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Convenience and Culture Merge in Sophisticated Grand Rapids

By Jeanine Matlow

Whoever says you can’t have it all in Michigan hasn’t been to Grand Rapids lately. This lively location has received numerous accolades in recent years and it’s easy to see why.

For starters, an impressive infrastructure that’s comparable to major cities at half the price and a quarter of the commute time makes this a destination like few others, especially for hosting meetings and events. 

In addition, DeVos Place Convention Center, an impressive facility in the heart of downtown, joins a fine and growing selection of restaurants, museums, hotels and shops within walking distance. The Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University along the Grand River and the nearby Grand Rapids Medical Corridor add other noteworthy pluses.

Transportation options include the newly renovated Gerald R. Ford International Airport (with more than 120 nonstop flights daily to 24 destinations), Amtrak routes (linking Furniture City with Chicago) and the regional DASH bus system. 

Then there’s the Grand Response services team that goes the extra mile to help plan, promote and conduct a memorable meeting. 

“One of the reasons to hold physical gatherings is for networking and to connect to people who do what you do. One of the results is unplanned brainstorming that lets you bring new ideas back to your work life,” says Janet Korn, senior vice president for Experience Grand Rapids. 

While that might not always happen in a webinar, she says it’s bound to happen here, whether it’s the sharing of a meal or a walk between sessions for a cup of coffee around the downtown convention area with its top-notch infrastructure that’s ideal for meetings and events. “It’s put together in a close, navigable way that makes for a really convenient experience for attendees,” she says. 

“There’s a tight layout of hotels and really fun things to do that work for both planners and attendees. The art, culture and history provide enhancement to the meetings,” adds Korn. With a vibrant music scene that includes everything from opera to concerts, the location makes for memorable meetings. 

Local bars and restaurants are within reach, while heated sidewalks melt the snow in the winter. “We’re building the momentum of a destination that’s turning more into a vibrant city and people want to visit here. It’s the unique blend of a big-city experience, but it’s so walkable here,” says Korn. “It’s like a little Chicago experience.”

Staying Power

Large groups at the historic Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton can convene at DeVos Place Convention Center via connected, temperature-controlled skywalks, explains Mike Donnelly, general manager. The 682-room hotel offers 47,000-square-feet of meeting space, four elegant ballrooms, 42 technology-rich meeting rooms and conference areas, and turnkey and custom planning services.

Situated in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids overlooking the Grand River, the landmark hotel combines the graceful heritage from the original historic Pantlind Hotel with the modern amenities of the Glass Tower for the best of both worlds.

Other perks include Michigan’s Four Diamond restaurant Cygnus27, the highest dining destination in west Michigan, and The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, one of the only places downtown to dine inside or outside along the river.

The Kitchen’s newly revamped lobby lounge and eatery, Rendezvous, features an upscale environment with three communal tables for 10 that offer a social experience, which includes live music on the weekends. For more intimate parties, there’s the lounge with plush banquet seating and cozy two-top tables. Each day begins with a breakfast buffet and ends with a lively lounge in the evening.

Best in the Midwest

“When people go to conventions, they’re going to stay downtown and Grand Rapids is so walkable with so many great restaurants and bars. That’s all they need when they want to network,” says Grace Jan, CAE, CMP, senior vice president of meetings management for Management Solutions Plus in Rockville, Maryland, who booked the Amway Grand Plaza with the company’s overflow at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids next door. 

The annual conference held last year at DeVos Place for the Association of Water Technologies was so successful the group plans to return in 2023. “Everybody loved it,” she says. “I think Grand Rapids is one of those hidden gems.”

Adds Jan: “DeVos Place is beautiful and so easily accessed. We had 1,300 attendees and the layout of the meeting space is fabulous. There’s a nice flow and windows that bring in natural light and a view of the river. We had record attendance even though we were in San Diego the year before, a city that sells itself.” 

Part of the appeal is the people. “The Experience Grand Rapids team is so creative and helpful and the whole community wants to promote Grand Rapids,” she says. “People just need to go there. They have great food, craft beers, all the art and culture, and all that outdoor space with the parks. It’s really upand-coming and really affordable, too. It has everything downtown.” 

Listen Up

One hot spot that made its debut in 2017 is 20 Monroe Live, a modern art deco-inspired venue down the street from DeVos Place and within walking distance to several hotels. With access to the world’s greatest musical entertainment, full-service event production, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, custom menus and mixology, the 31,908-square-foot site accommodates 25-2,600 guests.

This flexible space with a multilevel Music Hall lets planners rent the entire venue or scale down to an intimate configuration for an event, says Lindsay Lerette, director of sales.

The nontraditional location, which has served as the site for special occasions such as the YMCA 150th Anniversary Celebration, inspires people to think outside the ballroom with a variety of themes that are available to transform the space.

Companies, for example, can celebrate their brand with their name in lights on the entrance marquee, custom signage, décor and more. The second level features the Vanguard, a VIP club with a private bar, open-air patio and access to the best seats in the house. 

So Much to Do

Jodie Boyd Cady, CMP, CTA, CMM, director, Events and CE Marketplace, Michigan Realtors in Lansing, has planned numerous events in Grand Rapids, including a recent annual convention for 1,200 attendees with a 90-booth trade show. During this time, group offered more than 30 education sessions and utilized space at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, DeVos Place, JW Marriott and the nearby Hampton Inn & Suites Grand Rapids Downtown. All are connected via the downtown skywalk. 

“The city of Grand Rapids is so very eclectic, from its vast art scene of ArtPrize that has carried over in many other ways in the city, through music, food and, of course, beer!” she says. “The city creates excitement for attendees to come and the facilities create a first-class environment to design the perfect meeting or event for your attendees.”

From start to finish, she says the service levels in Grand Rapids create a positive experience from the airport to the end of the event. “I have had national speakers tell me they will come back to Grand Rapids anytime we need them,” says Cady. “Our attendees love the city for the ease of access between the venues and the amazing food and entertainment choices. You really feel the kind hearts of Midwesterners in Grand Rapids.”