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Spectacular Sights

Minnesota has dozens of stunning spaces that serve as unforgettable venues for meetings and events

By Lauren Pahmeier

A gigantic astronaut in front of multistory windows at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul
A gigantic astronaut in front of multistory windows at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul || Courtesy of Science Museum of Minnesota

When planners narrow down lists of potential venues for meetings and events, choosing a space with a particular design or aesthetic might not be highest on the list of priorities. Sensibly, important features such as capacity, location, and technological capabilities need to be checked off first—after all, a planner cannot move forward with a venue if it simply can’t accomodate the number of expected attendees or doesn’t have the audiovisual capabilities needed for the programming.

However, it is important to note that booking a space that’s easy on the eyes can do more than solicit a gasp from attendees as they walk in the door. A beautiful venue, or a locale providing views overlooking a picturesque or urban setting, can whisk attendees out of their typical meeting mindset and give them fresh perspectives. “It takes you out of your norm and gives you a sense of creativity,” says Sarah Hill, director of sales and marketing at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing.

Eye-catching spaces can also make events more memorable, providing vivid visuals that eventgoers will associate with your company for years to come. Stunning spaces can serve as an icebreaker for attendees who don’t know each other, giving them something in common to chat about. No matter what benefits a planner hopes to reap, Minnesota has dozens of uniquely beautiful venues to explore that are set to impress.

The Third Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River, as seen from Minneapolis’ Nicollet Island Pavilion
The Third Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River, as seen from Minneapolis’ Nicollet Island Pavilion || Courtesy of Nicollet Island Pavilion

Waterfront Wonders

Naturally, many Minnesota venues take advantage of views overlooking its more than 10,000 lakes. However, the lakes are not the only bodies of water that provide blue backdrops: The Mississippi River and its hundreds of miles of riverbanks serve as the scenic setting for several venues as well. One in particular is the St. James Hotel, where several of the event spaces, such as the Summit Room, provide sweeping views from the fifth floor. “It’s completely panoramic,” says Hill. “You can look from the north all the way down to the south, and you can see the barges coming through. You can also see the fishermen and women coming through.”

Another space that provides views of the Mississippi from above is the Guthrie Theater, located in the Mill District of downtown Minneapolis. While the theater has several event spaces to choose from, the colored glass walls in the Amber Room give a gold-tinted glimpse of not only the river but also the historic Stone Arch Bridge and downtown St. Anthony Main. The cantilevered space extends 178 feet from the side of the building, which provides spectacular views for cocktail receptions of up to 150 people.

While the Guthrie Theater and St. James Hotel both provide views of the river from a few floors above, other venues such as Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis offer event space along the shoreline—something that several environmental nonprofits love to lean on year after year for their annual fundraising galas. “For us, the relationship to the river is really important,” says Sara DeKok, development director for nonprofit organization Friends of the Mississippi River. “I think it’s the best venue in town as far as views and experience of the river.” Another nonprofit, Save the Boundary Waters, echoes that same sentiment. “Our supporters like being there on the river,” says Kelsey Polcher, development director for the organization. “Being an environmental organization, it’s a community of paddlers. Having a river there is very on-brand for us.”

 Summit Room at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing
Summit Room at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing || Courtesy of St. James Hotel

Although environmental nonprofits like these appreciate the proximity to the water at Nicollet Island Pavilion, the interior of the venue is just as beautiful with high ceilings, exposed brick, and an overall industrial look—all thanks to the building’s past life as a boiler works factory. “This building is very old, and there are so many new venues every year popping up,” says Gabriella Panebianco, sales consultant for Mintahoe Catering & Events, which provides catering for the Nicollet Island Pavillion. “But the river and the skyline are really what sets it apart and makes it very unique compared to the new glitz and glam venues.”

Urban Snapshots

While Minnesota’s natural beauty is always striking, the urban landscape in Minneapolis is also something to be admired. One iconic place to scout the skyline is from the top of the W Minneapolis–The Foshay, where many who gather there visit the Observation Deck and Museum on the 30th floor. Planners can convene their group at this popular spot by renting the Observation Deck and Museum for small events. Another option for happy hours, holiday gatherings, product launches, and more is Prohibition Bar, which touts art deco design on the 27th floor with windows that overlook the city.

Another sky-high venue is Windows at Marquette, located on the 50th floor of the IDS Center. The property can host almost any type of gathering in its four ballrooms—including corporate meetings of up to 300 people—where floor-to-ceiling windows allow visitors to see panoramic views for miles in every direction.

Impressive views from Windows at Marquette in Minneapolis
Impressive views from Windows at Marquette in Minneapolis || Photo by Tyler Dewland, courtesy of Windows at Marquette of the Marquette Hotel

“My goal every time I go up there is to try to find something new that I have never seen,” says Kathryn Franko, director of sales and marketing at Windows at Marquette and Marquette Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton. “You get to see the Chain of Lakes (comprised of Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska, Lake Harriet, Brownie Lake, and Cedar Lake). You can see the airport, and you can see planes coming and going. It’s something I never take for granted. It’s a wonderful place to showcase for customers when they are coming in for a meeting.”

Within eyesight of Windows at Marquette is U.S. Bank Stadium, another iconic spot where planners can host small and large gatherings alike—as long as it’s not a Minnesota Vikings gameday. Any of the six large club spaces have views of the field, which will impress.

The Great Room at the W Minneapolis–The Foshay
The Great Room at the W Minneapolis–The Foshay || Courtesy of Katy DeZellar

Unique Spaces & Places

Without a doubt, views of the Mississippi River and the Minneapolis skyline will blow attendees away, but distinctive design details in the venues themselves are often the ones that are most memorable. One place to find unique event spaces is the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, where groups can gather amid museum exhibits after the museum has closed. Guests can make company with a triceratops and stegosaurus in the Dinosaurs & Fossils Gallery, or take turns projecting their face onto the helmet of the 36-foot-tall Giant Astronaut. Of course, planners can also host events in more traditional spaces such as Discovery Hall and Elements Cafe, and purchase access to the museum so each of the attendees can explore the exhibits before, during, or after the programming.

The Science Museum is not the only unforgettable St. Paul venue. Not too far away from the venue is Union Depot, a building that functioned as an operational train station for decades before being transformed into the venue it is today. (It is once again a train station, too.) The building maintains several original features such as marble pillars and flooring from its neoclassical design in the breathtaking Waiting Room. Smaller meetings and events can be hosted in one of the several other spaces such as the Red Cap Room, which provides plenty of daylight and a view to admire—something that many smaller meeting spaces lack.

Gathering on the lawn of the neoclassical Union Depot in St. Paul
Gathering on the lawn of the neoclassical Union Depot in St. Paul || Courtesy of Union Depot

“When you do an all-day event, you really want a space that has natural light,” says Kathleen Lohmar Exel, vice president of community advancement and the foundation executive director of the St. Paul Area Chamber Foundation, which has hosted many events in the Red Cap Room. “That’s the thing that’s nice about the Red Cap Room in particular: There are windows on both sides. You can see down into the concourse, which people love to see, and then they have some natural skylights in there, too, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just stuck in a corporate, windowless room.”

Natural light is also a highlight at the Hutton House in Medicine Lake. In addition to garage doors that flood the space with sunlight, the overall clean, minimalistic aesthetic and materials keep the space feeling airy and bright. “We are definitely known for our warm white ambience, and that little bit modern, very minimalistic design aesthetic,” says Nicki Gavin, marketing director at Hutton House. The design style also enables planners to dress up and decorate the space to fit their branding, color palette, or chosen theme easily—making it a versatile venue for planners to return to again and again for various meetings and events. “If the company is leaning into a certain theme for the event, just having that clean, minimalistic backdrop allows that to be the focus of the celebration,” says Gavin.

Thanks to one-of-a-kind designs, views, and settings, these spectacular sites will leave a lasting impact on attendees.