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Meetings on Main

Charming Minnesota main streets create memorable event host cities

By Julie Kendrick

main streets
Minneapolis’ St. Anthony Main neighborhood has cobblestone streets and buildings dating to the 1850s. || Photo by Weston M, courtesy of Unsplash

No matter how much we love big cities, very few of us can resist the charms of a stroll down a picturesque Main Street, whether it’s the centerpiece of a small town or a hidden gem within a more populous metropolitan area. Main Street is as much a vibe as it is a location because it’s the place we all come together to socialize, relax, and appreciate the joys of keeping things local. Luckily, Minnesota is blessed with Main Streets of all varieties—from locations with a historic perspective and tree-lined spots close to nature to up-and-coming small-town centers with a plethora of modern amenities.

For meeting and event planners, using a Main Street as a central event backdrop can be a great way to mix up the business-as-usual routine. In the heart of town, these areas are often close to group-friendly hotels, and most offer dining and recreation activities that can accommodate larger numbers of participants.

There’s a perfect Main Street for just about every type of meeting or event, whether you’re looking for handy access to the big city or to have a group that would enjoy smaller, quirkier venues. Consider the vibe of your next meeting and start planning your own Main Street experience with this handy guide.

A Bridge to History

Cobblestones? Check. Buildings that are 150 years old—or older? Check. Access to the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River? As we say in Minnesota, you betcha.

“St. Anthony Main combines the best of an urban environment with some perks of the suburbs,” says Gretchen Culver, owner and creative director of Minneapolis’ Rocket Science Events. “There are indoor and outdoor spaces of varying sizes, making it perfect for a variety of events. It’s also a great foodie destination, with many excellent restaurants such as Alma, Sidebar at Surdyk’s, and Jefe Urban Cocina. And, best of all, it’s all just a short ride over [the] picturesque [Stone Arch Bridge] to hotels, stadiums, and other downtown amenities.”

While this area was first developed in the 1850s, it has a surprising abundance of a 21st-century necessity—parking. “It’s plentiful and relatively inexpensive to park there, and that’s one of its biggest draws for clients who want to make this critical piece easy for their guests,” Culver says.

Two good options for event space, planners told us, are Aster Cafe and Machine Shop. “I have worked numerous times with both for events,” says Rachelle Mazumdar of Style-Architects Weddings & Events in Minneapolis. “Aster Cafe is small and intimate, with great views of the Minneapolis skyline. Machine Shop’s historic vibe and flexible space make it ideal for any size group. These two are definitely worth checking out.” You might also consider the historic Nicollet Island Inn, which offers space for up to 200 attendees, along with breathtaking year-round views of the Mississippi River. Owner Larry Abdo says, “All our food is prepared by the same executive chef and culinary team [for events], so your participants will be served the same excellent food as our dining room guests enjoy.”

main streets Cathedral Hill
St. Paul’s Selby Avenue runs through the heart of the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. || Courtesy of Visit Saint Paul

Old-World Elegance

The Cathedral Hill neighborhood in St. Paul is all about the views, starting with the magnificent spot right where Summit Avenue and Selby Avenue meet. To the north, you can see the Capitol building, to the east downtown and Dayton’s Bluff, and to the southeast, Cherokee Heights. As you walk, you will find magnificent stone buildings, tree-lined streets, and, of course, the hilltop Cathedral of Saint Paul, which was completed in 1915.

Kastina Morrison is a partner at Minneapolis venue consultant and venue manager Bigger Picture Solutions and has planned many events in the neighborhood. She speaks from experience when she says, “This area is beautiful any time of year, and I think winter in Cathedral Hill is lovely, too.”

She recommends The Coven, a coworking community that offers meeting space rental. The flagship Cathedral Hill location has two floors of space inside the historic Blair Arcade building and access to parking for attendees. Another memorable meeting venue is the Minnesota History Center located in the heart of Cathedral Hill. “This venue appeals to my clients who want a vibe that is classic, yet very current,” says Char Mason, event producer and creative strategist at Mason Creative.

For group meals, W.A. Frost and Co. is great any time of year, offering space for up to 60 guests. In the winter, attendees can soak up the European ambience, original artwork, and access to a crackling fireplace. During the warmer months, what’s often called the best outdoor dining patio in St. Paul is open for business.

Bring on the Quaint

Just 23 miles from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Stillwater’s Main Street still manages to seem like a faraway, undiscovered gem. Rated one of the top 10 “Prettiest Towns in America’’ by Forbes, the city’s Main Street riverfront area is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But “historic” certainly doesn’t mean “sleepy,” and this area is delightfully vibrant all year long. In fact, if everything seems just a little bit more longstanding here, there’s a reason for that: Stillwater is one of Minnesota’s oldest towns, predating the founding of Minneapolis by several years.

“This is such a popular spot because the Main Street is so cute and quaint that it truly feels like you’re on a little getaway, even if the meeting is a short one,” says Lexie Cummings, owner of Availed Wedding + Event Planning in Minneapolis. “Guests love when events are in the heart of Stillwater, primarily due to how walkable it is.” Between activities, meeting attendees can stroll along the iconic street, which has 100 locally owned art galleries, fashion boutiques, breweries, and gift shops, plus dining options that often include outdoor patio spaces with views of the St. Croix River and bluffs.

Cummings says the 55-room Hotel Crosby, located right on what it describes as “hip-storic” Main Street, is a “must stay.” It has meeting and event space, an on-site spa, and an on-site dining option, Matchstick Restaurant & Spirits.

STILLWATER Main Street Photo credit Cory Snyder can you blur out text on chalkboard that store is closed now
An artist paints en plein air in Stillwater || Photo by Cory Snyder

A Hometown Retreat

“[Red Wing] is such a great location for weekend retreats or meetings that will potentially include multiple days, with portions of the itinerary allowing for exploration of the area,” says Morrison. If she sounds especially enthusiastic, it’s because Red Wing is her hometown. Some of her can’t-miss hometown activities include hiking on the He Mni Can-Barn Bluff, one of the best-known natural features along the upper Mississippi River. She also touts the morning coffee at Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop. Known for some of the best baked goods in Minnesota, it’s located in the heart of historic downtown Red Wing. And no visit would be complete without a post-meeting waterfront stroll at Levee Park, where attendees might even see passengers boarding the riverboats.

The bustling Main Street has a “shop local” vibe, including iconic Minnesota retailers like Red Wing Shoes and Duluth Trading Co. The street is also home to the historic St. James Hotel, often referred to as the most romantic hotel in Minnesota. Meeting locations include Willow Brooke Farm, located in the Flower Valley area, which has a large year-round reception space and a vineyard for groups up to 300. Mazumdar also mentions the Round Barn Farm. “It’s a special space with a historic round barn that dates [to] well over 100 years old. There’s a wonderful, covered pavilion space that’s large and flexible.”

‘Superior’ in Every Way

A Main Street on the water is a beautiful sight to behold, which explains why Duluth’s Canal Park is such a popular destination for meetings and events. “When my clients select Duluth for their meetings, attendance is always high,” says Tammi Krone, associate regional vice president for HelmsBriscoe, a meetings procurement and site-selection company in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s a location that’s easy to work with, easy to get to, and has so many things for attendees to do. Duluth makes sense because everyone wants to go there.”

Attendees also love the close-to-nature vibe of Canal Park, and meeting planners prize the way this city can accommodate their needs. The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center has 26,000 square feet of space for groups in its City Side Convention Center, and its Lake Superior Ballroom can seat 1,800 people for dining or break down into five separate meeting rooms for smaller gatherings.

Greysolon by Black Woods, which caters corporate events of any size, is a fixture in the city. “We’re conveniently located next door to the Sheraton [Duluth] Hotel, as well as the revitalized NorShor Theatre,” says Sales and Events Director Korah Johansen. Be sure to gaze up when you’re in that historic ballroom, where you will spot ornate chandeliers and original murals. In addition to the Sheraton, larger local hotels include the Holiday Inn and Canal Park Lodge. Restaurants The Boat Club, Grandma’s Saloon & Grill, and Black Woods Grill & Bar accommodate groups.

Krone offers this advice: “Of course everyone wants to be in Canal Park in the summer, but if planners can look at the shoulder months, they will probably find better deals. Planners should engage with Visit Duluth from the very beginning of their planning process, because they make things so much easier.”

Artistry in Action

The southeastern Minnesota river town of Lanesboro is an artistic colony that was named one of the country’s “Top 12 Small Town Artplaces” by Artplace America, and no wonder—it has an extraordinarily high density of creative activities concentrated in one small community. In the revitalized downtown Main Street area, attendees might walk to the Commonweal Theatre, local history and natural history museums, farmers markets, art galleries, and restaurants. This downtown shopping district also includes the impressive Lanesboro Arts Center, with more than 70 local and regional artists, public exhibitions, classes and workshops, artist retreats, and residencies.

Overnight accommodations that can handle groups include the Stone Mill Hotel, created in an 1885 feed mill and featuring 13 themed rooms, as well as The Cottage House Inn with its 13 standard rooms and two one-bedroom apartment suites.

If your meeting includes time for recreation, attendees might want to rent bikes and try out the Root River State Bike Trail, winding 60 miles through the valley, with Lanesboro at the center. It’s no wonder Minnesota Monthly magazine describes the town’s vibe as “a quirky crossroads of the arts and outdoors.”