Going Green in the great lakes state

For environmentally minded groups seeking event spaces or outdoorsy visitors craving a countryside retreat, planners will never run out of green spaces to choose from in Michigan. With each passing year, increasingly eco-friendly options abound in the state.

Wherever you are in Michigan, you’re never more than six miles from a natural lake or river—and that includes the big cities, which boast their own green spaces and have made a concerted effort to develop LEED-certified event facilities and hotels.

Detroit & Southern Michigan: Greener Than You Think

When you pitch Detroit to association members, hot cars or hit tunes likely come to mind, but probably few envisage “Motor City” as having a green ethos. However, a conscious effort has been made to incorporate environmentally friendly amenities and features into city hospitality structures.

In the heart of the city, the 2.4 million-square-foot Cobo Center is an energy-saving infrastructure that uses water from the Detroit River to cool air and has introduced induction lighting to reduce electric usage by 40 percent and is overseen by a Green Committee. The Cobo Center has 723,000 square feet of exhibit space, 180,000 square feet of meeting space and is undergoing a $299 million renovation that wrapped up the second of three phases in 2012. Its most recent addition is the 40,000-square-foot Grand Riverview Ballroom, which opened in September. The remaining additions are an outdoor plaza and reconfigured parking areas, which is scheduled to be completed by January 2015.

Across the street from the Cobo Center, a historic 1929 firehouse has been sold to a developer who plans to turn it into a small boutique hotel. Also nearby is the Crowne Plaza/Detroit Downtown Riverfront and the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, which is currently undergoing a $30 million renovation. In December, the Aloft/Detroit is scheduled to open near Grand Circus Park in the David Whitney Building, which will house apartments, restaurants and a bar.

Groups can catch a game or enjoy a gathering at two major sports venues: the 65,000-seat Ford Field, which offers more than 100,000 square feet of event space, and the 20,058-seat Joe Louis Arena. The Fox Theatre has space for up to 4,800, the nearby Fillmore/Detroit can accommodate up to 2,888 and the Masonic Temple, which dates back to 1926, is home to a 4,404-seat theater. North of downtown, the Motown Museum has reception space. Attendees who want to fit in a run or a stroll can head to the RiverWalk, which connects downtown parks and offers recreation options like fishing or biking, or cross the bridge to Belle Isle, a state park along the Detroit River. Belle Isle also has space for gatherings of up to 450, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum can host up to 400 people.

The suburbs of Detroit also beckon with attractions, event sites and green spaces. Just seven miles west, in Dearborn, the Henry Ford Museum can host groups of up to 700, and in Taylor, the Taylor Sportsplex has 44,000 square feet of exhibit space. In Livonia, the Laurel Manor Banquet & Conference Center has 25,500 square feet of column-free space. In Novi, the new Hyatt Place/Detroit-Novi opened last summer with 124 guest rooms and connection to the Suburban Collection Showplace (the new home of the state fair), which features 214,000 square feet of exhibit space and the 20,000-square-foot Diamond Ballroom.

About 20 miles north of downtown Detroit, in Warren, Macomb Community College’s Sports & Expo Center has 61,000 square feet of event space. In Auburn Hills, the 22,000-seat Palace of Auburn Hills welcomes events when it’s not hosting the NBA’s Pistons. In addition to the main arena, it offers 3,950 square feet of event space. The 55,000-square-foot Walter P. Chrysler Museum can accommodate functions of up to 750. Fifteen miles east, in Washington, is Westview Orchards, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary. The 188-acre farm offers tented event space for up to 100, wagon rides and an invitation to pick seasonal produce. Groups can make a day trip to the southern shores of Lake Huron. It’s a 60-mile drive from Detroit to Port Huron, where McMorran Place provides 15,000 square feet of space.

Depending on the historical source, Ann Arbor is thought to have been named for the founders’ wives—both named Ann—and the area’s arbor-like setting. At The University of Michigan, towering oak and maple trees dot the campus. Groups regularly book campus venues including the Jack Roth Stadium Club at the football stadium and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Two blocks from campus, the recently renovated Holiday Inn has expanded meeting space and is now Green Lodging certified. On the west side of town, the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center is undergoing a renovation that should be completed by the end of the year.

The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers recently brought its Midwest chapter’s annual conference to Ann Arbor. “Our venue was the Dahlmann Campus Inn, which was excellent,” said Joel Gottsacker, the group’s conference chairman.

The Michigan Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus held its education conference at Weber’s Inn for 65 attendees. “The area is a great place for meetings because it is easily accessible, offers affordable accommodations and there is so much to do,” said Larisa Draves, the group’s executive director. “We will definitely be going back to Ann Arbor for future meetings.”

From Ann Arbor, it’s just eight miles to Ypsilanti, home to Eastern Michigan University, which can host groups of up to 10,000. Go 100 miles west and you’ll hit Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. The Fetzer Center has 46,000 square feet of event space and the 3,667-seat Lawson Arena has been upgraded. Downtown, the four-story Epic Center has two performance spaces and the Cityscape Event Center offers event space for up to 300 guests.

In Battle Creek, about 25 miles east of Kalamazoo, the 8,500-seat Kellogg Arena has 30,360 square feet of event space. Attendees can tour the three local microbreweries or historic buildings, and planners can organize tournaments at a local golf course. Additionally, two farms—the Southern Exposure Herb Farm and Cornwell’s Turkeyville in nearby Marshall—offer event spaces.

In November, the Michigan Wrestling Association held a clinic and banquet in Battle Creek at the McCamly Plaza Hotel for more than 200 people. “McCamly was a great host for us,” said Todd Skinner, a high school coach who is responsible for the association’s fall clinic. Skinner said that many of the athletes and coaches are already familiar with the area, which is another reason the group has returned. “The Kellogg Arena is host to the high school state finals and many tournaments throughout the year,” Skinner said.

Another association that recently stayed at McCamly Plaza was the Michigan Local Government Management Association, whose Winter Institute brought 179 people and 48 vendors to town. “One of the main goals of our organization is to promote vibrant downtowns,” said Jane Bruck Moore, the association’s events coordinator. “Battle Creek has a very nice downtown, with many restaurants and activities to choose from.”

Central Michigan: Exceeding Standards

Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city, has plenty to offer planners and attendees. Groups that have recently visited include the American Jail Association and the National Association for Pupil Transportation, which attracted 650 attendees and 700 exhibit representatives to its summit and trade show. The event was held at DeVos Place, the city’s dedicated convention venue, with a 162,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a 2,404-seat theater.

“We find the facilities are excellent for conferences of our size and the hotel and convention center staff members are great to work with,” said Bill Loshbough, the NAPT’s director of meetings and conventions. ”The Experience Grand Rapids team makes you feel welcome and is extremely helpful in assisting a meeting planner, which makes the location a win-win.”

In 2012, the Fraternal Order of Eagles held a convention in Grand Rapids with approximately 2,500 people. The group used DeVos Place and three nearby hotels—the Amway Grand Plaza, the JW Marriott and a Courtyard by Marriott. “Grand Rapids is a hidden gem that people need to know about,” said Steve Tolman, the organization’s convention director. “The customer service is the best, the city is clean and the people are friendly. I was very happy with the results and have re-booked for 2017.”

For eco-savvy planners, the 138,000-square-foot Grand Rapids Downtown Market is LEED-certified and offers event space in addition to its outdoor farmers’ market. The Grand Rapids Art Museum offers tours and meeting spaces and is the first LEED-certified museum in the country.

Other spaces include the 132-acre Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, with space for up to 5,000, and the 54,000-square-foot Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum. The 12,000-seat Van Andel Arena and the 80,000-square-foot DeltaPlex Arena & Conference Center are popular with large groups, as is the 100,000-square-foot Ford Fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College. Southeast of downtown, the Cultural Center has meeting space for up to 500.

The Amway Grand Plaza is undergoing an upgrade that is scheduled to be completed in November. The Wyndham Garden/Grand Rapids Airport (formerly a Quality Inn) and the Clarion Inn & Suites/Airport were recently renovated. The Residence Inn/Grand Rapids Airport opened in December on 28th Street, a top shopping destination.

Flower fans can head southwest to Holland, home of the annual Tulip Time Festival. Hope College can host groups of up to 4,000. Less than an hour northwest of Grand Rapids in Muskegon, on the shores of Lake Michigan, venues include the L.C. Walker Arena, which can seat up to 6,038, Watermark 920, a 10,000-square-foot event space, and the 1927 Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts, which can seat up to 1,726 people.

State capitals tend to attract a range of association events, and Lansing is no exception. The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, the Michigan Institute for Educational Management and the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards have come to town for events recently. The Michigan Association of School Administrators hold several events at the Lansing Center each year, including the Michigan Department of Education School Improvement Conference, which attracts about 800. Diane Dick, the group’s conference and event planner, said that this year’s conference plans to utilize the Lansing Center, the connected Radisson Hotel and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Building. “Lansing is a great location, with government offices located right downtown, and it’s centrally located in the state, as well,” Dick said. Ninety percent of the state’s population is located within 90 minutes of Lansing.

The Lansing Center has 72,000 square feet of exhibit space, and across the street is the 8,000-seat Cooley Law School Stadium. In East Lansing, the recently renovated Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center at Michigan State University offers meeting space. Also on campus is the Breslin Student Events Center, a 254,000-square-foot facility with 17,500 square feet of exhibition space and a 30,000-square-foot concourse area, the Pavilion for Agriculture & Livestock Education, which offers more than 77,000 square feet of space, and the James B. Henry Center for Executive Development, with 96,000 square feet of space. About 10 miles west of campus, in Dimondale, the Summit Sports & Ice Complex offers 54,300 square feet of meeting space and can seat up to 5,000 people.

In Flint, about an hour to the northeast of Lansing, the Perani Arena & Event Center has 78,000 square feet of space. The Riverfront Banquet Center provides 45,000 square feet of space. The Genesys Conference & Banquet Center in Grand Blanc and the Holiday Inn/Flint-Grand Blanc share 10,000 square feet of event space.

To the north, in Birch Run, the Birch Run Expo Center has 110,000 square feet of event space. The Dow Event Center, in nearby Saginaw, has a 7,600-seat arena and a 2,276-seat theater. A block away is the 1,750-seat Temple Theater. Just west of downtown is the Horizons Conference Center, with 40,000 square feet of space.

Another 50 miles west, in Mount Pleasant, is Central Michigan University. Its 5,300-seat McGuirk Arena offers 56,500 square feet of space and a 10,000-square-foot lobby space. Down the street, the Comfort Inn & Suites Hotel & Conference Center offers event space.

Northern Michigan: Into the Great Outdoors

The reason northern Michigan is filled with resort towns is apparent. In addition to exploring the wilds by horseback or sailing, attendees can visit wineries, a casino or shopping districts.

In Harbor Springs, the Boyne Highlands Resort has debuted a 110-foot rope bridge in its Zipline Adventure course. In Boyne Falls, visitors can snowboard in the winter or bike in the summer. In Petoskey, golf-course architect Arthur Hills is redesigning several holes at the Crooked Tree Golf Club. The course is expected to reopen this summer.

In Traverse City, the Great Wolf Lodge has a new 9,700-square-foot conference center and white-water rafting at its water park. The Grand Traverse Resort & Spa has added a new outdoor hot tub, part of its 100,000-square-foot health club. The West Bay Beach Resort has reopened after a $6 million renovation. The Country Inn & Suites by Carlson (formerly the Days Inn & Suites) has completed a $1.5 million expansion and offers two boardrooms. The AmericInn has finished a comprehensive improvement project. About 35 miles northeast, in Bellaire, the Shanty Creek Resorts complex offers various skiing options and four golf courses.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has held meetings in Traverse City. “The scenery and nature is breathtaking, the downtown area is perfect and there is just something for everyone, it seems,” said Mike Burke, its meeting and event planning specialist.

The Michigan Dental Association organizes several meetings each year in Traverse City. Bernie Droste, the group’s continuing education manager, calls the destination “Michigan’s jewel,” one that can be shared with family members. “The last event I held there was my Spring Scientific Session weekend meeting for 100 people,” he said. “It was held at the Great Wolf Lodge, and our attendance was the best ever for that meeting. The dentists attended meetings while their families enjoyed the water park.”

One popular pastime is touring the burgeoning wine country. Two wine trails, one on the Leelanau Peninsula, the other on the Old Mission Peninsula, boast more than 30 wineries. Attendees can also explore wine country during winter months via cross-country skis or snowshoes (available for rental from Suttons Bay Bikes in Suttons Bay). A groomed vineyard-to-vineyard trail on the Leelanau Peninsula connects three vineyards open year-round.

a natural future

Michigan might have earned its reputation as an industrial powerhouse, but it has gone green in recent years. As the state looks to the future, groups gathering here will be pleased to find options reflecting a continually changing and more eco-conscious direction.