Northern Colorado's place on the meetings map is becoming more prominent. As neighbors on the Front Range, Loveland and Greeley have emerged as attractive alternatives to the state’s largest cities for meetings and events.
The benefits to looking north? Lower prices and an enviable location that allows for easy day trips to area attractions, plus more manageable logistics, revitalized downtowns, and plenty of good beer.
At the peak of Loveland’s meetings market is The Ranch Events Complex. Opening the gates and doors in 2003, The Ranch (also known as the Larimer County Fairgrounds) can accommodate 10 to 100,000 people in its more than 375,000 square feet of event space. Three of the four buildings on campus include the Budweiser Events Center with a 7,200-seat arena and a 3,000-square-foot restaurant; First National Bank Building with two 18,000-square-foot exhibition halls and five meeting rooms; and Thomas M. McKee 4-H, Youth & Community Building with a 12,500-square-foot hall and six meeting rooms. The fourth is the Ranch-Way Feeds Indoor Arena and Pavilions featuring a large arena and two indoor pavilions as well as the smaller attached Ranch Arena, plus two outdoor arenas located next to the building.
The Ranch’s calendar includes 2,500 events a year, and it’s much more than rodeos and horse shows. “There are a lot of different events we can do over here,” says Sales Manager Katie Buttermore, touting parking availability and easy access to Interstate 25. “We have countless trade shows, corporate events, meetings across the board. We can accommodate small weekly meetings with 10 people to a campus-wide event of 100,000 people.”
Sheryl Fahrenbruch, outreach program manager at Loveland’s McKee Medical Center, organizes a pair of annual health events at the First National Bank Building that attract about 400 attendees. “Everybody from the events coordinator to the catering staff is so fantastic to work with,” she says. “The price is right, and it’s just a great location.”
Janet Hatfield, resource and membership services director for the Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado, plans the annual Home & Remodeling Show in the same building, drawing upwards of 10,000 people. They also have used The Ranch Bar & Grill in the Budweiser Event Center for a 140-person awards dinner. “It’s one of the only venues where you can do a trade show” in Northern Colorado, she says, echoing Fahrenbruch’s sentiments on cost and location.
Lodging comes in the form of the adjacent Embassy Suites by Hilton Loveland Hotel Conference Center & Spa that has 40,000 square feet of event space and the third largest ballroom in the state. “We partner with Embassy Suites and other major hotels as well,” says Buttermore. “We can compete with major cities.”
Cindy Mackin, visitor services manager for Visit Loveland, says The Ranch and Embassy Suites are complemented by smaller spaces at La Quinta Inn & Suites (6,170 square feet of meeting space), Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch (with an 1,815-square-foot event room), and the restored 1920s Rialto Theater Center downtown (with space for 120 and seating for 500 in the historic theater itself).
In the 75,000-resident community, Mackin touts “a lot of outdoor recreation and a lot of water” in the form of Boyd Lake, Lake Loveland and other local bodies of water, plus the public art and sculptures at Benson Sculpture Garden and the growing number of craft breweries within city limits.
But Loveland’s also great for what’s right outside of it, she adds. “We completely promote the fact that we are 35 minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park.”
About 20 miles east of Loveland, Greeley is on the cusp of opening its newest full-service hotel and conference center; The DoubleTree by Hilton Greeley at Lincoln Park is slated to host its first events in September 2017.
Ann Marie Cole, the hotel’s director of sales, says she’s already booked several local galas and conferences, but is looking to 2018 and beyond for larger events in the 12,000-squarefoot Centennial Ballroom, which can accommodate 800 for dining and 900 theater-style.
It’s a much-needed facility for the city. “It is a big deal,” confirms Cole, touting the hotel’s locally focused restaurant, Meeker’s – A Colorado Kitchen.
The target is “the association market and three- to four-day conferences,” she adds. “There has been such a need for a full-service hotel and conference center. A lot of [local conferences and events] have gone outside of Greeley.”
The hotel’s event space opens up to Lincoln Park, the historic town square, and Cole says she’s working with city officials to make the park available for events at the hotel.
The city’s largest event venue is Island Grove Regional Park. The 155-acre municipal facility hosts the city’s biggest annual event, Greeley Stampede, which draws 250,000 to its rodeos and concerts every July. Island Grove features a 15,000-seat arena as well as more than 100,000 square feet of indoor event space. The largest facility, the 80,000-square-foot Events Hall, can accommodate up to 8,280 people.
Hildy Morgan, Friday events coordinator with the Buckhorn Valley Kennel Club, says Island Grove has been a great fit for dog shows that draw about 1,000 people and 1,300 canines every October. It’s a good venue for the organization’s budget and the event’s, and Greeley’s lodgings and the park’s RV spaces accommodate overnight stays.
“One of the good things about getting out of a big city like Denver is you can spread out more,” Morgan adds. “We feel Island Grove is the most exhibitor-friendly dog venue in the state.”
Another larger event space is Union Colony Civic Center, with theater seating for 1,661 in its Monfort Concert Hall. University of Northern Colorado also has plenty of unique spaces including the Rocky Mountain Grand Ballroom which can accommodate 540 people for meals, along with a variety of smaller halls and classrooms.
The Homewood Suites by Hilton is a good option for smaller groups. The BNI Greeley PHDs Chapter has held weekly meetings at the Homewood Suites’ 1,500-square-foot meeting room since late 2016. Jon Banza, president of the chapter and a salesman at Dellenbach Motors in Fort Collins, says the space allows the chapter to grow. “It seems like there’s new life in the chapter,” he says of the move from a smaller basement space in Greeley. “We were having trouble growing.”
Greeley has numerous benefits for meetings and events. “We’ve got this lovely location that’s sort of central to Denver, Estes Park and Cheyenne, and we’re not as expensive as everybody else,” says Amy Dugan, director of Visit Greeley, the city’s tourism bureau, noting that Greeley is only a 45-minute drive from Denver International Airport. “We’re kind of like a cruise ship: You go out on day excursions and come back for the night.”
With a population of 103,000, Greeley is big enough to have plenty of amenities but small enough to be logistically manageable, she adds.
Dugan points to Greeley’s fascinating history as another draw: “It was supposed to be a utopian society.” Centennial Village, a living history museum, provides a lens to see the area’s past, and Colorado Model Railroad Museum offers a chance to see tiny trains in dioramas inspired by historic railroads. A bustling brewery community and a growing gallery scene on 8th Avenue also provides groups with fun and memorable outings.
“It’s a lovely city,” she says. “We’re so proud of it. People who grow up here stay here. Kids come to school here and stay here and work.”