I first visited Minneapolis in 1984 for the American Society of Association Executives convention and was struck by how "cool" the city was. A New Yorker at the time, it was hard for me to imagine any Midwest city earning that appellation. Twenty years later, and now a New Englander, I returned this summer to Minneapolis for another ASAE convention. Both the city and I had matured, but Minneapolis was still cool.
Perhaps the best illustration is the 255-room, 21-story Le Meridien hotel, which opened last year. The theater district property is the chain’s first Art + Tech hotel—similar in concept to Starwood’s "W" properties. Behind the dimly lit registration area floats a stunning wall-length mobile. Every guest room is fully wired and comes with a down comforter, huge flat-screen TV, Egyptian cotton sheets and bathrobes, and walls lined with exotic tropical wood. One huge suite comes with a baby grand piano. The contemporary-style ballroom accommodates up to 750 people.
A longtime emblem of the city’s stature is the Walker Art Center, considered one of the finest contemporary art museums in the world. During a hard-hat tour of the Walker’s expansion project, I got a preview of what will be one of the city’s most popular party venues when the project is completed next year. The dedicated special events space, handling 450 for receptions, will have stunning views of the city through huge, funky-shaped windows. Below will be a new Wolfgang Puck restaurant and an intimate 300-seat performance theater that is rigged to handle a Broadway production.
Another one-of-a-kind special-events space can be found at the city’s newest museum: The Mill City Museum, built on the site of one of Minneapolis’ many long-defunct flour mills. One wall of the outdoor "Ruins" function area is the remnant of a towering stone wall with huge protruding girders. It’s a great spot for a Halloween party, or any party for that matter. The museum overlooks the Mississippi and is adjacent to the new Guthrie Theater, now under construction. (Minneapolis has more theaters per capita than any other city outside Manhattan, according to our city guide.)
Since my last visit, the Minneapolis Convention Center has grown to 476,000 square feet of exhibit space. And the skywalk system now links much of the downtown area, making Minneapolis a truly hip town any time of year.