For sheer bang for the buck, Grand Rapids, Mich., is a budget-pleasing alternative to more-cosmopolitan locales, but offers many of the same sophisticated cultural amenities, and all within a compact convention district.
“Meeting groups will be a big fish in a small sea,” says Janet Korn, vice president of marketing for Experience Grand Rapids. “A meeting in Grand Rapids is much less expensive than a bigger city, but you have this sense you’re in a bigger city.”
Primary meetings and conventions attributes include some 1,300 hotel rooms in the downtown area, with 1,100 connected by an indoor walkway to the 250,000-square-foot DeVos Place convention center, so seasonality isn’t a deal-breaker. There is also the 85,000-square-foot DeltaPlex Conference Center on the northwest side of town.
The city’s culinary scene is also worthy of note, including one of the top culinary schools in the nation—Secchia Institute for Culinary Education—and dining choices ranging from tapas to burgers and Italian food, and a craft beer scene that’s just now being tapped in a big way, with four or five new brewpubs currently in development.
“There’s a sense of connecting with the other attendees,” Korn says of the convivial atmosphere of the compact downtown, adding that the city’s two-mile Riverwalk is a popular space for attendees to get some fresh air between sessions. “I know when I travel I like to meet the people who live there, and when I’m at a meeting I really want to see my peers and bump into them and learn from them. We do a lot of association business, so this way [attendees] have this real sense of reunion when they’re back in Grand Rapids for a meeting.”
Another interesting aspect of the destination is its position as a center of design. Grand Rapids has a history of being a leader in furniture manufacturing, and currently is home to three of the preeminent office furniture manufacturers in the nation: Herman Miller, Steelcase and Haworth. In fact, if you crouch down and look under your office chair, chances are pretty good you’ll see it was made in Grand Rapids.
“There’s a real sense of art and sophistication that’s sort of unexpected in a small town. It permeates through the community,” Korn says.
Grand Rapids is also quite proud of native son President Gerald R. Ford, and boasts the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.
As home to the first JW Marriott in the Midwest, Grand Rapids also boasts stellar accommodations, but at a friendly price point.
“We’ve been in this interesting time of price to value, and I know we deliver value,” she says. “We have four-star hotels at three-star prices, easily, but the quality and the service is not three-star at all. We deliver on what we promise.”