Minnesota City (Photo by Meet Minneapolis)
When it’s fall in Wisconsin and Minnesota, meeting attendees might be distracted by the view outside the conference room. For those in the know, the colors in these Midwestern states rival the vaunted foliage of New England. And the good news is that there are many opportunities to combine meetings with a taste of the outdoors in these two nature-centric states.
“Fall is a beautiful time to see our state, and many of the scenic areas are right outside the convention facilities,” says Julia Hertel, executive director of Wisconsin Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus. She notes that the convention center in Milwaukee is right next to Lake Michigan, the one in La Crosse is located on the river and natural beauty is on display right outside conference centers in Oshkosh, Eau Claire and Racine.
It is a similar story in Minnesota at Minneapolis Marriott Northwest. “With the lake close by, you can literally touch the fall leaves,” says Amy Lewis, director of sales and marketing. “We are also near Medicine Lake, which is surrounded by trees.”
John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, says planners will find a wide variety of outdoor opportunities for exploring and team building in the North Star State. “We pride ourselves on being one of the healthiest states in the country, and a lot of that has to do with the natural resources,” he says.
Cedarburg Wine & Harvest Festival, Wisconsin (Photo by Aaron Czarnecki)
Located between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, Wisconsin abounds with year-round recreational activities. Although winters can be blustery, the cold does not deter hearty locals.
“Wisconsin embraces events in all seasons, including winter,” Hertel says. “But fall is where a large percentage of the action is, because of the weather.” There are plenty of autumn festivals in the region, many of which occur annually.
Cedarburg Wine and Harvest Festival (September)
Cedarburg is a small town that has preserved its historic downtown buildings. The festival features a farmers market, award-winning wines, street performers, live music, pumpkin carvers and a juried art show.
Wo-Zha-Wa Days, Wisconsin Dells (September)
This festive, family-friendly celebration includes an arts and crafts fair, antique flea market, live entertainment and 100-unit parade. Visitors can also participate in a street carnival and the annual Wo-Zha-Wa run. All activities take place in downtown Wisconsin Dells and Bowman Park.
Fermentation Fest, Reedsburg (October)
Fermentation Fest, Reedsburg, Wisconsin (Photo by Lawton Hall)
Presented by the Wormfarm Institute, this festival celebrates live culture in all its forms—from dance to yogurt, poetry to sauerkraut. Farmers, chefs, artists, poets and cheese makers converge in the beautiful working lands of Sauk County with tastings, demonstrations, cooking classes, art events, performances, food carts and more.
Kohler Food and Wine Experience (October)This four-day extravaganza of food, wine and fun brings celebrity chefs, wine experts and food enthusiasts from around the world together for culinary seminars, tastings and signature festivities. It is the largest annual event at Kohler’s American Club, a AAA Five Diamond resort located in Kohler, about an hour from Milwaukee. While the resort is usually booked during the festival,
Jenna Check, associate director of special events and leisure sales, notes that many planners schedule meetings directly before and after the festival so guests can attend, if they choose.
Fall Heritage Festival, Mount Horeb (October)
Just outside of Madison, hundreds of fine artists and crafters line The Trollway, Mount Horeb’s historic Main Street, during this festival. Visitors can experience the area’s Norwegian heritage with a farmer’s market, buggy rides, heritage demonstrations and the Sons of Norway Host Frokost, an authentic Norwegian fall breakfast.
Bayfield Apple Festival (October)
Bayfield Apple Festival, Lake Superior, Wisconsin (Photo by Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau)
Hailed as one of the 10 Best Fall Harvest Festivals in the nation by USA Today, the Lake Superior apple festival is a three-day event that includes music, a farmers market and 100 craft and vendor booths. The weekend culminates with a grand parade.
Dish at Tre Rivali, The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, Milwaukee
There are many reasons to meet in Wisconsin besides the festivals. One is the food. A new property, The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel in Milwaukee, is the first hotel in the up-and-coming historic Third Ward, a center for restaurants, arts and new residential units. Heather Terhune, chef at the hotel’s Tre Rivali restaurant, says the state is paradise for chefs.
Tre Rivali chef Heather Terhune
“I look forward to going to Door County—picking cherries, and visiting local cheesemakers and cranberry bogs,” Terhune says. “People think of Wisconsin as Dairy Land, but Milwaukee also has egg farms, local lamb and pork. And we get fish right out of Lake Michigan.” The menu at the Mediterranean-style restaurant will focus on local ingredients.
A lovely lakeside place to meet is Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, which offers 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 13,500-square-foot conference center and a 5,400-square-foot outdoor pavilion overlooking the countryside.
When work winds down, there is plenty to do at the resort. Lauren Vernick, director of group sales, points out that Grand Geneva opened The Adventure Center last year, offering mountain biking, hiking, disc golf (which uses Frisbees), slacklines and volleyball—all ideal for outdoor group activities.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa can pamper guests who want to relax. New spa programming for groups includes the Toes on Tap Pedicure, where guests sip on local beer while soaking their feet in a bath of citrus and hops.
Mill City Museum, Minneapolis (Photo by D’Amico Catering)
Minnesota, which borders Wisconsin, is home to more than 10,000 lakes. Nearly 60 percent of its residents live in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area, also known as the Twin Cities. Minnesota also boasts a lot of seasonal activities, many of which focus on its internationally known arts community.
This huge celebration is scheduled over several weeks. These two Mississippi River towns about 70 miles from Minneapolis showcase fall with artistic displays of pumpkins, cornstalks, flowers, bales and gourds. There are races, contests, entertainment, free concerts, carriage rides and much more.
The Saint Paul Art Crawl (October)
The Art Crawl has evolved from a fun weekend art event to a framework for creating and fostering important, interdependent relationships between the arts community and the city of Saint Paul. Visitors can explore artists’ spaces and galleries, and patronize local restaurants.
North Shore Fall Color Train Tour
North Shore Fall Color Train Tour, Duluth, Minnesota
CNN named this six-hour train tour along Lake Superior as one of the top five in America. Riders enjoy the changing colors as they travel from Duluth to the historic town of Two Harbors, where visitors can tour, shop and eat. Admission to Lake Superior Railroad Museum is included.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Minnesota offers a variety of sophisticated venues and is refreshingly affordable.
“People would be very surprised at the number and variety of meeting facilities in the state,” Edman says. “They would also be surprised at the value of meetings when you compare it to costs in other parts of the country.”
Loring Social, Minneapolis (Photo by Laura Rae Photography)
Many venues are historical spaces. Loring Social, adjacent to Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis, is located in a 1900s building that has been transformed into a chic, urban space reminiscent of a SoHo loft in New York City. It can accommodate 280 for dinner and 320 for a reception. Mill City Museum, also in Minneapolis, used to be the world’s largest flour mill. Major renovations have brought the 120-year old building into the 21st century while retaining its industrial feel. Up to 1,000 guests can be accommodated between the spacious outdoor courtyard and the flexible indoor space.
Minnesota History Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota (Photo by Jessica Smith)
Minnesota History Center is a stunning architectural landmark that offers panoramic views of Saint Paul Cathedral, State Capitol and the skyline. Particularly impressive is the dramatic 65-foot sky-lit dome, which is an ideal location for a cocktail reception. Catering is available through D’Amico Catering.
Another interesting venue for planners looking to escape the city is Sovereign Estate Winery in Waconia, a scenic 40-minute drive from Minneapolis. The 50-acre site boasts pastoral views of rolling vineyards. Planners can arrange a behind-the-scenes look into wine and vineyard cultivation, or a five-course food and wine pairing.
In a state famous for its “niceness,” guest experiences are paramount in Minnesota. At venerable The Saint Paul Hotel, which was just awarded its 33rd consecutive AAA Four Diamond award, General Manager Brian Schmechel focuses on what he terms “heartfelt service.” Schmechel even encourages planners to come to Saint Paul a day before their official site visit for a “reconnaissance mission” so they can see a staff that is committed, engaged, energized and going the extra mile.
“People would be surprised at the number and variety of meeting facilities in the state”–John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism
Planners will experience a warm welcome in Minnesota and Wisconsin. With top-notch facilities and outdoor options that offer limitless possibilities for activities and team building, these Midwestern states are glorious places to meet.
The Great Outdoors
Planners looking to give attendees a taste of the great outdoors will find plenty of scenic walking and biking paths in these two Midwestern states.
“Wisconsin is a beautiful and very walkable state,” says Julia Hertel, executive director of Wisconsin Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus. “We have so much water, surrounded by paths and extensive biking systems that visitors can enjoy before or during their meetings.”
Patrick Gaskin, general manager of The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, notes that the property is a short walk to both Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee RiverWalk, which visitors can explore on foot or bike. The hotel is working with celebrity trainer Adam Von Rothfelder to offer outdoor team building, including an exercise course. There are also many opportunities for walking tours on Lake Geneva, home of Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.
Minnesota is a haven for walkers and bikers. Brian Schmechel, general manager of historic The Saint Paul Hotel (pictured), points out that the Mississippi River is just a block away, near beautiful Rice Park. Award-winning Saint Paul RiverCentre convention center is on the river, with miles of biking and walking paths in both directions that attendees can explore on their own or in groups.
Minneapolis offers many opportunities for walking tours near Minneapolis Convention Center. Stroll on St. Anthony Falls Bridge across the Mississippi River to take in the sights and sounds of the historic Riverfront District, take a guided tour of Walker Art Center or Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or hit the streets and marvel at the city’s renowned architecture on foot.
Stadiums in the News
Sports are big in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and both states’ NFL teams are upgrading their facilities.
U.S. Bank Stadium, new home of the Minnesota Vikings, opens this summer with a variety of luxury spaces for events that can host up to 70,000 guests. All spaces feature state-of-the-art audiovisual technology. The sophisticated two-story Medtronic Club Space has a separate entrance and 11,555 sq. ft. of space that can accommodate 850 guests in a reception-style setting. The Executive Suite Corridor, adjacent to the lower level, totals 4,042 sq. ft. and is an ideal prefunction area.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, an entire entertainment district is being built around legendary Lambeau Field. The first phase is scheduled to be completed in fall 2017. The Titletown District (rendering pictured) will be a 10-acre public plaza with year-round programming, an ice skating rink and public art. Lodge Kohler hotel will be operated by Kohler, which also runs The American Club. In addition to small meeting spaces in the hotel, there will be conference options at Hinterland, a huge restaurant and brewery with room for private events.
Lambeau Field Events Manager Wendy Jansen says planners can take advantage of stadium tours, Packers Pro Shop and Packers Hall of Fame.
Professional baseball stadiums provide another option for planners. Miller Park is the official home of the Milwaukee Brewers. All venues in the 15-year-old park, which boasts a retractable roof, can be rented out year-round.
In Minneapolis, planners can hit a home run staging events at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. Several of the smaller venues are named after team heroes such as Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew.
The massive Delta SKY360 Legends Club, which boasts fantastic views, can accommodate up to 1,800 for trade shows or galas. Planners can enhance any event with a private stadium tour, home plate or dugout photo shoot, or a video screened on the scoreboard. Twins memorabilia can be customized with company names or logos.
Harvey Chipkin is a freelance writer who has been covering the hospitality and meetings industries for many years.
Major Meeting Venues
Historic Georgian-style manor in Minneapolis; dates back 100 years; two-story grand ballroom and meeting rooms can accommodate up to 450.
College of St. Scholastica
Elegant, castle-like institution in Duluth; Mitchell Auditorium seats 580; Wellness Center seats 1,000; Science Center seats 289.
Crowne Plaza Bloomington MSP Airport/MOA
Executive floor and quiet-zone floor designed for business travelers; 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 256 guest rooms; fitness center; indoor pool; complimentary shuttle service to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP).
Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
Stunning views of Lake Superior; more than 250,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space; two convention centers and 30 meeting rooms; close to hotels, restaurants and retail.
Great Lakes Aquarium
Freshwater aquarium in Duluth features 24-foot water wall and glowing tanks; ideal for cocktail parties and banquets; three meeting rooms can accommodate up to 500.
Hyatt Regency Bloomington-Minneapolis
Located near Mall of America; 303 guest rooms; 15,662 sq. ft. of meeting and event space; Urbana Craeft Kitchen and Market; free Wi-Fi and airport shuttle.
Mall of America
(Photo by Meet Minneapolis)
New Parkview Meeting & Event Center offers 4,000 sq. ft. of event space; outdoor balcony overlooks Nickelodeon Universe; executive center has 2,834 sq. ft. of space; nearby hotels have extensive meeting facilities.
Minneapolis Convention Center
Sustainable venue can accommodate 20,000; 475,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space; 87 meeting rooms; rotating art.
Hockey arena in Bemidji adjoins George W. Neilson Convention Center; 45,000 sq. ft. of event space; 10,000-square-foot ballroom.
Science Museum of Minnesota
Saint Paul history and science museum can handle groups of up to 1,500; innovative rotating and permanent exhibits.
Sheraton Bloomington Hotel
Recently renovated; 282 guest rooms; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; located near jogging/walking path and Mall of America.
Minneapolis arena has capacity for 20,500; home to NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves; first arena to install green roof, in 2009; close to restaurants, hotels, nightlife.
The Saint Paul Hotel
Luxurious landmark hotel in downtown Saint Paul dates to 1910; 255 guest rooms; near Ordway Theatre, River Centre, Xcel Energy Center and Science Museum; 14,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Alliant Energy Center
Madison’s mammoth-sized venue; features Willow Island, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, New Holland Pavilions and exhibition hall; more than 640,000 sq. ft. of space; popular for large conferences.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
Conference center hotel on Lake Geneva; set on 1,300 acres; family-friendly activities; 62,000 sq. ft. of function space; 355 guest rooms.
Great Wolf Lodge
Wisconsin Dells complex; 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 436 suites and condos; spectacular water park; restaurants; fitness center.
Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
Largest meeting space in Wisconsin Dells, with 100,000 sq. ft.; 750 guest rooms and suites with African theme; spa; golf.
KI Convention Center
Green Bay facility; completed $23 million renovation, expanding to 75,000 sq. ft.; exhibit hall can host up to 3,300 for receptions; connected to newly refreshed Hyatt Regency Green Bay.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Four stories, with lake views; six meeting spaces provide more than 50,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center
Frank Lloyd Wright design; located in downtown Madison; 37,200-square-foot exhibition hall.
Overture Center for the Arts
Performing arts venue in Madison; seven venues; Overture Hall seats 2,255; Capitol Theater accommodates 1,089; Playhouse seats 347; lobbies and terrace available for private parties.
Radisson Hotel & Conference Center Green Bay
Close to NFL Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field; 353 guest rooms; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Abbey Resort
Hotel located on 90 acres in Lake Geneva; 40,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space; 334 luxury guest rooms, including 13 suites.
The Edgewater Hotel
Recently renovated AAA Four Diamond hotel in Madison; 14,500 sq. ft. of meeting space, including grand ballroom, outdoor plaza and event spaces.
The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel
Milwaukee’s first Kimpton property; located in historic Third Ward; ground-floor restaurant and rooftop bar; more than 7,600 sq. ft. of indoor meeting and event space, including prefunction area.
A blend of historic and modern architecture with triangular glass peaks; centrally located to Milwaukee’s RiverWalk; 76,8700 sq. ft. of meeting space; adjacent to 188,695-square-foot exhibit hall.