To say Wisconsin is having a moment would be an understatement. A statewide renaissance resulting in plenty of new developments, impressive renovations and entrepreneurial ventures has been years in the making and shows no sign of slowing anytime soon.
“With a strong $21.6 billion industry, supporting more than 199,000 jobs, tourism continues to be a strong player in Wisconsin’s economic development story,” says Craig J. Trost, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “New boutique hotels are popping up across the state, drawing in travelers to new up-and-coming tourism destinations. In addition to traditional hot spots for event planners like Milwaukee, Madison and Wisconsin Dells, other Wisconsin cities are getting into the game.”
And while Illinois-based planners may already consider themselves familiar with their neighbor to the north, a surge of new and regionally unique offerings outside the boardroom will keep groups pleasantly surprised. “There’s so much to see and do in Wisconsin, attendees will beamazed by what’s just beyond the award- winning artisan craft cheese. Whether you’re looking for a James Beard award-winning chef, a fantastic outdoor recreation team-building experience or first-rate convention facilities, Wisconsin has everything you’re looking for and then some.”
Abuzz with a new wave of tourism, world-class events (including the 2020 Democratic National Convention and the 2020 Ryder Cup) and a revitalizing building boom, there are plenty of new and noteworthy venues to discover across the border.
“Milwaukee’s got soul. We’re on fire,” says Paul Bartolotta, two-time James Beard award-winning chef, co-founder and owner of the beloved local Bartolotta Restaurants group. “We’ve got some exciting opportunities to show the world what we have to offer and here in Milwaukee, it’s all about community. We’re always pushing to be better, our best, and the energy here—it’s electric.”
Though often overshadowed in years past by its fellow Midwestern metropolis just 90 miles south, or misjudged as a Rust Belt relic, the state’s largest city is buzzing and more than ready to step into the spotlight.
“Our city’s deeply rooted in its heritage, but there’s a youthful, optimistic atmo- sphere here that’s fostering a forward- thinking culture for change,” says Lindsey McKee, communications manager for VISIT Milwaukee. “Between all of the growth and development we’ve seen in the last few years and the passion of our hardworking and friendly locals, there’s an excitement here we can’t wait to share.”
In the midst of a building boom that’s transformed Milwaukee’s cityscape with major investments to its infrastructure (including the completion of a new sports and entertainment district, reimagined public spaces, the addition of 2,300 hotel rooms since 2015 and the introduction of The Hop streetcar system), the city achieved a major coup in securing the 2020 Democratic National Convention—an event that will not only showcase the city on the world stage, but leave planners with a bevy of new and revitalized options for groups and events of all sizes.
Opened in August 2018, the Fiserv Forum arena, anchor of the city’s Deer District and home of the Milwaukee Bucks, has redefined the city’s west side as a top destination to live, work and play.
The 714,000-square-foot arena can host everything from intimate receptions to full company meetings, banquets, trade shows and concerts for up to 18,000 in its bright concourses, modern club lounges, or on its state-of-the-art arena floor with access to the NBA’s largest video screen. For unparalleled city views, groups of up to 450 can reserve the Panorama Club overlooking the arena’s Atrium and playing bowl, complete with an outdoor patio and dedicated service kitchen.
Just a few blocks away, change in the Wisconsin Center District is a constant as well. The district’s 4,100-seat Miller High Life Theatre (home to the state’s largest stage) has unveiled a new bar and lounge space, much of the scalable 11,000-seat Panther Arena has been refreshed and the 300,000-square-foot convention and exhibition Wisconsin Center is expected to break ground on a proposed expansion in early 2021.
Groups can also embrace the city’s past in spaces packed with local character. Nestled within the Historic Third Ward neighborhood’s Pritzlaff Building, Pritzlaff Events offers 26,000 square feet of fully restored event space that once housed a turn-of-the-century hardware wholesaler. A blend of industrial and natural elements, including the city’s signature Cream City brick, 16-foot ceilings and the building’s original vault form four distinct raw spac- es, accommodating up to 1,200 guests combined.
Set on a sprawling park-like 20-acre campus, the Harley-Davidson Museum offers motorcycle fans and history buffs a chance learn about the small local outfit that’s become an international icon. With nine transformable banquet halls, meeting rooms and outdoor spaces featuring a subtle industrial garage design, the campus can host trade shows and corporate galas for up to 10,000 guests (with a full campus buyout). Planners can also work with the museum to organize behind-the-scenes tours of its impressive archives, coordinate custom menus or request specific Harley- Davidson models to be displayed for a personalized touch.
Groups looking for a fully immersive experience will enjoy a visit to the 219-room Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, a ground- breaking hotel celebrating all forms of art, from painting and sculpture to dance and drama. Offering nearly 12,000 square feet of flexible event space, the hotel also features a 95-seat black box theater, a resident theater troupe and three on-site galleries overseen by Saint Kate’s own curator. Each floor reflects a different art form and details like artist-designed guest rooms or in-room ukuleles invoke the hotel’s motto “invite participation and expect change,” encouraging guests to embrace their creative spirit.
The city is also in no short supply of venues with a view. The Milwaukee Art Museum, including its architecturally iconic Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavillion, boasts over 30,000 works of art,more than 25,000 square feet of rental space, an in-house full-service caterer and unparalleled lakefront views. From Windhover Hall—featuring a dramatic full wall of windows, curvilinear forms and white marble—right down to the tempera- ture-controlled parking garage (which has been the site of everything from fashion shows to luxury car rollouts), the museum’s inventive design makes for the ultimate artfully-framed event backdrop.
The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, a 158- room dog-friendly respite, features not only Tre Rivali, a Mediterranean-inspired eatery named for the rivalry between the city’s three founders, and nearly 10,000 square feet of meeting space, but one of the city’s largest rooftop venues, The Outsider. Serving sharable small plates and expertly crafted cocktails, the top-floor restaurant and bar has become a must-visit destination for locals and visitors alike.
Set on the shore of Lake Michigan, one of The Bartolotta Restaurants’ most pic- turesque fine dining venues showcases the city’s true beauty. Harbor House guests can take in skyline and lakeshore views as sailboats bob in the harbor while savoring fresh seafood at the bright, New England- style restaurant. The Captain’s Room, a pri- vate dining space overlooking the lake, can accommodate up to 65 guests.
Of course, no trip to Milwaukee would be complete without sampling a local brew. Lakefront Brewery serves up award- winning cheese curds and the nation’s first certified gluten-free beer among other local favorites in a traditional German beer hall atmosphere. Full hall rentals are available as well as one of the city’s most popular, and comedic, brewery tours.
Village of Elkhart Lake
“Driving into Elkhart Lake feels like you’re in an entirely new place—it’s like you’ve just discovered this amazing natural retreat and your shoulders just start to drop,” says Kathleen Eickhoff, Elkhart Lake Tourism’s executive director. “Our biggest calling card is Elkhart Lake itself. It’s the jewel of our destination because its waters are so deep and spring-fed that it becomes this bright, Mediterranean blue-green retreat.” In fact, it was the lake’s clear waters and mystical healing qualities that attracted the Potawatomi Indians (the region’s first settlers), the German entrepreneurs who would build some of the village’s mostpopular establishments, and draws travelers from near and far to this day.
Home to three resorts, each boasting precious beachfront property, the village has become a popular year-round escape from the bustle of city life for families, associations and corporate retreats. The historic AAA Four Diamond Osthoff Resort, one of the Midwest’s top-ranked properties, offers 38,000 square feet of function space for groups of up to 1,400 and a laid-back mix of team-building activities. From work- shops at the on-site L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School and yoga classes with the Aspira Spa to interactive scavenger hunts “carefully designed team activities offer challenges for everyone and are a fun way to build trust and create a comfort level among groups,” says Osthoff Marketing Manager Laura Otten.
The Osthoff’s team can also arrange charter bus services for groups looking to explore off-site—settled at the edge of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Elkhart Lake offers plenty of trails to hike, bike, cross-country ski and more—though walk- ability is one of the village’s trademark comforts. “There are no streetlights, no traffic. Most people don’t drive to get around and visitors love it. They may already spend an hour in the car just getting to work, so to skip the stress of traffic and parking is a huge draw that keeps visitors relaxed and present,” says Eickhoff.
Though most attractions and amenities are within walking distance, the village has also become an international hot spot for car lovers as the home of Road America. Before construction of the 640- acre motorsports complex (with one of America’s longest road racing circuits), Elkhart Lake was the site of some of the country’s first open road races. Today, annual events attract global visitors, including manufacturers like Porsche and BMW, motorsport enthusiasts and a barrage of affiliated business travelers. Road America regularly hosts private and corporate events and offers dozens of group activities including paintball, geocaching and disc golf. Of course, guests can also hone their driving skills behind the wheel with off-roading, high-speed kart racing and a Driving Olympics competition.
Stretching more than 70 miles long and surrounded by water on three sides, Door County’s 34 outlying islands, 300 miles of shoreline and rich maritime history make for an idyllic event destination in an enchanting coastal atmosphere.
“From full-service resorts to smaller, more intimate venues that are a true Door County retreat or the region’s abundance of activities, attractions and natural beau- ty to be enjoyed once the meeting lets out, Door County is an ideal small market meeting place,” says Laura Bradley, Door County Visitor Bureau marketing and sales manager.
With nearly 100,000 square feet of meeting space throughout the region, Door County’s local venues include museums, art galleries, golf courses, renovated barns, orchards, historic banquet halls and the- aters that can accommodate groups of up to 400 guests. Completed in 2015, the 6,000-square-foot Hesly Center for Leadership Development (housed in a renovated historic barn located on 8 beautiful acres) is an ideal fit for executive retreats and corporate events, accom- modating up to 36 guests classroom-style, while the new 2,650-square-foot Donald & Carol Kress Pavilion and Egg Harbor Library offers meeting space for up to 250 in its second-floor Great Hall. The bright, light-filled venue located in downtown Egg Harbor, features wrap-around porches and bay and orchard views.
Northern Haus, Door County’s newest venue accommodates up to 300 guests and features a modern luxe farmhouse-style aesthetic with soaring 36-foot ceilings, warm exposed beams and industrial chandeliers. Set on 30 picturesque acres, the venue also offers a covered porch, 24-foot bar and mingling space, vaulted loft and a tranquil backdrop for outdoor events.
Between waterfront resorts, secluded B&Bs, downtown hotels and quaint rentals, Door County also boasts roughly 40 group-friendly lodging properties with a total of 4,896 rooms, including the recently renovated Landmark Resort and Westwood Shores Waterfront Resort.
And with a traditional postmeeting fish boil, a visit to one of the region’s many parks or historic lighthouses, or a tour of local lavender farms or famous cherry orchards, groups can immerse themselves in some of Door County’s historic pastimes and unique cultural trademarks.
As the home of the Green Bay Packers, the only not-for-profit major league pro- fessional team communally owned by its fans, it’s safe to say this city’s filled with hometown pride. But that community con- nection is fueled by more than a love for green and gold. Deeply rooted in its indus- trial beginnings and homegrown traditions (a proper Old-Fashioned order and supper club etiquette are an art form here), “the city’s embraced its past and present with a renaissance of reimagined historic spaces and new world-class venues,” says Brenda Krainik, the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau’s director of marketing and communications.
The city boasts nearly 327,000 square feet of meeting and event space with another 127,000 square feet expected upon the completion of the new Brown County Expo Center in early 2021.
Just across the street, the legendary Lambeau Field offers a diverse suite of event spaces. From the expansive Atrium to the new 13,242-square-foot Johnsonville Tailgate Village (designed to reflect the stadium’s look and feel) or MVP Box 4039, an intimate space with an impressive view overlooking the stadium’s hallowed bowl, attendees can embrace Lambeau’s infa- mous gameday spirit at Green Bay’s most well-known landmark.
The iconic stadium also anchors the city’s new 45-acre Titletown District. The new build has become a destination for locals and visitors to play, stay, eat and relax, featuring a public park, winter skat- ing rink and tubing hill. Titletown is also home to the popular craft Hinterland Brewery with private dining space for up to 300 guests, as well as the world-class Four Diamond LODGE KOHLER. Groups at the 144-room luxury property can enjoy
panoramic views and locally inspired dishes in the fifth-floor Taverne in the Sky or enlist the hotel’s culinary team to cater an in-room tailgate party just 100 yards from Lambeau. The hotel also offers an on-site spa emphasizing the healing powers of water and progressive treatments including its pioneering acufacial.
The 80,000-square-foot KI Convention Center and 241-room Hyatt Regency Green Bay hotel offer groups easy access to top downtown attractions while some of the city’s less traditional venues offer groups unique immersive experiences. Guests at the Automobile Gallery & Event Center can mingle amongst an impressive col- lection of vintage cars housed in a former Denil Cadillac dealership and events at the National Railroad Museum allow guests to wander its historic rail cars, including the world’s largest steam locomotive.
And nowhere is the city's collision of old adn new celebrated more than the revitalized Hotel Northland. Originally opened in 1924 as the state’s largest hotel, the 160-room property has been fully restored to its former glory, blending modern amenities with original 1920s architecture and nods to the city’s heritage throughout the property and its 11,000 square feet of event space.
Accommodating up to 160 guests, the Crystal Ballroom features high ceilings, floor- to-ceiling windows and original chandeliers, while the overhanging balcony (a popular prefunction space) features the building’s original tile. Groups can unwind or gear up for some friendly competition in The Alley— the hotel’s new private event space outfitted with cozy lounges, a full bar, billiards table, shuffleboard and two-lane bowling alley—or indulge in a signature Wisconsin Old Fashioned and upscale dishes with local twist at the stately Walnut Room.
Often compared to Portland, Austin and Brooklyn, Eau Claire has become the ultimate hot spot to discover the authentic Midwest indie experience, and with the opening of the brand-new $60 million Pablo Center at the Confluence, planners can embrace the city’s story of creativity and ingenuity in the heart of its downtown district.
The arts-focused facility (seating up to 1,200 theater-style) has become Eau Claire’s top venue for concerts, plays and art shows as well as meetings and conven- tions with its large performance spaces, galleries, recording studios and the Visit Eau Claire Experience Center—all available for private events. “In Eau Claire our sweet spot for groups lies between 50 and 500 guests and we have a variety of traditional and uniquely nontraditional venues to help make events extra special,” says Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John.
The Lismore, a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel is a 112-room conference hotel that offers up to 14,000 square feet of meeting space and accommodates up to 620 guests, while The Brewing Projekt, housed in a former factory, is one of the city’s most popular unconventional event spaces featuring hand-laid hardwood floors and framed riverfront views. Located in the city’s Cannery District, the microbrewery boasts a rooftop patio, up to 20 craft brews on tap and can accommodate up to 200 guests theater-style.
The city has also become a hub of artistic endeavor. “We are an artful community, with creativity coming through in the form of music, theater, murals and culinary creations,” says John. Insta-worthy murals dot the city and nearly 60 sculptures from local and international artists make up Sculpture Tour Eau Claire, the country’s second largest of its kind. In Eau Claire’s budding Uptown neighborhood, Artisan Forge Studios visitors will find an art gal- lery and studio space for nearly 50 makers as well as outdoor displays and garage murals, while at Banbury Place, a tire factory-turned-creative hub, guests can take cooking classes, browse artist studios and sip locally roasted coffee.
Home to a number of local galleries displaying the work of local and regional painters, ceramicists, glass artists and more, visitors can also enjoy plenty of live music events at venues like The Oxbow Hotel. Opened in part by Justin Vernon (the local musician behind Bon Iver and other musical projects), the 30-room boutique property’s on-site restaurant The Lakely and its Gallery space can host yoga classes, mixology workshops, art installations and more when not showcasing musical talents from across the country.
Meeting-goers with time to spare can also enjoy a walk or bike ride along the trails of the Chippewa Valley or relax with a game of Kubb (a law game so popular in Eau Claire it's taught in local schools) in River Prairie Park.
Although “The Waterpark Capital of the World” may not already be synonymous with meetings and events, the region’s aquatic thrills have proven to be a major draw for attendees.
“Planners consistently tell us hosting meet- ings and events in Wisconsin Dells helps boost attendance. We’re centrally located, easily accessible and family-oriented con- ventiongoers are also more likely to attend a meeting where they can invite the family setting for small meetings and corporate retreats. Also home to several venues with a view, Wisconsin Dells’ Vennebu Hill, a rustic along, which is music to the ears of event planners,” says Kyra Popp, the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau’s assistant director of sales.
With the recent expansion of the Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Wisconsin Dells, the region can easily accommodate anything from intimate retreats to large conferences. Offering complimentary Wi-Fi, parking and a total of 212,000 square feet of flexible convention space across 45 meeting rooms, including a 52,000-square-foot ballroom, the resort is now the largest hotel convention center in the state and a convenient spot for large groups.
The 90,000-square-foot column-free multipurpose Wisconsin Dells Center is a popular space for sporting competitions, while the destination Sundara Inn & Spa, which recently completed a 40,000-square-foot expansion, offers planners a more serene renovated barn overlooking the Baraboo Bluffs and Wisconsin River Valley can accommodate up to 350 guests while the 70-year-old Pavilion at Cold Water Canyon, a historic stone venue accessible only by boat, can accommodate up to 100 guests in the truly unique space.
Groups can explore the area with a scenic boat tour to view the region’s iconic sandstone bluffs (which initially drew some of the region’s first visitors), take a trolley ride to some of the area’s most unique wineries, book a farm-to-table tour of the New Life
Lavender and Cherry Farm or enlist the help of the CVB’s professional team. “Our team can assist with anything from grant applications, bid processes and site visits to day-of event services like giveaway bags, sample itineraries and referrals for free-time activities to ensure attendees always have a memorable time,” says Popp.
Located between Lakes Mendota and Monona, “Wisconsin’s capital city—consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the country—exudes a friendly and quirky vibe that immediately makes visitors feel at home,” says John Leinen, Destination Madison’s vice president of sales.
Madison’s vibrant year-round community, melding equal parts college-town energy and entrepreneurial spirit, embraces an active lifestyle, neighbor- hood festivals, food events and live music perfor- mances no matter the weather. And as home of the Wisconsin Badgers and the current host of the annual Reebok CrossFit Games, the city’s no stranger to energetic visitors and action-packed major events, leaving planners with a wide range of event venues and unique activities for groups to enjoy.
Planners can think outside the box with unique venues like the Overture Center for the Arts, a state-of-the-art performing arts center and art gallery, or the research and innovation-focused Discovery Building or opt for cityscape views at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (a University of Wisconsin – Madison alumnus) for complete accessibility and civic enjoyment just two blocks from the State Capitol, the Center features public promenades, meeting rooms with striking lake views and an impressive 68,000-square-foot cityscape rooftop garden. The Alliant Energy Center is also ideally suited for expositions, banquets, con- ventions, meetings, concerts and sporting events.
The 164-acre campus housing five versatile venues offers ample meeting space, parking, a connected hotel, customized catering options and dedicated event staff support. And with Destination Madison’s convenient new “One City. One Contract.” program, planners can work with nearly a dozen area hotels under a single contract to ease frustrations in room block booking.
Postmeeting, guests can stroll the walkable city’s downtown district to shop at local boutiques, dine at one of several James Beard Award-winning eater- ies, enjoy the city’s abundant green spaces, wander the largest producers-only farmers’ market in the country or explore the city on a Madison BCycle, the city’s fleet of electronic bikes. Visitors can also go behind the scenes at some of the city’s most popular local landmarks with Destination Madison’s curated Essential Madison Experiences, including a Betty Lou Cruise that takes guests on a two-hour tour of Lake Mendota or Lake Monona or a stop at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens where guests can learn the story of the gardens and sip a cocktail crafted from garden ingredients.
From John Michael Kohler’s adaption of a cast iron horse trough came not only the founding of the multibillion-dollar Kohler Co., but also the building of a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond hotel and the creation of one of the country’s first planned communities (the Village of Kohler), designed for beauty and function by the famed Olmsted Brothers firm.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 241-room American Club, which was originally built as the first dormitory for Kohler Co.’s factory workers, now operates as a full-service boutique hotel that’s preserved the property’s original charm and continues to innovate with new services and amenities.
Planners can work with more than a dozen Destination Kohler venues—including a rustic fieldstone barn overlooking the resort’s golf courses and Lake Michigan—award-winning chefs, and have access to full conference planning support while visitors can indulge in rejuvenating hydrotherapy treatments at the Forbes Five Star Kohler Waters Spa. Outdoor enthusiasts can kayak, canoe, cross-country ski and pheasant hunt in the nearby River Wildlife wilderness preserve or participate in team-building activities including ropes courses, zip lining, culinary programming and sailing, organized through the Kohler Experiential Learning Center.
But Destination Kohler’s biggest draw may be its four award-winning championship golf courses, including the world-class Whistling Straits sculpted along two miles of lake shoreline, which will draw thousands of visi- tors for the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Just over the Illinois border, Lake Geneva is not only a year-round resort destination, but a prime meeting place for groups looking to relax and recharge.
“Planners find their attendance is much better in Lake Geneva than a ‘square box hotel meeting room’ because we’re a destination with so many unique opportunities. From Four Diamond resorts to historic mansions, our local venues personalize your stay to ensure your experience feels like a vacation,” says VISIT Lake Geneva Group Sales Manager Susan Smolarek.
Some of the region’s most popular properties offer world-class amenities as well as meeting space. The 640-room AAA Four Diamond Grand Geneva Resort & Spa offers a full-service salon and spa and a water park hotel as well as The Forum, a conference center with space for up to 1,800 guests theater- style—the largest in the region. And complete with 10,000 square feet of function space featur- ing fairway and lake views, the Geneva National Resort & Club can accommodate groups of up to 500. Resort guests can enjoy championship golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino or team-building activities ranging from kayak- ing to pallet painting.
Dotted with Gilded Age mansions (many built by wealthy Chicagoans), Lake Geneva’s historic proper- ties also make for unique event space filled with local character. The Baker House Mansion features 1885 flair, panoramic lake views and English-style gardens while the Maxwell Mansion boasts an 1880s Apothecary Bar, croque lawn, wraparound deck and its own speakeasy.
Postmeeting adventures may include a journey on the peaceful 21-mile Lake Geneva Shore Path that encompasses Geneva Lake and takes visitors past some of the region’s most impressive mansion estates or sightseeing on one of Lake Geneva Cruise Line’s daily tours. Groups can mix and mingle as they take part in classes at the Lake Geneva School of Cooking or enjoy year-round outdoor fun, from biking and fishing to skiing and rock climbing. And no matter the season, thrill-seeking visitors can tour Lake Geneva Canopy Tours’ high ropes and zip line courses for an unforgettable experience.