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Home Michigan MI Places Channel History With 8 Awe-Inspiring Venues

Channel History With 8 Awe-Inspiring Venues

By Megan Swayer

When meeting planners from Kellogg Co. or Stryker, both based in west Michigan, want to orchestrate a little something different, they often turn to event planner Shannon Potts of the six-story Loft 310 in Kalamazoo. Potts helps them to design off-sites and special events that are not only productive, but also so out-of-the-conference-room.

“Those planners are often looking for a fun and different atmosphere to host their meetings outside of a traditional boardroom,†Potts explains. “They want to change up the pace and find something aesthetically beautiful and different. We definitely offer that.â€

Indeed, Loft 310, which is housed in a brick building that was constructed in the mid 1800s, features several venues, including everything from a dueling piano bar space to a rooftop bar and Gatsby-style nightclub.

“The Gatsby is perfect for cocktails and mingling,†she explains, adding that attendees often meet first and take advantage of the venue’s meeting spaces that offer A/V capabilities, a sound system, and more. Corporate bookings, says Potts, are on the rise for Loft 310. 

The following venues take you everywhere from the chic spaces and scintillating kitchen at Loft 310 to a renovated 1927 movie theater steps from the shores of the St. Clair River to the exquisite dining room at the nation’s top historic hotel on idyllic Mackinac Island, all in the name of history!

Loft 310
Rooms with a View

WHERE: 310 E. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo

A NAME IS A NAME: The venue’s address in the city’s entertainment district inspired its name.

HISTORY LESSON: Loft 310 is located in the Rosenbaum building, named after Samuel Rosenbaum. The book “Kalamazoo: The Place Behind the Products†(by Larry Massie and Peter Schmitt) explains that the building’s story begins in 1867 or so, when the Kalamazoo Pant Co. was launched by Rosenbaum, a dry-goods wholesaler from Three Rivers. He hit it big in the Kalamazoo area with his denim overalls, so he turned to manufacturing, and by the mid-1880s he focused just on pants, overalls and a range of trousers, many of which were created in the Rosenbaum building.

LAYOUT LOWDOWN: The secondfloor loft has tall ceilings, warm brown wood floors, gold, modern drum-shade lighting and clean, white-brick walls. The third-floor loft is similar with only a few differences—black-wood floors, a lower ceiling and track lighting as its standard light source. The second floor can hold about 250 people. The upper loft can accommodate 275. The fourth floor features private residences, while on the sixth floor, you’ll find penthouse suites. 

PEOPLE PLEASER: The views. “You can look out to downtown Kalamazoo; it’s breathtaking,†says Potts.

ALL’S FARE: The venue has its own executive chef, Tony Boswell. “Attendees love Tony’s grilled Statler chicken with pineapple and mango chutney,†Potts says. “Also, they’re crazy about the New York strip entrée and the Panko encrusted mac-and-bacon appetizers.†Hungry yet?

WHO HAS ALLERGIES?: “Our chef is educated when it comes to cooking for those with allergies,†Potts explains. “There’s a huge concern regarding allergies and also just being health conscious these days. His passion is to ensure that all of the meeting attendees get fantastic food that suits them. He’s a magician in the kitchen.â€

THE VERDICT’S IN: “There is a lot to be said when you can find a venue that delivers the best for your guests, but also makes it enjoyable for the planner! That is so rare,†says Dee Hannah, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s customer care team lead and 15-year event planner.

City Opera House
Hip, Yet Historic

WHERE: 106 E. Front St., Traverse City

THE BEAUTY’S BACKGROUND: The three-story-tall City Opera House, built in 1892, is one of 48 opera houses built in Michigan in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Magnificently restored, the venue, located conveniently in northern Michigan’s ultrapopular Traverse City, offers two performing arts series, arts programs and the opportunity for event planners to book some extremely memorable gatherings.

“It’s hip, yet historic,†says Kristi Dockter, director of mar – keting for the venue. “It was forced closed when movies became in vogue. Dormant for more than 30 years, the building was gifted to the city. Thanks to the support of the community and state, it underwent a complete resto – ration spanning over 20 years.â€

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: It’s a block off the bay and “right in the middle of downtown restaurants, shopping, and more,†Dockter says. “Plus, it’s easy to move guests to and from hotels to our location.â€

SITE SPECIFICS: Event space is available on each of the three floors. “The most remarkable is the main theater/ auditorium, which has a stage and a large main floor,†says Dockter. “The artistry of the Victorian era shines in this room with a beautiful Victorian chandelier and balcony overlooking the theater. The stage is wrapped in prosce – nium lighting and flanked with two-story box seats.â€

ABOUT THE PLANNER: “Each event is personally overseen by our special events manager, Debbie Douglas, who has 10 years of experience here,†Dockter explains. “In fact, her daughter got married here. Can you think of a better endorsement than that?â€

NUMBER OF ATTENDEES: It can seat 680 with floor plans ranging from theater or conference rows with chairs, rounds for seated table events to setting up expo booths or even a dance floor. The auditorium is entered through the Towsley lobby, which looks down on downtown’s lively Front Street. The Towsley upstairs lobby is an excellent partner to the auditorium and can be used independently.

CLASSIC: “The second most-popular space would be our new Overture Room,†Dockter says. The 1,550 squarefoot third floor space accommodates 32 and is perfect for corporate receptions, private dinners, intimate meetings, training classes and more. A 14-foot antique solid oak table anchors the space. “Along the south facade of the room are large windows which let in fabulous natural light.â€Â 

SHE SAYS: “We love the functionality of the space,†reports Allison Beers, owner of Events North, “including the top-notch, in-house A/V, built-in stage, historic beauty, downtown location and ease of parking or using a valet service with the location.â€Â Â 

Colony Club
Citified History

WHERE: 2310 Park Ave., Detroit

COLONY CLUB CUE-IN: When the historic Women’s Colony Club of Detroit opened in 1929, it was one of four women’s clubs in the area surrounding what is now downtown Detroit’s Entertainment District. The building was designed by renowned Detroit architects Smith, Hinchman and Grylls. A Georgian-style structure of red brick and limestone with iron grillwork, its relatively simple lines and form reflected the members’ desire for gentle elegance and style. 

ACTIVITIES ABOUND: Decades ago, the women of the Colony Club used their building for a variety of functions. There were three small shops on the ground level and a beautiful and modern solarium on the roof. The club also had 16 sleeping rooms on the sixth floor for providing rest, while card rooms, salons and squash and badminton courts on the fifth floor were popular spots for recreation and socializing. 

TRANSFORMATION: In 1984 developer and preservationist Charles Forbes bought the Colony Club and leased it to the Detroit Police Department to house the Police Academy. Extensive renovation of the building began in 2006 and today, under the direction of the Gem Theatre’s Special Events staff (see accompanying Gem Theatre story), the building now hosts private and corporate functions and is once again a highlight in Detroit’s growing Entertainment District.

TOP DÉCOR ACCENTS: The third floor’s impressive Louis XVI ballroom highlights the interior of the building. Painted in Versailles cream and gilt, the room is considered to be one of the city’s finest and has been fully restored to its original magnificence. Gold-leaf ceilings and impressive crystal chandeliers create a premier ambiance for all types of events. 

WHAT A STUNNER: “The Colony Club is stunning and most guests have an emotional response to the space,†says Nicole Lakatos, managing director of the Colony Club and Gem Theatre.

OF NOTE: The Colony Club does not have a stage. “We can quote a full A/V package and we allow outside A/V companies to come in and assist a client with their program,†says Lakatos. 

BONUS: Close, convenient parking and superb food and beverage service round out its top-notch offerings. 

The Mariner Theater
Reeling in Intrigue

WHERE: 430 S. Water St., Marine City

BACKSTORY: The Mariner was built in 1927 as a vaudeville theater and showed movies until the early 1970s. Today, the building has been renovated by Fine Art Models and now houses not only an old-fashioned theater, but also the “Titanic – The Building of an Icon Exhibit,†which includes the official builder’s ship model of the Titanic, as well as various galleries of museumquality, limited-edition scale models and finds from around the world. Owner Gary Kohs and his partner, Laura Scaccia, put their heart and soul into renovating the theater, which features 48 original mohair theater seats from the 1930s.

Here, the public (and those attending special meetings and events) also can enjoy classic movies, documentaries and independent films. “It’s a wonderful retreat/meeting location in the middle of a Rockwellian village on the St. Clair River,†Scaccia observes. 

SIZING UP THE GROUP: “We offer two floors for meetings and intimate gatherings and we can accommodate 50 comfortably,†Scaccia says. A loft space with kitchen was added in place of the original theater fly space. “The theater seats are great for presentations, and other areas allow for face-to-face meetings. From intimate dinner parties to strolling cocktail parties, our event styles are sure to be memorable for attendees,†she adds.

EXTRAS: “We enjoy showing films and then opening up the galleries, exhibit and loft for various groups after they meet,†Scaccia says.  

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Achatz Riverview Restaurant in St. Clair and the Blue Pike Cantina and Marine City Fish Co., both in Marine City, are the caterers of choice. Attendees give rave reviews to such catered items as the locally smoked salmon, cheese platter and regional whitefish spread with crostinis.

MUST-SEES: You can’t miss the marquee and it looks even more fabulous at night when lit, Scaccia says of the huge ornamental sign that’s a fine replica of the original 1927 marquee. Don’t miss the incredible items on display, such as the awe-inspiring Titanic, a French clock from the 1600s, the 1941 Jukebox, and world-class airplane and car models.

LOOK UP, DOWN AND AROUND: The paint colors used during the restoration are reminiscent of historic colors as are the entryway curtains, which feature a pattern evocative of the old wallpaper that adorned the walls of the Mariner in the 1920s. Also, check out the vintage theater lighting, true to the Mariner’s original time period.

MORE CHARM: A popcorn maker and peanut roaster from 1917 also delight guests.

Grand Hotel
The Jewel in Michigan’s Cap

WHERE: Mackinac Island, Upper Peninsula

IDYLLIC HISTORY: It was in 1887 when Grand Hotel first opened its doors as a summer retreat for vacationers who arrived by lake steamer from Chicago, Erie, Montreal, Detroit and by rail from across the continent. Today, its old-fashioned décor mingling with fresh design appointments, and its list of visiting luminaries longer than its front porch, makes it the veritable grand dame of historic venues.

“Recently, it was named the Readers’ Choice Best Historic Hotel in the United States by USA Today,†reports Ken Hayward, executive vice president and managing director. He shared this accolade with us on a recent visit just after musician/actor Ice-T, his wife and others strolled past him into the, well, grand dining room.

TOP SPOT: “The Front Porch, the world’s longest, is by far the best place in Michigan for a cocktail party,†says Mary Beth Daniels, the hotel’s vice president of convention services. “With beautiful views overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge, watching ferry boats transport passengers back and forth, American flags blowing in the wind, and the serenity of the island to take in … there is no place quite like it.â€Â 

ON THE QT: “The Pontiac Room (above) is very popular for private dinners and cocktail parties,†Daniels says. “It is a more intimate setting located at the end of our Main Dining Room. It has a private porch off of the room and a view of the Straits of Mackinac.â€

HORSING AROUND: “Another unique spot,†Daniels suggests, “is Grand Stables, located up Grand Hill from the hotel.†It’s an antique carriage museum and home to Grand Hotel’s horses and carriages. It sits atop the hill overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and The Jewel (front nine) Golf Course.  

FAMILY FRIENDLY: “We tend to have more people bring their families to meetings here than other venues because of the family-friendly atmosphere; there’s so much to do to keep kids busy while the parents attend meetings and events.â€

FAVORITE DISHES: “It’s a tie between the pecan-crusted Mackinac whitefish and prime rib of Angus beef,†Daniels says. “The whitefish is local, light and wonderful, and the beef is always cooked just right, so it’s juicy.â€Â 

PHOTO OPPS: “On one of the days [during a conference], the attendees biked around the island and said it took longer than expected because they kept stopping to take photos of the scenery,†recalls Rebecca Bucher, director of global accounts for HelmsBriscoe. “They had no idea how beautiful the island was. The trip made me a superstar to this group.â€

FUN TIDBIT: Mark Twain lectured in the Grand Hotel Casino in 1895. Admission was $1.

Castle Farms
Rock-Solid Fortress Fun

WHERE: 5052 M-66, Charlevoix

HISTORY LOWDOWN: Built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, the acting president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., as a dairy farm, Loeb Farms was modeled after the stone barns and castles found in Normandy, France. After the farm closed, the buildings fell into disrepair. In 1962, it was purchased and renamed Castle VanHaver. Open to the public in 1966, it was an art gallery, with a working artist studio on site. The site later became a music theater and summer concert venue (meeting attendees likely will see displayed ticket stubs, etc., to discover who rocked the castle back then). In 2001, it was restored to become an event site, and a first expo was held in 2004.  

WHO GOES THERE: “We host numerous local charity events as well as corporate functions,†explains Alissa Post, the facility’s marketing director. (Castle Farms also is a favorite spot for anniversary parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, showers and more.)

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?: “We can accommodate almost any group size!†Post says. “With five event rooms, intimate parties of 15 are equally as comfortable as large corporate functions of 350 people.â€

ROOMS OF ROYALTY: Meeting space options include the King’s Great Hall, East Garden Room, West Garden Room, Knight’s Castle, and Queen’s Tavern.

PHOTO OPPS: Post explains that attendees adore the facility’s unique architecture and century-old stonework. “That really gives guests something different than a standard event location,†she says. “Group photos are especially amazing in front of our giant fountain, in the gardens, or with the Castle as a backdrop.â€

FOOD & FIXINGS: “Event hosts have the ability to choose their own caterer,†Post says. “The caterers that are most familiar with our facility really kick it up a notch and offer fun items like mashed potato bars, gourmet sandwiches, or even hand-scooped ice cream.â€

Fisher Theatre
Unique is in the Spotlight

WHERE: 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit

ITS OWN PLOT: The Fisher Theatre opened as a movie palace in 1928. The automotive Fisher brothers orchestrated a design that had elements you’d not find anywhere else in the world. Think of Mayan-themed palaces, waterfalls and live birds. Eventually, the movie emporium transformed into a facility to host Broadway and musical performances. The venue also served as a home for the Michigan Opera Theatre (in the late 1980s and early 1990s). This year, the theater is hosting the United States premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies.â€Â 

EVENT/MEETING SPACES AVAILABLE: The lobbies and the Spotlight Room.

SPOTLIGHT ROOM LOWDOWN: Enjoy an elegant, private environment with comfortable seating and many amenities, including food and beverages, private restrooms, coat check and private bar service. The Spotlight Room accommodates parties of 10-30 guests and is available for pre-show, intermission and post-show events. (Note: It is required that meeting/event planners must also arrange to purchase tickets for a show during their meeting at the facility). Located inside the Fisher Theatre, it’s a great location to host a private event and see a wonderful Broadway show, all in one location. 

EXCLUSIVELY UNIQUE: “Spotlight Room guests walk past restroom lines and bar service lines at intermission to access their own private restroom and bar,†says Scott Myers, director of marketing for Broadway in Detroit (BID), the presenter for shows that play at the Fisher Theatre and also some that play at the Detroit Opera House.

ON THE MENU: “We’ve worked with Andiamo Riverfront to create fabulous menu options for our guests—whether through our individual VIP packages available as an add-on purchase with tickets to many performances, or with our catering menu for a private event,†Myers says.

WHO GOES THERE: “Besides various groups who’ve met here, we’ve also hosted corporate awards events, corporate shareholder meetings, and private performances by organizations such as the Chamber Winds Orchestra, or the Detroit Symphony Orchestra,†Myers explains. 

Gem Theatre
A Brilliant Star

WHERE: 333 Madison Ave., Detroit

MULTIFACETED HISTORY: This beauty was built in 1903 by the Twentieth Century Association, a group of civic- and philanthropic-minded women called the Century Club, once affiliated with Gem Theatre. They set a precedent even before a brick was laid, holding Detroit’s first building permit issued in a woman’s name. In 1927, the Century Club completed construction of its adjoining building, the Little Theatre of Detroit (now Gem Theatre). The small theater showed artistic and foreign films until the Great Depression when The Twentieth Century Club disbanded and the Little Theatre and Century Club were lost to foreclosure. Eventually, developer Charles Forbes purchased the building, bringing the Gem and Century under single ownership again and in 1990, Forbes began a complete restoration of the Gem Theatre.

TOP HITS: Eventgoers can’t say enough about its ornate Spanish Revival and Arts & Crafts architecture, warm hand-painted dining rooms, an exquisitely landscaped garden patio, close convenient parking and superb food and beverage service.

MOVIN’ ON DOWN: “According to the Guinness World Records, Gem Theatre is the heaviest building ever moved on wheels,†Managing Director Nicole Lakatos says. “It was moved from East Columbia Street to our current location on Madison Avenue in 1998 to make way for Comerica Park (home of the Detroit Tigers).†Once relocated, the Forbes family began renovation on the Century Club facility. Using photos from the building’s 1903 opening, the facility was restored to its original Arts and Craft style, while preserving architectural artifacts from several demolished downtown buildings, including stained glass along a staircase, Pewabic tile under a bar and leaded glass behind a bar. 

BEAUTY IN THE DETAILS: When the Gem was restored, staff referred to archive photos to re-create the original carpeting found in the building. Historical chandeliers and theater seats are from the demolished Ambassador Theatre in St. Louis.

THUMBS-UP FOR A/V: “Gem Theatre is very popular for meetings due to the high-end audio-visual offerings on a very grand, but intimate stage,†says Lakatos. “We offer rear projection, great house sound, theater lights and dressing rooms.â€Â