For groups that want something outside of the ordinary—up to and including a “pitchfork fondue”—the Bismarck-Mandan area of North Dakota offers an affordable, outdoorsy respite from your typical meetings destination.
“We kind of promote ourselves as a change of pace,” says Shari Grossman, director of sales for the Bismarck-Mandan CVB. “We’re different from the big city hustle and bustle. When you’re here, you’re the main attraction—everyone knows you’re coming.”
The two cities are separated by the Missouri River in the south-central portion of the state. Its location lends itself to excursions on the mighty waterway, such as a cruise on the Lewis and Clark riverboat, which can accommodate up to 140 on a charter any time of the day.
One of the more unique off-site options is taking part in a pitchfork fondue, a regional favorite that involves loading pitchfork tines full of rib eye steak and roasting the meat assembly over a fire before dipping it in fondue sauces.
Fort Abraham Lincoln, launching point of the doomed 7th Calvary campaign known as Custer’s Last Stand, also offers a historical twist, with characters adopting the dress and speech of the late 1870s. There are various facility rental options available, including The Commissary Great Room (seating 160) and the more-rustic Post (seating 240 and located in a pioneer-style town). The park also features the On-a-Slant Mandan village, dating from the late 1570s.
Another popular off-site or reception venue is the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is undergoing a large expansion that will be mostly completed by the end of the year.
And for groups wanting some time on the links, HawkTree Golf Club boasts dramatic black-sand bunkers and actively caters to gatherings, tournaments and social events.
According to Grossman, the area draws a wide variety of groups, and in particular regional government groups and associations due to it being the state capital. Bismarck-Mandan is also located on the periphery of the Bakken formation oil boom—North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producer in the U.S.—which lured thousands to the destination in 2012 for the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.
Bismarck-Mandan offers approximately 3,100 hotel rooms, all of which are located within 15 minutes of Bismarck Municipal Airport, according to Grossman. The main convention area contains 800 sleeping rooms within three or four blocks of the Bismarck Civic Center, which has 80,000 square feet of space, a 10,000-seat arena and 20 breakout rooms.
The primary full-service meetings hotels are the Radisson Hotel Bismarck and the Best Western Ramkota Bismarck. According to Grossman, all of the properties offer free Internet service, and most include free shuttle service from the airport.
Some good locally owned downtown dining options include The Toasted Frog, Peacock Alley, Blarney Stone Pub and Bistro.