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 of 2007, when room rates and facilities construction skyrocketed, the economic downturn has been a shock, but supply should soon bring more reasonable (and negotiable) prices for groups in Midwest cities.

In Chicago, glass viewing decks added in June at the top of the Sears Tower (since renamed the Willis Tower) allow intrepid groups to look down on Chicago streets and Lake Michigan from the nation's tallest building. Solar panels, gardens, and wind turbines will be added to the tower's roof as part of a $350 million, five-year renovation that 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 an wireless indoor network deftly carried by the HVAC system. The network can accommodate as many as 800 users.

Nearby Tinley Park is in the midst of a $20 million, 58,000-square-foot addition to its 65,000-square-foot convention center. A construction design is done, and work was scheduled to begin shortly before press time.

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 meetings to Milwaukee. Gil Nash, new owner of the City Center Hotel-Oshkosh, would rather have groups come to Oshkosh, and he is 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.

Green is the word in Wisconsin, where Dane County Regional Airport received a Wisconsin Sustainability & Energy Efficiency Leadership Award for its terminal renovation. The project reused 97 percent of demolition and site development waste and sourced locally made construction products. In Madison, five diesel-electric hybrid buses have been in use in the city's 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 has expanded its meeting and event space to the tune of $240 million. The round Tribal Room seats 100 guests, and the Woodland Dreams Conference Center holds as many as 300.

The 1,005-room JW Marriott Indiana-polis 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.

Indianapolis has also landed deals to host the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NCAA Final Four men's and women's basketball tournaments in 2010 and 2011.

In 2007, Cleveland announced a 1 million-square-foot convention center, the Medical Mart, to be built in conjunction with Merchandise Mart Properties, but the project seems stuck in site selection. Plans are still sketchy, but Medical Mart authorities say that a center should be built by 2010 or 2011.

Michigan also has convention space concerns. The state had to move quickly to keep the North American International Auto Show. Suzuki was not part of the 2009 show because of a lack of space, and Porsche did not participate in 2008. Lawmakers in Lansing passed legislation to create a convention authority to purchase Cobo Center from perpetually broke Detroit. The plan is for the authority to use bonds and taxes to pay for Cobo's expansion and operation.

Illinois

  • The 800-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago completed a $1.8 million renovation of 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. The hotel has more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center held its ribbon-cutting in January at 2021 State St., Bettendorf, (on the Iowa/Illinois border). The center includes 24,000 square feet of meeting space, with a ballroom, smaller meeting rooms, and a boardroom. The ballroom will seat 1,500 attendees theater-style.

  • 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.

Indiana

  • French Lick Resort — comprising French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels — has undergone a $500 million renovation. Also renovated are three golf courses (a Pete Dye course opened in the spring), a spa, a conference center, a 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 in 2008. The hotel features a fitness studio, a restaurant, a 24-hour business center, a meeting room accommodating up to 120 guests, and a boardroom.

Michigan

  • The 212-room Sheraton Lansing Hotel became the Lexington Lansing Grand Hotel in June. The hotel will renovate meeting space across from the State Capitol.

  • 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. 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.

Ohio

  • Hilton Cincinnati Airport Hotel, near Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, completed a $2 million renovation of its 306 rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • M Café & Bistro was added to the Meridian Conference Center & Wingate in West Chester, near Cincinnati, as part of a renovation of the center's 90 guest rooms and 5,000 square feet of event space.

Minnesota

  • The obelisk-shaped Foshay Tower, modeled after the Washington Monument, reopened in 2008 as W Minneapolis-The Foshay, with 229 guest rooms and 6,000 square feet of meeting space. An art deco-style plaster ceiling in the hotel's main arcade complements a high-end restaurant, lounge, and fitness center.

Wisconsin

  • 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 is celebrating 115 years since its opening in 1924 with a grand reopening after renovations. Milwaukee's grand old hotel has 307 guest rooms. More than 25,000 square feet of meeting space can host 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 that included its event space, fitness center, guest rooms, and more.

Trip Tips

  • 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.

Ask the CVB

Illinois

Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau
(312) 567-8500
www.choosechicago.com

Rosemont Convention Bureau
(847) 823-2100
www.rosemont.com

Rockford Area CVB
(800) 521-0849
www.gorockford.com

Indiana

Fort Wayne CVB
(260) 424-3700
www.visitfortwayne.com

Indianapolis CVA
(317) 639-4282
www.indy.org

Michigan

Detroit Metro CVB
(313) 202-1800
(888) CALL-DTW
www.visitdetroit.com

Grand Rapids/Kent County CVB
(800) 678-9859
www.meetgrandrapids.org

Minnesota

Greater Minneapolis CVA
(800) 445-7412
(612) 767-8000
minneapolismeetings.com

Saint Paul CVB
(800) 627-6101
www.visitsaintpaul.com

Ohio

Greater Columbus CVB
(614) 221-6623
(800) 354-2657
experiencecolumbus.com

CVB of Greater Cleveland
(800) 321-1001
positivelycleveland.com

Greater Cincinnati CVB
(800) 543-2613
www.cincymeetings.com

Wisconsin

Greater Milwaukee CVB
(414) 273 2879
www.visitmilwaukee.org

Wisconsin Dells VCB
(800) 223-3557
wisdells.com/wisconsindellsmeetinggroup

Special Venues

  • 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, firepits, 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 available for meetings and events on Arsenal Island — in 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 verandas and elegant dining rooms overlooking the golf course. Banquet rooms can accommodate up to 250 people. In addition, the golf club can 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 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. The huge restaurant has multiple levels and plenty of seating so groups can enjoy almost-private space. (313) 963-8888