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Meetings & Main Street

Explore the heart of communities along these picturesque downtown streets

By Kathy Gibbons

The Center for Automotive Research has been holding its annual Management Briefing Seminars (MBS) at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa near Traverse City for 58 years. It’s an opportunity for around 700 leaders and decision-makers, including some from around the nation and world, to gather and examine the challenges and opportunities ahead for the auto industry.

This year, a woman from Taiwan representing one of the conference’s sponsors was planning to attend and contacted MBS organizer Mark Garrison to see if there would be “anything to do” if she brought along her child. Garrison’s response? “You betcha.”

Downtown Marquette, Michigan. August 17, 2023
Downtown Marquette, Michigan || Photo by Aaron Peterson, courtesy of Travel Marquette

“Those of us who live in Michigan know how great Traverse City is, but we want to make sure people who aren’t from the area can go in and experience the shopping, the restaurants, the nature—just everything that Traverse City does have,” Garrison says. Traverse City happens to have a vibrant downtown with a Main Street aesthetic: shops, coffee bars, eateries, and several hotels—some with outdoor lounges and patios. 

That’s also the case for many other communities with memorable Main Streets and the facilities to host and feed large groups.


The Birmingham Shopping District is a major destination and attraction for groups attending events in this metro Detroit community. The walkable downtown is home to The Townsend Hotel and 2021-opened Daxton Hotel—both offering event space and restaurants—along with the Holiday Inn Express. With nearly 300 retailers, it has a diverse assortment of boutiques and national names, restaurants, gift shops, jewelers, art galleries, and antique stores.

Patio at 220 Merrill Restaurant. August 17, 2023
Patio at 220 Merrill Restaurant || Courtesy of Birmingham Shopping District

“Downtown Birmingham offers endless opportunities for shopping and dining, with a wide range of national and local retailers and restaurants,” says the City of Birmingham & Birmingham Shopping District’s Erika Bassett. “Some downtown restaurants offer late-night options with live music and more … [and] for those who crave relaxation and self-care during their stay, downtown offers many luxurious full-service spas and salons.”


On the other side of the state, in the Cadillac area 100 miles north of Grand Rapids, Caberfae Peaks can accommodate more than 400 attendees and has 39 guest rooms. Evergreen Resort (formerly McGuire’s) has 117 guest rooms and suites with event space for up to 125. Lake Cadillac Resort is another spot offering lodging (55 rooms) and indoor and outdoor spaces for gatherings, according to Kathy Adair Morin, executive director of the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau. The area has 16 lodging properties with 625 rooms and additional key event spaces like Cadillac Grill at Eldorado Golf Course, Fox Hill Event Center, and The Wexford Civic Arena, she says.

Those attending can venture downtown, where meeting-goers will not only find shopping, restaurants, and other attractions, but also the new Cadillac Commons. A full lakeside block has been transformed into a hub that connects downtown businesses and Lake Cadillac, offering an open-air market area, a performing arts pavilion, and The Plaza with its multiuse, multiseasonal space for public events and gatherings. 


Meeting planners looking to gather in Chelsea, just outside Ann Arbor, can opt for the Comfort Inn with its own Village Conference Center offering space for 250. Or, they can mix it up and book rooms at various hotels and host meetings at venues that include the McKune room at the Chelsea District Library, Ugly Dog Distillery, The Collins Collective with its variety of eclectic spaces, and nearby Robin Hills Farm, among others. 

All are in or near downtown Chelsea—also home to the Jeff Daniels-founded Purple Rose Theatre Co.—which Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terris Ahrens sums up with one word: charming.

Pierce Lake Golf Course in Chelsea. August 17, 2023
Pierce Lake Golf Course in Chelsea || Photo by Mark Bogarin Photography

“There’s a lot of commerce for a town our size while holding on to that classic all-American charm,” Ahrens says. “We have tons of great restaurants, from barbecue to fine dining to our sushi burger fusion place, The Grateful Crow. We have the Chelsea Alehouse Brewery, Ugly Dog Distillery, [and] many others—there are too many to count, honestly. Then as far as shopping, it’s all over the place: gift shops, garden shops, high-end interior design, and so on.”


Some 100 miles north of Chelsea, Frankenmuth also showcases a lot for meeting planners. Jamie Furbush, president and CEO of the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau, says having a meeting in a downtown area where meeting-goers can get out and explore in their free time has definite appeal. “It’s the stuff outside the meeting room where people’s connections and relationships build,” she says. “So, if you’re just having a drink on a patio or taking in the sights … it’s incredibly valuable time together.”

Frankenmuth’s largest lodging and meeting venues include Zehnder’s Splash Village and Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge with its currently expanding water park. Frankenmuth Brewery offers space for social gatherings, as does historic Fischer Hall. 


In the Upper Peninsula, downtown Marquette offers a walkable host city for events. With the Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn, and Landmark Inn all offering meeting spaces, Marquette also boasts The Northern Center. Travel Marquette CEO Susan Estler says it’s the area’s newest event and meeting space, with a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and other flexible venues that include updated technical capabilities.

“Our distillery and breweries in Marquette also provide a great chance to socialize in a casual atmosphere,” she notes. As for shopping, downtown is home to a variety of gift, clothing, and jewelry stores, along with art galleries and other specialty shops lining the streets.

Petoskey/Harbor Springs/Boyne City

While the major full-service resorts in this region of northwestern Lower Michigan 200 miles southeast of Marquette are Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, other larger properties include the Inn at Bay Harbor just west of Petoskey and the Stafford’s Perry Hotel in downtown Petoskey. It’s not unusual for event-goers in the area to head to the main streets of Petoskey, Harbor Springs, and Boyne City—each offering a unique atmosphere with the bonus of being located adjacent to water.

Bay Harbor area in Petoskey. August 17, 2023
Bay Harbor area in Petoskey || Courtesy of Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

“Petoskey’s historic Gaslight Shopping District is a great downtown full of a lot of gift shops, bookstores, clothing [shops], great restaurants, and there’s The Back Lot, which is the food truck area,” says Mary Chris Hotchkiss, group sales director for the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.
Set on state Route 119, where the Tunnel of Trees scenic drive begins, Harbor Springs is also known for its shops, art galleries, and restaurants. “You’d think of Petoskey and Harbor Springs for summer because both of them are on Little Traverse Bay, but they are really definitely four-season towns,” Hotchkiss says.

Boyne City is at the shoreline of Lake Charlevoix and the Boyne River, with an award-winning Main Street District offering eateries, galleries, shops, and spots to enjoy cocktails, craft beer, and other treats. 

Southwestern Lakefront

Ranked as one of the best small towns in America by Family Destination Guides, New Buffalo, in southeast Michigan near the Indiana border, has a downtown brimming with shops, restaurants, recreational opportunities, and places to stay. With 415 rooms and suites, Four Winds Casino Resort can also accommodate large groups in its Silver Creek Event Center with 17,000 square feet of space. The full-service waterfront Marina Grand Resort features several meeting spaces, including the 1,200-square-foot Siskin Room, and a variety of other locations offer lodging and room for gatherings of all sizes. 

The Boulevard Inn & Bistro, in nearby St. Joseph, as well as the Inn at Harbor Shores, both with lodging and meeting spaces, are a short walk to downtown boutiques, bakeries, cafes, wineries, and breweries. Both communities are on the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Traverse City

As the MBS attendees have found year after year, Traverse City, three hours north of St. Joseph, “is a hot commodity for groups,” says Trevor Tkach, president of Traverse City Tourism. “What we see typically is if a conference or meeting has kind of a night off or night to explore, downtown is the target,” he explains. “There’s such a diversity of opportunity. The food scene is spectacular [with a] variety of flavors and price points. You also have the unique shopping opportunities, from T-shirt shops to high-end boutiques to unique jewelry and sunglass shops.”

Park Place Hotel near West Grand Traverse Bay. August 17, 2023
Park Place Hotel is a few blocks from West Grand Traverse Bay. || Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Some groups opt for an all-inclusive experience with meetings and lodging concentrated at one property like the Grand Traverse Resort. Others select one spot like the Park Place Hotel or Great Wolf Lodge for headquarters and some meetings, and then spread additional activities to other venues. “There are more opportunities to break out and engage in the local community, in the flavors and experiences that are unique to Traverse City and northern Michigan,” Tkach says.