To start, the state’s topography is distinct. Fronting four of the Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie—Michigan has more freshwater shoreline than any other state in the United States. It is divided into two peninsulas, the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula and the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula (U.P.).
In addition to these truly great lakes, Michigan boasts shimmering beaches, miles of cherry orchards and nighttime skies crowded with stars—settings that foster a quiet state of mind in which productivity flourishes. It’s also a state where historic cities of industry and innovation still thrive, providing groups with eclectic urban landscapes and facilities where inspiration is all but guaranteed.
The most well-known city is Detroit, an urban metropolis famous for giving birth to the auto industry and the legendary rhythms of Motown.
Now, this historic city is undergoing an extraordinary rebirth. “It’s a destination that has not been at the top of people’s list for a long time, and now planners are looking for something new, different and exciting, which is exactly what is being created here. Detroit has a great storied history, but it has not been completed yet,” says Bill Bohde, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Near Detroit is Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan. Point a compass west to the edge of Lake Michigan and discover lighthouses, sand dunes and inviting communities such as the Dutch village of Holland and artsy Saugatuck. Grand Rapids, the state’s second-largest city, as well as Michigan’s capital, Lansing, can be found on the state’s west side.
A trek north leads to enchanting locales such as Traverse City, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and car-free Mackinac Island. The five-mile drive across Mackinac Bridge, connecting the Upper and Lower peninsulas, leads to the majesty of northern Michigan with its vast forests, accessible wilderness and untamed shoreline.
Across the state, the best of nature and urbanity await. That Green Acres couple would no doubt love Michigan—and your group will, too.
The Detroit People Mover and GM
Headquarters, courtesy of Vito Plrrinsano/
Why we love it: The largest metropolitan area in Michigan, Detroit is a cosmopolitan urban center that is home to an exciting downtown, the Cobo Center, three resort gaming venues, the stadiums and arenas of three professional sports teams, a thriving cultural district and plenty of nightlife, entertainment and restaurants. The city shares an international border crossing and waterway with Ontario, Canada. The scenic downtown RiverWalk is a great place to walk, run and cycle along the Detroit River.
Standout feature: Belle Isle. The nation’s largest island park within a city, Belle Isle was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also planned New York’s Central Park. The verdant 983-acre island park features a zoo, aquarium, conservatory, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, golf range and areas for hiking, cycling and picnics. Situated along the banks of Belle Isle, the Detroit Yacht Club offers banquet facilities, small meeting rooms and a ballroom that are ideal for small meetings or intimate gatherings. Attendees will love the view.
Convene here: Cobo Center. On the shores of Detroit’s riverfront, the 2.4-million-square-foot facility is undergoing a $300 million facelift, scheduled to be finished in January 2015. Its new three-story atrium was recently completed, featuring floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a configuration to handle several thousand for a reception and nearly 700 for a banquet. The renovation project will also add energyefficient lighting, free Wi-Fi (for 22,000 users at once), new parking options and upgraded loading docks. Slated for completion by Sept. 1, the adjacent Cobo Arena is being transformed into a 40,000-square-foot ballroom with panoramic riverfront views.
Stay here: MotorCity Casino Hotel. Its name is a nod to the city’s moniker referencing the auto industry. The 400-room property is a hotel, meeting site and gaming and entertainment venue. Elegant touches include 300-count sheets imported from Italy and extra-deep soaking tubs. Onsite are 67,000 sq. ft. of meeting and conference space, including the state-of-the-art Sound Board Theater, where groups can enjoy live concerts or stage their own shows and product introductions. Attendees can relax at the luxurious D. Tour Spa, organize team building by incorporating casino gaming exercises and customize a memorable dinner at Iridescence, a AAA Four Diamond restaurant offering healthy menu options and themed meals.
Another option is the tallest hotel in North America, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, which offers 1,298 guest rooms with spectacular views, 100,000 sq. ft. of space, onsite restaurants and a 40th-floor fitness center, as well as convenient access to the People Mover monorail system that links to downtown attractions.
Offsite here: The Henry Ford Complex. This is a not-to-be-missed, multifaceted attraction showcasing industrial inventions that changed the world in many ways. Located just west of Detroit in Dearborn, the complex encompasses a 90-acre village, a museum, an Imax theater and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. Attendees can experience spectacular exhibits, demonstrations, programs and reenactments that celebrate American ingenuity.
Seek city excitement here: Vibrant ethnic neighborhoods. Detroit is a melting pot and its cultural tapestry is reflected in its ethnic communities. Explore the Irish neighborhood Corktown, home to historic Queen Anne houses and the award-winning Slows BarBQ restaurant. Greektown is one of downtown’s most popular dining and entertainment hot spots, while southwest Detroit’s MexicanTown is lively with popular restaurants and cafes serving authentic Mexican fare. Dearborn boasts the largest Arab population in the country and the Arab American National Museum. The neighboring city of Hamtramck, known for its Polish identity, is speckled with unique shops, alternative nightspots, markets, eateries and bakeries. (It’s the place to try a pierogi or a paczki, pronounced poonch-key; just ask any local.)
Devos Place, Grand Rapids, courtesy of Grand Rapids CVB
Why we love it: A river runs through it…literally! Michigan’s second-largest city is located on the Grand River, which runs through Grand Rapids’ spectacular and very walkable downtown, where planners will find more than 1,400 hotel rooms. This vibrant metro area serves up a cornucopia of museums, theaters, culinary options, entertainment, local craft breweries and cultural attractions, among them the renowned Gerald R. Ford Museum, which chronicles the life of our country’s 38th president.
Standout feature: Easy access to nearby beachside communities. Downtown Grand Rapids is just a short drive to a number of spectacular beach towns, from the Dutch-influenced Holland and picturesque Saugatuck to Grand Haven with its lighthouse and scenic boardwalk to Muskegon, home to a topranked amusement park.
Convene here: DeVos Place. Just 15 minutes from Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR), this first-class convention center is equipped with versatile meeting and exhibition space, which includes a 162,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall, 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 2,404-seat theater and 26 meeting rooms, all housed under one roof. The center’s neighbors include the Forbes Four Star Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, accessible by climate-controlled skywalk.
Stay here: Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. An aura of glamour and sophistication pervades this ornate property that features one of the world’s largest goldleaf ceilings. It is west Michigan’s largest and most complete hotel, with seven outstanding restaurants and 682 finely appointed guest rooms. Amenities include an indoor pool, a fitness center and facilities for tennis, racquetball, swimming and squash. Planners can take advantage of some 47,000 sq. ft. of function space.
Historic Pantilind Lobby at Amway Grand Plaza, Grand Rapids
Offsite here: The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. These tranquil gardens and indoor venues provide an evocative setting for events. “Splendor” is the only way to describe the 132 acres of internationally acclaimed sculptures and themed gardens. The facility offers 16 event spaces, as well as state-of-the-art A/V and creative catering choices. Consider meeting during the Summer Concert Series (June–August) or the annual Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition.
Seek city excitement here: Visual and performing arts venues and exhibits. Grand Rapids is a hot spot for the arts, including cutting-edge live music and contemporary outdoor murals. ArtPrize (Sept. 18–Oct. 6), among the world’s largest art competitions and exhibitions, made the Time magazine list of Five Festive Events You Won’t Want to Miss in 2013; it takes place across the city.
Why we love it: Ann Arbor is a college town offering an enticing combination of small-town friendliness and sophisticated urban amenities. Located 25 miles west of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), Ann Arbor has more than 150 meeting venues, from small creative settings to the University of Michigan Stadium (The Big House), as well as banquet facilities that can seat up to 600 guests.
Standout feature: AirRide. The convenient new daily transit service runs from Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) to four Ann Arbor locations and costs attendees just $12 one-way or $22 round-trip. The comfortable buses are equipped with ergonomic seating, individual aircraft-style climate controls and reading lamps, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TV monitors.
Convene here: Ann Arbor Art Center. Encompassing 1,800 sq. ft. of space, the center sets the stage for unforgettable corporate meetings, retreats and receptions. The historic Walker Building has three spaces, one of which is a gallery, and a third floor that houses two brick-walled studios; together, they accommodate up to 150 guests. Of note: The beautiful and verdant University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens is also ideal for indoor and outdoor events, with colorful formal gardens, natural settings, a conservatory and an auditorium.
Stay here: Weber’s Inn Hotel. This boutique hotel offers 157 guest rooms, nine meeting rooms and 9,300 sq. ft. of flexible space. Attendees can take advantage of free Wi-Fi in all guest rooms, enjoy live entertainment at The Habitat Lounge and unwind in the exercise facility, complete with a soothing whirlpool and sauna. Another option is the 197-room Sheraton Ann Arbor, which has the city’s largest ballroom, providing more than 15,000 sq. ft. of sophisticated meeting space for groups of up to 800.
Offsite here: The University of Michigan Stadium/ Jack Roth Stadium Club. With the gridiron as a striking backdrop, the Jack Roth Stadium Club spans from end zone to end zone and features incredible views of the field and the campus. Score a touchdown with your attendees during versatile teambuilding events, receptions, corporate dinners or conventions held here.
Seek city excitement here: The Ark. Located downtown on trendy Main Street, The Ark is a nationally renowned venue for acoustic and folk music. This 400-seat club provides a comfortable and sur-prisingly intimate setting in which to enjoy live entertainment and musical acts. It has been around for 48 years and features more than 300 live performances each year, including the popular annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
Carriage ride around Mackinac Island, courtesy of Mackinac CVB
Why we love it: Hundreds of islands dot Michigan’s waters, but none are as spectacular as this one, located in the Straits of Mackinac. The best way to describe Mackinac Island is “timeless.” Step back in time and unplug from the hectic distractions of everyday life. There are no automobiles, only the clipclop of horses and buggies and the whir of bicycle wheels. Mackinac offers the ambience of a bygone era and a gracious, easy way to meet.
Mary McGuire, executive director for the Mackinac Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, says it best: “The moment you get on the boat and cross the Straits, you leave the [modern] world behind….Most people don’t get a chance to unplug and enjoy the silence. Here, it is the ‘art of silence’—it is nature.”
Standout feature(s): Carriage rides, conservatories, water and forests. Groups can enjoy Mackinac Island’s carriage tours; explore Wings of Mackinac, the butterfly conservatory; and hike, bike and trail ride though Mackinac Island State Park. Sailing, lighthouse tours, parasailing and biplane tours offer attendees breathtaking views of the island.
Convene here: The Grand Hotel. This 385-room hotel was made famous when the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, was shot here. Many groups now incorporate a Somewhere in Time theme into events, with attendees encouraged to dress in vintage clothing. Opened in 1887, the resort has nearly 24,000 sq. ft. of space, including the Woodfill Conference Center, a two-story, 16,000-square-foot space combining Victorian-era elegance with state-of-the-art facilities. Outdoor venues include the sprawling and lush Tea Garden, which can be set for croquet tournaments, cookouts and other gatherings. The 18-hole golf course even offers players horse-drawn shuttles between the front and back nines.
Stay here: Chippewa Hotel Waterfront. Nestled along the tranquil waters of the marina, the four-story hotel features 57 guest rooms, a 25-person lakeside Jacuzzi, the Pink Pony Patio Bar and the Lilac Tree Spa. Meeting facilities can accommodate groups of up to 120 attendees.
Chippewa Hotel Waterfront, Mackinac Island
Offsite here: Fort Mackinac. Built in 1780, this must-see attraction is truly a “blast from the past.” Situated on the bluffs above the water, the fort is one of only a few surviving from the Revolutionary War. Inside its weathered stone gates, groups are treated to rifle firings, court-martial reenactments, scenes from military life and cannon salutes.
Seek country delights here: Mackinac Island fudge. The island places no claim on inventing fudge, but it has perfected the art of creating it. Watch fresh fudge made daily at Mackinac’s many fudge shops, and consider offering attendees or VIPs this bit of confectionery heaven as a sweet gift. The 2013 Mackinac Island Fudge Festival is Aug. 23–24.
Traverse City, courtesy of Traverse City CVB
Why we love it: Located along Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City offers a welcoming, tree-shaded downtown that is walkable and dotted with scores of fascinating boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops and galleries. The area is home to more than 70 hotels and resorts, offering a combined 4,500 rooms and 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting and banquet space.
“You won’t find very many chains here. The downtown shops and restaurants are locally owned and it’s a wonderful artisan community…authentic!” says Tori Piersante, vice president of sales for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Standout feature: Cherry Capital Airport (TVC). This full-service facility offers major airline service, connections and charters to 300 domestic and international destinations, making it easy for meeting attendees to get to this invitingly small city in a somewhat remote location.
Convene here: Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.Set against the backdrop of rolling greens, orchards, vineyards and deep blue waters, the 585-room hotel is the area’s largest full-service property and conference center. It features 86,500 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, including Governor’s Hall, with 19,320 sq. ft. and 20-foot ceilings. Even the indoor tennis courts can be used as separate exhibition halls, totaling 30,000 sq. ft. Attendees can also enjoy the casual ambience of the 1,004-square-foot Manitou Hospitality Room, equipped with a pool table, bar and large-screen TV with a Wii game console. Other amenities include three golf courses, a full-service spa, two restaurants and a shopping arcade.
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, Traverse City
Stay here: Shanty Creek Resorts. Located just northeast of Traverse City, this complex of three interlocking resorts recently completed a $10 million renovation. It features 508 rooms and more than 36,000 sq. ft. of redesigned and renovated meeting space—all within Shanty Creek’s 4,500 acres. Other amenities: a full-service spa, 72 holes of championship golf and two ski areas. For a downtown option, there’s Park Place Hotel, which offers 140 rooms, a health club, full-service restaurant and more than 12,800 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Offsite here: The Manitou. Groups take to the “high seas” on this tall ship that holds up to 59 people and offers the chance for hands-on instruction and team-building exercises, as well as shipboard special events. On land, the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, voted the most beautiful place in America in 2011 by viewers of Good Morning America, is not to be missed. A 64-mile coastline of beaches, towering sand dunes and coves, it offers an extraordinary chance for bonding adventure.
Among the options are tailored, guided tours that incorporate an educational component into exploration of this awe-inspiring habitat.
Seek country delights here: Wineries and orchards. While Traverse City is best known as the cherry capital of the world, it also produces excellent wines, and some of the area’s 27 wineries offer private tastings, tours and event space. Traverse City also hosts an eclectic mix of festivals—such as the National Cherry Festival, Microbrew and Music Festival, Traverse City Film Festival and Wine and Art Festival—that may entice attendees to sign up for a meeting while they are taking place.
Lori Ella Miller is a freelance writer and screenwriter based in Detroit who writes about travel, entertainment, filmmaking, business and lifestyle.
Main image: Skyline of Detroit, courtesy of Detroit CVB
- Capital: Lansing
- State Flower: Apple blossom
- State bird: American Robin
- State reptile: Painted turtle Bounty: Michigan produces more cherries than any other state.
- Waterworks: Stand anywhere in Michigan and you are within 85 miles of a Great Lake.
- Two Ps: Michigan is the only state consisting of two peninsulas. The Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. More than 90 percent of the Upper Peninsula is forested.
- Nicknames: Michigan is the Great Lakes State, home to more than 11,000 lakes. Locals are called Michiganders or Michiganians.
- CVB trivia: Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau is believed to be the world’s first CVB, established in 1896.
- Local bite: The U.P.’s singular dish is the pasty, a meat pie, which when prepared right is the ultimate roadside treat.
- Who knew? Michigan has approximately 116 lighthouses, the most of any state.
- Cool geography: Detroit is the only city in the lower 48 states where you can look south to Canada.
Starry, Starry Night
One of humanity’s oldest relationships is with the stars. Those heavenly bodies that blanket the night sky mesmerize, guide and inspire us. Groups looking to push the boundaries should take an unforgettable sojourn to the “celestial” destination of the Headlands.
Located approximately two miles west of Mackinaw City in northwest lower Michigan, The Headlands is a beautiful 600-acre park that holds the distinction of being one of only 11 International Dark Sky Parks (parks that are very dark at night, resulting in exceptionally starry skies), making it spectacular for stargazing. It’s also teeming with unspoiled beaches, nature trails, forests and wildlife. The park’s Guest House accommodates up to 22 people and features a lawn area for larger outdoor events. Throughout the year, the park hosts nighttime astronomy and educational events and is the perfect place to meet, retreat and bond under a starry, starry sky.
- Who: National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA); 120 attendees
- What: NRECA Summer School
- When: June 2013
- Where: Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, Traverse City
- Why: “I wanted to find a destination that offered the amenities that appeal to our attendees, and we wanted the chance to go to a place that is a little bit different. I scouted Traverse City last fall, and it fit the bill! This was an intensive weeklong meeting with training and certification workshops, so our attendees were excited about the amenities there. And they liked the options outside of shopping and restaurants, such as going to Sleeping Bear Dunes, golfing, fishing and being right on the water. Traverse City offers so many options.” —Mike Burke, CMP, CEM, specialist, meeting and event planning
A Sweet Story
In the late 19th century, Pavilion of Sweets was a popular Detroit spot for sweet cream soda. One day in 1875, the icedelivery truck failed to show, and the shop’s cream turned sour. Thinking quickly, proprieter Fred Sanders added ice cream to the soda and—voila!— the ice cream soda was born. Today, there are nine Sanders Candy & Dessert Shops in southeastern Michigan and two on Mackinac Island. Another local creation is the Boston Cooler, a mixture of ice cream with Vernors Ginger Ale. The brand was created in 1866 by Detroit pharmacist James Vernor and is the oldest surviving ginger ale brand in America. It was first sold in 1880 and is now distributed by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.