Eau Claire, Wisconsin: Unique and Unusual Meeting Spaces
It’s understandable why parallels have been drawn between Eau Claire, Wisconsin and both Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas in their nascent stages. All three cities celebrate the unique and are supportive of those who want to follow their dreams. And like Portland and Austin, Eau Claire boasts a vibrant music scene, as evidenced by the annual Eaux Claires music festival, held in the summer.
With a population of approximately 66,000, outdoor activities abound in Eau Claire, with bike paths downtown as well as trails for hiking and mountain biking, and in the warmer seasons kayakers can be seen paddling on the lakes. It’s a college town, with the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire campus not only offering a place of learning for students, but also a spot for community gatherings and events.
Eau Claire doesn’t have many traditional meeting facilities but features several unique venues for hosting events. Over the past couple of years, several major state-wide associations have held their annual conferences in the city and as the city continues to grow, so will the demand for meeting space.
The University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire campus features state-of-the-art facilities that include two theaters, the 600-seat Schofield Auditorium, Zorn Arena, which hosts both sporting events and concerts and can seat up to 3,300, and a variety of multi-purpose meeting spaces. The school also has an outstanding, multi-faceted cafeteria that can be used for events as well – no need to bring in outside catering.
The Florian Gardens Conference Center is a multi-purpose venue that hosts weddings, corporate events, receptions and other types of events. A built-in lobby bar can alternatively be used as event registration counters. The large central ballroom can hold up to 524 guests or can be divided into three standalone ballroom spaces. Grand Trillium seats 266, Primrose seats 146 and Silverleaf seats 112 people, or any two sections can be combined to host 378 or 412 attendees.
Each ballroom features floor-to-ceiling windows and a large ceiling-mounted retractable projection screen. High-tech audiovisual systems along with an onsite tech are available to help planners meet their A/V and technical needs, and soundproofing ensures that noise doesn’t bleed between the different ballroom sections when concurrent sessions are underway.
The venue boasts a large onsite kitchen as well as a catering team able to create tasteful offerings for all occasions.
As beautiful as the inside space is, the true highlight of the facility is the spectacular garden area, which can be used for social and networking receptions or even just for attendees to get a little sunshine and fresh air during meeting breaks. The Rock Cress Garden seats 600 and the Rosemary and Indigo Gardens each can accommodate up to 150.
“We recently held an evening event at Florian Gardens, and they went above and beyond to ensure it was a success. The team paid attention to all the small details. I felt taken care of, our guests felt taken care of. I wish all my event venues had facilities and staff like this,” said Maria Goodew, event manager of a local area medical center.
Located right off of I-94, Florian Gardens also offers ample free outdoor parking.
The historic Eau Claire Masonic Ballroom is usually booked for weddings, but can also be used for receptions or networking events. The auditorium, typically used as a wedding chapel, is designed for optimal acoustics and features stadium seating for 300. The ballroom downstairs can seat up to 500 and guests can peruse the wall photograph display of famous freemasons, including Clark Gable, Gus Grissom and Duke Ellington.
The neoclassical structure was completed in 1928 and been designated as a historical landmark on the National Register of Historic Places by the Eau Claire Landmarks Commission and by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Lismore, a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, was reopened in May of 2016 after an extensive renovation project converting it from a tired Ramada Inn and Convention Center to a sparkling new facility with 14,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including a 7,200 square foot ballroom that accommodates up to 620 guests. All meeting rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi and access to A/V equipment.
For smaller groups, the hotel offers the Meetings Simplified by DoubleTree by Hilton package, which includes a meeting room; basic meeting Wi-Fi; meeting room supplies including a flipchart, markers, extension and power cord, and all day non-alcoholic beverage service. Catering services and a dedicated events staff are available to enhance any event.
The Informalist restaurant located inside the Lismore serves a locally sourced menu created by Chef Amy Huo. The Dive Bar, which is anything but, is an indoor/outdoor rooftop deck located on the second floor of the hotel. In the 1970s, the space had served as the old Ramada Inn’s swimming pool.
The nearby Oxbow Hotel opened in September 2016. It offers an 840 square foot meeting room and can accommodate 170 when the patio and lobby are included. The Lakely restaurant at the Oxbow also features a locally sourced menu crafted by head chef and Chippewa Falls native Nathan Berg.
Backed by Justin Vernon, songwriter and front man of indie band Bon Iver, music is a prevalent theme in the hotel, restaurant and performance space. Each sleeping room has a record player and guests can borrow records from the lobby. In the evenings, talented local performers take the stage while the bartenders rustle up classic cocktails.
There are also a number of unusual venues in Eau Claire that can be used for receptions, team-building activities or summer outings. At Wagner’s Complexx, I was taught how to play kubb by Eric Anderson, the man who introduced the game to Wisconsin and is now the director of the U.S. National Kubb Championship.
The objective of kubb is to knock down wooden sticks by throwing wooden batons at them. Sounds simple, but there are quite a few rules – there’s a reason it’s also known as “Viking Chess.” Even the least competitive among your group are bound to have fun playing kubb. Wagner’s features bowling lanes, kubb, volleyball courts and a variety of other games.
The Eau Claire Arts Center features the historic State Theatre. First opened as a vaudeville theatre in 1926, the venue has a 1,500 square foot lobby and a theater that can seat 1,098. Often used for concerts and artistic productions, it is also available to rent for seminars and receptions.
In the fall of 2018, the new Confluence Arts Center will open. The building draws its name from Eau Claire’s location at the confluence of two rivers. It will feature a theater seating 1,200, another that will seat 400, and multiple meeting and breakout spaces.
Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire, the city’s full-service destination management organization, is passionate about continuing the momentum for visitors.
“We’re always working toward creating experiences that are delivered with superior consistency, whether it’s dining or technology,” John said. “We need a convention center that will hold more than 500 people and I’m determined to make it a reality. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been thanks to that spirit of collaboration that’s been established. I’m not letting go until that last item is done!”
Based on the passion, commitment, and collaborative spirit I saw in everyone I met in Eau Claire, there’s no limit to what this city can accomplish.
For more information on Eau Claire’s meeting spaces, go here.