Downtown venues perfect for wedded bliss

Story by Rachel Leingang

MSUM Journalism

Newly engaged couples don’t need to search too far to find a modern, urban environment for the big event.

Downtown offers multiple venues, churches, hotels and the possibility of outdoor weddings for couples looking to tie the knot.

“Everybody wants to be downtown,” said Penny Solum, event coordinator at the Plains Art Museum. “I think they like the fact that they can walk out the door and walk to their hotel room. The atmosphere – it’s just festive.”

An outdoor wedding last summer in Island Park, planned by Alicia Weigel of Bliss, exemplifies the downtown wedding opportunities. Photo submitted by Alicia Weigel

Why downtown?

Many couples enjoy the ambience and energy of downtown, according to Alicia Weigel, event coordinator and owner of Bliss, a company that plans many downtown weddings.

Alicia Weigel, founder and coordinator of Bliss, an event planning company in Fargo, plans many events downtown. Photo by Frozen Music Studios

“It’s the closest to that urban feel that we really can offer,” Weigel said. “It’s the personalities – there’s nothing wrong with the hotels in town, I work in them constantly and I love all of them, but it seems like the contemporary (brides) hop downtown.”

Heidi Reisenauer got married in downtown Moorhead at Usher’s House on Jan. 1, 2011, and arranged all aspects of her wedding to be downtown. Her bridal shower was at Atomic Coffee on Broadway and her bachelorette party started at Sammy’s Pizza.

Heidi Reisenauer also got her hair and nails done downtown. Photo by Chris Franz, chrisfranzphoto.blogspot.com

“It’s the only place in Fargo where you sort of feel like you’re not in suburbia,” she said.

Downtown weddings show guests that Fargo can be modern, too – and that Fargoans aren’t all like they’re portrayed in the well-known “Fargo” movie.

“I’m trying to bring a little bit of New York to Fargo – just to get away from the tulle and Christmas lights and do something different here,” Weigel said.

Weigel helps brides plan all details of the big event, including dessert tables and decorations. Photo by Shawna Noel Photography

Searching for space downtown

Many brides have a checklist that helps them decide which venue meets their criteria. This chart depicts common checklist items. Graphic by Rachel Leingang.

While Usher’s House has hosted receptions before, the Reisenauers were the first to be married inside the building.

Heidi and Try Reisenauer chose Usher's House as their downtown venue. Photo by Chris Franz, chrisfranzphoto.blogspot.com

When searching for venues, Reisenauer only looked downtown.

“We live downtown, I work downtown, and we very much try to support that,” Reisenauer said. “It’s where we hang out, it’s where we started dating, it’s where we live, and so for us it was kind of a personal connection.”

After checking schedules at other locations like the Plains Art Museum, NDSU Alumni Center and the Avalon and finding no availability, she decided to book Usher’s.

“It kind of ended up being one of those things where the venue was open,” Reisenauer said. “Once we started thinking about what it would look like in January with all the windows, it just seemed like a good fit. And we felt like it was unique, because we’ve been to tons of weddings in Fargo and we’d never been to one there or even knew of anyone who got married there.”

Reisenauer found their venue choice to be unique and original. Photo by Chris Franz, chrisfranzphoto.blogspot.com

HoDo perfect for smaller fetes

For an intimate gathering, the Hotel Donaldson provides flair and food.

The Hotel Donaldson provides its own catering, such as this bison and asparagus meal. Photo submitted by the Hotel Donaldson

“I think we’re hands-down the most beautiful hotel in town, but also if you’re looking for something different, something that’s not in a ballroom,” said Maranda Tandberg, event coordinator at the HoDo. “We’ve all been to weddings in large banquet facilities – to me it’s just something a little bit different.”

The HoDo can do a sit-down dinner for 85-100 guests if they all want to be in the same room. By renting out the restaurant, lounge and downstairs wine cellar, Stoker’s, it can accommodate up to 300.

A couple shares a kiss on the roof of the HoDo. A rooftop wedding, most popular in the summer, can accommodate 45. Photo submitted by the Hotel Donaldson

With only about eight weddings per season, the HoDo finds that its location is becoming popular for boutique weddings.

“A lot of people that come here and have weddings say that it was a more unique wedding and more fun for their guests,” Tandberg said.

Avalon provides a vintage feel

“We have that historic edge, whereas walking into a hotel ballroom, it’s going to be just walls,” said Lindsay VanDanacker, events planner at the Avalon. “They might have pretty chandeliers, but here we have a lot of architecture and it’s really cozy, it feels like you’re just in somebody’s really big house.”

The Avalon's vintage feel is popular among the downtown crowd. Photo submitted by the Avalon

The Avalon hosts over 50 weddings per year and can accommodate 325 on the first floor or 200 on the second floor. The Avalon has on-site catering and VanDanacker does a majority of the planning.

“I have the super quiet people that love to have that super intimate dinner and they don’t even have a dance,” VanDanacker said. “And then I have the partiers that party until we say, ‘Hey guys, it’s time to go home.’”

The Avalon has two floors and provides its own catering and decorations. Photo submitted by the Avalon

Plains Art Museum perfect for art-loving couples

“We offer this gorgeous building, and it’s something different than pretty much anything else in the state, really,” said Solum.

Couples choose the Plains for its beautiful, sleek architecture. Photo submitted by the Plains Art Museum

The Plains can also open up its galleries for viewing, if the couple chooses. The galleries and architecture of the building don’t require a lot of decoration.

“You walk into a square banquet room with no windows and goofy-looking carpet and you want to just cover everything up, and I’ve seen people do it,” Solum said. “You can do any color here and it’s going to look beautiful.”

Many brides choose a minimalist color palette at the Plains in order to highlight the building and its features. Photo submitted by the Plains Art Museum

The Plains books about 25 wedding per year and only one wedding per weekend, allowing parties to decorate the day before and be more relaxed on the big day.

The Plains can accommodate up to 250 guests and works with a list of four preferred caterers. They also see brides coming in from bigger cities, like Minneapolis and New York.

“It’s a total wide variety,” Solum said. “Every one is different and unique – it’s the personality of the people that attend.”

The Radisson offers space for larger guest lists

While the capacity of the Radisson’s ballroom is 280, they can accommodate up to 420 guests. Most planning and decorating are done on-site, and the Radisson caters the events as well.

The Radisson caters all of its events on site, allowing couples to customize a menu. Photo submitted by the Radisson

“They work with one person all through the beginning, the booking process, all the up until the day of, and we’re at the events, too,” said Jess Fredette, convention sales and service manager at the Radisson.

The large windows and view of downtown are a big selling point for the Radisson, as well as its proximity to activity.

“Your guests have so much to do,” Fredette said. “And we’re connected by skyway to Broadway and the Black building.”

Brides can customize the space by using the linens and decorations owned by the Radisson and can also customize a menu.

The windows, offering a view of downtown, and available decorations are both selling points for the Radisson. Photo submitted by the Radisson

“Each reception is individual,” Fredette said. “You have those couples that don’t want anything but downtown.”

Starting the planning process

Information compiled from Hoover Web Design Graphic by Rachel Leingang

Most vendors and planners suggest planning a year to a year and a half in advance in order to book the space you want.

Bliss also provides full-service rentals and many of the venues have decorations on site as well. Weigel has a list of preferences for weddings, which makes finding the proper catering, photographer and DJ smoother.

“I don’t put a vendor out there that would represent my suggestion badly,” Weigel said. “I want to make sure that if I say they’re good, they’re good.”

Some downtown venues may cost more, so downtown does require a more open budget or more careful budget planning.

Reisenauer suggests following the advice that wedding books provide.

“My advice is if you’re working with a venue that isn’t accustomed to doing weddings all the time,” she said, “is to make sure you write everything down and sign contracts on things as far as how many people you’re going to have and the food and all that stuff.”

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About Deneen Gilmour

Deneen Gilmour is the MSUM professor who channels her senior students' work onto this blog. The stories and multimedia here are created by each semester's Mass Comm 405/Writing for the Web class. Gilmour was a daily newspaper journalist for 16 years before getting her Ph.D. and moving into academia. She and her husband, Jim, have a 20-year-old son and two daughters, 8 and 10.

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