Michigan Meetings + Events Summer 2024

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Vroom Vroom!

Pave the way for successful events at automobile museums



The Thumbcoast inspires attendees from landlubbers to paddleboarders

Add a Little Fun

Engage attendees through the art of gamification

Sporty & Spacious Stadiums pitch fun and versatile venues

WHËÑ WË MØVË, ÝØÜ MØVË. Here’s the deal: Detroit is more than the Motor City. It’s America’s assembly line for creativity, culture and innovation. When you meet here, you’ll join our tradition of driving the world forward. Plan a meeting at VisitDetroit.com.
The expert team of Certified Meeting Professionals at Choose Lansing™ will ensure you have everything you need for a memorable event. They will help you shine, make your job easier and host your best event yet. The choice is easy. Choose Lansing and plan on something Greater. MEETING TO REMEMBER? LANSING’S MY CHOICE Scan this QR Code to unlock the keys to your meeting’s success! Lansing.org

Sports stadiums offer meetinggoers plenty of space to spread out and have fun

6 Meeting Notes

Take meetings from drab to fab with the help of these products, places, and inspiring ideas

10 Destination

With 140 miles of shoreline, the Thumbcoast showcases sandy beaches, maritime history, and sunrise views

14 Venue Report

Gather at one of Michigan’s many sites dedicated to and celebrating the automobile

18 Trend Report

Engage attendees and keep the fun flowing by gamifying your event

25 Industry Update

Discover the latest updates through our Michigan news

34 Snapshots

It’s a wrap for the 2024 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism

36 People Profile

Experience Grand Rapids’ Doug Small is all about the food

2 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024 PHOTOS (FROM ABOVE) West Michigan Whitecaps, Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau 20 Feature
// Field Day
SUMMER 2024 In
Issue // 4
The Blue Water Bridge is a landmark on the horizon in Port Huron.
Editor’s Note
Add Little Fun Engage attendees through the art of gamification Vroom Vroom! Pave the way for successful events at automobile museums Sporty & Spacious Stadiums pitch fun and versatile venues COASTAL attendees from landlubbers QUAINT On the Cover Paddleboarding at Turnip Rock, near Port Austin on Michigan’s Thumbcoast
LMCU Ballpark in Grand Rapids hosts multiple events, including major concerts.
a little bit of magic when we come together in a place like Traverse City.
Exactly where
Where meetings have purpose, people have connection, and business has direction.
put it all together… TraverseCity.com/meetings

Insider Intel

» ONE OF THE BEST things I have been able to do since becoming editor of Michigan Meetings + Events is build and connect with members of an editorial advisory board. While I attend some major industry events that provide opportunities to network and discover new ideas and am in touch with people throughout the industry, I am not as entrenched as a working member of Michigan’s hospitality and events sector would be on a daily basis. But the members of our editorial advisory board are.

meetingsmags.com/michigan meetingsmags

You will see their names listed on the masthead on the right-hand side of this column. They not only graciously take the time to participate in occasional group and individual meetings where they share what they see on the ground, but many also take the time to send information on trends, new developments, and ideas throughout the year.

Not long ago, I completed a round of advisory board meetings and came away with a sheaf of notes to be followed up on. Just as significantly, I was energized by the conversations. Readers of these pages in print and online will see the results as we run stories over the next year and beyond based on some of their tips and suggestions. Here’s a snapshot of trends they’re seeing:

» Prioritization of industry values such as diversity, equity, and inclusion; sustainability; and accessibility

» Artificial intelligence on the rise

» A desire for destination authenticity and experiencing the true flavor of a meeting location

» Less being more: Tight budgets stretching, vendors helping out, and leaner staff being put to the test and managed

» Requests for larger events with much shorter lead times than in the past

Along with those key points, there are myriad new hotels and meeting venues coming online across the state in the coming months and years. There are a lot of stories to be told—and we’re here to do it.











Jennifer Berkemeier, Huntington Place | David Buckenberger, Choose Lansing | Kim Corcoran, Destination Michigan/Meetings Michigan | Larisa Draves, Michigan Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus | Susan Estler, Travel Marquette | Linda Hoath, Sault Ste. Marie Convention & Visitors Bureau | Mary Chris Hotchkiss, Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau | Mike Kent, Traverse City Tourism | Lindsay Krause, Special D Events | Mary Manier, Experience Grand Rapids | Jennifer Miller, Visit Detroit | Julie Oatman, Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort | Kristy Poore, Destination Ann Arbor | Mandi VanOoteghem, Go Great Lakes Bay















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PHOTO John Robert Williams
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Small Keychain, Big Noise

ersonal alarm keychains can be useful tools for those traveling alone for meetings or events, and Florida-based Guard Dog Security is among companies offering such a product.

Previously, Guard Dog was making personal safety items like pepper sprays and stun guns, but these can be restricted to carry in some areas and difficult to use. Such barriers led the company to pivot to an easyto-use alternative—the portable, personal alarm keychain. “A personal alarm is a great device to have with you in case you ever find yourself in an uncertain situation or emergency and you want to alert others of danger so they can be aware and offer help,” explains Digital Marketing Specialist Beth Schuck.

The alarm is activated by pulling out a pin in the keychain attachment, setting off a 120-decible siren that continuously sounds. It comes in a few styles with differing features, including one with a heart design and another with a built-in flashlight.

–Kathy Gibbons


» WITH WARMER weather and flowing water, summer presents the perfect opportunity to gather on boats. As it happens, Michigan has several riverboat options that can accommodate group excursions and private events.

Based in downtown Detroit, the Detroit Princess Riverboat provides the type of space you might expect to find in a hotel or conference center: dining capacity for 800 to 1,000 seated or 1,200 to 1,300 strolling on four enclosed levels. A bonus is the large observation deck that holds 200 to 300 seeking fresh air and sunset views. In addition, some rooms can be set theaterstyle for up to 700, along with breakout seating for small group sessions. Sales Manager Sandra Chamberlain says it provides the perfect venue for networking and social events. The riverboat’s season runs from May to October.

The Michigan Princess Riverboat in Lansing cruises year-round for private gatherings, says Marketing Advisor Alexis

Mattson. “Our decks are climate-controlled to keep guests comfortable on board,” she notes. The boat can hold up to 300 standing or 250 for a seated dinner. Events can be held as the boat cruises the Grand River or while the boat is docked.

The Grand Lady Riverboat at Steamboat Park in Jenison has capacity for 130, and groups can opt to charter the entire craft. Additional options include extra cruising time, use of a sound system, and snacks. Organizers can hire their own caterers and entertainment.

In the design of an early 20th-century steamboat, The Discovery in Traverse City can accommodate up to 149 passengers and is available for charter rental. Here again, planners can customize events to include their own caterer, entertainment, decorations, and the like. –Kathy Gibbons

detroitprincess.com discoverycruisestc.com grandlady.info michiganprincess.com

MEETING NOTES Products, Places & Inspiring Ideas
PHOTOS (FROM LEFT) Guard Dog Security, Detroit Princess Riverboat/Jordan Garland, Nadir Ali, Great Lakes Drone Co./Starlight Aerial Productions
Detroit Princess Riverboat


» KATE BERRIS is director of sales at Troy-based awardwinning custom catering firm Forte Belanger. The company does hundreds of events annually, mostly in metro Detroit, although it has begun venturing into northern Michigan as well. As an 11-year employee who leads the sales staff, Berris knows firsthand what customers want and shares her insights on current trends and practices.

M+E: What are some new developments in catering large events?

KB: A lot of it is interactive and outside of the box—we’re seeing a lot more playfulness and fun, whether it’s weddings or corporate events or galas. People are looking to create an overall experience, not just serve the traditional food and beverage.

M+E: Can you give some examples of how you incorporate these?

KB: Sometimes it’s as simple as the way we’re serving food. Rather than a station, it might be a ballpark beer hawker or cigarette-type trays where we bring the station to them. It’s done with raw bars, with pigs in a blanket, bruschetta— people actually roaming through a party as opposed to attendees having to come up to the table.

Also, a lot of clients want us to have a food truck vibe but kind of casual and fun. So, you talk to the chefs, they’re building a plate in front of you, and you have control of what’s on your plate. We might have a small plate station where the vibe is a steakhouse, but instead of meat, potatoes, and asparagus, we also have three different types of toppings. We’re also searing at the station or carving it to order. Or let’s say it’s a wok fried rice station—instead of having fried rice in a takeout container, we have big woks and some flame and

some action for people to look at, and food becomes part of the entertainment.

M+E: What are some top trends you’re seeing?

KB: We’re seeing a lot of focus on sustainability and requests for green products and products that are local as much as possible. People are becoming more socially aware, and we’re getting more creative with using local food rescue, working with vendors to make sure what we’re making ends up being served to our guests or to someone else later. We’re also turning to small-batch local artisan vendors. When we have the opportunity and it makes sense, we pull in a mom and pop and fold them into the operation.

M+E: What’s the status of meeting planners’ budgets these days?

KB: With things like the NFL Draft coming to Detroit, the North American International Detroit Auto Show moving back to January, and the push to get people back into the office, we’re seeing budgets that aren’t too tight—as in, let’s go for it, let’s blow it out, let’s make it an amazing event. It’s not that budgets don’t matter, but we’ve been happy and lucky enough to see some strong budgets come back.

M+E: Any other thoughts?

KB: We have had some of our best years ever most recently. Part of it is we have been able to get creative in what we offer, but thankfully, our clients are really excited to host again and get people together and really take advantage of being able to provide special experiences for their family, friends, and guests. Just to see the whole arc of what’s been happening and how it has come back and how Michigan in general has had such a big part in that shows a lot of resiliency, which is exciting. fortebelanger.com –Kathy Gibbons

Drones Add Buzz to Events

» IF THE NFL’S Detroit Lions can do it, you can, too. The football team was on a roll this past season and treated fans to a 13-minute drone show that featured 18 animations ranging from a lion eating the San Francisco 49ers’ logo to the “Detroit vs. Everybody” slogan. The extravaganza garnered international attention and buoyed the city’s already-high level of excitement.

Great Lakes Drone Co.’s Starlight Aerial Productions staged the customized show using 400 preprogrammed drones to light up the sky. Owner and Flight Director Matt Quinn started the company as a side hustle back in 2016 but says it has quickly grown to be a full-time enterprise as drone shows are increasingly featured entertainment for festivals as well as other special events.

“We do a lot in the private sector,” Quinn explains. “We have several destination management company partners across the nation.” Quinn says Starlight did drone shows for awards banquets, conferences, and similar gatherings of professionals. Drones recognize sponsors by creating their logos in the air, or create buzz about a new product or brand through colors and lights.

“We make different images and brands and shapes in the sky,” Quinn says, “and the organic return on investment is on social media—people seeing it, pulling over on the side of the road, taking pictures—that stuff goes viral on its own. What better way to celebrate your brand than to throw your logo 400 feet up in the sky for everyone to see?” –Kathy Gibbons


The Detroit Lions treated fans to a drone show over the city.

Up North in Cadillac

Woods and water surround a vibrant community in this Wexford County gem

For more than a century, Cadillac has welcomed visitors seeking natural settings for leisure and business activities. Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) is among them, choosing Cadillac for this year’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference at the end of May. “Cadillac is growing fast with new retail shops, restaurants, and cafes opening in just the last year,” says Parker Jones, innovation counselor at MSUE’s Product Center, citing Threads North, The Bird House, Roasted Cafe, Chunky Bear Coffee Roasters, and Wildflour Bakery among them. “It’s that entrepreneurial ecosystem that we want to showcase to other communities across the state.”

VIBE: Life in Cadillac is relaxed. Situated in the heart of the 538,765-acre Manistee National Forest, the area is home to three lakes and three rivers. More than half of the 660-acre William Mitchell State Park is within the city’s boundaries.

TRANSPORTATION: Blacker Airport— 47 miles away in Manistee—provides service to Chicago and beyond and is the nearest for commercial air travel. Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City is slightly farther. Locally, Wexford County Airport in Cadillac is a general aviation facility. Cadillac also sits at the crossroads of U.S. Route 131, state Route 55, and state Route 115, and is easily accessible by car.

HOTELS: Caberfae Peaks’ 16,000-squarefoot, 39-room Mackenzie Lodge can

accommodate groups of up to 250 with onsite dining options, bar service, catering, and a golf course next door. With 117 rooms, on-site dining, an indoor pool, and 27 holes of golf, Evergreen Resort can host groups of up to 200. Sunset Shores Resort offers 22 two- and three-bedroom units with an event room for 50. Coyote Crossing Resort sits on 50 acres with an on-site bar and restaurant, outdoor stage, 10 two-bedroom cottages, and a private hospitality suite.

VENUES: Consumer events and trade shows use the Wexford Civic Center with its ice rink and 20,000-square-foot auditorium accommodating up to 1,000 attendees. NanBop Farm offers a country event setting with a large enclosed tent that holds up to 250. Manton Trails presents three event venues for gatherings of up to 1,000 attendees standing or 800 seated. Fox Hill Event Center offers a large indoor gathering space with seating for up to 275 with catering options from Blue Heron Cafe.

RESTAURANTS & MARKETS: The classic and casual waterfront Lakeside Charlies can accommodate up to 200 and provides off-site catering. The upper level of Clam Lake Beer Co. in downtown Cadillac

has space for 40 as well as a 12-person conference meeting area. Willow Market and Meats offers The Greenhouse for special events of up to 130 people and Willow’s Wine for small groups of 10 to 15. The farm-to-table eatery, Raven Social, can accommodate groups of up to 50.

MUST-SEES & -DOS: Delve into the community’s past with a visit to the Wexford County Historical Museum or The Sound Garden, which features a musical art sculpture, perennial gardens, and more. Cadillac Commons is a central gathering place with a performing arts pavilion, open-air market, the White Pine Trailhead, and other attractions.


8 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024 PHOTOS (CLOCKWISE FROM RIGHT) Rock Events (inset), Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau (2) MEETING NOTES Products, Places & Inspiring Ideas
The Rotary Performing Arts Pavilion at Cadillac Commons; Below: Mackinaw Timbers Cabins


» NOBODY LIKES TO BE the bearer of bad news. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and anxiety-inducing. But what if we are unconsciously turning even more communications into bad news without being aware of it? Think of how many times a day we say “I’m sorry, but,” and, “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

A better approach to win over your clients and colleagues is to be solution-focused. Take this example: A client calls asking for a location for their next big event, but the date they have requested is already booked by another client. Rather than saying, “I’m sorry, our venue is not available,” turn that around to, “That seems to be a popular date—if you move your event one week later, the space is available, plus it’s historically a bit warmer, so you have a better chance of enjoying our patio for your cocktail reception.”

Some also feel as though their presence might be a bother rather than presenting themselves as a valuable collaborator on a project or task. Assuming someone doesn’t want to talk to you undermines the insights your experience provides. Of course, recognizing others might not be available at every moment is rational, but leading with apprehension can be detrimental to

your sense of self-worth. Instead, try approaching the situation with confidence by saying something like, “I have an update on this project I would like to share. Is this a good time or should I set up a meeting for us to discuss it? What time works for you?”

Confidence also comes from being an active learner rather than shying away because you don’t understand a subject. As a venue manager, I often meet subject matter experts in many diverse fields. If there is something the client is discussing or acronyms are being used that I do not recognize, I like to dig a little deeper. Again, doing this confidently is key. Refrain from, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean,” and instead try, “Can you tell me more about XYZ and how that will be showcased at this event?” Seeking to understand shows you care about the client’s work and often leads to landing the business.

In words often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”

Breakout sessions you won’t forget... Experience Small City Charm in the Heart of Northern Michigan Discover more at: CadillacMichigan.com
Lyn Gleasure , CMP, CPCE, is senior manager of business development for Rock Events in Detroit.

DESTINATION Michigan’s umbcoast

Discover the Blue

Michigan’s scenic Thumbcoast is surrounded by water and dotted with picturesque small towns

» WHEN MICHIGANDERS tell people where they’re from, they hold up a hand to serve as a sort of map to mimic the shape of the Lower Peninsula. A few years ago, the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau—also known as Discover the Blue—decided to lean into Michigan’s mitten shape and call their region the “Thumbcoast.” Offering an instant visual of its location on the eastern edge of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the name stuck.

Michigan’s “thumb” extends into Lake Huron with Saginaw Bay in its crook. Surrounded by crystal blue water, the area offers 140 miles of shoreline characterized by sandy beaches, maritime history, and sunrise views—there are over 80 beaches and parks to explore before, after, and inbetween meetings.

The Thumbcoast is also dotted with quaint small towns, from Port Austin at the northern tip to Algonac at the south. Its largest city is Port Huron, located where the St. Clair River meets Lake Huron. The region’s panoramic views can be enjoyed in each of its charming communities. Standing sentinel is the Blue Water Bridge, which spans the St. Clair River. With its beautiful scenery, outdoorsy vibe, and Midwest charm, the Thumbcoast provides a one-of-a-kind backdrop for hosting an event to remember.


When the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) was looking for a spot to stage its annual Young Farmer Leaders Conference earlier

this year, it chose the Thumbcoast. In planning the event that provides education, development, and networking opportunities to more than 250 farmers between the ages of 18 and 35, the MFB sought a location east of Interstate 75 that balanced downtown walkability with the opportunity to tour the countryside for hands-on agricultural experiences. The organization’s planners found the complete package at the riverfront Blue Water Convention Center in Port Huron. “Our feedback was positively glowing,” says MFB’s Young Farmer Program Specialist Megan Sprague. “It was dubbed as one of our best conferences. I think attendees really got a feel for Port Huron and the many things it has to offer.”

According to Terra Damchuk, director of sales for the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, most meetings and events drop anchor at the Blue Water Convention Center. Opened in 2015, the

34,000-square-foot facility has upped the Thumbcoast’s ability to accommodate large groups with its capacity for as many as 2,400 attendees. “It has done wonders for the meetings and events industry in our area,” Damchuk says.

From that hub, attendees can explore downtown Port Huron and take side trips to attractions all along the coast.

Road tripping is the best way to soak in the scenery, attractions, and recreation, and Preferred Charters, a charter bus transportation company based in Port Huron Township, can take groups anywhere they want to go. In the city, Blue Water Area Transit picks people up outside the convention center and runs several routes downtown and beyond. Attendees also can opt to take the old-timey Blue Water Trolley for a jaunt along the river, past the Blue Water Bridge and other historic points of interest. The ride concludes at the bus depot.

10 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024
PHOTOS (CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT) St. Clair Inn, Nick Heacock, Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Clockwise: The St. Clair Inn’s View Ballroom surrounds attendees with lake scenery; The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse north of Port Huron is the oldest working lighthouse in the state; The Huron Lady II stages dinner cruises and private charters.


Port Huron is about an hour’s drive from both Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Bishop International Airport in Flint, where interstates 94 and 69 converge. As it runs through downtown Port Huron, the St. Clair River features a boardwalk with waterfront views and, at night, Edison bulbs strung between historic buildings bathe the town in a warm glow.

The Blue Water Convention Center offers walkability to the restaurants, eateries, shops, and attractions of downtown Port Huron. Guests can stay in the adjacent, newly refreshed DoubleTree by Hilton Port Huron located in the former Thomas Edison Inn, which was named for the famed inventor who spent a portion of his youth in the Thumbcoast city.

The Hampton Inn Port Huron; Holiday Inn Express & Suites Port Huron, An IHG Hotel; Fairfield Inn by Marriott Port Huron; and Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham

Port Huron are among options for overflow guests. The city also is home to two boutique hotels: CityFlatsHotel and the St. Clair Inn. The former Michigan National Bank building houses the CityFlatsHotel, which was refurbished using reclaimed, eco-friendly flair. Its event space, The Ballroom @ CityFlatsHotel, which holds up to 300, features grand ceilings, marble columns, 30-foot windows, and access to an original bank vault—a popular spot for photo ops.

Also on the water, a little over 10 miles away, is the newly remodeled St. Clair Inn, its View Ballroom full of flexible space and natural light. “It’s beautiful,” Damchuk says. “Every time I go in there, I get goosebumps.”


With water all around, the area is steeped in maritime history. A half mile from the convention center stands the Fort Gratiot

Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in the state, which attendees can explore. They can also tour the Huron Lightship and Thomas Edison Depot Museum, housed in the former train station the famous inventor worked out of on occasion as a teenage newsboy selling newspapers and candy on the local railroad.

For a less formal experience, attendees can head to local parks and beaches or grab a bench along the river to watch huge Great Lakes freighters pass by. Lakeside Beach has a sandbar that allows people of all ages to wade out from shore and also provides a splash pad and volleyball courts. In Port Austin, visitors can rent kayaks and paddleboards and adventure out to the photoworthy Turnip Rock.

To meet out on the water, the iconic Huron Lady II tour boat stages dinner cruises and private charters for up to 100 people. New owners Kristy and Dustin Walker look forward to introducing more


specialty and sightseeing cruises on the boat. “When we come back to the dock, everyone’s smiling as they get off,” Kristy Walker says. “I don’t think there’s a bad day to be out on the water.”

There are plenty of things to do onshore as well. McMorran Place is a year-round gathering spot for live music, public ice skating, and Port Huron Prowlers hockey games. Meeting planners can also schedule DIY team-building activities at Foundry, which boasts a pottery studio, escape rooms, and art classes along with live entertainment. Groups can take cooking classes at Baker College’s Culinary Institute of Michigan or bake bread and make charcuterie boards at the St. Clair Inn.

Live theater is thriving in the area with Thumbcoast Live Theaters including the Snug Theatre and Riverbank Theatre in Marine City, and the newly opened Boardwalk Theatre in St. Clair. Enter Stage Right at The Citadel Stage in Port Huron, Lexington Village Theatre in Lexington, and Barn Theatre in Port Sanilac are other options for planners and attendees.


When it comes to dining, there is no shortage of options in Port Huron and the surrounding area, and many are directly

“It’s crazy in the last few years how much our area has grown. We have definitely combined that small-town charm with big-city amenities to offer to our attendees.”
–TERRA DAMCHUK , director of sales, Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

on the water with gorgeous views.

“Our downtown offers over 30 restaurants in a 1-mile stretch with waterfront restaurants, diners, cafes, and brickoven pizza,” Damchuk says. “Some fan favorites are the deep-fried cinnamon rolls at Chef Shell’s Restaurant & Catering, the burgers with the waterfront view at Zebra Lounge, brisket waffle fries from Bootleggers Axe Co., and of course, everything chicken from Chicken in the Rough. The options are endless.”

City of Port Huron Downtown Development Authority Director Natacha Hayden is another Port Huron food evangelist. Originally from Brazil, she moved to Port Huron 13 years ago and says the local food scene has thrived in that time. “Downtown used to be pretty quiet not too long ago,” she says. “We

have added quite a few restaurants.” Her favorites include Cedar Sub and Salad with its Mediterranean theme and delicious shawarma. Port Huron Açaí started out as a food truck but has moved into a brick-and-mortar location where smoothies and kombucha drinks shine, she says. Hayden also recommends Raven Cafe, which she says has amazing drinks, food, and atmosphere.

“Everybody has their own niche in terms of creativity,” she says of the local food businesses and chefs.

“It’s crazy in the last few years how much our area has grown,” Damchuk says. “We have definitely combined that small-town charm with big-city amenities to offer to our attendees.”


12 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024
DESTINATION Michigan’s umbcoast
PHOTO Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Boats can dock in downtown Port Huron.


36,000 Sq. Ft. Meeting Space

36,000 Sq. Ft. Meeting Space

149 Attached Sleeping Rooms at the DoubleTree by Hilton Shuttle to Downtown Port Huron Boutiques, Winery, Eateries, Live Theatre, and Entertainment

149 Attached Sleeping Rooms at the DoubleTree by Hilton Shuttle to Downtown Port Huron Boutiques, Winery, Eateries, Live Theatre, and Entertainment

13,000 Sq. Ft. Meeting Space

13,000 Sq. Ft. Meeting Space

80 Sleeping Rooms and Three Onsite Cottages

Walkable to Downtown St. Clair

80 Sleeping Rooms and Three Onsite Cottages

Walkable to Downtown St. Clair

Boutiques, Brewery, Eateries, Live Theatre, and Entertainment

Boutiques, Brewery, Eateries, Live Theatre, and Entertainment

810-987-8687 Terra@bluewater.orgPort Huron, Michigan
Terra@bluewater.orgPort Huron, Michigan

Meet Up With a Model T

Auto-themed spaces provide a historic backdrop for meetings BY

» HISTORICALLY THE home of many of the nation’s largest automobile manufacturers, Michigan boasts a variety of museums and other historical settings dedicated to and celebrating the evolution of cars. Even better for meeting planners, many offer space for private group events and activities. At these venues, attendees get a chance to see gleaming specimens on wheels from throughout the years.

Some vehicular venues in the state are affiliated with and offer collections specific to one manufacturing company, like the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum in Detroit. This spot is in the original factory and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Others that do not have industry roots feature collections and events along with spaces for group gatherings large and small.

“The museum is filled with photo opportunities and conversation starters,” says Emma Bowling, office manager at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum. Located in Lansing, the museum houses more than 80 vehicles from between 1886 and 2004 that tell the story of the capital

city’s automotive heritage. Bowling says the museum can accommodate 200 people, and there’s also a boardroom for 25.

“The unique setting enhances the event experience,” Bowling adds.


The former manufacturing plant now housing the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum is the birthplace of the Model T, the famous automobile first produced in 1908 and generally regarded as the first of its kind to be affordable for the masses.

The building was saved from demolition when the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex Inc. was organized in 2000 with a mission to protect the historic structure.

“Our event spaces are smack in the middle of the museum,” says President and Chief Operating Officer Jill Woodward. The first level can fit 200 attendees standing, with space for another 100 if both floors are used. A variety of catering options are offered, although the museum accepts outside food vendors as well.

Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners near Kalamazoo features around 80,000 square feet of exhibit and event

space among its galleries and other facilities on 90 acres featuring 29 buildings and seven partner museums, notes Ken Fischang, director of commercial operations. With North America’s largest vintage automobile collection including about 400 cars and motorcycles, Gilmore commonly hosts corporate and association gatherings. Planners can rent the entire museum or just the areas that suit their needs—the spaces combined can accommodate about 3,000 people.

Owned by the Packard Motor Car Foundation, the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site in Shelby Township is popular for events, says Executive Director Mary Anne Demo. The particularly historic portion of the former Packard Proving Grounds was rescued from demolition in 1999. “Visiting the Packard Proving Grounds is like stepping back in time,” Demo says.

The property offers multiple spaces for groups: Repair Garage Building with capacity for 296 seated; Lodge Garage Building with space for 100 seated or 200 theater-style; and Tank Testing Building, available for historic tours of its vehicles and displays that will also soon

14 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024 PHOTO General Motors Media Archives
VENUE R EPO R T Automobile Museums
General Motors’ Factory One building in Flint

Craft an unforgettable event in Flint & Genesee. From versatile conference venues to iconic landmarks, vibrant galleries to scenic outdoor spaces, our destination offers an unparalleled experience easily tailored to your meeting needs. Our committed team and welcoming community are ready to make your event memorable!


Golf on the shores of Lake Michigan or fishing on Little Traverse Bay?

Take a stroll through town or bike along the sun-dappled bay? For meetings in the Land of More, the first order of business is planning your epic itinerary.


offer event space for 200 guests. Demo suggests that event attendees opt for Packard Taxi Rides—memorable excursions around the grounds in classic Packard vehicles—to get up and down the boulevard, weather permitting.

In Dearborn, The Henry Ford’s “Driving America” exhibit tells the story of the way automotive innovations have changed and influenced American life and culture. Vehicles range from an 1865 Roper Steam Carriage to a 1931 Bugatti and a 2002 Toyota Prius. The Henry Ford, along with Greenfield Village, offers seemingly endless venues for private gatherings including the elegant Lovett Hall.


The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum just launched the Piquette Assembly Room event space, Woodward says. It sits in what were once the original offices for Ford Motor Co., and, at 4,000 square feet, it can comfortably fit 200 people strolling or 100 seated. “It’s a historic part of the plant,” Woodward explains. “Anyone coming to do business with Ford Motor Co. would come through that front door.”

The Gilmore is also adding new spaces: The Carriage House, which was the first building erected on the property, is being renovated to include an antique oak bar salvaged from a Detroit restaurant. The new exhibit and event space will accommodate up to 150. A covered outdoor pavilion is also being built by the Classic Car Club of America and will be available to groups. A 4,000-square-foot event center will have room for up to 300 people, with an indoor/outdoor rock fireplace and glass garage doors that can be opened to let fresh air—and cars—inside.

While currently closed, with its approximately 450-vehicle collection in storage, the General Motors Heritage Center formerly located in Sterling Heights will eventually reopen in GM’s one-time customer care and after-sales headquarters on 34 acres in Grand Blanc. The Heritage Center was opened in 2004 to feature GM’s

collection of vehicles and will provide an event space where the company’s heritage would be showcased, says Kevin Kirbitz, GM director of heritage operations.

“In the old location, you were physically in the center of the collection,” Kirbitz says. “We would have to move vehicles out to stage an event. In the new building, we’re planning on having a separate events area for dinners or large meetings. Certainly, we’ll have a couple of vehicles there, but it will be separate from the vehicle galleries.” At 30,000 square feet, the new facility also will display about 450 cars versus the 150 in the previous location.

GM also operates the Factory One building in Flint, which Kirbitz describes as the birthplace of the automobile company. The multiuse facility features about 8,000 square feet for events—and like the other museums, gives visitors a glimpse into the past of Michigan’s auto industry. Woodward notes, “It’s just nice for people to come to the place where it all began.”

fordpiquetteplant.org gilmorecarmuseum.org gm.com/heritage thehenryford.org packardprovinggrounds.org reoldsmuseum.org

16 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024
VENUE R EPORT Automobile Museums
PHOTOS (FROM ABOVE) Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum R.E. Olds Transportation Museum
Boardroom at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing; Above: Meeting at Detroit’s Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum


Ignite their enthusiasm. Whether it’s a dynamic executive team, a cohort of ambitious trainees, or a group seeking fresh inspiration, Southwest Michigan recharges and reconnects. Meet where daylight streams in and meals are infused with locally harvested favors. Then paddle Lake Michigan-bound rivers, shop in resort towns or tour the Napa Valley of the Midwest. Feel energized and refreshed in Southwest Michigan.


Fun & Games

The gamification movement is riding high these days, especially for corporate meetings and events



LONG AGO, conducting successful business gatherings required equipment as old school as flip charts, projectors, and lots of 3-by-5-inch index cards. These days, it requires the modern alchemy of robust technology, highly accurate GPS tracking, and savvy social media. What’s more, a concept known as “gamification” is moving center stage and becoming a major element of meeting planning, presenting its own set of challenges and rewards for gatherings.

Gamification is the art of encouraging attendee participation through the addition of game-like, fun elements to meetings and events. Opening icebreakers and short quizzes are popular examples. “Events

are no longer just about the content or just about the people,” says event strategist Gianna Gaudini. “I believe it’s a combination that makes them successful.” Gaudini is also author of “The Art of Event Planning.” Her thought is echoed by Channing Moreland, entertainment strategist and co-founder of Eva, a platform that connects events with vetted entertainment.

As someone who has experienced events-based gamification and incorporated various gamified elements into her own company’s gatherings, Moreland says the tide is rolling swiftly with greater game-related opportunities. “Now, more than ever, clients are asking for increasingly interactive and engaging

experiences for their event attendees, and gamification is a great tool to do that,” she says.


While some planners and clients might shy away from the idea of replacing “businessfirst” meetings with events that include an element of fun, many contend that even seemingly lighthearted activities can yield measurable business results. There’s something serious going on behind all the smiles and laughter, Gaudini says. As the former head of events for Google, AWS, Airtable, and SoftBank Vision Fund, the event strategist has planned many events where experiences were gamified

18 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024 PHOTO Adobe/Studio Romantic
T R END R EPO R T e Gamification Movement
“Gamification works wonders because it creates engagement and a reason for people to pay attention and participate.”
–GIANNA GAUDINI , event strategist and author of “The Art of Event Planning”

to drive business results. “Gamification works wonders because it creates engagement and a reason for people to pay attention and participate,” she says.

If you want success in putting together a gathering of humans, you need to think about how humans work, and that is where gaming can make a big difference—for a couple reasons, Gaudini says. “First, people can only retain a certain amount of information without taking a break. That’s why back-to-back keynotes for three hours no longer work as effectively as planning shorter sessions broken up with active breaks for networking, games, or relaxation.

“Second, it’s been proven that brains retain information best when it’s wrapped in a warm blanket of emotion or a story. Engaging activities mean emotions are heightened, so people will be more likely to retain the information, as well as more likely to participate and be engaged with those around them.”

Moreland agrees with this notion, adding that elements such as scavenger hunts and puzzles can foster connections, break the ice, and inject a sense of fun into the event environment, ultimately leading to more meaningful interactions and positive outcomes.

Be sure to include a variety of activities that will appeal to different personality types, says Heather Seasholtz, vice president of operations at CM Event Solutions, who has both planned and participated in gamified events. “I prefer offering both app-based games and in-person games because I feel that offering both maximizes inclusivity,” she says. “App-based games allow people to participate who may tend to be more introverted, while in-person

games allow [face-to-face] interaction between attendees, a perk for conferences to create new connections.”

Also, allow for some drop-off in your planning, Seaholtz adds. “It’s important to set your expectations, because you’ll never get 100% of the people in any group participating in gamification.”

Hwansuk Chris Choi, a professor at the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food, and Tourism Management in Guelph, Ontario, has studied gamification within the events and travel industry and has identified several key personality types who are likely to be attracted to different aspects of gaming activities. These types are knowledge collectors, reward-seekers, explorers, curiosity-seekers, sensationseekers, and flow experiencers.

“If you’re planning a meeting with mostly Generation Xers and millennials in attendance, it’s good to know that most of them are knowledge collectors,” he says, making trivia and similar activities good choices for these groups. “In contrast, Generation Zers have relatively diverse interests.”


Moreland says, “Looking ahead, I anticipate that gamification capabilities will continue to evolve, driven by advancements in technology and a growing emphasis on attendee engagement. We can expect to see more sophisticated applications for how attendees can meet and interact.”

Gaudini adds, “I do think planners are realizing that in this content-saturated environment, events have a leg up over other marketing mediums by being able to engage all the senses experientially in a way other forms of marketing cannot do.”

bookwitheva.com | cm-eventsolutions.com | sciencedirect.com

Gamification Ideas

From simple to intricate, the types of activities planners can incorporate into the agenda are nearly endless and almost universally applicable to any group or participant. You likely have already integrated some of these activities into your events, but they all fall under the general heading of “gamification.”



Interactive badges


Live polls and quizzes

Networking challenges


QR code photo contests

Scavenger hunts

Social media walls


Silly some might sound, but games and activities like these will help spark initial interactions among attendees to get conversations started and encourage the quieter participants to engage a bit more— which can make all the difference in creating an event that’s truly inclusive, memorable, and immersive.



Meetings take to sports arenas and stadiums for wide-open spaces, fun activities, and first-class service

20 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024 PHOTOS (FROM LEFT) West Michigan Whitecaps, Ford
LMCU Ballpark in Grand Rapids

lanners looking for a fun and versatile venue in Michigan would be remiss not to consider one of its many stadiums or arenas—in fact, the state is home to the largest stadium in the U.S., the University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. This huge venue, along with many others throughout the state, offers numerous options for event spaces that can be booked for meetings, trade shows, and the like. The University of Michigan football stadium contains premium facility rentals like the Jack Roth Stadium Club, which features breathtaking views of both the stadium and university campus, and is perfect for an elegant gala or banquet. At sports facilities like this, planners can take advantage of the sheer square footage and the opportunities such space allows.

For more than 10 years, Electro-Matic of Farmington Hills has held its annual two-day Manufacturing in America event at Ford Field in downtown Detroit.

Marketing Manager Amy Tylutki says as many as 3,700 participate, including manufacturing executives, engineers, industrial automation customers, vendors, first robotics teams, and company employees. The space works because it provides plenty of room to spread out for a flagship thought-leadership event, 15 breakout spaces, a vendor exhibition area, and room for other activities.

“We have used most of the south side of the stadium each year, from the basement [which has locker rooms, interview rooms, etc.] to suites, and all the way to the press room on the seventh floor,” she says, adding that a trade show takes place in the concourse and atrium spaces, and that the company also has hosted in the Gridiron Club, running the length of the north side of the stadium. Attendees like the venue because it’s, well, fun.

“This event space fits our event needs along with adding the excitement of a sports venue, including tours and field goal kicking,” Tylutki says. Sports stadiums

across Michigan provide similar degrees of opportunity for private business and association gatherings, often with exciting add-ons to get the group engaged.


Gatherings of as few as 25 all the way up to 1,000 can be accommodated at Dow Diamond in Midland, home to the Great Lakes Loons Minor League Baseball team. Dave Gomola, general manager of events at Dow Diamond, says the stadium is a good spot for special events and private gatherings. Besides hosting the annual Great Lakes Beer Festival every August, Dow Diamond also holds several trade shows each year along with expos featuring golf equipment, hot tubs and swim spas, home and outdoor living products, and more.

Private gatherings are typically centered in the 16,000-square-foot secondfloor concourse. “It has retractable glass bifold walls so the space can be open-air during the summer and enclosed and heated in the winter,” Gomola explains, adding that it offers views of the ballpark and a large stone fireplace. In addition, the third-floor Tri-Star Club—5,000 square

feet complete with a stone fireplace—is an elegant setting that includes a large island bar and multiple flat-screen televisions. Several 20-by-20-foot suites are available for breakout meetings.

“Most of our clients are searching for a unique venue to hold their corporate meeting, awards dinner, holiday party, wedding reception, etc.,” Gomola says. “We are able to not only offer full-service catering and an assortment of meeting spaces, but we also are able to offer fun group activities for icebreakers and team building.” Activities include indoor batting cages, on-field batting practice, cornhole, kickball, softball, and mascot appearances.

Detroit’s Ford Field Director of Sales Katie Gonyeau says the venue provides “the ultimate facilities for trade and consumer shows, meetings, banquets, galas, and a wide variety of special events.” Besides the NFL’s Detroit Lions football stadium, the Atrium is the largest space and can accommodate more than 1,000 for a seated dinner. Ford Field’s Hall of Legends provides a more intimate setting with views of the stadium from its indoor patio—up to 350 can be served banquet-style here, with the option to

The Atrium at Ford Field in Detroit

“It worked out well from the get-go. The staff is so professional, so organized— they did everything for us. We didn’t want to have to bring tables and chairs and do the catering, and it was a one-stop shop with Jimmy John’s Field.”

–DEANNA MORLEY , vice president of education, Southeast Michigan Construction Academy

divide the room into smaller sections for breakouts or small board meetings. Those who are looking to stage trade shows are likely to select Ford’s Adams Street concourse, offering space for about 100 10-by-10-foot vendor booths.

Groups can arrange for behind-the-scenes stadium tours, visits from the Detroit Lions’ mascot, and personalized digital messaging inside the stadium. Gonyeau says the venue provides tables, chairs, linen, security, housekeeping, audiovisual services, parking, and catering.


Northern Michigan University’s Berry Events Center in Marquette is known as a space for hockey, basketball, concerts, and other big shows. Events Manager Joanna Emigh says corporate groups can access discounted ticket prices, receive a videoboard

welcome during the event, and take advantage of pre- and post-event party space adjacent to the arena that can accommodate about 75 people.

“The Berry Events Center is one of the larger venues in the Upper Peninsula,” Emigh says. “There is no bad seat in the arena.” The center’s staff provides on-site catering including beer and wine service; audiovisual support; and all event equipment including tables, chairs, and staging. The building is not typically used for trade shows, Emigh notes, although groups outside of campus are able to rent the facility to hold other events. Additional venues including the Physical Education Instructional Facility’s recreation center and the Superior Dome are nearby.

Jimmy John’s Field in Utica certainly does not disappoint when it comes to service, says Deanna Morley. As the vice president of education at the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy (SEMCA), she was looking for a new venue to host the students’ graduation ceremony. Her thought was to find an alternative that might be more appealing to the

young, mostly male graduates than the banquet-style facilities SEMCA used previously. It was also just as the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced, so health and safety considerations were top of mind as well. When Jimmy John’s Field came on her radar, she thought it would be the perfect choice: lots of room for social distancing and an enjoyable venue for all ages.

“It worked out well from the get-go,” Morley says, noting that after the ceremony, graduates received vouchers to treat themselves and guests to food and beverages on-site. “The staff is so professional, so organized—they did everything for us. We didn’t want to have to bring tables and chairs and do the catering, and it was a one-stop shop with Jimmy John’s Field.”

Dana Schmitt, president of the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) and Jimmy John’s Field, says the facility offers multiple spaces for large group outings during games. The Chevrolet Pavilion features picnic table seating on an elevated patio and includes a big tent, large fire pit, food service (often a barbecue buffet), and a private bar with capacity

22 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024
Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, set up for a private event; Right: Dow Diamond in Midland
Jimmy John’s Field, Dow Diamond/Dave Gomola, Lansing Lugnuts

for 400. Trion Solutions Left Field Pavilion can hold up to 300, also with picnic table seating and a tent, food, and bar. The Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Right Field Family Patio can accommodate up to 600 and is adjacent to the Kids Zone that contains a play structure, Wiffle ball field, and speed-pitch game.

“Jimmy John’s Field also is host to many corporate groups that entertain during our USPBL games in our 26 luxury suites, each of which can accommodate up to 20 people,” Schmitt notes. Beyond games, the field also can be rented for corporate events including business meetings, company picnics, team-building outings, charity softball games, 5K races, and cocktail and holiday parties. Depending on the space and time of year, there is room for 200 to 3,000 attendees.

SEMCA returned this year to host its graduation ceremony at the field for the fourth year in a row. “We love it,” Morley says. “We love being outside, and we love the unique feel of the venue.”


Special Events Manager Courtney Prins at Jackson Field in Lansing says the stadium’s location in the state’s capital as well as its variety of options for spaces and groups of all sizes have led to a steady following of organizations wanting to hold events there. Some come to attend a Minor League Baseball game (Jackson Field is home to the Lansing Lugnuts) and take advantage of group ticket prices, premium seating options in private spaces, and on-site catering to feed attendees, while others arrange for private gatherings and trade shows.

The View is a 2,000-square-foot, yearround special events venue at Jackson Field that is frequently used for private events including corporate meetings, association gatherings, employee functions, and the like. A variety of other spaces, indoors and out, can serve from 100 to several thousand attendees. For example, more than 1,000 can gather at picnic tables on the Tailgate Terrace, the Plaza can hold more than 2,500, and the

entire space can accommodate 7,500plus if planners opt to rent out the whole venue. “From smaller, more intimate trade shows, which can utilize The View, to larger trade shows using up the entire concourse, we have something that can cater to each group,” Prins says.

Home to MLB’s Detroit Tigers affiliate West Michigan Whitecaps, LMCU Ballpark in Grand Rapids also has hosted multiple other events including major concerts, festivals, a holiday light show, and one of the largest cybersecurity conferences in the world, CloudCon. Special Events Manager April Butler says the park’s concourse, suite level, and Pepsi Stadium Club have all been pulled into service for trade shows. The facility also is undergoing a renovation over the next few years that will result in more meeting and event space.

“We truly pride ourselves on using our spaces all year long in unique ways,” Butler says. “People can rent just one section of the park, the parking lot, or all of the above.” Those booking LMCU Ballpark receive what its staff call “turnkey planning” from the team, who take care of everything from equipment rentals to in-house catering.

“There is something magical about sports meeting venues,” Butler says. “It doesn’t get more unique than having a baseball diamond as a backdrop.”

fordfield.com lmcuballpark.com mgoblue.com milb.com/great-lakes milb.com/lansing nmu.edu/berryeventscenter uspbl.com/jimmy-johns-field

The View events venue at Jackson Field in Lansing
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» A $184 MILLION riverfront amphitheater set to open in the next two years is going to be a game-changer for downtown Grand Rapids. The 12,000-seat Acrisure Amphitheater outdoor concert and event venue has been years in the making, says Kara Wood. She’s executive director of Grand Action 2.0, development leader on the project, which is expected to be up and running in 2026.

“This will be a public asset that will be expanding the venue opportunities for private rentals and meetings as well as additional venues for music and performances,” Wood explains. “It will be open to the public for utilization, and one of the things that is important to west Michigan is that we’re not missing out on some of those outdoor-specific performances that pass by Grand Rapids when making their way across the nation.” According to Grand Action 2.0, the amphitheater is part of a larger

riverfront vision that spans 31 acres along the Grand River. The development is expected to attract new restaurants, bars, retail, and housing.

Simultaneously, plans for a $175 million downtown soccer stadium that leaders hope will attract professional soccer to West Michigan are progressing on a similar timeline. “We are getting ready to complete the design-development phase of that project at this point,” Wood says. “It has just received its special land use approval from the planning commission.”

The two facilities will piggyback on the vibrancy that Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place Convention Center have generated downtown over the past few decades.

“I think these two new projects at once are going to have a profound effect on not only the region, but also the riverfront accessibility,” says Wood.


Bavarian Inn Water Park Expands

avarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth will soon open the second phase of an $80 million expansion that will make it Michigan’s largest indoor water park and family entertainment center. The first phase debuted just before the holidays last year, when an approximately 15,000-square-foot section of its new Family Fun Center opened. Highlights include an ice cream shop, new redemption prize store where guests can select gifts earned with video and arcade game winnings, and laser tag.

Now, phase two, with mini-bowling, a three-story ropes course, and rockclimbing walls—a total of about 10,000 square feet—is set to open by June. The third and largest phase that will bring the fun center’s water park area to more than 140,000 square feet is scheduled for fall completion.

“There are going to be 16 waterslides. We will have a wave pool, we will have a lazy river, there will be some more concessions … and a swim-up bar for adults,” says General Manager Joanna Nelson, noting the completed water park’s name will be Bavarian Blast. There also will be an area with a dump bucket, climbing structure, and less-aggressive waterslides.

She says the enhanced facilities will add to the attraction for those planning meetings and events at Bavarian Inn Lodge and nearby. “We oftentimes will have attendees bring their families when they find out the meeting is being held in Frankenmuth,” she says. “We also will be promoting after-hours events to planners that incorporate team-building type activities or gatherings in certain sections of the park.”




Detroit-based holding company

Rock Ventures and commercial real estate firm Bedrock Detroit have partnered with 7OH2 Hospitality on three dining concepts with event space opening downtown in The Motor City. Founded by Dan Gilbert of Rock Ventures, Rock is dedicated to fostering positive impact for businesses and people in communities the company serves, while Bedrock is a full-service real estate firm that has invested and committed $6 billion-plus in more than 100 properties in Detroit and Cleveland, Ohio. 7OH2 is a boutique hospitality and marketing company comprised of food and beverage professionals—new to the Detroit market.

“I was in Vegas for 12 years working in and operating venues inside of casinos, so I had a very deep-rooted relationship with the convention services teams and convention managers teams, and an understanding of how important building venues that support those types of events

can be,” says 7OH2 founder Josh Lang. When he came to Detroit and took stock of the hospitality landscape, he observed that there is a healthy market for private event sales. “There are corporate events everywhere, almost every day,” he says.

Lang had that in mind while developing the new venues in the Bedrockowned Kay Baum Building on Woodward Avenue. “We created four different floors that could potentially be purchased for private events at the same time,” he notes. Gilly’s Clubhouse & Rooftop, recently opened, represents two concepts under one brand. “The clubhouse portion of it is a sports bar on two floors with a main level that has patio access,” Lang explains, noting that Gilly’s has its own kitchen. “It has a cafe, it has standard barroom tables, rectangular highboys for six to eight people, a DJ booth, TVs everywhere, plus one major [120-squarefoot] TV. And the mezzanine overlooks the main floor.” He also adds, “It’s a great space for someone to be on the mezzanine

and give a speech; then we can transfer the video feed to all the TVs and have it show on the big screen.” A glass-enclosed private dining room on the mezzanine can hold groups of up to 125.

On the rooftop, an Airstream trailer built into the wall is the base for a kitchen turning out Mexican street classics, with beverages revolving around tequila. There’s also an atrium along with a separate terrace that seats 25 outdoors.

The other venue is Saksey’s Cocktail Lounge, opening this summer. Housed in the lower level of Gilly’s, it’s a sports bar based on the vision of Gilbert’s late son Nick, who developed the initial design and concept for the venue before his death from a genetic disorder last year. The food menu presents sharable plates with cocktails mixed tableside. Saksey’s also will be available for private events.

7oh2hospitality.com bedrockdetroit.com rock.com

26 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024 INDUST R Y UPDATE Regional News
IMAGE Coeval Studio
Rendering of the clubhouse portion of Gilly’s Clubhouse & Rooftop
MEETINGSMAGS.COM/MICHIGAN 27 Bavarian Inn Lodge & Conference Center Meet, Stay, Repeat! Us! www.bluewaterconventioncenter.com 800 HARKER ST. | PORT HURON, MI 48060 | 810.201.5513

Lansing’s Grewal Hall Debuts

» A LONG-SHUTTERED BUILDING in downtown Lansing has come back to life as an event space with the opening of Grewal Hall at 224. Jenna Meyer, one of the owners, says the 15,000-square-foot structure previously housed a hookah lounge and was the site of the original J.W. Knapp Co. department store. It has been transformed into two floors of entertainment space with a second-floor mezzanine that overlooks the open-concept main floor.

“We can host any event from concerts, private parties, and weddings to conference-style events and gatherings,” Meyer says.

The lower level includes hospitality areas for clients to use in conjunction with events. Standing-room capacity is at 900, up to 225 can be accommodated in formal banquet seating, and 400 in a theater-style arrangement. Multiple layouts are available for corporate events and conferences.


Choose Lansing Promotes Five Staffers

» FIVE EMPLOYEES AT Greater Lansing’s destination marketing organization are moving up the ranks. On staff at Choose Lansing since 2000, Tracy Padot is now chief marketing officer. After six years with the organization, Stephanie Wohlfert has been named director of sales for state accounts. With more than a decade of event management and sales experience, Ariel Backus has been named director of sales for national accounts. Recognizing the role she plays working with Choose Lansing’s data vendors and providing data analysis, Beth Jesperson has become research and technology systems manager. Anne Lavender is now executive coordinator. lansing.org


Huntington Place in Detroit has hired Heather Anderson as marketing and communications director. She replaced Mary Klida, who retired after heading marketing and communications efforts for Detroit’s convention center since 2010. Anderson was previously on staff at Cox Business Convention Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Erika Brigham has been named executive chef of MDRD, the upscale Spanish restaurant at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native, she began her career in Tucson, Arizona, launching several new restaurants. In Grand Rapids, she was with the Gilmore Collection and most recently served as executive chef of Roam by San Chez.

Alise Hale has joined the Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau as group sales manager. She most recently served as sales and partnership director for the West Michigan Tourist Association. A graduate of Alma College in Alma, she has a strong background in graphic design, marketing, sales, group services, business development, and hospitality.

Michael Hensley is the new executive director of the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hensley previously served as director of tourism marketing at the Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. He replaces Marci Fogal, who is retiring this year after 25 years with the organization.

Amy Karbo has been promoted to vice president of marketing at Destination Ann Arbor. She has been with the organization since 2018 and will be focusing on strategically building out the marketing team to meet the evolving needs of the organization.

28 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024
PHOTOS (CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE LEFT) Grewal Hall at 224, Huntington Place, Amway Grand Plaza, Alise Hale, Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Destination Ann Arbor INDUST R Y UPDATE Regional News

Yo u ’ r e a t e a m of o r i g i n a l s . S o a r e w e.

Different perspectives inspire richer ideas. Our seven communities give you the room to ideate, create – and celebrate a meeting well done. Come together in a place that offers a different kind of different

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When meetings conclude, attendees can stop by one of the 400-plus restaurants, pubs, and breweries that dot the Ann Arbor area. Whether they are thirsty for a locally brewed pint, ready to fill up on classic American fare, or have a taste for diverse fusion cuisine, they will find plenty of places to keep the conversation going. Perhaps the most famous Ann Arbor eatery is Zingerman’s Deli—since opening in 1982, this internationally known sandwich shop has branched out into new dining concepts including a bakery, coffee shop, and creamery.

As a college town, Ann Arbor’s youthful energy fuels the area’s one-of-a-kind culture. The area is home to several art exhibitions, including the Jean Paul Slusser Gallery and the University of Michigan Museum of Art, known locally as the UMMA. The State Theater and Michigan Theater are pillars of the performing arts scene, bringing the best in concerts, plays, and more to downtown Ann Arbor.

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Here, attendees can do it all, and Destination Ann Arbor’s expert planning team makes creating the next big event easy. They will assist in finding the perfect location, arranging transportation, planning networking opportunities and post-meeting activities, selecting catering options, and more.

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Two stunningly beautiful bays form Sleeping Bear Point, 450 feet above the beach and on National Geographic’s list of the 21 Best Beaches in the World. Around it are 70,000 acres of preserved land and 65 miles of protected shoreline making up the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Within the lakeshore area is a town small enough to be charming, yet large enough to house a nearly 100-year-old resort community with meeting facilities, a spa, a salon, a fitness center, restaurants, and a range of gracious accommodations. It is a community with 1 mile

of frontage on Sleeping Bear Bay and several more on the Crystal River. It was built at far less than the allowable density to be sustainable long before that word was fashionable.

The lifestyle at Glen Arbor is that of a small town, with no traffic jams, and not even a traffic light. The pace is slow, so there is plenty of time to marvel at the beauty, to relax and restore.

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Pure Michigan, Pure Enthusiasm

More than 500 professionals representing convention and visitors bureaus, associations, hotels and other lodging establishments, restaurants, attractions, government entities, and vendors that work with the state’s hospitality industry participated in the 2024 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Kalamazoo. The threeday event featured Gov. Gretchen Whitmer along with state tourism leaders and speakers on topics that ranged from accessibility to embracing change. Attendees could choose from breakout sessions that included TED Talk-style speed presentations from representatives of convention and visitors bureaus and attractions around Michigan. Next year’s conference will be held at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

1. Hilary Doe, Michelle Grinnell, and Quentin Messer Jr. 2. Steph Castelein 3. Crystal Washington 4. Kristy Durso and her service dog 5. Mike Busley and Kelly Wolgamott 6. Janet Korn

7. Larry Bell 8. Clockwise from back left: Dorothy Mott, Mark Homuth, Chris Rowley, and Jordan Ensing

6 7 5 2 1 4
3 SNAPSHOTS Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism 8 PHOTOS Pure Michigan To have your meeting or event photos featured, contact kgibbons@greenspring.com

Nourishing Demand

Experience Grand Rapids’ Doug Small is all about the food

Doug Small is a self-described foodie. As president and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids for nearly 16 years, he feels strongly that the local food scene is front and center when it comes to attracting tourists and groups. He also loves to cook.

“I always say that when I travel and when I talk to friends who travel, we all tend to talk about our culinary experiences when we come home—not the pillows on our bed,” Small says. “Food is a big part of the travel economy.”

Before Small came to Grand Rapids, he was working in Denver, Colorado, where a restaurant week had been instituted to elevate the local food scene. “When I came to Grand Rapids, I allowed myself to look and listen for a while and realized there was nobody pushing the food scene,” he says.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to do that,’ and we created restaurant week here.” Other efforts like special promotions that encourage people to sample the area’s food and craft beers also have helped add to the buzz, he says.

Not a week goes by that there isn’t an announcement of a new restaurant opening around the Grand Rapids region, Small says, and he himself can be found out and about sampling various cuisines, posting photos, and sharing his experiences on his personal Facebook page.

When Small came to Grand Rapids, the county’s room revenue was at $98 million. Fifteen years and about 4,000 additional hotel rooms later, revenue had reached $253 million.

He credits the local food scene with helping grow that number.

“Most of our meeting executives who come in for a site inspection before deciding, we certainly take them out to our great local restaurants and let them see for themselves,” Small says. It doesn’t hurt that the AAA FourDiamond downtown adjoining properties JW Marriott Grand Rapids and Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton, also handle catering for Grand Rapids’ flagship convention center, DeVos Place.

Back home in his own kitchen, Small is always experimenting. He especially loves creating different pastas. And when he discovers new recipes, he tweaks and makes them his own. That’s fine with his wife—and has been since early on in their 40-year marriage. “My wife says she hates being in the kitchen,” he says. “I say, ‘I’ll take it.’”

36 MI M+E » SUMMER 2024
PHOTO Brian Kelly
Top 3 Midwest DMO Stella Awards, 2023

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