Furnished in a style to suit every taste

By JT Long

Expect the unexpected in the second-largest city in Michigan. The Grand River running through the center of town that inspired the city’s name is not the only thing moving quickly in a destination with the motto motu viget or “strength in activity.” Beyond being the home of five of the largest furniture companies in the world, Grand Rapids boasts an expanding hospitality infrastructure with deep roots. Seven new hotels have opened since 2016, and many existing ones have completed major renovations.

Local Expert Tip

“Grand Rapids is a hidden gem. Clients are pleasantly surprised when they experience Grand Rapids for the first time. They are surprised by the number of direct flights offered, the convention center and our downtown hotels. They also enjoy the array of restaurants, off-site venues, and attractions within walking distance.”

–  Mary Manier, vice president of sales & service, Experience Grand Rapids


5 Reasons Meeting Profs Love GR

people listening to band
Rosa Parks Circle

An expanding airport arrival: Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) is planning a $500 million ELEVATE improvement, include an art-filled concourse expansion that will increase the number of gates from eight to 14, accommodate larger planes and offer more options for dining and shopping.

A dynamic business community: Grand Rapids has been named one of America’s top 20 cities for job growth, top 10 for fastest-rising income and No. 1 metro area for sustainable development. In addition to Herman Miller and Steelcase, whose headquarters helped earn the nickname “furniture city,” the area is also home to the supermarket and “hypermarket” fulfillment company Meijer and healthcare company Perrigo.

Read More: 5 Ways to Build Community Loyalty

A bubbling beer scene: The town without a brewery in 1996 was named America’s Best Beer City by USA Today in 2021, 2022 and 2023. With more than 40 craft breweries within a 30-minute drive, a post-event “beercation” is a hoppy addition to the trip.

A cooperative attitude: The public, private and nonprofit sectors in town conspire to streamline events at the 162,000-square-foot DeVos Place Convention Center downtown. The centrally located facility and its 40,000-square-foot ballroom are connected to three hotels totaling 1,200 guest rooms by skywalk.

Those summer nights: Rosa Parks Circle is a popular outdoor venue for gathering. It is part of the colorful Monroe Loop walking mural tour and offers easy access to Grand Rapids River Walk.


Top of the Minor Leagues

aerial view of baseball park
LMCU Ballpark

Sports tourism and event infrastructure often share the same footprint. The same spaces that draw enthusiastic fans can also energize conference attendees. Minor leagues share the bravado of their major siblings, but often come in more manageable entertainment-forward packages. Grand Rapids is a testament to this effect. Here’s a look at the history and facilities in the city Sports Business Journal called best in the country for minor league sports.

A Stadium as Lead-off Batter

In 1994, after a decade of starts and stops, local businessmen Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter brought the West Michigan Whitecaps to new 5,700-seat Old Kent Park stadium in Comstock Park, returning professional sports to the area after a four-decade drought. Then an affiliate of MLB’s Oakland A’s, the name paid homage to Lake Michigan and immediately started breaking league attendance records.

The team soon shifted to an alliance with the Detroit Tigers, the stadium name changed to Lake Michigan Credit Union Ballpark, a stadium club was added, seating expanded to more than 10,000, and the team positioned itself as an affordable community entertainment option. It is the largest outdoor entertainment facility in the area. 

A Sports and Tourism Collaboration 

Other teams followed. In 1996, thanks to the tireless efforts of Dan DeVos and David Van Andel (whose fathers co-founded locally headquartered Amway), 12,000-seat Van Andel Arena opened as the home of The Grand Rapids Griffins, now an affiliate of NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. 

The arena, which has hosted top touring concerts, including Paul McCartney, Elton John and Metallica, and corporate events over its 25-year history, was built in concert with a DeVos Convention Center expansion. 

A Concerted Effort 

female volleyball players
Grand Rapids Rise

In 2007, The West Michigan Sports Commission was founded to bring more sporting events to the area. That included the arrival of Grand Rapids Drive in 2014 to 5,000-seat DeltaPlex Arena. In 2021, the team affiliated with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets changed its name to the Grand Rapids Gold and now shares Van Andel Arena with the Griffins and Pro Volleyball Federation’s Grand Rapids Rise, which served up its debut season this year. 

Par for the Course

golf course
Blythefield Country Club golf course

Since 2014, Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, a Grand Rapids suburb, has been an important philanthropic stop on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour as site of the Meijer LPGA Classic, which has raised $10 million for local charities and brought tens of thousands of golf fans to town. 

In a Pickle

Since the first Beer City Open Pickleball Championships in 2018 in Belknap Park, the city has become a giant pin drop on the burgeoning sport’s map, drawing 1,000 participants in 2023 and $100,000 in prize money for the winning “picklers.” 

This article appears in the May/June 2024 issues. You can subscribe to the magazine here.