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Cheers to Grand Rapids

By Amy S. Eckert

“Beer City USA” mixes business and pleasure at meeting venues large and small.

Headquarters to more than 130 international companies—including such global giants as Amway, Steelcase and Herman Miller—and home to Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Michigan’s second largest city, Grand Rapids, ranks as a natural destination for corporate gatherings. What’s more, the city’s reputation as a center for fine and performing arts, outdoor recreation and craft beer lures plenty of leisure travelers as well. 

It’s this mix of business and pleasure that lands Grand Rapids in the spotlight with meeting planners. 

Memorable Venues

Grand Rapids’ largest meeting space is DeVos Place. Located in the heart of the city’s attractive, walkable downtown, the convention center provides 162,000 square feet of customizable, column-free exhibition space. DeVos Place also features smaller breakout rooms and a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, much of it overlooking the Grand River. 

DeVos Performance Hall, an ideal setting for a keynote address, also sits within DeVos Place. The performance hall also allows planners to interject some of the city’s world-class cultural offerings into what might otherwise be an all-business affair. Grand Rapids Symphony, Opera Grand Rapids, Broadway Grand Rapids and Michigan’s only professional ballet company, Grand Rapids Ballet, all call DeVos Performance Hall home. 

It’s an easy walk from DeVos Place to the 12,000-seat Van Andel Arena, host to numerous cultural events. And within Grand Rapids’ downtown are dozens of independent restaurants and some 2,500 guestrooms, from those in the full-service JW Marriott to the design-forward CityFlatsHotel.  

Attached to DeVos Place via a climate-controlled skywalk is Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, a corporate meeting destination in its own right. Originally named the Pantlind, the hotel unveiled one of the world’s largest gold-leaf ceilings when its doors opened in 1916. That ornate ceiling still wows guests at today’s Amway Grand, which offers 664 contemporary guestrooms, 41,000 square feet of event space and 31 meeting rooms. 

More than 5,000 works of fine art, design and modern craft highlight Grand Rapids’ history as a furniture and design center at Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). Sophisticated corporate events and receptions often take place beneath the museum’s 30-foot lobby ceilings, where floor-to-ceiling windows frame a reflecting pool and downtown Grand Rapids. Other venues within GRAM, which holds the distinction of being the world’s first LEED Gold-certified art museum, are the Cook Auditorium, al fresco Dining Terrace, and Frey Boardroom for smaller meetings.  

Food & Drink

Grand Rapids lays claim to more than 45 breweries, so it’s no wonder that business travelers visiting “Beer City USA” insist on local food and drink at their corporate gatherings. Locally sourced ingredients and craft beer take center stage at Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market, a venue that also features meeting rooms for groups as large as 250. Perhaps no space within the Market better epitomizes Grand Rapids’ love of the outdoors than the Greenhouse. Popular for cocktail parties, dinners and presentations, this verdant meeting space has lush tropical foliage and flowers and flows onto outdoor terraces overlooking downtown. 

Food-themed corporate events are a specialty for The Gilmore Collection, one of the city’s premier event caterers. Food, drink and general party-planning options run from wood-fired pizza carts and heavy hors d’oeuvres to formal banquets. The Gilmore Collection regularly collaborates with meeting venues throughout Grand Rapids, such as the live entertainment spaces at the B.O.B. (Big Old Building), inside the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, and surrounded by playscapes at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. 

Foliage & Animals

Farther out of town, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park ranks among Grand Rapids’ most picturesque corporate meeting venues. The gardens reach their visual peak in summer, when 200 sculptures share the landscape with perennial, shade and Japanese gardens vibrant with lilies, roses and coneflowers.   

Although Meijer Gardens’ outdoor spaces shine in warm weather, when groups as large as 5,000 find space to meet here, corporate events can enjoy this scenic gathering space even in winter, if only to observe it from the warmth of a tropical conservatory. There, planners can organize boardroom gatherings for up to 10 or reserve the entire building for seating up to 1,360.  

For casual outdoor events, organizers also can look to John Ball Zoo. Whether plans include a picnic for 200 or a more formal affair in the elegant glass and wood Bissell Tree House, John Ball Zoo melds corporate agendas with a spirit of playfulness.