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Meet on the Blue Earth

The riverside city of Mankato has everything planners need—plus a scenic setting

By Danielle Letenyei


Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center is the largest  venue in Mankato
Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center is the largest venue in Mankato || Courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center

Mankato gets its name from the Dakota word “mahkato,” which means “blue earth.” The name describes well the area surrounding this city in south-central Minnesota. Nestled in the scenic Minnesota River Valley, Mankato is known for its picturesque landscapes of prairies, forests, and towering bluffs. It is also the home of Minnesota State University, Mankato.

The city of Mankato lies 75 miles southwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul and offers the perfect spot for a meeting or event outside of the congestion and bustle of the Twin Cities. Planners can find many terrific spaces for their events in Mankato, both in the city’s charming downtown and on its outskirts with easy access to major highways.

Historic & Grand

Mankato’s largest meeting and event space is the Mayo Clinic Health System (MCHS) Event Center. Built in 1995 as the Mankato Civic Center, the MCHS Event Center is within the City Center Campus in downtown Mankato. The facility is home to the Minnesota State University, Mankato, men’s and women’s hockey teams. MCHS Event Center has more than 70,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 21,100-square-foot Grand Hall that can hold up to 2,200 people seated theater-style. A banquet hall at the center also offers 11,201 square feet of space that can be split into two rooms. Plus, the facility has several conference rooms perfect for smaller breakout sessions or classrooms.

The most unique space at the MCHS Event Center is its reception hall, known as The Ellerbe Room. The Ellerbe Room is a historic landmark built in the early 1900s. For more than 70 years, the building served the Mankato community as the First National Bank. Its prairie-style design is the work of architect Franklin Ellerbe, after whom the space is named. The Ellerbe Room still has its original Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained-glass windows and the one-time bank vault. When the city of Mankato decided to build the MHCS Event Center, it built the event space around the historic landmark, preserving it for years to come. “It’s a really unique space,” says Brian Sather, co-director for the MCHS Event Center.

Several major agricultural events are held every year at the MCHS Event Center, including the MN Ag Expo and the Minnesota Pork Congress. Pam Voelkel, director of events and promotions for the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, says the center has everything the Minnesota Pork Congress needs for its trade show, annual meetings, and seminars. “The space is fantastic,” Voelkel says. “We use the arena and the grand hall for trade show booths. The meeting rooms all have access to Wi-Fi and built-in audiovisual, and can be set up any way we like. Everything is up to date, and the staff is amazing to work with. There hasn’t been anything we have asked for that they haven’t been able to provide.” Najwa’s Catering has been the exclusive caterer for the MCHS Event Center since 1995. “Najwa’s is out of this world and very willing to create menus specifically for us,” Voelkel adds.

Standout Service

Also located within the City Center Campus in Mankato is the Hilton Garden Inn Mankato Downtown. While the hotel offers convenient access to the MCHS Event Center, it also has its own meeting spaces available. The hotel has 3,146 square feet of meeting space spanning five rooms that can accommodate anywhere from 14 to 60 people. Its largest meeting room is 830 square feet and can hold up to 60 people seated theater-style.

Catering for events at the Hilton is provided by the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Olives. “Our on-site catering is top of the line and meets all dietary needs and special requests,” says Victoria Vogel, director of sales at the Hilton. A skyway connects the hotel to the MCHS Event Center, making it an ideal place for show attendees to stay or planners to schedule overflow meetings in conjunction with events happening at the event center.
“We work closely with all our clients and enjoy building relationships with them,” Vogel says. “We want to help your meeting be the best meeting it can be, and our sales manager will assist you in making sure all your meeting room needs are met.”

For planners looking for a venue closer to the main highway in Mankato, there’s the Courtyard by Marriott Mankato hotel and event center. It is located off U.S. Route 14 on the city’s east side, near the River Hills Mall. “As a Marriott brand, we have high standards of excellence in providing great service,” says Brooke Moore, director of sales at the hotel. “We host everything from trade shows, large conventions, small meetings, networking events, trainings, weddings, retirement parties, class reunions, and even formal dances.” Last year, Courtyard by Marriott Mankato underwent an extensive renovation, which included updates to its event spaces, guest rooms, and all common areas.

Courtyard by Marriott Mankato’s on-site restaurant, The Bistro, offers catering for events.
Courtyard by Marriott Mankato’s on-site restaurant, The Bistro, offers catering for events. || Courtesy of Courtyard by Marriott Mankato

Courtyard by Marriott Mankato has 8,892 square feet of total meeting space. Its large event center can be separated into four different meeting areas, each of which holds about 50 attendees. There is also a private boardroom, and the site’s outdoor courtyard provides an excellent space for social gatherings of up to 200. The hotel’s event center offers top-notch audiovisual systems with six drop-down screens, projectors, plug-and-play hookups, and microphones. Executive Chef Jorden Gerdes provides catering for events from The Bistro, the hotel’s on-site restaurant.

Entertaining Event Space

The newest meeting and event facility in Mankato is The Venue, located at The Pond on Madison, a former Shopko store on the city’s east side that has found new life as an entertainment complex. It contains a hockey rink, ale house, pickleball courts, golf simulators, an arcade, a duckpin bowling alley, and an event space. “Mankato needed something like this,” says Susu Sadaka, event coordinator for The Venue. Sadaka notes that bookings at the Venue have exceeded expectations since it opened its doors last July. The site had 80 bookings within its first six months of operation.

The Venue at The Pond on Madison features event space and multiple entertainment options.
The Venue at The Pond on Madison features event space and multiple entertainment options. || Photo by Stephanie LaCombe

The Venue offers 12,000 square feet of meeting space that is perfect for corporate events, nonprofit gatherings, educational seminars, and the like. The event space is divided into three sections: a main section with capacity for 350, a pre-venue for 125, and an outdoor grotto that holds 225. A VIP Executive room offers a more intimate meeting space for 35 people and a community room that holds 50. The Venue works with three on-site caterers and one off-site: Sadaka’s Catering, Sterling Catering, Green Mill Catering, and Crooked Pint Catering. All audiovisual and technical support are included in the room rental.

Where The Venue really stands out from other meeting spaces in Mankato is with on-site activities that guests and attendees can take advantage of while they are there for a meeting or an event. They can try their hand at pickleball, play a round on the golf simulators, or kick back on a private deck that overlooks the hockey rink. There is even a stage where planners can bring in a band, DJ, or other entertainment.