Perhaps Fort Wayne, Ind.’s minor league baseball stadium Parkview Field sums it up best.
Resembling ballpark icons Wrigley Field in left field, Fenway Park in right and Camden Yards at the entrance, it packs a lot of variety in a small package. And on the other side of the park is a 3,000-seat vaudevillian theater.
“Groups can take in a minor league baseball game, take in a Broadway show, and eat at one of 20 restaurants within a block-and-a-half of the convention center,” says Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.
“We’re a very walkable community. The convention center has not one, but two attached hotels, and right across the street from the convention center is a brand-new ballpark, which Street & Smith named as the number-one minor league ballpark in America.”
According to O’Connell, the publishing world accolades don’t stop at Street & Smith, as the venerable Life magazine dubbed Fort Wayne “The City of Restaurants” decades ago.
“We have 8,000 to 10,000 people coming for a [Honda] Gold Wing rally,” O’Connell says. “They come here because they love to eat—their unofficial motto is ‘We ride to eat.’”
The Gold Wingers represent a significant market for Fort Wayne: affinity and hobby groups. Everyone from genealogical groups—Fort Wayne boasts the second-largest genealogical center in the U.S., after Salt Lake City—and the National Fishing Lures Collectors convention to the national get-together for people who collect beer cans.
“It sounds a little trite to say we’re affordable or family-friendly, but these hobby groups that are spending out of their own pockets to come here love Fort Wayne,” O’Connell says, adding that many groups rent out the ballpark, which boasts a 3,000-square-foot meeting room. “They have meetings and then roll out and have bratwursts and beer. They love it. They’re getting out of a building, walking around and stretching their legs, and getting out in the sunshine—it sells.”
Other off-site options include the city’s botanical conservatory, encompassing a city block.
The major meeting facility is the Grand Wayne Center, which offers 225,000 square feet of flexible space and boasts 30-foot floor-to-ceiling windows.
According to Michael Coffeen, director of sales and marketing at the Grand Wayne Center, location, cost, two attached hotels (the Hilton Fort Wayne and the new Courtyard Fort Wayne Downtown), an in-house IT department and the personalized service offered by the green-jacketed participants in its host program are what sets the convention center apart.
“You can have the greatest facility in the world, but if you don’t have the people that can interface with the planners and attendees, you don’t have anything,” he says.