Each year brings ever stiffer competition for our Best of Michigan Meetings + Events readers’ choice awards. New venues open, suppliers flourish and tastes expand. Maybe that’s why this year’s final vote tallies were record-setting, as nearly 3,000 of you participated. Or maybe it’s because we have an especially passionate readership. Whatever the reason, our winners have earned their kudos. Congratulations to them all!

TOP VENUES

There’s a reason some venues book years in advance: A great venue is worth the wait.

Metro Detroit is rife with top-notch venues, of course. But for our readers, The Henry Ford stands out year after year. It’s easy to see why, from the dizzying range of event spaces and access to the world-class museum to the staff’s expertise on historically accurate dining and the ability to locally source nearly everything. For these reasons and many more, The Henry Ford, for the eighth time in nine years, is our Best Meeting/Event Venue (In Metro Detroit, No Hotel). And with its gorgeous Lovett Hall, it also snagged Best Ballroom.

Leave the metro area, and our readers flock to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. This beautiful venue in Grand Rapids, our Best Meeting/Event Venue (Outside of Metro Detroit, No Hotel), showcases Michigan’s natural beauty on a 158-acre campus. Even corporate events can be relaxing when attendees gaze out over lush gardens. Planners have an amazing array of spaces to choose from, both indoors and out.

Michigan’s universities spark passionate loyalty among our state’s residents, and our readers are no different. The Spartans’ stomping grounds claim this year’s Best College/University Venue. Between the Breslin Center, Wharton Center, Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, Forest Akers Golf Courses, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University has spaces for everything from major business presentations to elegant receptions.

A breathtaking number of venues opened their doors in 2014, giving planners exciting options. Many planners found clients gravitating toward funky, cozy spaces that make for memorable events. Zingerman’s Cornman Farms, a 42-acre working farm with beautifully restored pre-Civil War buildings, was our readers’ choice both for Best New Venue and Best Intimate Venue.

SOUND & VISION

Imagine inviting guests to an event in the dark, in a plain room, with the only entertainment being the opportunity to converse with each other. Décor, flowers, music, lighting—these are the details that make an event an event, and that give planners the chance to dazzle guests.

Southfield-based BlueWater Technologies, your choice for Best Audio/Visual Provider, provides sophisticated sound and video technology for major brands like GM and Progressive. When Samsung turns to you for its A/V, you know you’re doing something right.

The right décor supports guests’ experience throughout a meeting or event. ArtCraft Display provides a full range of equipment to ensure exhibitors’ and planners’ success. The company has been in business since 1958 and has offices in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids; all that experience clearly pays off, because it is our readers’ choice for Best Décor Provider.

If there’s an event that stands out in your memory, for better or for worse, odds are the entertainment played a key role in setting the event apart. Entertainment can make or break a party. Flint-based Black Tie Productions, this year’s Best Entertainment Provider, has been sending DJs around mid-Michigan for more than 22 years, and wins consistent raves for its ability to keep the dance floors full.

Emerald City Designs is a full-service event company, but its most visible service might be as a floral provider. David McKnight and his crew put together gorgeous, riveting arrangements of flowers for events, and their distinctive, eye-catching combos earned them the honor, once again, of Best Florist.

We all like to revel in our memories of beautiful events. Photographers capture moments we missed, or see things in them that escaped us at the time. They allow family and friends who couldn’t join us feel a part of the experience. Sarah Brown Photography, in Traverse City, your choice for Best Photographer, brings out subjects’ personalities and creates images that feel personal.

MEET, STAY & PLAY

After a long day of meetings, do you a) want to climb into your car and drive home through heavy traffic or b) immediately flop onto a comfy bed for a rest, then change into a better outfit and have a drink in your hand as soon as the elevator doors open?

Venues that offer attendees the convenience and escape of an all-in-one experience are our preference, too. For our readers, the go-to spot for smaller gatherings is the Inn at St. John’s, our Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (Fewer than 200 Guest Rooms). The luxury hotel is unlike any other in the state, with marble floors, beautiful stonework, handcrafted woodwork and guest rooms with 12-foot ceilings. Play a round of golf on-site, dine at 5ive restaurant or stroll the beauti- ful gardens. The Inn at St. John’s is exceptional.

When you’ve got a large crew to accommodate, you’ll like the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, this year’s Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (More than 200 Guest Rooms). Between its sprawling health club, on-site shopping, private beach club on Lake Michigan, five restaurants and lounges, and proximity to Turtle Creek Casino, Grand Traverse can keep a group engaged and happy.

When guests really need to blow off steam, the casinos are there to serve. MGM Grand Detroit, with its three signature restaurants (TAP, Wolfgang Puck Steak and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina), V night club and Four-Star Immerse Spa, is once again our readers’ choice for Best Casino. Of course, the sumptuous guest rooms and luxury bathrooms so spacious you can turn cartwheels in them make for appealing amenities, too.

Sometimes your guests need to get in and get out, with maximum efficiency and minimum time wasted. When that’s the case, airport hotels can be an ideal fit. Proving that convenience and comfort can go hand in hand, the Westin Detroit Metro Airport is your choice for Best Airport Hotel. Enter the Westin from the busy Delta concourse and step into a serene escape, with soaring ceilings, lush greenery and a peaceful ambiance.

FOOD & BEVERAGE

Michiganders collectively have become foodies. (And whatever it’s called when you get a little particular about your drinks, too.) We’re surrounded by a richly diverse agricultural landscape and are home to the longest running open-air farmers market in the country, and few could keep up with the breweries, wineries, distilleries, bakeries and restaurants popping up all over the state.

Arguably, Traverse City is reaping the most from this local-food-loving revolution. Need proof? All but one winner in this category hails from the region.

Catering by Kelly’s opened in nearby Williamsburg in 1986. Today, the family-owned company operates its own banquet facility with an outdoor event area and employs five chefs trained in 11 culinary styles. Kelly’s is our readers’ choice for Best Caterer.

Short’s Brewing Co. is readers’ favorite for the second year in a row, winning Best Craft Brewery/Brewpub. Short’s anchors tiny downtown Bellaire. Either the people of Bellaire drink a whole lot of beer, or Shorts is doing a whole lot right, because its production jumped 51 percent last year, to more than 1 million gallons of beer. Short’s distributes only in Michigan.

Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn shows that the state’s east side has plenty to offer, too. The inn’s restaurant has been serving up hearty German fare since 1888. The restaurant’s meeting spaces keep the old-time hospitality and merge it with modern amenities, making it this year’s Best Restaurant with Private Dining Space. Looking for a distinctive group experience? Try a class in strudel-making or enjoy a German beer sampling.

Now that it’s summer, it’s time for Kilwins. Actually, it’s always time for Kilwins. The candy and ice cream shops scattered around Michigan can be depended on for delicious treats year-round. Kilwins, which got its start in 1947, makes delectable Mackinac Island fudge, saltwater taffy chews and other Michigan favorites. No wonder they’re your choice for Best Sweets Provider.

Wineries abound in Michigan these days, and not just around Traverse City. But the region is still the state powerhouse in winemaking, and Chateau Chantal is especially known and loved. The readers’ choice for Best Winery opened its doors as a French-style inn in 1993. Today it grows grapes in its Old Mission vineyard for a range of wines, makes Malbec from grapes grown in Argentina and makes its own grape-based brandy.

GOLF AND SKI

Michigan prides itself on its natural beauty. Maybe that’s why golfing and skiing are so popular here: They both offer the opportunity to submerge oneself in that beauty and to soak it up at a leisurely pace.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, our readers’ choice for Best Golf Resort, is surrounded by rolling expanses of green. The high-rise hotel offers gorgeous views even to those who stay inside. Amenities include nearly 87,000 square feet of meeting space, 900 acres of beautiful land, three championship golf courses and a luxury spa. Even dogs get the high-end treatment here via Grand Traverse’s Dog Dreams Inn.

When the snow starts to fall, we swap out golf clubs for ski poles, but like staying in the northern Michigan ‘hood. Boyne Resorts earned readers’ support this year for Best Ski Resort. Boyne features 55 downhill ski runs through a gorgeous rustic landscape. If skiing isn’t your thing, no problem—snowshoe or hike your way through the grounds, or even try a sleigh ride. When you need a break from the cold, Boyne’s indoor waterpark awaits.

SERVICE

Michigan is full of beautiful venues and talented people. But no matter how gifted a planner is or how many amenities a supplier offers, it’s service that sets the pros apart.

Traverse City has emerged as a tourism powerhouse in recent years, and much of the region’s success is a credit to Traverse City Tourism, your choice for Best Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

The bureau’s staff tirelessly promotes the area’s natural beauty, outdoor activities and booming food and wine scene.

Event planners serve people who might only host a handful of big events in their life. That means meeting offbeat requests, soothing nerves and answering lots and lots of (last-minute) questions. The planners who can do all that and deliver knock-out events to boot are worth celebrating. Emerald City Designs, which has been an industry leader for more than 20 years, was your choice for Best Event Planning Company.

Two years ago Allison Beers, owner of Events North, was inducted into our Hall of Fame. This year her senior meeting and event manager, Rachel Jarosz, is joining her. With skills like theirs, it’s no surprise that Events North is our readers’ choice for Best Meeting Planning Company. Events North got in on the Traverse City action early, and now it’s the go-to planning company for the booming destination.

Creating a beautiful event is the job of a planner; delivering the goods is the job of the rental company. From tents to chairs to signs telling people where to go, rental companies play a critical role in the execution of events. Art Craft Display consistently delivers top-notch products and service, and it’s this year’s Best Rental Company.

A good venue makes sure planners get the support they need, when they need it. Crystal Mountain Resort distinguishes itself in service, earning the award for Best Service (Meeting/ Event Venue). The Thompsonville resort’s Crystal Center is the only conference center in Michigan given the seal of approval by the International Association of Conference Centers. Its extensive list of amenities and services make it clear that Crystal Mountain is committed to making the guest experience both smooth and special.

In Michigan, getting from Point A to Point B nearly always means getting on the road. Transportation providers are the unsung heroes of meetings and events—little seen, but not much can happen without them. Metro Cars has been driving people to meetings, to the airport and to a night out on the town for 25 years. Clients include the Big Three, who know a few things about good transportation. And our readers do, too, choosing Metro Cars as this year’s Best Transportation.

What's the first word that comes to mind when you think of Traverse City? Beautiful. Fun. Adventure. Perfect? That last one might seem hard to attain, but when it comes to a destination for meetings, Traverse City is second to none. It really has it all—world-class conference facilities, outdoor activities to connect your attendees, farm-to-table cuisine and breweries and wineries to tempt every palate.

 

Take note of these seven pros who are making their mark in the meetings and events industry. 

Jolene Ihle, Founder
IdeationMKT
Lifetime Achievement 

“I was 10 years old when I received my Muscular Dystrophy Carnival Kit in the mail. The box was filled with cool ideas and colorful materials to  support fundraising efforts. I was completely enthralled with the event planning process. … This experience was my jumpstart into events and I was hooked.”

 

Here's who has been crowned the winners and runners-up of the Minnesota Meetings + Events Best of 2020 readers' choice awards. Congratulations!  

Best Brewery/Cidery/Distillery/Winery with Event Space 
Surly Brewing Company