When snow and ice move into the Midwest, all is set for skiing, tobogganing, and indoor parties. But the Great Lakes don't freeze up — and neither do reasons for groups to book this area. After the boom year of 2007, when room rates and facilities construction knew no bounds, the current economic downturn has been a shock, but supply should soon bring more reasonable (and negotiable) prices for groups in Midwest cities.
In Chicago, some 7,200 guest rooms are scheduled to be completed by 2011. Two notable examples are the InterContinental Chicago O'Hare in Rosemont and theWit, a Doubletree hotel in downtown Chicago. The InterContinental opened in September 2008 with 556 guest rooms. In addition to two ballrooms, boardroom space on every floor, and a cluster of six meeting rooms near the lobby, the hotel has a 275-seat theater that may prove an ideal space for award presentations and product introductions. Currently under construction, theWit is scheduled for a May 2009 opening with 298 rooms downtown at State and Lake streets. It includes nine meeting rooms, a fine-dining restaurant, a spa, and a private digital screening room.
The Tinley Park Convention Center in Illinois will almost double in the next 18 months to 42,000 square feet of exhibit space and 21,500 square feet of meeting space. Technology and parking will be expanded and 68 hotel rooms in the attached Holiday Inn will be added to bring the total to 270. A new business center, kitchen, and expanded loading dock are included in the project.
The Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis will double in size by 2010 and be connected to the new Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts kicked off their season this past fall. Just as important, the stadium and its retractable ceiling are group-ready and the expanded center and stadium will have a total of 749,000 square feet of exhibit space and 12 meeting rooms. A 31,000-square-foot party plaza can host receptions, while arena-level loading docks speed setup and teardown. A JW Marriott hotel will complete the picture.
Indianapolis has also landed major deals to host the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NCAA Final Four men's and women's basketball tournaments in 2010 and 2011.
Green is the word in Wisconsin where the Dane County Regional Airport received a Wisconsin Sustainability & Energy Efficiency Leadership Award (SE2) last September for its terminal renovation and expansion project. The project reused 97 percent of demolition and site development waste and sourced locally-made construction products. In the city of Madison, five diesel-electric hybrid buses have been in use in its Metro Transit fleet since September 2007, and 10 more will be added to the fleet over the next four years.
Just outside Milwaukee, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino has expanded its meeting and event space to the tune of $240 million. This is no mere bingo parlor; the Casino includes more than 3,100 slots plus rooms of table games. The round Tribal Room seats 100 and the Woodland Dreams Conference Center holds as many as 300.
In 2007, Cleveland announced a new, one-million-square-foot convention center, the Medical Mart, to be built in conjunction with Merchandise Mart Properties, but the project seems interminably stuck in site selection. Plans are still under way, and although the specifications for the new center have not yet been determined, Medical Mart authorities say a center should be built by 2010 or 2011.
Michigan also has convention space concerns. The state needs to move quickly to keep the North American International Auto Show. Suzuki will not be part of the 2009 show because of a lack of adequate space, and Porsche did not participate in 2008. Lawmakers in Lansing have passed legislation to create a convention authority to purchase Cobo Center from perpetually broke Detroit. The plan then is for the authority to use a combination of bonds and taxes to pay for Cobo's expansion and operation.
The 800-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago completes a $1.8 million renovation in February to spruce up its 43,000 square feet of function space and grand ballroom next to McCormick Place Convention Center.
InterContinental Hotels Group has converted a property to a 160-room Crowne Plaza hotel in the Bloomington-Normal business district that has more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space, a fitness center, indoor pool, business center, and restaurant and lounge.
The Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center plans a January 24 ribbon-cutting at its site, 2021 State Street, Bettendorf, near the Isle Casino and Hotel (on the Iowa/Illinois border). The center includes 24,000 square feet of meeting space, with a ballroom as well as smaller meeting rooms and a boardroom. The ballroom will accommodate 1,500 attendees theater-style.
Jumer's Casino & Hotel in Rock Island opened in December 2008, offering 205 hotel rooms and 11 suites. Jumer's also features a full-service spa, indoor pool, workout room, four restaurants, and four meeting rooms totaling 7,400 square feet of indoor space.
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.
French Lick Resort — comprised of French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels — has undergone a $500 million renovation that restored the hotels and added the French Lick Casino. Also renovated are three golf courses (a Pete Dye course opens in the spring); a spa, conference center, and 60,000-square-foot sports and exhibition complex; tennis courts; a bowling alley and game arcade; retail shops; and 15 restaurants.
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 85-room Hotel Indigo Columbus Downtown opened last February. The hotel features a fitness studio, restaurant, 24-hour business center, meeting room accommodating up to 120 guests, and a boardroom for smaller meetings.
Greektown Casino has opened its new high-limit gaming rooms and an international buffet. The 400-room Greektown Casino-Hotel will open in February 2009, with 10,000 square feet of meeting space in Detroit's Greektown Entertainment District.
The 212-room Sheraton Lansing Hotel is set to become the Lexington Lansing Grand Hotel in June 2009. The downtown hotel will be renovating meeting space across from the State Capitol building.
The 453-room Westin Book Cadillac Hotel opened in downtown Detroit in October 2008. Within the renovated antique property, the Venetian Ballroom features 1,500-pound, blown-glass chandeliers. Add the Italian Garden and Crystal ballrooms to entertain up to 1,000 guests. There are eight smaller meeting rooms, too. The Motor City Bar is joined by Michael Symon's Roast restaurant.
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.
Hilton Cincinnati Airport Hotel, near Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, recently completed a $2 million renovation of its 306 rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
The M Café & Bistro was added to the Meridian Conference Center & Wingate in West Chester, near Cincinnati, as part of a larger renovation of the center's 90 guest rooms and 5,000 square feet of event space.
The obelisk-shaped Foshay Tower, modeled after the Washington Monument, reopened in August 2008 as W Minneapolis-The Foshay, with 229 guest rooms and 6,000 square feet of meeting space. An Art Deco plaster ceiling in the hotel's main arcade complements a high-end restaurant, lounge, and fitness center.
The 132-room Fon du Lac Ramada Plaza Hotel is changing owners and will be upgraded. Its Crystal Ballroom is popular for events; also available is a restaurant, lounge, and fitness center with pool.
The Pfister Hotel this year celebrates 115 years since its opening in 1924 with a grand reopening following recent renovations. Milwaukee's grand old hotel has 307 guest rooms. More than 25,000 square feet of meeting space accommodates up to 1,500 guests.
The 483-room Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, connected via skyway to the Midwest Airlines Center and adjacent to the Bradley Center, U.S. Cellular Arena, and the Milwaukee Theater, is undergoing an $18 million renovation.
The 239-room Sheraton Madison Hotel completed an $8.5 million renovation in January 2008 to its event space, dining room, lounge, fitness center, and guest rooms.
Parking at Navy Pier Parking costs about $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends, but there are free trolleys to and from many hotels.
Holding a regional meeting in Michigan will save drive-in attendees on tolls. In the birthplace of the automobile, the highways are broad, well marked, and free.
Near the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, the best bet for parking is the Monroe parking lot below Grant Park between Madison and Monroe. All-day rates are usually in single figures.
A passport is now mandatory for crossing places where Midwestern states meet Canadian provinces. For the first time, a group in Detroit cannot easily slip over to Windsor, Ontario, for the evening.
Milwaukee hosts nontraditional meetings and events in a transformed warehouse. The Iron Horse Hotel kept its exposed brick and post-and-beam construction and added modern furnishings to create meeting spaces that are the antithesis of stuffy boardrooms. In the War Room a custom 12-foot conference table and fine art photography provide a creative space. The Library is just the place for wine tasting or dinners for up to 50. The Gallery seats 20 to 180 people in a room of old pine timbers. Outside, an enormous yard of tables, fire pits, and a staging area can be tented, and there is a private bar downstairs. (888) 543-IRON, www.theironhorsehotel.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. The clubhouse has banquet rooms that can accommodate up to 250 people. In addition, the golf club 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
After your group pays proper homage to a life-size statue of Zeus at the New Parthenon Restaurant in Detroit's Greektown, the saganaki (flaming cheese) will start your Greek dinner with enough excitement to last the evening. The huge restaurant has multiple levels and plenty of seating so groups can enjoy almost-private space. (313) 963-8888
Ask the CVB
Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau
Rosemont Convention Bureau
Tinley Park Chamber of Commerce
Detroit Metro CVB
Grand Rapids/Kent County CVB
Greater Minneapolis CVA
Saint Paul CVB
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CVB of Greater Cleveland
Greater Cincinnati CVB
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(414) 273 2879
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Midwest Air Lift
DETROIT AND INDIANAPOLIS OPENED NEW TERMINALS at the end of 2008, and Branson will cut the ribbon on its first-ever airport in May.
The North Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) has 26 gates and more than 35 restaurants and shops, including a spa and the Hockeytown Café that pays tribute to the hometown Red Wings, the 2008 Stanley Cup winners. DTW is the largest hub for Northwest Airlines and low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines. It serves 15 other carriers to more than 160 destinations.
The new $1.1 billion Indianapolis International Airport Col. H. Weir Cook Terminal is a glass-and-steel-truss structure with 40 gates. Its Civic Plaza, with 100-foot windows overlooking the runways and city, is available to groups for special events and receptions. Ground travel from the airport to downtown and the Indiana Convention Center is about 15 minutes aboard a Green Line shuttle. The trip costs $7.
Branson Airport is scheduled to open May 11, 2009, and eventually serve 1.4 million passengers. An Ozark Mountains theme will suffuse the terminal and 8,000-square-foot welcome center. This will be the first privately financed commercial airport in the U.S.A. and is being built to bring groups and visitors to the Missouri entertainment and events destination.