The hardest thing about gathering for a meeting in Marquette might be choosing what to do while you’re there. The largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) sits on Lake Superior’s Marquette Bay. With its hip downtown, stunning waterfront views, and proximity to year-round recreation, it’s a one-of-a-kind setting that offers a plethora of options when it comes to breakout events and how to spend your free time in between meetings.
“We have a lot of picturesque areas, and it is a very nice place to enjoy the outdoors,” says Susan Estler, CEO of Travel Marquette. “I think people really appreciate coming up here and getting away from their normal routine.”
Marquette is centrally located on the northern edge of the U.P. It’s about a three-hour drive from both the Mackinac Bridge—which connects with Michigan’s Lower Peninsula—and the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge crossing to Canada. It’s a five-hour road trip from Duluth, Minnesota; six hours from Chicago, Illinois; and about seven hours from Detroit.
Marquette Sawyer International Airport offers daily flights to and from Chicago and Detroit. Once attendees arrive, they don’t need a car since downtown is walkable.
Inside & Out
The Michigan Economic Developers Association (MEDA) conference held in Marquette this year is a prime example of the way groups can make the most out of a visit to the Marquette area. MEDA rotates its annual meeting through different regions around the state. Its last visit to Marquette was such a hit, leadership decided to return next year—bigger than ever with 189 attendees.
“It broke records for a MEDA conference,” says Christopher Germain, who helped plan the event as CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership, the Marquette County region’s economic development organization. “We’re pretty proud of that.”
Dubbed “Inside and Out,” the conference balanced heads-down meetings about Michigan’s economy with exciting outdoor excursions to local attractions. Kicking off with a Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise for early arrivals, it continued with tours of Tilden Mine and Potlatch Deltic Lumber Mill.
An evening brewery tour was wrapped with a reception and trivia at Upper Peninsula Brewing Co. On the second day, attendees chose between self-guided hikes, a waterfront biking tour, or a downtown stroll before gathering for an awards ceremony at The Honorable Distillery. After all that action, participants were ready to hunker down for a full day of sessions that started with a keynote from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
According to Cassandra Jorae, MEDA’s director of marketing, communications, and administration, about 50 attendees brought their families along, and all the tours that were offered sold out. “We’ve gotten good feedback,” Jorae says. “People just loved it.”
Like many organizations that choose Marquette for meetings, MEDA held its sessions at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University (NMU). Revamped in 2019, it’s the largest event space in the U.P., with 18-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a welcoming, elegant vibe. The Northern Center has four ballrooms that can be rented individually or opened into one big space (12,000 square feet, accomodating 1,000 people). It also has smaller meeting rooms suitable for receptions, board meetings, and mixers.
Catering is available through Northern Center & Event Services, or eventgoers can pop by the Wildcat Pub for lunch and a beer. “Ever since this building has been renovated, it has become the spot in the Upper Peninsula,” says Dianne Stone, Northern Center & Event Services director. “We are definitely the space sought [after].”
Many events in Marquette are related to NMU, while others are associated with U.P. Health System–Marquette. College, high school, and intramural sporting activities are a draw and have a home at the Superior Dome and Berry Events Center.
Stay & Summit
When it comes to accommodations, the Landmark Inn, the Ramada by Wyndham Marquette, and the Holiday Inn Marquette are in or within walking distance of the downtown area and have event space of their own.
Landmark Inn is a charming historic building that has welcomed visitors since 1930. With classic furnishings and a grand piano in the lobby, the hotel offers four meeting spaces—the sixth-floor Sky Room with panoramic views (660 square feet with a capacity of 32); the Parlour with a built-in bar and cozy fireplace (930 square feet that accommodates 50 people); the Boardroom for executive events (495 square feet for 24 people); and its signature Harbor Room, with winding brass staircases, crystal chandeliers, and an Italian marble floor (2,208 square feet that can accommodate 120 people). Dog-friendly Ramada by Wyndham Marquette has 5,752 square feet of event space, with six meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 200 conference or 400 banquet attendees. The Holiday Inn Marquette, completely made over in 2018, boasts a sauna, whirlpool, and Marquette’s largest indoor pool. It also has an outdoor courtyard and six event rooms for up to 400 meeting-goers.
“We build the function space to order,” says Pattie Anderson, Holiday Inn Marquette director of banquets and events. “Depending on the guest count and desired services, we can create the environment they’re looking for.”
Mix & Mingle
For a more avant-garde gathering, Marquette has several unconventional event spaces to choose from. The Presque Isle Pavilion is perfect for indoor-outdoor events with its rustic vibe, large fieldstone fireplace and grills, and beautiful views of Presque Isle Park.
Located in a revamped theater, Delft Bistro accommodates up to 120 attendees with its open kitchen, New American cuisine, and cinematic vibe—complete with a retro marquee. The Honorable Distillery, also housed in a converted theater, crafts a range of spirits from locally sourced botanicals and welcomes groups with a classically cool vibe. A historic supper club-turned-brewery, Barrel + Beam, can host about 20 in its upper mezzanine, which opens to a balcony overlooking the Ore Heritage Trail and woodlands. Groups can also rent out the whole space with room for 180.
Wherever events are held, there’s plenty to do during downtime. Besides tours like those that MEDA sets up, visitors love to watch freighters load at Marquette’s Upper Harbor Ore Dock, then hit the town to browse boutiques and galleries, grab a bite somewhere like Steinhaus, and savor dessert at Donckers.
In fact, meetings in the “Queen City” are well-attended, says Germain: “Every event is wildly successful because people use it as an excuse to go on vacation.”