scenic spot with a historic downtown. Its architectural finds include the Ulysses S. Grant Home, built in 1865 for the future president when he returned from the Civil War. The brick structure exemplifies the Italianate style with its projecting eaves and rectilinear shapes. In nearby Belvidere, another design treasure is the Pettit Memorial Chapel, a National Historic Landmark and one of just a few chapels designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
For a historic option, you can’t beat the DeSoto House Hotel, Illinois’ oldest operating hotel, which dates back to 1855 and counts Abraham Lincoln and William Jennings Bryan as former guests, and which served as Grant’s presidential campaign headquarters. The property offers 55 Victorian-style guest rooms and seven meeting spaces, including an elegant ballroom that can accommodate 175 theater-style or 120 banquet-style.
Just outside of Galena in what’s known as the Galena Territory, the Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa fits perfectly into the area’s landscape of open space and wilderness. Situated on 6,800 rolling acres alongside upscale homes, it offers four award-winning golf courses and a 6,000-square-foot spa.
Barbara Sue Schubert, advertising and promotions manager for the property, says the resort’s away-from-it-all feel fosters focus. “People drive in and say, ‘Wow, this is gorgeous,’” she says. “It provides the opportunity for them to clear their heads.” Groups can utilize its inn with 60 newly remodeled guest rooms, several homes and villas that can be rented for conferences, and 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
South from Galena, Peoria is the largest city on the rushing Illinois River and also touts a storied history. In fact, several of the town’s structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and feature the finest of early design, including the Judge Jacob Gale House, built around 1840 in the Greek Revival style, and the Pettengill-Morron House, an 1868 mansion with Colonial Revival touches.
Another property on the national register is the Hotel Pere Marquette, which opened in 1927 and exudes oldfangled sophistication in its 286 guest accommodations and 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. It is located across the way from two other striking, historic buildings: the Madison Theatre, which originally debuted in 1920 as a silent picture theater, and the German Renaissance-style Peoria City Hall.
The hotel is located next to the Peoria Civic Center, which features 63,668 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 2,244-seat theater and 16,889 sq. ft. of meeting space in 16 rooms. Another large-scale option for meetings is the East Peoria Event Center, comprised of five halls totaling 71,000 sq. ft., the largest of which is 28,000 sq. ft.
In the town of Pekin, just outside of Peoria, Avanti’s Dome Events & Sports Center includes a 76,000-square-foot dome that can host groups of up to 5,000, as well as a separate 3,000-square-foot banquet center that is adjacent to a beer garden.
Champaign-Urbana, a metropolitan area southeast of Peoria, is most well known for being the home of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And fittingly for its location, the school houses a renowned school of architecture.
Students here have an advantage, since the university’s backyard is filled with prime examples of what they’re studying. For example, Allerton Park & Retreat Center, operated by the college in Monticello, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is on the American Institute of Architects’ list of 150 Great Places in Illinois. It was bestowed to the school in 1946 partly to serve as an education on landscape architecture and is home to the Georgian-style Allerton Mansion, built in the late 1800s. The 1,500-acre property also includes more than 100 sculptures and garden ornaments and 14 miles of hiking trails, and can accommodate groups in spaces including a two-story library for up to 120 and three small boardrooms with views of the lush beauty outside.
In Champaign, another architecturally renowned choice is the circa-1921 Virginia Theatre, which touts a stunning Italian Renaissance-style exterior and Spanish Renaissance-style interior. The venue, which once served as a vaudeville house, has 1,525 seats to accommodate meetings.
On the other end of the timeline, the I Hotel and Conference Center is a cutting-edge venue with 124 guest rooms and 38,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in a dedicated center.
In the center of the state, the town of Springfield is home to a Frank Lloyd Wright classic: the Dana-Thomas House, a residence redone by the architect in 1902 that encompasses 35 rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. of living space spread among 16 levels.
The Beall Mansion, Alton.
Springfield is also known for being the place where Abraham Lincoln lived in the years leading up to his presidency, and the city is home to several sites honoring this history, including the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel & Conference Center. The closest hotel to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which also hosts groups, it features 230 guest rooms and 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. It is also conveniently connected via an underground walkway to the Prairie Capitol Convention Center, which offers 40,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
A few blocks away, The State House Inn is a revamped version of an inn that originally opened in 1961. It provides unparalleled views of the State House in its name, a piano lounge and 155 guest accommodations. Up to 300 can meet in spaces including The Governor’s Ballroom, which debuted in April 2010 with 14-foot ceilings and high-tech A/V. For large groups, the 30-story Hilton Springfield offers 360 guest rooms and 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
ALTON & GRAFTON
Alton and Grafton are two nearby towns situated along the southwestern edge of Illinois, near the border of Missouri. Both are home to their own collection of first-rate architecture, including—in Alton—the event-friendly Beall Mansion. Constructed in 1902 by famed architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger, it once served as the residence of Senator Edmond Beall and has since been turned into a sought-after B&B.
These towns also benefit from an idyllic locale at the point where the mighty Mississippi and Illinois rivers converge, a proximity that makes them the perfect destination for water adventure. This aquatic connection is at the forefront of Alton’s National Great Rivers Museum, a venue that explores the Mississippi River’s unique natural ecosystem. The facility’s options for meetings include a 200-seat theater and a multipurpose room that can accommodate up to 100 attendees. After hours, up to 500 can gather in the museum’s promenade and exhibit gallery.
In Grafton, the Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center overlooks the Illinois River and offers 50 lodge guest rooms and 22 natural stone cabin rooms, as well as 2,900 sq. ft. of meeting space. The hotel traces its roots back to the 1930s.
For architecture buffs and meeting planners alike, it’s hard to ignore the appeal of Illinois. Over time, the state has built it. Now it’s time for your group to come.