Kalamazoo, Mich., is that quintessential small town with a big-town feel, the beneficiary of being located near a major university and offering many top attractions, along with ample golfing opportunities and wineries and breweries that by their very nature put a wide smile on the faces of meeting attendees.
“People get here and are surprised there’s so much to do,” says Mary Ridderman, director of sales for Discover Kalamazoo. “It’s not like a nine-to-five area where everything closes at five—downtown is a destination.”
Western Michigan University’s (WMU) Kalamazoo location brings with it entertainment options befitting a college town, with two pedestrian-friendly blocks downtown offering nearly 30 independently owned restaurants, unique retail establishments and the requisite watering holes.
WMU offers the ability to hold large events, including the 3,000-strong annual International Congress on Medieval Studies gathering, and the Kalamazoo County Expo Center hosts a National Street Rod event that has revved its engines here for 27 years.
The university is also the spark for a vibrant arts community, featuring the Miller Auditorium, a Broadway-caliber venue.
Major meetings properties include a four-diamond Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites with 44,000 square feet of meeting space and 340 guest rooms. The property unveiled a redesigned ballroom and interior, including meeting spaces and guest rooms, last September.
The 149-room Four Points by Sheraton Kalamazoo, on the east side of town offers more than 6,000 square feet of meeting space.
Other arrows in Kalamazoo’s conventions quiver include a location just 40 miles east of Lake Michigan—a hit for a day outing—and a number of major corporations, including Kellogg, Stryker Medical and manufacturing facilities for Pfizer and Pharmacia.
This has resulted in an investment in the community, which is consistently rated among the best places to live in the U.S.
“[The corporations] invest in things that are going to attract people here to their companies,” Ridderman says, “and a lot of the kids that come to college here don’t want to leave because they love it so much.”