Wisconsin and Minnesota overflow with meetings and adventure
Twenty-seven thousand. That’s approximately how many lakes decorate Minnesota and Wisconsin. That’s a lot of H2O—and a lot of opportunity to explore and enjoy the land of lakes.
Most of Minnesota’s eastern border is shared with Wisconsin, including Lake Superior in the northeast. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are the celebrity waterways. However, thousands of lesser-known bodies weave through the states and are integral to daily life and, thus, meetings and events.
Besides being neighboring states, Wisconsin and Minnesota share other similarities, such as size, population (5.7 million and 5.4 million, respectively), demographics and climate. Affordability and hospitality also factor in when choosing to meet in both states.
“What really sets Wisconsin apart is the hospitality, customer service and sense of fun that attendees will have when they attend a meeting here,” says Stephanie Klett, secretary for Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “When you bring a meeting to any destination in Wisconsin, our tourism industry works hard so you and your group have the best possible experience.”
According to Joan Rausch, director of special events for Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, her state is meeting friendly all year-round, not just in the summer months.
“Summer is unquestionably the best with the lakes and fishing and festivals, but I was able to convince a national group to meet in Minnesota in December and they were blown away by the endless indoor possibilities and the skyways,” Rausch says.
From Duluth, Minnesota, north of Minneapolis on Lake Superior, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan, these northern Midwest states are meeting jewels that overflow with stellar venues and offsite adventures.
Minnesota is revered for its culture and sports, food, entertainment and old-fashioned hospitality. Among the benefits of meeting near the state’s many waterways are a variety of resorts on northern Minnesota lakes, plus water sports including fishing, personal watercraft, boating and great walking paths around the metro lakes.
“Minnesota offers opportunity for serenity,” Rausch says. “There’s nothing better than listening to a loon while on the dock of a glass-covered lake at sunset.”
Minneapolis is an urban mecca and a major convention player served by the Minneapolis Convention Center. Providing 475,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, it is the largest in the upper Midwest.
Key downtown meeting hotels include towering Hilton Minneapolis, recently renovated Minneapolis Marriott City Center and revamped Hyatt Regency Minneapolis.
When attendees want a break, waterways are within minutes. The city borders the Mississippi River and encompasses more than 22 lakes. The Chain of Lakes is the main attraction, where people can bicycle 13 miles of paths around the shores.
For more scenery, lake-view restaurants are ready to impress. At the Nicollet Island Inn, patrons can see the skyline and the Mississippi. Outside of town, Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge offers dining by Lake Minnetonka on a patio as big as a football field. Near the shore of Lake Minnetonka, about 20 miles west of Minneapolis, Yumi’s Sushi Bar proves excellent sushi can be had in the Midwest.
The second of the Twin Cities is a vibrant metropolis and a meeting planner’s friend. St. Paul features three adjacent event venues: Xcel Energy Center sports arena with 650,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, St. Paul RiverCentre with 64,341 sq. ft. and Roy Wilkins Auditorium Exhibit Hall with 44,800 sq. ft.
Nearby are The Saint Paul Hotel, DoubleTree St. Paul Downtown and Intercontinental St. Paul. For meals, St. Paul dining is fantastic on the palate. For excellent views, dine on the roof at Louis Ristorante & Bar.
A plethora of adventures take advantage of the region’s waters. Tartan Park Golf Course features 480 acres of hills with terrain snaking through lakes. Lake Como and Lake Phalen are ideal for picnics and boating.
Atrium inside Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota
If the Twin Cities were actually the Tri Cities, Bloomington would be the third partner in the state’s most notable region. Meeting-goers headed to the Twin Cities will fly through Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), which is actually closer to Bloomington than Minneapolis or Saint Paul.
Bloomington also boasts Mall of America, which includes more than 520 shops, with tax-free shopping on clothing. The complex features Nickelodeon Universe, a seven-acre indoor amusement park, and SeaLife Minnesota Aquarium under the same roof. Dining options range from Hooters to Cadillac Ranch steak house to Benihana.
The city’s hotel room count is about to get a huge boost with six new properties opening in the next 16 months. JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America is scheduled to open in November as part of a $325 million expansion of the mall. The 342-room hotel will offer 19,945 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The $25 million AC Hotel by Marriott will open in late 2016 next to Mall of America. A new 302-room Hyatt Regency will open next spring as the centerpiece of Bloomington Central Station, which will offer light rail service to the airport, downtown Minneapolis and Mall of America.
Hyland-Bush-Anderson Lakes Park Reserve features one of the state’s most popular beaches: Bush Lake Beach. The recreation area offers swimming, canoeing, picnicking and trails. Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a protected habitat along the Minnesota River that is home to spring-fed wetlands, eagles, river otters, trout and coyotes.
When delegates tell friends they flew on a seaplane, chances are people won’t guess that excursion took place in Duluth. But this city along Lake Superior is surprising. To experience the nation’s largest freshwater lake on a seaplane or fishing boat results in a story worth telling.
Duluth Lakewalk is one of the most scenic walking and biking paths around Lake Superior, with great vistas, well-maintained parks and gardens, and beaches for wading. Duluth also features St. Louis River Corridor, one of the largest freshwater estuaries that offers fishing and outdoor adventures, all within the city limits.
Duluth Entertainment Convention Center offers 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The facility is conveniently located, with myriad hotels within walking distance. The largest is Holiday Inn & Suites Duluth-Downtown, with 339 rooms only 10 minutes from the Duluth International Airport (DLH). For astonishing vistas, choose Radisson Hotel Duluth-Harborview.
Stacy Oltmanns, vice president of sales for Visit Duluth, touts the city’s skywalk. The covered path connects the downtown business sector, keeping people warm and protected when weather is poor.
Coastal restaurants include New Scenic Cafe, which tempts with fish and meats in a casual atmosphere. For homemade Italian fare, Valentini’s Vicino Lago will have attendees oohing and aahing on its lakeside deck.
Few states have the number of waterways and greenways that Wisconsin boasts, ranging from a kayak paddle through downtown Milwaukee to a boat tour of Lake Geneva.
“With 15,000 lakes and 16 million acres of forest, the incredible natural beauty in Wisconsin creates the perfect opportunity to add outdoor group activities like kayaking or hiking for a fun and memorable meeting,” Klett says.
Known as the home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, this city strives to be much more. For starters, KI Convention Center has expanded from 46,000 sq. ft. of meeting space to 80,000, including a new 24,500-square-foot ballroom. The $23 million renovation and expansion will be unveiled this month.
“Conveniently connected to the newly refreshed Hyatt on Main, this extraordinary facility features a balance of modern design and warm service,” says Brenda Krainik, director of marketing for Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Located in downtown Green Bay and within walking distance of the entertainment district and new City Deck, event attendees will enjoy all that Green Bay has to offer.”
Many downtown accommodations can host large groups. Hyatt on Main is connected to the KI Convention Center and offers 241 guest rooms. The new Hampton Inn and Suites Green Bay Downtown will open in October with 114 guest rooms, and will be linked to the convention center. Next year, the historic Hotel Northland, with 160 guest rooms, will showcase an extensive remodel.
For recreation, guests can sign up for tours of Lambeau Field, home of the Packers. A calming respite for delegates is L.H. Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve, where Canadian geese, wild ducks and dozens of other species roam across 920 acres.
The region is becoming renowned for its breweries. In addition, restaurants such as Titletown Brewing Company and Hinterland Brewery with specialty beers and new American cuisine are getting rave reviews. With space for 320, Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, owned by the former Packers’ quarterback, also draws customers from around the world.
Kayaking on the Milwaukee River
The City of Festivals prides itself on hosting more than 150 events and attractions annually. Hence, servicing corporate conferences and association meetings is a cinch.
For a trade show, look to Wisconsin Center with 189,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. It connects to the 481-room Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, with an additional 30,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Scenic activities and tours are abundant. Kayakers can paddle the Milwaukee River through downtown. Runners can tackle the 3-mile RiverWalk linking the city north to south. Others can sail on Lake Michigan via the schooner Denis Sullivan, a replica of a 19th-century vessel.
Milwaukee is a hub for farm-to-table goodies. Burgeoning with just-picked delights is the Milwaukee Public Market, where bakeries, cheese and wine shops, and cooking classes shine.
The chef community is highly respected, with top restaurants dominated by James Beard Award nominees and winners. The list includes places such as Lake Park Bistro for rustic French, Sanford for a new spin on American favorites and Braise, which uses local ingredients from more than 40 farms.
Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Square, Madison, Wisconsin
As Wisconsin’s capital, Madison lets you know it. The state capitol building is the tallest in the city, and the law says none can be higher. Named after former U.S. President James Madison, this community features arresting architecture, specifically the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed venue with more than 37,200 sq. ft. of exhibition space. Not far are hotels such as The Edgewater Hotel and Hilton Madison Monona Terrace.
Since Madison is bordered by four lakes, getting to the water is fast. Groups can board Betty Lou Cruises to enjoy views. On land, adventurers can explore the Cave of the Mounds landmark.
A must-see is the four-block Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Square, which has been running since 1972. It operates Saturdays and Wednesdays surrounding the capitol.
Waterfront dining is prolific. Delegates can reserve tables at The Statehouse by the beautiful shores of Lake Mendota. At Lake Monona, locals favor Paisan’s Restaurant and elegant Sardine Restaurant.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
This gem is a city slicker’s getaway, enriched by endless panoramas. According to Kathy Seeberg, executive director of the Walworth County Visitors Bureau, Lake Geneva is Chicago’s playground. Only 90 minutes from the Windy City, the community exudes a small-town feel with big-town services.
The 355-room Grand Geneva Resort & Spa offers guests a bevy of activities, including golf, rock climbing, swimming, tennis, horseback riding and a water park. The 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting space is spectacular. There’s a new 12,000-square-foot convention center with a 5,585-square-foot ballroom.
The Abbey Resort is perched on the water’s edge, offering 40,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space. While in a natural setting, guests can still get their Wi-Fi fix at the 334-room property.
Midwest pleasures include the 2 1/2-hour mail boat tour run by Lake Geneva Cruise Line, where passengers ride a U.S. Postal Service mail delivery boat. They watch as postal staff jump to a dock, deliver mail and jump back on the boat without it ever stopping.
History buffs can tour Black Point Estate, which harkens back to the 19th century. Also popular is Baker House, where employees dress in period garb. Hats are available to visitors desiring to be part of the Victorian ambiance.
Dining in Lake Geneva can also be an interactive experience. At Trout House at Rushing Waters, customers can fish on the premises and then get the chefs to cook the bounty.
While in Lake Geneva, guests can go on the Lake Walk or the Lake Geneva shore path that runs 21 miles all around the lake. With gorgeous homes on one side and the lake on the other, it is a lovely path divided into seven segments, with points of interest all along the way. Featuring lavish estates with no fences as barriers, this walk is the only one of its kind in the nation.
Located northwest of Milwaukee, the water park capital of the world has been a vacation hot spot since the Polynesian Resort Hotel & Suites first introduced the indoor water park concept back in 1989.
Great Wolf Lodge, now a 13-property brand and the largest family of water park resorts, opened its first water park resort in Wisconsin Dells in 1997. Other water parks that call the city home include Kalahari Waterparks, Resort & Convention Center, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, which spans 70 acres, and Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort, the nation’s largest indoor and outdoor water park.
Kalahari is a prime meeting destination thanks to a 100,000-square-foot convention center and 756 guest rooms. Besides boasting the largest indoor water park in the state, Kalahari features 27 holes of golf, retail shops, restaurants, a spa and a 15-screen movie theater.
Great Wolf Lodge features 436 suites and condominiums, as well as three shops and three restaurants—Lodge Wood Fired Grill, Hungry as a Wolf (pizza) and Buckets Incredible Craveables (snacks, treats, lunch and drinks). There’s 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space that can accommodate up to 100 people.
If you think you know all there is to know about the Midwest, think again. The northern Midwest states of Minnesota and Wisconsin are in a league of their own, featuring magical lakes and waterways that dot landscapes and provide colorful adventures for attendees. From water parks to the Great Lakes to rivers for tubing, Minnesota and Wisconsin know how to float your meeting’s boat.
Minnesota Fun Facts
-A statute of actress of Mary Tyler Moore, who starred in the 1970s sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is located in Minneapolis Nicollet Mall.
-Flights to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport are three hours or shorter from anywhere in the nation.
-Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, with 3 quadrillion gallons of water. It is large enough to contain all other Great Lakes, plus three more the size of -Lake Erie.
-Mall of America, in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, was once the largest mall in the world and has 9.5 million sq. ft. of space.
The nation’s first Better Business Bureau was founded in Minneapolis in 1912.
Wisconsin Fun Facts
-Wisconsin is the dairy capital of the United States, producing more milk than any other state.
-Monroe, near the Illinois border, is the Swiss cheese capital of the world.
-Green Bay invented the world’s first splinter-free toilet paper in the early 1900s.
-The Harley-Davidson Museum, a biker’s shrine (pictured), is located in Milwaukee.
-The first practical typewriter was designed in Milwaukee in 1867.
-Somerset, near the Minnesota border, is the inner-tubing capital of the world thanks to its location on the Apple River.
-The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward is shaped like a muskie.
Major Meeting Venues
Historic Georgian-style manor in Minneapolis dates back 100 years; features two-story grand ballroom and meeting rooms; can accommodate up to 450.
Duluth’s Mitchell Auditorium seats 580; Wellness Center seats 1,000; Science Center seats 289; elegant, castle-like institution.
Crowne Plaza Bloomington MSP Airport
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
Provides stunning views of Lake Superior; more than 250,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space; close to hotels, restaurants and retail; features two convention centers and 30 meeting rooms.
Nation’s only freshwater aquarium, in Duluth; features 24-foot water wall and glowing tanks; ideal for cocktail parties and banquets; three meeting rooms; accommodates up to 500.
Among Duluth’s top city attractions; private rental of entire zoo available for events; pavilion accommodates up to 96 seated guests; Safari Cafe seats up to 64.
St. Paul icon; popular for concerts, sporting events and major gatherings; home to minor-league baseball team; can accommodate 6,300.
Minneapolis venue can accommodate approximately 20,000 attendees; provides 475,000 sq. ft. exhibit space; 87 meeting spaces.
St. Paul history and science museum can handle groups of up to 1,500; features innovative exhibits such as a spaceship and simulated tornado.
Multimillion-dollar renovation completed; 282 guest rooms; 11,750 sq. ft. of meeting space; located near jogging/walking path; near Mall of America.
Minneapolis arena has capacity for 20,500 attendees; home to NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves; first arena to install green roof in 2009; close to restaurants and nightlife.
Luxurious legendary hotel dates to 1910; 254 guest rooms; near Ordway Theatre, River Centre and Xcel Energy Center and Science Museum; 14,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; hosts 800 business meetings and banquets annually.
University of Minnesota Conference and Event Center
Provides meetings for as many as 2,500 attendees in Minneapolis; housing is available in the residence halls during summer.
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.
Lake Geneva’s conference center hotel; located on 1,300 acres; family-friendly activities; 62,000 sq. ft. of function space; 355 guest rooms.
Wisconsin Dells complex includes water park, restaurants and fitness center; 436 suites and condos; 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
Largest meeting space in Wisconsin Dells, with 100,000 sq. ft.; 750 guest rooms and suites with African theme.
Green Bay facility will complete $23 million renovation this month, expanding to 80,000 sq. ft.; exhibit hall can host up to 3,300 for receptions.
Classic event space with lake views; six meeting spaces with more than 50,000 sq. ft.; current exhibit is Van Gogh to Pollock; Modern Rebels.
Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center
Located in downtown Madison; 37,200-square-foot exhibition hall; designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Performing arts venue in Madison features seven venues; Overture Hall seats 2,255; Capitol Theater seats 1,089; Playhouse seats 347; lobbies and terrace also available for private parties.
Radisson Hotel & Conference Center
Close to Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers; 353 guest rooms; free Wi-Fi; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; across from Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB).
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.
Located behind Wisconsin Center; 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; can seat 1,800 for dinner; catering.
A blend of historic and modern architecture with triangular glass peaks; centrally located to Milwaukee’s RiverWalk; more than 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; adjacent to large exhibit hall.
-Minnesota Bloomington Convention & Visitors Bureau – bloomingtonmn.org
-Meet Minneapolis – minneapolis.org
-Minnesota Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus – minnesotacvbs.com
-Visit Duluth – visitduluth.com
-Visit St. Paul – visitsaintpaul.com
Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau – greenbay.com
Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau – visitmadison.com
Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce – lakegenevawi.com
Wisconsin Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus – escapetowisconsin.com
Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau – wisdells.com