• Wisconsin Welcomes You with a Renaissance of Meeting + Event Venues

    POSTED August 14, 2017

"We embrace our beer and cheese and Packers in Wisconsin, certainly," says Julia Hertel, executive director, Wisconsin Association of CVBs, of the state’s reputation, but Wisconsin’s natural beauty is often not realized by outsiders. “Most of our facilities, our major convention centers, are on the water or are right next to the water, whether that’s a river or a lake.” The state’s regions have many of the same core elements that make Wisconsin Wisconsin, but each have their own distinctive character.

There’s been a surge across the state to upgrade, renovate and invest in the future. “[Tourism] has a $19 billion economic impact to the state of Wisconsin, and it’s been going up for at least the last five years,” says Hertel. “Every year we have seen an increase since the 2009 recession, we’ve just seen a great boon to the tourism industry.” Destinations and private investors have recognized the impact and have started to invest in properties and develop meeting and convention space. “Wisconsin, similar to Minnesota, has been typically known as a leisure destination. But if you have that kind of product that leisure travelers like, it’s also going to be something that a meeting attendee is going to enjoy as well,” says Hertel.

If ever there was a time to start paying attention to Wisconsin, it's now.



La Crosse’s location on the Mississippi River, in the shadow of the 600-foot Grandad Bluff, gives this small town an unbeatable backdrop. “Each year, La Crosse attracts more than 2 million visitors as people across the globe are attracted by the natural beauty and recreational opportunities offered by the upper Mississippi River area,” says Phillip Wanke, director of group sales, La Crosse County Convention & Visitors Bureau (DBA Explore La Crosse), “including the region’s rich history, unique attractions and variety of great shopping, dining and cultural offerings.”

La Crosse’s central location between Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin also makes it an ideal spot for regional events. Its downtown area has recently undergone a $1 billion renovation. Currently, the La Crosse Center, which is located on the Mississippi River, is expanding to 140,000 square feet (from 100,000 square feet).

The only independent boutique hotel in La Crosse, The Charmant Hotel was once a candy factory. The 67-room historic landmark, with a 560-square-foot meeting room and rooftop patio, lives up to its name, too; charmant is French for charming. TripAdvisor named The Charmant second in its top 25 hotels in the U.S. for its 2017 Travelers’ Choice awards.

La Crosse has garnered a reputation for its Oktoberfest festivals, but it’s got a number of other festivals, including Irishfest, Riverfest, Great River Folk Fest, La Crosse Area Bicycle Festival, and the Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine & Cheese Festival. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a time of year when there’s not some kind of fest in the works,” says Wanke. “What can we say? We’re festive.” 

The river town is also known for the World’s Largest SixPack, a roadside attraction of six whitewashed storage columns dressed in beer labels at the site of the old G. Heileman Brewing Company and then the La Crosse Brewery. 



Wisconsin’s capital city, named after the fourth U.S. President James Madison, is one of only two major U.S. cities built on an isthmus. “Being located on an isthmus means our downtown is ideally situated between two sparkling lakes—Monona and Mendota,” says Judy Frankel, director of PR and communications for the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are a platinum-certified biking community—a designation that is held by only five communities in the U.S.,” says Frankel. “Urban lore says that the bike paths are cleared before the residential streets in Madison.”

With 43,389 students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, the city is most certainly a college town, and there’s an undeniable benefit for planners. “We have a tremendous resource for speakers through the UW - Madison campus,” says Frankel. “We can identify and help schedule local speakers with the expertise that interests or engages the group. It also helps keep costs down because there are little or no travel fees associated with using the local speakers.”

The city is seeing a boon in new hotels opening and renovating. The 136-room Hyatt Place Verona and the 165-room AC Hotel Madison, located one block from Capitol Square, are expected to open May 2017, and the 106-room Tru by Hilton on Madison’s west side is slated to finish construction in early 2018. Homewood Suites by Hilton - Madison West recently completed a $1.2 million renovation, and the Best Western Premier Park Hotel opened in 2016 after an extensive $10 million-plus renovation, changing its name from the Best Western Plus Inn on the Park.


Just 45 minutes south of Madison is one of Wisconsin’s small-town gems. The streets of New Glarus, dubbed America’s “Little Switzerland,” are filled with small shops, including a bakery that’s been making Swiss and American pastries since 1910 and the Edelweiss Cheese Authentic Wisconsin, which sells Wisconsin artisan cheeses. But the town is best known for the New Glarus Brewing Company, the microbrewery responsible for Spotted Cow and other delicious brews like Fat Squirrel. Since the company, which was founded in 1993, only sells its beers in-state, it’s worth stopping by this quaint family-owned brewery that’s been known to feature alphorn players on its outdoor stone patio.


Nowadays, people travel to the Wisconsin Dells for its collection of indoor and outdoor water parks. But that wasn’t always the reason people made the trip to south central Wisconsin; the Dells has been a tourist attraction for over 150 years. “Visitors first flocked to the area to see the majestic sandstone cliffs along the Wisconsin River,” says Kyra Popp, sales manager, Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau. “Local photographer Henry Hamilton Bennett helped drive this interest by placing his now-historic photographs in train stations between the Dells and Chicago.” In the 1950s, new attractions came to the scene, like the Wisconsin Deer Park, Tommy Bartlett Show (a ski, sky and stage show), and the Original Wisconsin Ducks. 

“Scenic tours are one of the top draws in the area and the variety of tours means options for planners,” says Popp. “There are doubledecker tour boats that offer the opportunity to get off the boat at a handful of rock formations along the river, amphibious ‘DUCK’ landto-water vehicles that mix humor with scenery, and high-speed jet boats for the adventurous.” 

There are 400,000 square feet of function space to be found in the Dells, much of which has been built in the last 10 years. Many of the water parks feature convention space, too, including Chula Vista Resort, Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari Resorts & Conventions and Wilderness Resort. Ho-Chunk Gaming has hotel and convention space and is undergoing a $40 million renovation in 2017. “We’re also proud of the ‘unconventional’ convention spaces we have, such as charter river boats, a rustic ranch, area museums and event space within attractions,” says Popp.

“Meeting planners love to book events here because it means higher attendance,” says Popp. “Many attendees extend their stay, often bringing along family members to maximize work and vacation time and travel.” The Wisconsin Dells CVB staff goes above and beyond to help planners with anything from securing hotel proposals to helping man the registration booth. “The bureau also has a competitive grant program to help underwrite marketing and transportation costs.”




Milwaukee, home of the Champagne of Beers and HarleyDavidson Motor Company, often gets overlooked considering Chicago is just 90 miles to its south. But Wisconsin’s biggest city is starting to turn heads with its planned and current investments to its downtown. Similar to other Wisconsin destinations, Milwaukee is a “water city” that’s located at the confluence of three rivers: the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers. And like Chicago, it’s set along the shore of Lake Michigan. 

The transformation to Milwaukee’s cityscape consists of major investments in its buildings, highways, hotels, restaurants and infrastructure. Over the next five years, the city will gain a 32-story Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons (which is scheduled to open this year and will be the second tallest building in the state); a $500 million sports and entertainment arena that will be home to the Milwaukee Bucks in time for the 2018-19 season; a new 220-room Westin Milwaukee; a streetcar system (phase one will start running mid-2018); and reimagined public spaces and streetscaping designed to improve connections between the lakefront and downtown. 

In the last four years, six new hotels (1,100 guest rooms) have opened, including the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, which opened in the Historic Third Ward in July 2016. The 158-room hotel was a welcome addition to the hip neighborhood, bringing a rooftop patio that’s proven to be a must-visit destination for both visitors and locals. The Outsider, located on the 9th floor of The Journeyman, is an indoor/outdoor bar that serves shareable small plates as well as handcrafted cocktails; wood-fired pizza delivery service is available from Tre Rivali, too. Tre Rivali, the on-site Mediterranean-inspired restaurant led by chef Heather Terhune, serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and defies being labeled a “hotel restaurant.” 

The Wisconsin Center, the three-story convention center, was designed with input from meeting planners and boasts 90,000 square feet of function space. Its $1.2 million public art display livens the center with a museum-like quality. 

In 1991, Potawatomi Bingo Casino opened in Menomonee Valley as a 45,000-square-foot bingo hall with picnic tablestyle seating for 2,500 people. In 2000 the casino upgraded to a full-fledged gaming entertainment facility (with 2,600 slot machines, almost 100 table games and 20-table poker room), and today it’s called Potawatomi Hotel & Casino since adding a 19-story, 381-room hotel in 2014. At 32,000 square feet, its Event Center can host everything from trade shows and galas to corporate seminars for groups of 10-3,000. The Woodland Dreams Ballroom can accommodate 550 for a dinner, or can be sectioned off for a smaller event. The hotel has seven meeting rooms with almost 12,000 square feet of space.


A trip to Milwaukee isn’t complete without beer. 

Lakefront Brewery has certainly made a name for itself with its boisterous brewery tour. With drinking breaks along the way, Lakefront is a perfect example of what makes Milwaukee great: beer and history—they go hand in hand. Private tours can be arranged on weekdays and requires at least 20 people. 

Milwaukee Brewing Company also employs the “beer in hand” philosophy on its tours. The brewery has two options for enjoying its creations: technical tours, which give guests an informative look at the brewery, or its more-casual Open House on Saturday where it feels like you’re partying in a garage with friends.



If you think Destination Kohler is the same Kohler as the multibillion-dollar manufacturing company, you’re right.   Destination Kohler’s Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond resort-hotel, The American Club, was first a dormitory for Kohler Co.’s factory workers in 1918. “We like to say ‘rich history complemented by modern luxury,’” says Justin Gephart, director, sales and conference services. Immigrants came to Kohler or the surrounding area to work, and The American Club was built to provide housing for them. The workers would save money in order to bring their families to America and buy a house in The Village of Kohler. “All of that was sold at a break-even proposition,” says Gephart. “It was purely put together as a way to build community and get those new immigrants on their feet and get their roots built.” 

The American Club is on the National Register of Historic Places, and a lot of the original elements are still intact. “But then obviously the guts on the inside of the building have been elevated to a fivestar resort,” says Gephart. The Horse and Plow, the dormitory’s pub that immigrants patronized, still serves beer and food today; the original bowling lanes have been repurposed into tabletops.

The Kohler Waters Spa, which specializes in hydrotherapy treatments, was recognized by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the best wellness retreats in the world and is one of 56 five-star spas in the world.

There’s an undeniable charm to The Village of Kohler. The Olmsted Bros., the same firm responsible for designing New York’s Central Park and Ivy League schools like Harvard University, designed the village. “People come [here] and say there’s a campus feel ... and that’s accurate,” says Gephart. “The entire village is a certified botanical garden, everything is meticulously maintained from blowing leaves off the sidewalk in front of The American Club to watering fresh flowers on the light poles all throughout the summer.” 

“We’re traditionally typecast as a golf resort, but most of our regulars are taking advantage of all of the other activities,” says Gephart, namely the 500-acre wildlife preserve, complete with trapshooting, pheasant shooting, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking. But that’s not to say the four championship golf courses aren’t a big draw for guests. In fact, Whistling Straits will be hosting the Ryder Cup in 2020, the first public golf course to do so since 1991. 

Corporate group clients also have access to the Kohler Experiential Learning center, a professionally facilitated team-building division. Activities include a high ropes course, low ropes course, zip lines, culinary programming, vino challenge and sailing team-building on Lake Michigan. “But I’d say the biggest thing for our teambuilding is Suzanne [Coffman], who is the head of the Kohler Experiential Learning Center,” says Gephart. “She sits down and does custom programming for everybody.” 

Aside from the resort, there are two unique venues in the village. The Irish Barn, a three-walled structure at Whistling Straits, overlooks the 18th green and Lake Michigan. The barn is a popular venue almost every night of the week for corporate events through summer, says Gephart. The Kohler Design Center, which sees high-end designers by day, moonlights as an events venue where interactive chef stations can be set up for a corporate dinner, for example.


With its 140 stores in and around the Fox River Mall, Greater Appleton (aka Fox Cities) markets itself as a shopping destination—calling itself Wisconsin’s Shopping Place. Come late this fall, though, there will be something else that draws in large crowds to the area. 

The 30,000-square-foot Fox Cities Exhibition Center will not only be the area’s newest go-to venue for conventions, but it’s also expecting to attract exhibitions from around the country for its flexibility. The open and customizable spaces allow the venue to adapt as it needs to each event; it will be able to host everything from consumer trade shows to high school graduations. The venue includes a 17,000-squarefoot outdoor plaza, which boasts views of the renovated Jones Park. There’s an attached skyway that connects to the 40,000-square-foot convention facility at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in downtown Appleton. 

Fox Cities, comprised of 20 communities, is nestled along the Fox River and Lake Winnebago. And while Appleton (the city that Harry Houdini claimed as his hometown) is usually the most bustling, with its diverse restaurants and retail outlets and liberal arts college (Lawrence University), each city, town or village has its unique reason visit. The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass in the city of Neenah houses the world’s largest collection of glass paperweights; Fox Crossing has 200 acres of parkland and pedestrian/ bicycle trails; and Grand Chute is where you’ll find the Fox River Mall, the second largest mall in the state. 



Located on Wisconsin’s eastern coast on the 70-mile peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan, Door County boasts 300 miles of shoreline, five state parks, 11 historic lighthouses, more than 50 beaches and parks, 2,500 acres of cherry orchards and 500 acres of apple orchards. Needless to say, quaint activities abound in Door Country, no matter the season—everything from sailing, golfing, fishing, biking, swimming, camping, hiking, horseback riding, parasailing, kayaking, and even snorkeling or SCUBA diving among 19th-century shipwrecks.  

“I think a lot of planners like that the meeting spaces aren’t cookie-cutter but offer a lot of charm, character and, in some instances, breathtaking water views,” says Laura Bradley, CTA, marketing and sales manager, Door County Visitor Bureau. Restored barns, art galleries, museums, golf courses, large resorts and B&Bs are among the unique venues available in Door County. The largest meeting space is 7,400 square feet while the smallest is around 300 square feet. Door County is also well known for its nearly 100 galleries, museums, and performing art troupes and venues. 

There’s one thing that visitors would be remiss not to partake in while here. “No visit to Door County would be complete without sampling a traditional Door County Fish Boil,” says Bradley. “This Scandinavian tradition dates back to the county’s lumbering and fishing heydays and mixes locally caught whitefish steaks, onions and potatoes in a large kettle.” 

There’s one thing that visitors would be remiss not to partake in while here. “No visit to Door County would be complete without sampling a traditional Door County Fish Boil,” says Bradley. “This Scandinavian tradition dates back to the county’s lumbering and fishing heydays and mixes locally caught whitefish steaks, onions and potatoes in a large kettle.” 


As home of the Packers, Green Bay bleeds green and gold. Lambeau Field is open year-round, and when it’s not hosting cheeseheads for football games, the historic stadium is still a destination for tours, “even for Vikings fans,” says Brenda Krainik, director of marketing for the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau

The town of 105,000 people can accommodate a high volume of people, too. “Green Bay’s upper Midwestern location is great for planners who need to move national meetings from region to region,” she says. “We have an airport [Austin Straubel International Airport] accepting flights from major hubs and enough hospitality to host 80,000 football fans.”

In 2015, plans were announced for the development of Titletown District, a 34-acre area west of Lambeau Field. The district will boast a sledding hill and skating rink as well as retail outlets and restaurants like Hinterland, a brewery known for its upscale pub food. Phase one of the project, which is scheduled to complete this fall, includes a plaza, activity area, playground and sports field. The 144-room LODGE KOHLER, owned and operated by Kohler Co., is slated to open in July and is located directly across from Lambeau Field in the Titletown District. The lodge will work in partnership with the Green Bay Packers, allowing groups to use Lambeau’s function space for meetings and events.

On the east side of the stadium will be the dual-purpose Johnsonville Tailgate Village. The 13,000-square-foot permanent tailgating and event space will be open for the 2017 football season. When the event structure, which is designed to reflect the façade of Lambeau, is not being used for tailgating, it will be available for private events for up to 500 people.

The Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, with 13,000 square feet of meeting space and located across the street to the airport, is attached to the Oneida Casino and runs shuttles to Thornberry Creek at Oneida, the official golf course of the Green Bay Packers.



At 237 feet deep, Green Lake is the deepest natural inland lake in Wisconsin. Not only does that make it an ideal fishing lake, but it’s also home to two lakeside properties where guests can retreat.


What is now the Green Lake Conference Center was once a destination golf course that drew in the rich from Chicago and Milwaukee. “Lawsonia Links opened in 1930 and it was really one of the premier golf courses in the Midwest,” says Gary Van Abel, vice president of group relations. Opening right after the Great Depression, however, proved to be a case of bad timing for its long-term success; the bank closed the golf course in 1943, and the American Baptists bought the $11 million property for $300,000. Now the conference center serves every denomination as well as corporate meetings and retreats. There are two 18-hole golf courses; the Golf Courses of Lawsonia are still open and was ranked No. 85 of public golf courses in the U.S. by Golf Digest in 2015.

The self-contained property features a 54-acre prairie (which boasts 100 indigenous flowers), indoor gym, outdoor basketball court with tennis, three challenge courses, nine-hole disc golf course, two recently upgraded sand volleyball courts, and a marina and beach with pontoons, jet skis, paddleboards, canoes and kayaks for rent.

The dining room feeds up to 700 people three times a day buffet-style, serving a variety of meals to appease the number of people it feeds at one time as well as accommodate special dietary requests for medical reasons. But the one constant: “We serve eight flavors of ice cream for lunch and dinner,” says Van Abel.

Lodging options range from the old Roger Williams Inn, from the country club era, to standard hotel rooms to houses on the lake or in the woods to the dormitory. “We can meet the budget requirements of all groups,” says Van Abel. “So for someone with a lower budget, we can use the dorms or bunkhouses.”


Heidel House Resort & Spa dates back to 1890 when it was a private residence known as the Kelly Estate. In 1945, Herb and Lucille Heidel bought the manor for $20,000 and welcomed their first guests. By 1970, the resort had become one of the most popular destination spots in the state.

Watercrafts, bikes and fishing poles are available for rental in the summer, and ice skates, sleds, cross-country skis and snowshoes in winter. Groups can partake in unique activities at the resort, like pontoon scavenger hunts, wine tastings, cooking classes and bonfires. In 1995, the resort added a new activity to its repertoire: The Escapade, the resort’s custom-built 60-foot catamaran-style yacht, which is available for private events complete with catering. 

The 13,000-square-foot Evensong Spa rejuvenates guests. Chair massages and corporate stretching can be incorporated into meetings, as well as chair yoga, guided mediation and express spa services.


Smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin is Stevens Point, its central location making it an ideal spot for people to convene. “We get feedback about the importance of the central location which in most cases sees an increase in attendance,” says Melissa Sabel, director of marketing for the Stevens Point Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Much of what makes Wisconsin great—like its natural beauty, supper clubs and breweries—can be found in bulk in Stevens Point. 

“The love for the outdoors is evident in the Stevens Point Area where recreational spaces are abundant for year-round use,” says Sabel. “Trail systems are well-established, waterways are clean and generally easy to navigate, and people take pride in maintaining these resources for the future.” The Schmeeckle Reserve, located on the campus of University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, features 5 miles of trails, a 24-acre lake and wildlife roaming through the 280-acre natural sanctuary; its meeting room can accommodate 40 people. The 27-mile Green Circle trail runs through 80 percent of natural areas and connects to an additional 30-plus miles of trails. “The Pfiffner Building, once used to mill lumber, is set along the shores of the Wisconsin River,” says Sabel. “The building can accommodate up to 150 people with two large double doors that open to an 840-square-foot deck overlooking the original section of the Green Circle Trail, which runs along the Wisconsin River.”

SentryWorld Golf Course, a destination golf course that’s been open since 1982, boasts 60,000 square feet of flexible meeting space for up to 1,500 people. The public golf course just underwent a full renovation that included a lengthening of its championship tees (from 6,951 yards to 7,237 yards) to accommodate less-seasoned players. “Preserving and enhancing the course’s signature details, like the iconic Flower Hole, helped SentryWorld to cement its place as one of the Midwest’s best courses,” says Sabel.

IDEA Center is one of the newer meeting venues to open in Stevens Point. The 2,400-square-foot space features three rooms and can accommodate 10-50 people. “The purpose of the space is to grow creative ventures in the arts, business and community impact,” says Sabel.


Stevens Point Brewery, the third oldest continuously operated brewery in the U.S., has been open since 1857; private tours can be arranged and reservations can be made six days a week. In nearby Amherst, Central Waters Brewing Co. has made considerable strides in brewing sustainably. Its 1,000-square-foot solar thermal panel system allows the brewery to heat water using considerable less energy. The brewery also donates a portion of its proceeds from the sale of its Shine On beer to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. 



Eau Claire, a city comprised of 6.15 percent water and situated where the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers meet, was founded in the 1800s and grew for its logging industry when sawmills ruled the rivers. “Our motto is ‘voici l’eau claire,’ which is French for ‘here is clear water,’” says Mack John, marketing manager at Visit Eau Claire.

Justin Vernon, however, might be the biggest thing to come out of Eau Claire since its days producing lumber. Vernon, aka the front man of Bon Iver, put the spotlight on his hometown when he started his annual summer music festival, Eaux Claires, in 2015. He’s since opened a recording studio in the Eau Claire area, and, most recently, The Oxbow, a 30-room boutique hotel that he jointly owns. “The Oxbow Hotel centers itself around the music and natural wonders that make Eau Claire a unique destination,” says John. The urban hotel can host up to 80 people in its 700-square-foot Gallery Lounge. The Lakely, the hotel’s farmer-sourced restaurant, bar and music venue, is headed by chef Nathan Berg. The hotel also outfits guests so they can explore the rivers by canoe and kayak, and the Chippewa River State Trail, which passes through downtown, by bike.

The newly renovated Lismore (a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel property), also located in downtown across the Eau Claire River from The Oxbow, is the city’s largest hotel venue, with the ability to accommodate 600 people in its 14,000 square feet of meeting space. “[The Lismore and Oxbow] have helped bring life back to the area,” says John.

“The Local Lounge prides itself on its locally sourced everything; from their flooring to their décor, their food to their outdoor bench swings, everything comes from within a short distance from Eau Claire,” says John. “From being one of the classiest fine-dining experiences in town during the 1960s and ‘70s to being a karaoke bar through the ‘80s and ‘90s, this location has quite a bit of history.” The supper club is 7,000 square feet and can host 320 people. Later this year, it will be adding 5,000 square feet in event space. 

At the lower campus of University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, the Davies Center features meeting rooms and dining facilities of various sizes, the largest of which can manage a capacity of 670 people. “This recently built student center incorporates eco-friendly elements including a green roof and sustainability standards designed to consume 30 percent less energy than current codes require,” says John. “The flexible nature of this university building makes it suitable for events of a variety of sizes.”


In 1867 Jacob Leinenkugel emigrated from Germany with his brewmaster father. Now his name is attached to one of Wisconsin’s best-known breweries, found in Chippewa Falls; many family members work for Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company today, with Dick Leinenkugel as the president. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the brewery, and the milestone isn’t going unnoticed. An Anniversary Lager, released April 7, was brewed in collaboration with Germany’s Hofbraü München, and on Aug. 11-12 is a weekend-long celebration that will take place in its Leinie Lodge and the Northern Wisconsin State Fair Grounds.

Leinenkugel’s runs daily public tours in which guests learn about the brewery’s storied history, from how it survived Prohibition with a nonalcoholic concoction that came with instructions on what not to mix it with, to a timeline of its beers that survived the test of time (and the ones that managed to come out of hibernation). The 45- to 60-minute tour that ranges from $5 to $10 culminates in a sampling of Leinenkugel’s beers and guests leave with a souvenir glass. The Leinie Lodge can be rented out for private events, and tours can be arranged (with a phone call in advance) for groups of 15 or more. 

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