Several downtown meeting hotels in Grand Rapids, Mich., are renovating, including the 682-room Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, the headquarters hotel for DeVos Place, the city's convention center. Amway's International Ballroom, along with the public space around it, is being updated with new carpet, lights, and wall treatments.

Meanwhile, three other city hotels have undergone renovations in the past few months: Courtyard By Marriott Downtown, Holiday Inn Downtown, and Crowne Plaza Grand Rapids. Downtown will see a new 28-room boutique hotel when the CityFlats Hotel Grand Rapids opens in May.

The city has 1,400 hotel rooms downtown with 1,100 connected to the convention center by indoor walkways. DeVos Place provides 162,000 square feet of (pillar-free) exhibit space and a 40,000-square-foot ballroom. The culinary team at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, which includes a five-star restaurant, provides convention center food and beverage, so “it's not your typical chicken dinner,” says Janet Korn, vice president of marketing at Experience Grand Rapids.

Since hosting the Religious Conference Management World Conference & Expo in 2009, Grand Rapids has seen a surge in religious meetings, with more than a dozen booked over the next few years.

“Our culture here is built on a foundation of faith and philanthropy, so I think that's why religious meetings like to come here,” Korn says. There are more than 600 churches in the city, which comes out to about one for every 300 residents, Korn notes, adding that Grand Rapids is the second most philanthropic community in the U.S. (behind Salt Lake City).

Another draw for religious groups is Grand Rapids' affordability. As a second-tier destination, hotel rates are very attractive — that's one of the factors that led the Church of the Brethren to decide to bring its 5,500-attendee annual conference to the destination this summer. “There are many things that made Grand Rapids an excellent location for our conference: more reasonable prices than some other cities and excellent facilities — a very modern convention center with beautiful and affordable hotel rooms nearby,” says Chris Douglas, director of conference office, Church of the Brethren, Elgin, Ill.

Some religious groups headed to Grand Rapids in upcoming years include the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, LifeWay Christian Resources, the Christian Writers Conference, the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, and the American Baptist Association.