A Capital Idea

Photo © Ron Cooper

The region’s state capitals are easily accessible and offer a variety of interesting meeting options. These mid-size cities are accustomed to rolling out the red carpet for visitors. They offer abundant meeting and event spaces, top-notch support services and are easy to get to.

Salem, Oregon

An urban flair with homegrown hospitality attracts conferences, meetings and events to Oregon’s capital city.

Perched on the Willamette River midway between Portland and Eugene, Salem’s central Willamette Valley location makes it easy to get to. “We are accessible from anywhere in the Northwest with little difficulty,” explains Debbie McCune, director of sales for Travel Salem. “And once you are here, it is very easy to get around the city,” she adds.  While it is one of the state’s largest cities, central Salem displays small-town charm and a historic downtown area.

Meet and Stay

Scenically situated on the banks of the Willamette River, Salem’s downtown is home to the Salem Convention Center. Expansive windows bathe the facility in natural light, and the stylish interior décor features locally-recycled materials that reflect the region’s natural beauty. Two large spaces can each be divided into a myriad of smaller configurations for breakout sessions and smaller groups.  Additional rooms are suitable for intimate retreats or planning sessions.

Built to conform to the standards of LEED certification, the center has earned a reputation as one of the best green workplaces in the state.  State-of-the-art technology, WiFi throughout, free parking and easy access to downtown Salem’s shopping, dining and nightlife make the convention center a popular venue.  Full-service catering can provide customized menus to meet any group’s needs.

Adjoining the convention center, the elegant Grand Hotel in Salem provides modern comfort in a historic setting. With complimentary WiFi, free breakfast and a 24-hour business center, the hotel offers a handy option for out-of-town attendees.  The hotel’s Board Room can accommodate groups for a retreat, training session or small conference.

The Oregon State Fair & Expo Center, site of the Oregon State Fair, is located a short distance from downtown. The facilities are modern and offer a variety of options. The outdoor L.B. Day Amphitheater hosts large concerts and presentations. The Jackman-Long building can accommodate large groups. Other buildings range in size to accommodate any group or event. Acres of free parking are available and many of the buildings feature full audiovisual capabilities and WiFi.

The Red Lion Hotel Salem is just off I-5. The venue has versatile conference space in several meeting rooms. The Jefferson Center, the largest space, can host a large reception or banquet. Smaller rooms provide breakout or meeting space for groups. The hotel offers free parking and complimentary WiFi throughout.

Chemeketa Community College has a variety of theaters, gyms, conference rooms and classrooms suitable for meetings, conferences and training sessions. Full audiovisual support, WiFi, on-site catering and free parking makes the college an attractive option.

Smaller groups looking for a unique venue make want to check out the college’s Chemeketa Center for Business and Industry (CCBI).  The center has a variety of meeting space options for groups in a modern high-tech building located near the center of the city. “Full in-house catering, high-end audiovisual equipment and convenient downtown location make CCBI a great choice for anything from a standard business meeting to a formal reception,” says Sara Dove, director of CCBI. “We even have a demonstration cooking kitchen for culinary events.”

Out and About

Post-meeting and team building activities can range from relaxing to invigorating. Riverfront Park stretches along the banks of the Willamette River through the heart of the city. The park’s paved trails are perfect for a scenic morning run or late afternoon stroll. The park also connects Salem to the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. The bike path follows the river for 134 miles northward from Eugene. The level terrain around Salem offers many biking options. South Salem Cycleworks has bicycle rentals and can provide route information about scenic rides around Salem or along the bikeway.

The historic buildings of downtown Salem house boutiques, specialty shops, art galleries and dining. The Reed Opera House, a recently-restored 145-year-old building, houses an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. The public gardens of the Historic Deepwood Estate and Bush Pasture Park are steeped in history and offer a peaceful afternoon getaway.

The Oregon State Capitol features elegant marble decor in a structure of Modern Greek architecture and a tour of the capitol can be a wonderful group activity. Self-guided or docent-guided tours take visitors through the stylish structure in addition to its art, history and rock and mineral exhibits.

Salem is also the heart of the Willamette Valley wine country. Salem’s visitor center can arrange tours of local wineries such as the award-winning Willamette Valley Vineyards that showcase the region’s fine wines. For beer aficionados, Ale Ways Brewery Tours takes visitors on a tour of the central Willamette craft beer scene.

Salem is located on I-5, only a one- hour drive from either Portland or Eugene. The Amtrak Cascades line provides easy rail access to Salem with the station located only a few blocks from the center of town. A variety of shuttle services offer convenient access to Portland International Airport (PDX) for visitors wishing to fly in.

Boise, Idaho

The hip, trendy capital of the Gem State offers plenty of meeting options.

Known for its urban-outdoors atmosphere Boise’s nickname, Idaho’s City of Trees, hints at the many opportunities for recreation in a beautiful urban setting. Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills, Boise surprises many. “When visitors come, they find a city that is alive and very vibrant,” says Carrie Westergard, executive director of Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The city has short, walkable blocks and friendly people,” she adds.

Meet and Stay

Boise Centre lies in the heart of the city. “With the addition of Boise Centre East, the recent expansion of the center, we nearly doubled the amount of space available for events,” explains Westergard. It is the largest venue in the city. High speed internet, the latest in technology and in-house full-service catering make this center suitable for many groups.

The Grove Hotel is a modern, sophisticated venue. It is located at the center of the action, adjacent to the Boise Centre and connected to the CenturyLink Arena, Idaho’s premier sporting and event arena.  The hotel has newly-renovated flexible meeting rooms. The Grand Ballroom is suitable for large gatherings while additional rooms and suites can meet the needs of smaller groups or breakout sessions.  State-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities, free WiFi throughout the facility and on-site catering make this venue a popular choice.

Located amid acres of roses, gardens and courtyards on the banks of the Boise River, a short distance from the city center, The Riverside Hotel offers a resort-like atmosphere. Whether it is a large conference or an intimate planning retreat, the Riverside Hotel is an attractive option.

Featured in our October issue, Boise State University sports a variety of meeting spaces for any type of event. The Student Union Building has an assortment of spaces in rooms of all sizes. The Stueckle Sky Center offers several additional meeting or conference options.

Just outside the city, Expo Idaho is home of the Western Idaho Fair. It is a modern, multi-purpose event center.  The indoor event space offers a variety of buildings and pavilions. Whether it is a large trade show or convention in the Exposition Building or a small get-together in the Western Town Hall, the park is ideally suited to any size group. The venue features acres of free parking and a variety of park-like outdoor spaces suitable for any type of outdoor event.

For a truly unique event, planners might want to consider the Old Idaho Penitentiary.  Built in 1870, the territorial prison once housed some of the West’s most notorious outlaws.  The venue’s spacious Main Yard is great for a large outdoor event. Indoor venues include the Auditorium accommodating small presentations, the Women’s Ward that is perfect for a meeting or retreat and exhibit rooms that are great for lectures and receptions.

The Basque Museum and Cultural Center, located in the heart of Boise’s Basque Block is a cultural gathering place for Basques and non-Basques alike. The museum celebrates the history and culture of the Basque community and its event space is perfect for a small reception for presentation.

Westergard says “the Boise Convention and Visitor Bureau has an experienced team to help find the perfect space. We are the connector between meeting planners and the venues.”

Out and About

With more than 100 restaurants, downtown Boise offers an endless variety of cuisine from quick-service stops to haute cuisine. A distillery and 18 craft breweries provide plenty of libations and the region has a growing wine industry.

Museums, art galleries and boutique shops offering one-of-a-kind merchandise abound throughout the city.  Nationally-renowned theater and performing arts organizations, professional sports venues and many establishments offering live music provide an abundance of post-meeting options.

A guided tour of the Idaho State Capitol, the only capitol building in the U.S. heated by geo-thermal energy, or a visit to the World Center for Birds of Prey provides the opportunity for distinctive group activities.

The region is the epicenter of outdoor activities and offers many team building opportunities. The Greenbelt, a 25-mile paved trail along the river, is great for walkers or cyclists. More than 190 miles of trails in the nearby foothills range from easy to challenging. The area has five ski resorts and 17 golf courses, keeping visitors busy in all seasons. Whitewater rafting on the Payette River attracts thrill seekers while a float trip through the center of the city provides a serene river experience.

Boise is easy to reach by air. Boise Airport (BOI) has direct flights on six airlines to all the major cities in the Northwest and Mountain West. The airport is large enough to have all the amenities but small enough that it is easy to navigate. For drivers, I-84 runs through the center of town and, it is easy to get around once you arrive.

Helena, Montana

The splendor of the gold rush days endures in the capital of the Treasure State

Located in a valley between Rocky Mountain peaks, mid-way between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, Helena retains its rich gold-rush character while offering modern amenities. Western history comes alive as you wander through the streets of the compact, walkable city and outdoor recreation opportunities abound.

Grant opportunities are available for groups that would like to hold a meeting or event in Helena. More information is available from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Meet and Stay

The elegant Radisson Colonial Hotel Helena features the Ballroom for large groups. Smaller rooms range from the intimate Russell Boardroom to the Capitol and State rooms that can be combined to form a single space. With complimentary WiFi, on-site catering and free parking, the Radisson is an attractive option for conferences and business meetings.

Situated in the center of the city, the Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel is minutes away from all the city’s attractions. The décor of this modern hotel harks back to the turn-of-the-century days when the Great Northern Railroad was Helena’s link to the outside world.

Also in the center of the city, the recently renovated Holiday Inn Conference Center offers space for small to mid-size meetings. The venue offers free parking, onsite catering, complimentary WiFi and free local shuttle service.

The Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds are home to the annual Last Chance Stampede & Fair in addition to many trade shows, conventions and conferences. The new exhibit hall is appropriate for large conventions, while entry hall offers a more intimate setting for a banquet or small conference. The fairgrounds also has a variety of outdoor spaces spread across 160 scenic acres.

Carroll College campus offers a wide variety of conference rooms, classrooms, banquet spaces and low-cost summer-time dorm housing.  The academic setting and scenic grounds make the college an excellent choice for a planning retreat or educational conference.

Out and About

Helena is alive with opportunities for team building and post-meeting activities. The city lies at the center of a hiking and biking mecca. More than 75 miles of trails head out from downtown in all directions. Fishing on nearby rivers is legendary. Boating on the area’s three lakes and rafting or kayaking on the nearby Dearborn River will make any water enthusiast happy.

On a Gates of The Mountains boat tour, you will follow the boat route of Lewis and Clark along a wild section of the Missouri River. Watch for ospreys and eagles soaring overhead and look for bighorn sheep and mountain goats clambering along the cliffs.

To get a glimpse of Helena’s history you can hop aboard the Last Chance Tour Train for a tour of the city or download the Walking App and take a walk through the Westside Mansion District that features the elaborate homes of early miners. Shoppers will enjoy the boutiques of Helena’s downtown.

For a one-of-a-kind activity, visitors can become prospectors for a day and try to strike it rich. At Capital City Prospecting, your group will learn how to pan gold on a gold-bearing stream not far from Helena. The Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine, on the shores of Lake Hauser, offers the chance to dig for sapphires and rubies.

Helena lies at the intersection of two major highways, I-15 and U.S. 12.  The breathtaking scenery along the drive through the heart of Big Sky Country entices groups holding events to build extra time into their schedule and linger along the way. For quicker access, the Helena Regional Airport (HLN) is served by Delta, Alaska and United airlines with direct and connecting flights to major Northwest cities.

Olympia, Washington

Meeting and recreation activities abound on the shores of Puget Sound

Nestled between I-5 and the shores of Puget Sound, Olympia is the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula, yet is easily accessed from both Seattle and Portland. The city offers scenic outdoor recreation, fascinating historical sights and eclectic shopping opportunities. The Capitol Building sits in the center of a tree-filled campus on the shores of Capitol Lake. Jeff Bowe, director of sales for the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau, explains “Olympia attracts many federal, state and municipal government meetings, and it gets very busy when the legislature is in session. The Visitor & Convention Bureau is very adept at helping planners find the perfect venue.” Many of the area’s hotels offer special rates for government groups.

Meet and Stay

Located in the heart of downtown Olympia, the contemporary Governor Hotel is a five-minute walk from Capitol Lake. The Legislative Room accommodates a theater-style presentation or a banquet. Smaller rooms include the Washington Room and the Executive Boardroom that is perfect for an intimate executive retreat. Free WiFi, complimentary breakfast, covered parking and the central location make the Governor an attractive option.

With a scenic setting on a hill overlooking Capitol Lake, the newly-renovated Hotel RL Olympia (formerly the Red Lion) is Olympia’s largest hotel space. It has a variety of meeting venues of various sizes. The hotel boasts the latest in conference technology and complimentary WiFi throughout.

The Prairie Hotel, just east of Olympia in the town of Yelm, offers many options for meetings, seminars or conferences in a scenic small-town setting. The location, close to Olympia and only an hour from Mount Rainier, is perfect for a get-away-from-it-all experience that is easily accessible. Complimentary WiFi and a full line of audiovisual equipment support any type of meeting.

Only 15 minutes south of Olympia along I-5, the Great Wolf Lodge is a full-service event center. With meeting space that can accommodate small or large groups, the facility is a premier destination for meetings and conferences.  Flexible function meeting rooms can be configured to meet any group’s needs. The facility offers special lodging rates for groups, acres of free parking, complimentary WiFi and on-site catering.  With Washington’s largest water park, a ropes course, a spa and a fitness center and a variety of dining options, your group will never be bored.

Only minutes north of Olympia at the base of the Olympic Peninsula, the Little Creek Casino Resort offers a wide variety of meeting options. Built-in staging and state-of-the art audio make the Skookum Creek Event Center perfect for a large-scale presentation or conference. With a variety of conference rooms, meeting rooms and event spaces, the facility can accommodate anything from a large multi-day conference to a small corporate retreat.  The resort boasts a full-service spa and an 18-hole golf course for post-conference activities.

Bowe says that “there are often small and large meetings happening all over the place, so meeting planners are getting very creative.” We have three colleges, St. Martin’s University, Evergreen State College and South Puget Sound Community College. They have great event spaces for any size group and excellent event planning services.” The Olympic Flight Museum and the Hands On Children’s Museum offer interesting possibilities for group meetings.

Out and about

Walking, jogging or biking on tree-lined paths, kayaking on Puget Sound and exploring the bird-filled wetlands of the nearby Nisqually Wildlife Refuge provide plenty of outdoor action. For more outdoor adventure, groups can head east to Mount Rainier National Park or North to the Olympic Peninsula.

Washington State Legislative Building (the state’s capitol building) boasts the tallest masonry dome in the nation.  Free guided tours lead groups through the lavish interior, explaining the history and architecture of the building. A highlight of the tour is the five-ton Tiffany chandelier.

Olympia is conveniently located along I-5 an hour from Seattle and 90 minutes from Portland. Regular shuttle service provides access to Seattle’s Sea-Tac International Airport (SEA) that offers direct flights from destinations throughout the world.

The Amtrak Cascades offers train service to Olympia. It provides easy access from Vancouver, British Columbia, in the north to Eugene, Oregon, in the south.

By Ron Engeldinger