With heavy hitters such as Orlando, Las Vegas and Chicago hogging the spotlight in the meetings and events industry, it’s easy for planners to overlook medium-sized cities. Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of these up-and-coming destinations that deserves a closer look from planners.
A rich sense of culture and a friendly vibe fostered by Grand Rapidians awaits in this West Michigan city. (I didn’t know that “West Michigan nice” was a thing until experiencing it firsthand during a recent visit.) Oh, and the city has a great infrastructure for meetings and events—one that’s expanding by the year. Not only are airlines such as Delta, American, United and Southwest adding direct flights to the growing city, but meeting hotels and other venues are ready for prime time.
Amway Grand Plaza Hotel completed a $14 million renovation to its glass tower, one of the eye-catching standouts of the Grand Rapids skyline. The285 modern rooms in the tower sport refreshed looks, and the hotel’s 47,000 sq. ft. of meeting space range in decor from classic with columns and multilevel spaces to contemporary column-free ballrooms. Combined with sister hotels JW Marriott Grand Rapids and Downtown Courtyard by Marriott (all managed by AHC+Hospitality), these properties can handle anything—including attendees’ appetites.
The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck serves up more than the celebrity chef’s famed pizza concoctions (the roasted mushroom with truffled creme fraiche won my taste buds’ approval), including kung pao lettuce wraps and Szechuan flat iron steak. On the 27th floor of the glass tower, Cygnus 27 specializes in traditional South American dishes along with classic steakhouse favorites—and has a stunning view of Grand Rapids and the Grand River in town through its floor-to-ceiling windows. Over at the JW Marriott, roasted marrow bones, seared duck breast and Norwegian fjord trout, among other creative cuisines, satisfy with sophistication—and the aromas coming from the kitchen are sure to kick-start your appetite.
My visit to Grand Rapids coincided with ArtPrize, an annual art contest that puts the city’s creative culture on full display. More than 1,500 paintings, sculptures and other perspective-bending works were on display inside and outside more than 160 venues throughout downtown, from auto repair shops to the DeVos Place Convention Center. Trying to see as many works as possible turned into a tour of the city’s shops, restaurants, museums and other venues, making for a visual feast (as well as tactile and auditory for several pieces that involved touch and sound) for more than 400,000 visitors from around the country.
Many popular works (half of the ArtPrize awards are decided by public voting) even stick around for years, leaving a lasting imprint on the city each year—the same imprint attendees are sure to feel after experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feels that Grand Rapids has to offer.