“People leave here with a smile”: Here’s why more organizers are planning their events in Happy Valley


By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger

Photo: Happy Valley Adventure Bureau

Event planners are positively enamored with the State College area, according to Dave Gerdes, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau. He cites the convenience of Happy Valley’s central (and picturesque) location, the wealth of cultural opportunities, and the high energy from nearly 46,000 undergrads on Penn State’s campus.

“People like the location, but it’s more than that,” said Gerdes. “They are drawn to the college town energy, the beautiful outdoors, offsite activities, and the incredible sense of calm and relaxation, which is such a departure from the typical urban and tourist settings that most experience in Pennsylvania. People leave here with a smile!”

Access, Affordability, Accommodation

According to Gerdes, event planners don’t need to work hard to convince their groups to hold meetings in Happy Valley. The area is home to many full-service hotels that draw thousands of visitors every year and features meeting spaces that can accommodate as many as 2,000 guests. It’s almost unheard of for such a small region to boast such a large amount of meeting space, explained Gerdes. And then there’s the versatility that the region provides. “We are within three hours of all four corners of the state,” said Gerdes, making Happy Valley a convenient meeting spot for guests from far and wide.

Because the region is so popular with alumni coming back, parents visiting students, groups holding meetings and tourists spending long weekends in the area that the hotel inventory is barely enough, but that’s set to change.

Gerdes employs an acronym to describe the area’s features: “AAA,” which stands for Access, Affordability, and Accommodation. Compared to other regions in Pennsylvania with access to such a wide variety of outdoor activities, restaurants, and cultural opportunities, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the prices offered in the State College area.

High attendance in Happy Valley

Happy Valley attracts a number of large-scale events each year, from informal get-togethers to the 2022 conference for the PA Economic Development Association. “We have also seen an increase in executive retreats and board meetings being booked in the area,” said Gerdes. Among the many organizations that have gathered at Penn State in the past few years is Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, which Ed Stoddard, Communications Director at the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau recently hosted. “Attendance was high and writers loved the convenience of the conference being held in the Centre of Adventure in Pennsylvania,” said Stoddard.

Upcoming events include the PIAA Spring Championship, IRONMAN 70.3 PENNSYLVANIA HAPPY VALLEY, the popular and vibrant Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, and the time-honored Grange Fair at Grange Park, which pays homage to the area’s agricultural roots and dates back to 1874.

Photo: Happy Valley Adventure Bureau

New and improved luxury lodging

Gerdes says because the region is so popular with alumni coming back to the area, parents visiting students, groups holding meetings and tourists spending long weekends in the area that the hotel inventory at 2,630 rooms is barely enough, but that’s set to change soon. “Exciting projects are in the works,” said Gerdes, mentioning some of the old favorites that are getting a facelift. “Renovations are taking place at the Ramada Inn and the Penn Stater in the coming months as well, so we expect to have pretty much new and updated full-service inventory, so the future looks bright indeed,” Gerdes said.

Additional accommodations on the horizon include a boutique property in downtown Bellefonte and another downtown State College property. “Both up and operating by 2025-2026,” Gerdes said.

On a larger scale, Toftrees Golf Resort will close in November and is slated to be reimagined as a luxury four-star resort. The grand opening date in the fall of 2024 will coincide with the reopening of the acclaimed Nittany Lion Inn, which will return as a brand-new property to its venerated role in State College culture.


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