Many area residents know of HC Photography in Milaca, but they may not know that as of this summer, owners Christine and Russ Hugg took a big leap of expansion and opened a one-of-a-kind event center on property near their rural-Milaca home, about 6 miles north of the city. 

“I built it for weddings,” Christine said, but she will market it for other events, such as corporate events, anniversary parties and funerals.

The family-based building crews raced to finish the final details this spring to open the HC Event Center, 10544 210th St., in time for the Huggs to host a graduation party for their daughter. The gathering of about 300 people put the new facility to an important test.

The center hosted its first wedding in July and has had three others since then. Everything in the flexible space is working well, she said.

People have learned about the center from its online advertising on Facebook and wedding-site venues, as well as newspaper ads.

“Lots of neighbors in the area have said they didn’t even know it was there,” Christine said about the client base so far.

Facility offers flexibility

The new event-business owners paid attention to the finer details of hosting a big party. The center contains three big areas, including a huge, covered, open-air space, all of which can be used for different stages of a party.

Christine said clients have a few choices of how to arrange and host the different parts of a wedding party or other event. All the clients so far have opted for an outdoor ceremony.

Unique features of the center include a suite each for the bride and groom, which they can use the day of the wedding to dress and prepare, plus they can sleep there overnight if they want. Hugg said a few couples had used that option. The suites are practically identical except for the décor, with a full bathroom, dressing table and area, as well as a bed and nightstand.

The bridal suite has four sitting areas with lighted mirrors, so there is room for members of the wedding party to apply makeup, do hair and primp before a ceremony. The suites are upstairs and on opposite sides of the event center.

A front building at the center measures about 50 feet by 50 feet, said Christine. It features two entry areas, a kitchen, a bar area, the bathrooms and space for tables and chairs. An adjacent center room measures about 24 feet by 30 feet. A large, covered, open-air building that measures 50 by 50 feet is adjacent to the others and offers a serene, country view. The center as a whole accommodates a capacity of 370 guests, with indoor seating for 170.

The kitchen has a service area inside plus a window to the outdoor space.

Christine said she’s especially pleased with the bathrooms: Each one is an upscale, ADA-compliant facility with three stalls and three sinks. Her small grandson approved the men’s room, since it has a urinal that is his height.

The main building features a large accent wall Christine said her husband, Russ, a cement foreman and the main builder of the structures, assembled with one piece of “about every kind of wood” Milaca Building Center has. Russ worked the wood into a symmetrical pattern that has subtle color and an artistic look.

The wood-topped tables have a clean-and-finished look that can stand by itself, Hugg said, or people can bring tablecloths and other decorations of their choice. She said she’s never been fond of plastic covers, so she wanted tables that looked nice with nothing on them.

Clients can bring their own caterer and bar service, but Hugg said she has some preferred ones if they need a referral. She said when alcoholic beverages are to be served by an outside vendor, the people must have a separate special-event insurance policy, which they can get through HC Event Center’s agency. The event center does not have its own liquor license.

There is a sound system throughout the facility and room for a live band in a few places.

Christine said she chose décor, and Russ did the building. Except for the plumbing, electrical and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning, she said he and builders in the family did the bulk of event-center construction. She said they hired contractors from Foreston and Princeton who were “awesome to work with.”

They were getting close to the graduation-party deadline with a few features of the event center, so two uncles and two aunts came in from out of town to help them finish building. And then everyone got to enjoy the fruits of their labor at the event center’s first party.

Form, function, future

While the Huggs built the event center with weddings in mind, Christine said she’s open to ideas. She envisions anniversary parties, corporate events, holiday celebrations and more. She was on track to investigate the possibility of holding funerals at the center because, just like with weddings, not everyone has the option of holding services at a church.

From outside, the classic cream-and-red building catches the eye with shiny glass, colored concrete and green grass. Christine said they created a lawn with a combination of sod and grass seed; they’ve been surprised to see the seeded portions do better than the sod. Before the event center was built, the Huggs already owned the property, and it was a hay field.

Christine has shot photography in the region for 10 years and has sometimes used a room inside their home as a studio. She mostly does outdoor photos for weddings, graduation and portraits anyway, and has used the home space as a backup spot in case of rain. Now the event center serves as the indoor studio and the room at home can once again become living space.

So far, all the clients have been from out of the area, but the Huggs hope to change that as word gets around the center is open.

Christine said feedback about the center has been good. A lot of people want a country setting for a wedding, yet historic barns often lack the facilities people want when hosting a crowd, such as a kitchen, flush toilets and air conditioning. She said her experience in photography taught her how barn-based events can be less than ideal, like one time when it was so hot a cake melted and fell apart.

The new event-center owners have already had people ask if they’ll rent the bride and groom suites out as overnight lodging, which they may consider as an option in the future when they’re not already booked. Christine said she’s had a few questions about whether she would lend or rent the center out at a cheaper rate for things like craft shows or other events.

She’s declined those offers because the center is a business with a firm fee for rental that ranges from $2,500 to $5,000. The choices include options for a ceremony only or use of the grounds all day and the suites overnight. The use of all chairs, tables and other service facilities is included in the price. Graduation parties and funerals will range from $800 to $1,200.

Christine said they started obtaining building permits in the fall of 2016. Besides Russ, the family had help from his dad, his brother and their son-in-law, who all give special thanks to the contractors who contributed.

Not only was the building of the event center a family affair, but so is its operation. Christine said her daughters, sister and nieces have all helped.

“When I have a big wedding, I call them all in to set up,” she said.

Get more information about the new HC Event Center online at www.hceventcenter.com or by calling 320-293-3720.

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