A Midwestern State of Mind

A Look at Big Cedar Lodge
While the Midwest has its share of cities and urban areas ideally suited for meetings groups, organizations will not want to forget the rich natural beauty of the region, and its potential for meetings. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Ozark Mountans, with vast forests, clear rivers, and networks of hiking trails. And at few places can these outdoor offerings be as inviting as at Big Cedar Lodge.

Spread over 800 acres in the Missouri Ozark Mountains, the property takes full advantage of its natural surroundings, infusing its conference center, rooms, and activities with the great outdoors.

This comes no surprise to anyone familiar with the Bass Pro Shops brand. The founder of that outdoor equipment retailer, Johnny Morris, bought the Big Cedar Lodge in 1987 and moved quickly to incorporate his sense of recreation and respect for nature into the property. As it is near the company’s headquarters and his own home, Morris often stays at the property himself (he was dining at the Lodge’s elegant Worman House Restaurant while I was there and was happy to chat and share some hilarious stories). 

The property offers more than 200 rooms, with a variety of accommodations, from a private one- or two-bedroom log cabin to a deluxe lodge. Many offer million-dollar views of the 43,000-acre Table Rock Lake, which the Lodge overlooks. In 2008, it completed its Grandview Conference Center, which offers 17,000 square feet of flexible meeting space that can accommodate groups from 10 to 1,000 attendees. Like the rest of the property, the conference center includes Big Cedar touches like mounted moose heads and flocks of stuffed geese, as well as quotes from outdoor enthusiasts like Henry David Thoreau. 

For groups that want to get closer to the area’s natural offerings, the Lodge has this summer acquired the Lady Liberty — a 62-foot luxury yacht available for cocktail receptions and dining events. It includes an onboard kitchen, and entertainment can also be arranged to add an extra element of fun while cruising on the lake. Groups can also book a customizable campfire wagon tour — a trip through the property in horse-drawn wagons, concluding with a gathering around a campfire complete with s’mores and cowboy songs. 

The property includes five swimming pools, a nine-hole golf course, and a spa offering signature, cedar-infused treatments (a brand new, 18,000-square-foot spa is currently under construction). But visitors will want to be sure to take advantage of the abundance of hiking, fishing, and many other outdoor adventures available on the property and the surrounding area.

Kayaks, paddleboards, and Tracker bass boats are available to rent at the property’s 100-slip Bent Hook Marina. Groups can arrange for bass or trout fishing expeditions by day, or bowfishing at night. I had a chance to try out bowfishing myself — the property’s newest outdoor offering, which works like archery on the water. Though I didn’t catch any carp or gar, just being out on the water late at night, with only the whir of the boat motor and the chirping of crickets as a soundtrack, made it a highlight of the visit.

If Big Cedar Lodge doesn’t already feel expansive, groups can also spend some time at its 10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, where they can take hiking, Jeep, biking, and even Segway tours of its cascading waterfalls and pristine lakes (chock full of swimming trout). There are meeting facilities throughout the park, and plenty of space for teambuilding activ-ities or streamside meals. 

On the south side of the park, as it crosses into Arkansas, groups can take part in a wildlife tour, checking out bison, elk, and longhorns roaming in pasture. Coming face-to-face with a longhorn just inches away is an Ozark experience that would be hard for attendees to find in the big city.
- Alex Palmer

The Adoba Hotel is a fitting symbol changes in the Greater Detroit area

The north-central region of the United States known as the Midwest offers a wealth of meetings options. Whether you are looking for a big-city experience in destinations like Milwaukee or Detroit, or a rugged outdoors retreat in the heart of the Ozarks, the Midwest offers no shortage of meeting options.

“Beer City” has a whole lot of excitement brewing. With renovations at major meetings properties and the debut of several new hotels, there’s never been a better time to visit.

The 205-room Milwaukee Marriott Downtown opened on Wisconsin Avenue in June. The $54-million property has 9,000 square feet of meeting and event space as well as a café/bar and a Starbucks. 

The Courtyard Milwaukee Downtown has unveiled a renovated lobby and restaurant, The Bistro. The 169-room property has 2,649 square feet of meeting space divided into four rooms. Free wireless Internet is available throughout the lobby.

Last year, the Hilton Milwaukee City Center completed a $14-million renovation of its rooms and public areas. The 729-room hotel has 35,000 square feet of meeting and event space with five ballrooms and 18 meeting rooms. The property was also awarded AAA Four-Diamond status in 2012.

The Four Points by Sheraton Milwaukee recently touched up both its meeting and pre-function space. The lobby and restaurant have also been newly renovated. The hotel has 149 guest rooms and a total of 7,500 square feet of meeting and event space and can host up to 385 attendees.

The Hilton Madison Monona Terrace renovated its 240 guest rooms and lobby last spring to the tune of $2 million. Rooms were updated with new carpeting and furniture as well as media hubs that allow guests to connect their laptops and mobile devices to in-room TVs. The hotel has 1,288 square feet of meeting space and a direct connection to the 250,000-square-foot Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

In November 2012, the 128-room Hilton Garden Inn opened in downtown Milwaukee with 4,500 square feet of meeting space. One standout feature is a 1,000-square-foot, five-story atrium that can be used for receptions. The hotel is located in the Loyalty Building, a 19th-century landmark.

Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants will build a 158-room hotel in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward neighborhood at the corner of East Chicago Street and North Broadway. The new property will feature meeting space, a ground-floor restaurant, and a rooftop bar. At press time, the hotel was expected to debut in 2015.

Farther afield, The American Club Resort in Kohler, WI has wrapped up work on The Carriage House, its self-enclosed annex. The 55 rooms now feature new plumbing, 
furniture, linens, and — of course! — Kohler-branded products.

While Detroit's bid for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on July 18 was an unfortunate and unprecedented turn of events, but meetings business is unlikely to be affected by the filing. 

“The private sector has invested in Detroit at unprecedented levels over the past two years, bringing in close to 12,000 new employees and $11 billion in new economic development,” said Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Conventions and Visitors Bureau, in a statement. “Officials managing the bankruptcy recognize that visitors and conventions are key to a successful city and will work hand in hand with the private sector to continue the positive momentum in Detroit.”

If adopted, Detroit’s restructuring plan could actually he a boon to the city’s tourism infrastructure. Kevyn Orr, the emergency city manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, has stated that public lighting, waste management, and police and fire services should improve over the next 30 to 60 days. Under the restructuring proposal the city would spend an additional $1.5 billion on public safety over the next 10 years. 

There are plenty of new developments and renovations to keep meeting planners coming back to Detroit. In November 2012 the Dearborn Inn debuted interior renovations of its five historic homes and 20 of its guest rooms. The property sits on 23 acres and has 229 rooms in total, as well as 17,000 square feet of meeting space. 
Venues include three ballrooms and a variety of smaller event spaces.

Last year, the Hyatt Regency Dearborn was reflagged as the Adoba Dearborn Detroit Hotel and is now managed by Atmosphere Hospitality. The property has 772 rooms and 62,000 square feet of meeting space, including an elegantly-appointed rooftop ballroom. Renovations are planned in phases, the first of which will touch on the property's meeting venues and in-room electronics. The new owners plan to pursue LEED Silver certification.

The historic Hotel Pontchartrain, which has been in receivership since 2009, reopens this summer as the Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Convention Center after a $5 million renovation. The 25-story hotel, located on Washington Boulevard and adjacent to Detroit’s Cobo Center, has 371 rooms. The property has been outfitted with new windows, an updated heating and cooling system, and rebuilt elevators. Bathrooms were upgraded in all guest rooms and new carpeting and wall coverings were installed. The hotel has also added a boardroom adjacent to the main lobby. Amenities include concierge service, a remodeled fitness center, an indoor pool, and 24-hour valet parking. The Jefferson House, the hotel’s restaurant, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the first floor has a bar and lounge area.

Two new hotel projects are brewing downtown. The 1915 David Whitney office building is currently undergoing an extensive renovation and will soon house a 146-room Aloft Hotel. In March, Walter Cohen, a local developer, purchased Detroit’s historic fire department headquarters with the intention of turning it into a boutique hotel.

Renovations are pending for the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center. The hotel’s 1,298 guest rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space will be outfitted with new furniture, artwork, draperies, and carpeting. Work is set to begin at the end of the year and wrap up in early 2014.

Detroit’s Cobo Center is undergoing a massive renovation and expansion. In total, $299 million has been earmarked for the project. Construction will add 22,500 square feet of exhibition space to the existing 720,000, for a total of 742,500 after the expansion has been completed. All work is expected to be completed by 2015.

Planners will want to give “The Forest City” a close look considering its brand-new, 775,000-square-foot Cleveland Convention Center. The center offers 225,000-square-foot exhibit hall floor divisible into three separate sections, 35 meeting rooms, as well as a 32,000-square-foot grand ballroom overlooking the city’s lakefront attractions: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Great Lakes Science Center, and First Energy Stadium. 

With its combination of natural and LED lighting, visitors to the convention center might forget that the venue actually sits 30 feet underground. Built for sustainability, the center includes a green roof (that sits at street level), providing additional plant life and more efficient filtration of storm water.

“This is something unique to Cleveland that hasn’t been seen before when designing underground sustainability for convention centers,” says Jacquelyn Spencer, communications coordinator for Positively Cleveland, the city’s convention and visitors bureau. “Outside the meeting rooms, ballroom, and exhibit hall floor are roughly 15 acres of green spaces located on the roof of the facility — also known as the Cleveland Mall, a long public park first conceived in the 1900s.”

The $465-million facility serves as a particular draw for the medical and insurance industry, as the conference center connects to the Global Center for Health Innovation. With floors themed to different aspects of the medical industry, as well as 93,000 square feet of meeting space, the facility is the first of its kind to focus on the future of health care with medical showrooms and education offerings.

The convention center opened both early and under budget, leaving additional funds for other city developments. This includes plans for a new 650-room convention center hotel slated for completion in 2016.

But there are plenty of new hotel offerings that groups can enjoy sooner than that. The 484-room Westin Cleveland Downtown will be reopening in spring 2014 after a $64 million renovation, that included upgrades to its public areas and meeting and event space.

The first phase of the $275-million Flats East Bank development project, including the 150-room Aloft hotel and new business and restaurant offerings, is now complete, and the second phase will add retail, entertainment, and a 1,200-foot-long boardwalk to the city.

Cleveland recently welcomed the new Marriott Courtyard Cleveland University Circle hotel to the cultural arts district east of downtown. The 153-room property includes three meeting rooms and 2,000 square feet of meeting space.