The Wild Coast of Lake Superior
Location, authenticity and expansion top the list of reasons to meet in Michigan“Seasonality, diversity, affordability” sounds like the motto of France (and Detroit was in fact settled by the French), but these actually are the main reasons for meeting in Michigan, according to Kim Corcoran, executive director of Meetings Michigan, a statewide marketing cooperative. “Every planner is different,” Corcoran says, “but we feel like we have something to offer every planner.” Michigan is a four-season destination, Corcoran says, adding, “We have beautiful resorts that are ideal for meetings three seasons of the year. But we can also host winter meetings where the focus might be on skiing or other outdoor activities.”
Law school library, University of Michigan, Ann ArborDiversity-wise, Michigan has a little bit of something for everyone: a downtown city feel in Detroit and Grand Rapids; a university environment in Ann Arbor and Lansing, home to the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, respectively, two of the largest colleges in the country; and stunning resorts in places such as Traverse City. Michigan is more affordable than other Midwest destinations—not just in terms of hotel rates, but also in the many add-ons including parking. To seasonality, diversity and affordability, you could add swimmability. Michigan boasts more freshwater shoreline than any other state, and you are never more than 6 miles from a body of water and 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes. “Our lakes are like oceans,” Corcoran says. “They are so big you can’t see to the other side. But we say there are no sharks, no salt, no worries.”
The Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi
Detroit: Continuing the ComebackThe Comeback City continues its resurgence with a tremendous amount of new development and street activation taking place in and around Detroit, according to Keith Kirsten, director of sales for Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. By hosting a meeting in Detroit, planners and attendees can be a part of the comeback story, Kirsten says. The big news for that story is the 50-block District Detroit, with a new sports arena, hotels, restaurants and retail shops; a suburban convention center expansion; and a streetcar system. District Detroit is located in the heart of the city and will unite six world-class theaters, five neighborhoods and three professional sports venues—homes to the MLB Tigers, NHL Red Wings, NBA Pistons and NFL Lions. Little Caesars Arena, which will be the new home of the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons, is on schedule to open in July 2017. It will offer 60 executive suites and seating for 21,000. Many new hotels are coming to downtown including the 100-room Foundation Hotel in early 2017; the Element, a 110-room hotel in the historic Metropolitan Building next year; and the 130-room Shinola Hotel, to open on Woodward Avenue in fall 2018. The QLine streetcar is nearing completion and is expected to be operational in spring. It will travel north and south on both sides of Woodward Avenue for 3.3 miles, connecting businesses, restaurants, retail stores and attractions downtown. Situated on the banks of the Detroit River, Cobo Center is one of the largest contiguous exhibit spaces in North America, with 2.4 million sq. ft. of space, including more than 100 meeting rooms. Several blocks inland, MGM Grand Detroit offers 400 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in a resort-style casino setting. East of Detroit in Novi, The Suburban Collection Showplace has broken ground to add approximately 175,000 sq. ft. of event center space to the facility by December 2017. The expansion will offer 90,000 sq. ft. of exposition space in the event center, including 70,000 sq. ft. of column-free space with 40-foot ceilings, contiguous with the existing 210,000 sq. ft. of exposition space. It also will offer more than 300,000 sq. ft. of exposition space and four large ballrooms. The expansion will enable the facility to host larger consumer shows, entertainment and athletic events, trade shows, social events and association conventions for up to 8,000 people.
DeVos Place Convention Center, Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids: Big City/Small Town FeelThis vibrant city on the Grand River is building on what Nichole Steele, national sales director for Experience Grand Rapids, calls “the Grand Rapids difference.” She claims that planners can find all the things available in a big city, but with a small-town feel. “Our main ingredient is our people, who are passionate about their home and friendly toward visitors,” she says. The downtown is extremely walkable and offers a wide variety of restaurants—most of them local, and not chains. There are also multiple museums within walking distance of the convention center, including Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum. “It’s a very warm downtown, and we can‘t build housing fast enough to accommodate everybody who wants to live there,” Steele says. DeVos Place convention center is connected to three hotels and an arena by skyway. It offers a 162,000-square-foot column-free exhibit hall and a 2,404-seat arena.
Meeting space above Downtown Market Grand RapidsThe city boasts many unique venues—including the space above Downtown Market Grand Rapids, a large, modern food market that provides the opportunity for offerings such as cooking demonstrations and classes. Fully furnished meeting rooms can accommodate up to 200, plus there’s a terrace, banquet room and greenhouse, all available for buyouts. There is an emphasis on safety and security in what is already a very safe city with a team of Safety Ambassadors, all of whom wear teal shirts and monitor downtown, checking with visitors to make sure that everything is going well. Because of the small-town approach, Steele says, “We work with planners in a personal way. Unlike larger cities that work off a list that depends on a meeting’s size, we work with you no matter how big you are. We ask what you need help on—microsite, attendance-building, transportation or whatever—and take it from there.”
Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
Traverse City: Natural Beauty and BeyondNatural beauty is the starting point for this city with clear blue lakes and green hills covered in orchards and vineyards. Traverse City boasts a wide variety of unique, independently owned hotels, a sophisticated arts and culture scene, world-class golf and some of the most innovative chefs in the Midwest. “This is not a ‘me, too’ destination with a lot of ‘me, too’ attractions,” says Tori Piersante, vice president of sales for Traverse City Tourism. “It’s completely real and completely genuine.”
The Village at Grand Traverse CommonsThis destination’s unique settings have been enhanced with the transformation of a century-old mental asylum into Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a multiuse village of shops, boutiques, restaurants, offices, apartments and condos. It’s one of the largest historic re-use projects in the country and now one of the city’s major attractions. The project has been under way for more than a decade, but what’s news is the emergence of meeting venues as part of the mix. They include the former asylum chapel and an enormous cathedral barn. Just outside the city is the 600-room Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, sitting on 900 acres and with 86,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. Ryan Buck, director of sales, says, “We can offer an amazing diversity of venues and activities for meetings, from a team-building event on Level 17—the 17th floor of our tower—to events for up to 400 at our beach club. We have an event design manager who is like an onsite DMC, who can do things like recreate wine country in our ballroom, bringing in winery representatives and so forth.”
Radisson Lansing Hotel at the Capitol
Lansing: The Ideal LocationLocation is key to Lansing’s appeal, according to Tracy Padot, vice president of marketing communications for Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, but that is only the beginning. Greater Lansing—comprised of Lansing and East Lansing—boasts a central location in the state that makes it ideal for events of all kinds, Padot says. It’s within 90 minutes of 90 percent of the state’s population, while proximity to the state Capitol and Michigan State University provides access to legislators and thought leaders. The downtown corridor in Lansing is home to Lansing Center and a 15-mile river trail that runs right past the center along the Grand River. The center offers more than 71,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 12 breakout rooms, and connects via sky bridge to the 256-room Radisson Lansing Hotel at the Capitol. The hotel offers an additional 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The area has become a vibrant hub for nightlife and dining, Padot says. In fact, there are more than 75 dining and nightlife spots within walking distance of the convention center. Lansing became the first CVB in the state to implement a Certified Tourism Ambassador program in 2010, and it now has more than 500 front-line hospitality staff trained as Grater Lansing CTAs, ready to serve visitors. East Lansing is home to sprawling Michigan State University, which boasts numerous cultural attractions including Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum—the same Eli Broad who was founding chairman of Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and is an alumnus of MSU. Michigan’s meetings product—with its diversity of big cities, great resorts and university towns—is in the center of the country, but should be top-of-mind for meeting planners.
Harvey Chipkin is a freelance writer who has been covering the hospitality and meetings industries for many years.