The only state composed of two peninsulas—the Upper and the Lower—Michigan offers a variety of recreational pursuits, both on the water and beyond. When it’s time to take attendees outdoors, or to a nontraditional meeting venue, it has rivers for water sports, more than 800 golf courses and thousands of miles of biking, hiking and cross-country skiing trails.
Mixed in with all of the great outdoor options, meeting planners will also find state-of-the-art convention and conference facilities, top-tier resort destinations, luxurious hotels and spas, shopping, dining of all sorts (from fun and casual, to fine), university towns with abundant art and cultural opportunities. Its CVBs are ready to help make every event a success.
“Michigan is a great value with everything from great city destinations to resort areas. You can find great rates without sacrificing beautiful surroundings, great outdoor activities and outstanding service,” says Kim Corcoran, president of Meetings Michigan, the state’s umbrella organization for meetings. Here we spotlight the larger Lower Peninsula (nearly 2/3 of the state’s total land area), a four-season business hub.
If you’re looking for a city with music, gaming, diverse culture and championship sports, look to Detroit. According to the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city is currently undergoing the country’s largest urban redevelopment boom, with more than $20 billion in new projects.
“Detroit has some of the newest and most luxurious hotels in the country, including MGM’s most upscale hotel product in their portfolio of properties,” says Carla Conner-Penzabene, DMCVB sales director. Many hotels include large and luxurious spas, as well, and several in the downtown area offer a favorable rate structure.
This affordability, plus easy access to the rest of the country, make it a great option for meeting planners. The American Federation of Teachers, North American International Auto Show and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church are just a few of the organizations that have hosted conventions and conferences in the city.
“Detroit is within a 90-minute flight of 60% of the U.S. population and within a four-hour drive of major population bases such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toronto,” says Conner-Penzabene. “Detroit is also the second largest hub for Delta. Daily nonstop flight service is available to most destinations throughout the United States and the world.”
Once in the city, attendees will find it to be a pedestrian-friendly destination. Most downtown hotels are within walking distance of entertainment, restaurants, theaters, major sports venues and the convention center. An above-ground monorail system ensures accessibility.
Located along the restored riverfront is Cobo Center, with 700,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 80 meeting rooms. Connected to the Center is Cobo Arena, with 11,000 seats; adjacent is Joe Louis Arena—home to the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings—with nearly 21,000 seats. The elevated railway connects the property to all major downtown hotels.
Thirty minutes from the Detroit Metro Airport is the state-of-the-art Rock Financial Showplace and its Diamond Banquet and Conference Center. Rock Financial offers more than 200,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 25,000 sq. ft. of prefunction space. The Diamond Center showcases a 20,000-square-foot ballroom for small gatherings or large general sessions.
On the RiverWalk in downtown is the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, which features 1,246 guest rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Other top meeting venues include the Hyatt Regency Dearborn, MotorCity Hotel and Casino and the MGM Grand Detroit.
For venues and activities that are uniquely Detroit, consider the Motown Historical Museum or the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. For something a little sporty, consider holding a trade show or special event at one of two side-by-side stadiums: the open-air Comerica Park or domed Ford Field.
Forty miles west of Detroit you’ll find Ann Arbor. Home to the University of Michigan, the area is known for its abundant art and cultural opportunities. Although not a major city, it offers all the amenities of one: vibrant nightlife, fine dining, outdoor recreation and more.
“Ann Arbor always has its finger on the pulse of what’s current in technology, dining, theater, shopping and more,” says Marianne Klinker, communications director for the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have top-notch meeting facilities, and our area is safe, clean and fun after hours.”
For the last 21 years the city has hosted the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters’ Annual Training Program, and last September it hosted the Miss Michigan, USA pageant. “The groups we attract are as diverse as our wonderful area,” she says.
There are numerous hotels to accommodate groups like these, including Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest, which has 27,244 sq. ft. of meeting space and 235 guest rooms. Located on 135 acres, it recently completed a $5-million renovation.
Meeting room at Chateau Chantal, Traverse City.
Groups of up to 800 can be accommodated at the Four Points by Sheraton - Ann Arbor. The property features 15,000 sq. ft. of event space and the city’s largest ballroom. Kensington Court Ann Arbor (kcourtaa.com) includes 198 guest rooms and 29,431 sq. ft. of meeting space. A full range of banquet rooms and ballroom space is available.
Klinker notes that other popular meeting venues are spaces within the University of Michigan, such as the Michigan League, the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Ross Business School.
For an off-site event, planners may want to consider the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum or the Michigan Theater.
The state’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids is known as the gateway to Michigan’s west coast. And while it offers all the big-city amenities, it comes wrapped in small-town friendliness, safety and affordability.
“We are the only city our size or larger in the U.S. that has two Four-Diamond hotels physically connected to our award-winning convention complex,” says Douglas Small, president of the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “However, you get these world-class, Four-Diamond choices for Two-Diamond prices.” A charming, clean, walkable and active downtown completes the package, he says, with 60-plus dining and entertainment options within a short stroll of the convention venues. In addition, some of the finest museums and other cultural attractions surround the center.
For events of all sizes, many planners turn to DeVos Place convention center. Located on the banks of Grand River in downtown, the 13-acre site features 1-million sq. ft. of divisible space. There’s a 162,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 40,000-square-foot ballroom and 26 meeting rooms. An enclosed, elevated skywalk connects the property to three downtown hotels, while 50 restaurants, nightclubs, museums and other entertainment options are nearby.
Connected to DeVos Place as well as to the Van Andel Arena is the Four-Star Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. The property has 682 guest rooms and 48,195 sq. ft. of meeting space. There you’ll also find the state’s first and only Five-Diamond restaurant, The 1913 Room.
Also linked to DeVos Place via the enclosed skywalk is the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, with 340 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Courtyard by Marriott has 207 guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and is connected to both the Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place by the skywalk.
Some interesting event venues, or simply spots to visit, include The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, the Grand Rapids Art Museum or the John Ball Zoo.
Home of Michigan State University, centrally located Lansing is the state’s capital city, and 90% of Michigan’s population is within 90 minutes of downtown. It’s this location, combined with affordable venues, an accredited CVB and its free services, that make Lansing a top choice for many planners, says Tracy Padot, vice president, marketing communications, Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Most planners don’t realize that most services the GLCVB provides are free,” she adds. “GLCVB offers pre-promotion help to boost attendance. We can send e-mails, put ads in conference programs, create custom web pages and incorporate social media tools to educate potential participants to all the Greater Lansing region offers in addition to the convention or meeting. If you have limited staff, we can provide affordable staffing to work registration and/or information booths. Even if you have booked your facility directly, you can still use the GLCVB for its services.”
A focal point of the city’s downtown area with a view of the capitol building, the Lansing Center has more than 120,000 sq. ft. of space for meetings, banquets, conventions, trade shows, consumer shows and special events. The Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center on the Michigan State University campus is only eight miles from Lansing’s Capital Region International Airport. The facility has 160 guest rooms and more than 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
With more than 212 guest rooms and 14,000 sq. ft. of event space, the Lexington Lansing Hotel can accommodate up to 700 attendees. The property features more than 3,000 sq. ft. of new exhibit space, two new boardrooms and a dedicated ballroom entrance.
When you’re ready to break out of the traditional event space, consider the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, Country Mill Farms or the J & K Steamboat Company.
Traverse City, in the northwest corner of the peninsula, sits at the end of Grand Traverse Bay (referred to as the Caribbean of the North). Just a few of the city’s accolades include: top 10 coolest towns in the U.S., top 10 charming small towns, surprising foodie town and one of America’s top beach towns.
Golfing in Traverse City.
For meeting planners, the quality and uniqueness of the destination is a draw, says Jack Schripsema, vice president of sales and marketing, Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Traverse City is a desirable meetings destination that offers a first-class variety of lodging and meeting facilities in an area of such incredible natural beauty,” he explains. The city is known for its miles of sugar-sand beaches, bays, wineries, orchards, golf courses and small-town hospitality. “This environment is conducive for a refreshing and relaxing experience for meeting attendees and leisure visitors alike—equal parts meeting and inspiration. I call it nourishment for the soul!”
The city’s largest meeting and convention facility is the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, located 10 minutes from Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport. Ranked among the nation’s top resort destinations, the 900-acre property has 600 guest rooms and 86,500 sq. ft. of event space. In addition to its 7,000-square-foot spa, four pools and a gallery of shops, guests will also enjoy three championship golf courses.
Composed of three distinct villages within 4,500 acres, Shanty Creek Resorts offers a total of 526 guest rooms and more than 36,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, plus four championship golf courses, two ski mountains, a spa and more. Its Lakeview Hotel & Conference Center at Summit Village recently underwent a $10-million renovation.
At Great Wolf Lodge, planners will find more than 16,000 sq. ft. of event space, 280 guest rooms and a huge indoor waterpark.
Other options beyond the traditional meeting hotel include Spider Lake Retreat, the newly restored Wellington Inn or Chateau Chantal, three charming smaller inns with history and—in the case of Chateau Chantal—a winery.