Brian Jewell

New Ohio experiences

It's time to freshen up your Buckeye State itinerary because Ohio has a bevy of new attractions and experiences waiting for groups in 2014.


Brian Jewell
Published January 15, 2014

It’s time to freshen up your Buckeye State itinerary because Ohio has a bevy of new attractions and experiences waiting for groups in 2014.

With a trio of large cities and dozens of interesting smaller towns to explore, Ohio has long been a favorite destination of groups traveling in the Midwest. Many of the attractions that draw travelers are well established, but the state’s tourism industry is also continuously updating its offerings for groups.

Tours of Ohio this year can now include special experiences such as a VIP dinner at an organic farm and a luncheon with presidential re-enactors. Several museums have made major renovations and improvements that expand their offerings for guests. And in Cincinnati, a new downtown entertainment district makes the city’s waterfront more vibrant and engaging than ever.

If you’re planning travel to Ohio in the coming year, make sure to take advantage of these new developments all over the state.


Banks Entertainment District

Cincinnati is celebrating the completion of Phase One of the Banks Entertainment District, which has been under development since 2008.

“It’s really a distinctive neighborhood in an eight-block area along the banks of the Ohio River,” said Julie Calvert, vice president of communications and strategic development for the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve had explosive development down on the banks, and it’s becoming one of the most popular places for visitors to go in Cincinnati.”

The Banks Entertainment District combines dining and nightlife establishments with cultural institutions and a new public park. Twelve restaurants and numerous bars have opened on the streets along the banks, including Christian Moerlein Lager House, which has a variety of tour and dining options for groups.

“The Lager House was opened by a fellow that we call Cincinnati’s beer baron to celebrate the city’s brewing history,” Calvert said. “It has the largest collection of locally brewed beers — you can’t get anything there but what is brewed in Cincinnati. They also brew their own beer there, and groups can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the microbrewery or have private tastings.”

Locals and visitors alike will enjoy the new Smale Riverfront Park, a 45-acre green space in the Banks Entertainment District that plays host to concerts, festivals and special events.

The district is anchored by several large-scale tourist attractions, including the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Great American Ballpark and the Reds Hall of Fame.


Farm-to-Table Dinners

In Gahanna, a suburb east of Columbus, the local convention and visitors bureau has teamed up with a resident organic farmer to create a menu of experiential tour packages for groups that highlight farm-fresh cuisine.

Jorgensen Farms is a 65-acre organic farm that specializes in raising organic herbs, among other produce and livestock. The bucolic setting has made the farm popular for visitors and weddings for some time.

“When you come here, it’s a very sensory experience,” said owner Val Jorgensen. “It smells so good, and everything is so beautiful. I welcome people to see, touch, taste, smell and listen to all that the farm is.”

New for this year, the farm will offer VIP garden tours and farm-to-table dinners to groups that make arrangements through the Gahanna Convention and Visitors Bureau. Jorgensen will greet groups and walk them through her farm to see and sample whatever herbs and vegetables are in season at the time of their visit. Then the entire crew will sit down to a gourmet dinner made with products from the farm.

“It will be like going to a winery for a wine tasting,” Jorgensen said. “You’re on the farm where the food was actually grown, and you can mingle with the people who grew the food for you. It will be seasonal organic food, including pastured beef and other livestock grown right here.”

Travel planners can work with the farm in advance to set a menu to fit their group’s specific taste. Depending on the weather, the meal could take place in a renovated barn on the property or in the middle of a field of flowers.

Groups can also arrange for lunch or afternoon tea visits to the farm.


Lunch With the Presidents

Food comes with a side of history in a new program being offered in Marion, a town in north central Ohio, where groups can have a meal with historical interpreters playing the roles of various U.S. presidents.

The program is based on a series of public events the Marion County Historical Society has offered for several years. Due to the popularity of the presidential dinners, the Marion Area Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged with the historical society to create a lunchtime experience for tour groups.

“I had some tour operators attend the public dinners, but they said that they wanted to do these meals for their groups on their own day, and they wanted to do it for lunch,” said Diane Watson, director of the Marion Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “So you get [interpreters of] three of four presidents who are volunteers from the historical society. They do all their own research and come up with a program.”

Each historical interpreter gives a presentation to the group in character, talking about a president’s life and the highlights of his presidency. Planners can also arrange to have the interpreters join their group for the meal, spreading out at tables around the room and eating with the travelers while staying in character.

“The historical society researches the presidents that are going to be there and finds out what their favorite foods were,” Watson said. “Then the caterer makes these special dishes. They’ve done things like succotash, sweet potato pie and rosewater tea.”


Liberty Aviation Museum

On the banks of Lake Erie in Sandusky, the Liberty Aviation Museum pays homage to the aircraft and airmen that served during World War II, as well as civil aircraft that were used in transporting travelers in the Great Lakes region. Only a year and a half old, the museum has recently completed an expansion that more than doubles its exhibit space.

“New this year, we’ve added a second hangar with 34,000 square feet of space,” said Jeff Sondles, the museum’s public relations director. “It’s reminiscent of the big bomber hangars that were in England during World War II and will include a three-story replica of the control and command towers that people might remember from the movies about the war.”

In addition to seeing historic aircraft and exhibits about aviation history, groups will soon be able to take a ride in a certified 1940s-era PT boat at the museum.

“We’ve been restoring a PT boat for the last year,” Sondles said. “It’s the wooden PT boat from 1945 that’s still on the water. We’ve gone through the recertification process with the Coast Guard.”

Once the finishing touches on the boat are completed, it will sit in the lake at the museum. Groups can choose to take a dockside tour or a “torpedo run,” a short cruise in which they will learn about the history of PT boats and their exploits in the Navy.


Western Reserve History Center

A $4 million renovation and expansion of the Western Reserve History Center in Cleveland is giving visitors a variety of new ways to experience the museum’s impressive collection of historic automobiles, planes and other items.

The renovation had the biggest impact on the center’s Crawford Auto Aviation Museum.

“The Crawford had been in existence since 1963 with wonderful classic cars and aircraft, but the space was really dated, kind of dark and not really welcoming,” said Kelly Falcone-Hall, interim CEO of the Western Reserve Historical Society. “Now it’s updated, bright and welcoming, with a new museum store and learning spaces.”

The renovated space opened with a new exhibit called “Setting the World in Motion,” which uses automobiles and aircraft from the Crawford’s collection to tell the story of northeast Ohio innovators and entrepreneurs who advanced the automotive and aviation industries during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Another new exhibit, “REVolution,” uses 58 historic vehicles to trace the history of auto development in America.

In addition to the renovation, the historical society is adding an existing building to its University Circle complex.

“We’ve annexed a magnificent pavilion structure to the museum that will hold the Euclid Beach Park Carousel,” Falcone-Hall said. “We believe that it’s going to be another transformational phase for the history center.”

Ohio Has It!