A buyer's market and plenty of new construction in the Midwest means better value for groups.
Glass viewing decks added in June at the top of the Sears Tower (since renamed the Willis Tower) allow intrepid groups to look straight down on Chicago streets and Lake Michigan from the nation's tallest building. The Sun-Times reports that the observation deck provides a four-foot glass strip an inch-and-a-half thick that will support about five tons.
And the tower's roof will have solar panels, gardens, and wind turbines added as part of a $350 million renovation that will take five years and also will add a new 500-room luxury hotel next to the 110-story skyscraper.
In other news from Chicago, all four major buildings at McCormick Place now have coverage with a wireless indoor network deftly carried by the HVAC system. It can accommodate as many as 800 users.
Nearby Tinley Park plans a $20 million, 58,000-square-foot addition to its 65,000-square-foot convention center. A construction design is under way and work is scheduled to begin this summer.
In Wisconsin, Visit Milwaukee, the primary promoter for conventions and visitor groups, plans to raise and make available even more financial incentives to convince groups to bring their meetings to Milwaukee. Gil Nash, new owner of the City Center Hotel-Oshkosh, would rather they come to Oshkosh, and he's gearing his hotel to lure the group market and build a convention center addition. Wausau, the little giant of the insurance industry, has an expo center on its way to the Cedar Creek Mall.
The 1,005-room JW Marriott Indian-apolis and three smaller Marriotts are rising beside the Indiana Convention Center expansion. The hotels have nearly reached the halfway mark; the expanded convention center should open in December 2010.
The 800-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago has completed a $1.8 million renovation that included its 43,000 square feet of function space.
The 470-room Hyatt Regency Woodfield-Schaumburg has completed a $32 million restoration of guest rooms and more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as ballrooms, outdoor spaces, and exhibit areas.
Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile celebrated its 30-year anniversary with a $36 million propertywide renovation that added 10,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 4,000-square-foot ballroom.
The new the Wit hotel has 298 rooms; nine meeting rooms; an English-style pub; and Screen, a million-dollar HD multimedia theater with room for 40 attendees in recliners, club chairs, and comfortable couches.
InterContinental Chicago O'Hare, in Rosemont, opened in September 2008 with 556 guest rooms, two ballrooms, boardroom space on every floor, and six meeting rooms near the lobby.
The Marriott Bloomington-Normal Hotel & Conference Center is expected to open by September with 229 rooms, as well as a pool, restaurant, and fitness center. The attached conference facility has more than 23,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and is connected to the Normal Theater, which will also be available for group events.
InterContinental Hotels Group has converted a property to a 160-room Crowne Plaza in the Bloomington-Normal business district. It has more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space.
French Lick Resort comprises French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels. It has undergone a $500 million renovation that restored the hotels and added the French Lick Casino. Also renovated at the resort are three golf courses and a conference center.
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts in October 2008 opened Hyatt Place South Bend/Mishawaka near the University of Notre Dame. The hotel has 121 guest rooms and 1,250 square feet of meeting space.
The Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center held a ribbon-cutting in January in Davenport, near the Isle Casino and Hotel (on the Iowa/Illinois border). The center has 24,000 square feet of meeting space, with a ballroom that accommodates 1,500 people theater-style.
Greektown Casino in Detroit has opened its new high-limit gaming rooms. The 400-room Greektown Casino-Hotel opened in February with 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 453-room Westin Book Cadillac Hotel opened in downtown Detroit last October. The Venetian Ballroom features 1,500-pound, blown-glass chandeliers. The Italian Garden and Crystal ballrooms can accommodate 1,000 guests. There are also eight smaller meeting rooms.
Cafe Zinc, the Table, and Oxygen are some special venues in Midland's new 131-room H Hotel, the former Ashman Court Hotel and now a Dolce meetings property. The H has completed a $25 million upgrade, adding 6,000 square feet of meeting rooms and the H grand ballroom, which seats up to 300.
The obelisk-shaped, art deco-era Foshay Tower, modeled after the Washington Monument, reopened in August 2008 after a major makeover as W Minneapolis-The Foshay. It offers 229 guest rooms and 6,700 square feet of meeting space.
Wisconsin Dells Kalahari Resort houses 740 rooms and suites and 125,000 square feet of event space.
Ask the CVB
Bloomington-Normal Area CVB
Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau
Rosemont Convention Bureau
Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau
Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Authority
Detroit Metro CVB
Greater Minneapolis CVA
Saint Paul CVB
CVB of Greater Cleveland
Greater Cincinnati CVB
Surf the Midwest? Why not, when it's a year-round sport at the Sandusky, Ohio, Kalahari Hotel, Waterpark, and Conference Center. The new FlowRider attracts both surfboarders and boogie-boarders and even comes with instruction. For planners, the important stuff is that there are 596 rooms and family suites attached to 95,000 square feet of meeting and event space. (608) 254-3314, www.kalahariresorts.com
Formerly a private club, the Rock Island Arsenal Golf Club is now available to the public for meetings and events on Arsenal Island — right in the middle of the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Ill. The clubhouse was built in 1906 and has the feel of a Southern plantation home with open-air verandas and elegant dining rooms overlooking the golf course. Banquet rooms can accommodate 250 people. In addition, golf club patrons can now use the historic Quarters One facility and grounds. Built in the 1870s, it boasts a spacious central hall with a dining room, library, and screened veranda. Quarters One can host up to 100 people, and the grounds can accommodate up to 400. (309) 793-1601, www.riagolfclub.com