Destination Insider: Wisconsin

Milwaukee is looking to welcome a greater cavalcade of meeting groups with new attractions, lodging options, and meeting facilities coming on line this year. The city now is poising itself to do battle as a major group destination in the Midwest, and heading its new arsenal is the upcoming Harley-Davidson Museum, an homage to the famed motorcycle brand and the 105-year-old company's corporate presence in Milwaukee. Opening this summer, it promises to accommodate special events of up to 1,000 attendees.

David Fantle, spokesperson for Visit Milwaukee, the city's CVB, was unabashed, saying, "We will soon have some of the best off-site venues that arguably can compete with any other city in the world."

Because of the iconic nature of Harley-Davidson and its avid fan base, the CVB anticipates that the 130,000-sf museum, on the edge of the Menomonee River, will attract 350,000 visitors annually and be a dynamic venue for group tours and off-site events. Anticipating hospitality demand generated by the museum, a new adjacent, motorcycle-themed lodging option will make its debut in May.

A renovation of an existing warehouse, the six story, 102-room Iron Horse Hotel will have 5,000 sf of meeting and banquet facilities and will be a few blocks from the Midwest Airlines Convention Center. The guest rooms will have free Wi-Fi access, iPod docking stations, flat-screen TVs, and Italian linens.

Those new options will join Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin-opened in 2006 with a museum, aquariums, theaters, and labs focusing on the science of the Great Lakes-as well as the Milwaukee Art Museum, featuring a dramatic design by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and housing galleries, public gardens, and a 300-seat auditorium.

Another existing group off-site option in Milwaukee is the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, with a four-star restaurant and a theater. Potawatomi is in the middle of an expansion that will triple the size of its casino and entertainment space, add restaurants and expand existing ones, and add a parking garage.

Another new lodging, dining, and entertainment option is set to get under way in downtown Milwaukee this spring: the $120-million hotel, entertainment, and condo project called Catalyst. The developer will plant a 13-story hotel with 160 guest rooms and a 9,000-sf outdoor urban plaza directly across the Midwest Airlines Convention Center. The developer,North Carolina-based Ghazi Co., is building a similar complex in Charlotte. The company said six restaurants, nightclubs, and other entertainment-oriented businesses already have made commitments to the Milwaukee project.

Wisconsin Dells Gets New Tide of Facility and Golf Enhancements
Wisconsin Dells, known as the "Waterpark Capital of the World" with 21 aqueous resort attractions, is enjoying several expansions to its facilities throughout 2008.The Kalahari resort, which has a 100,000-sf convention center offering flexible meeting space and 42 meeting rooms, debuted 10 luxury "Ny-Um-Ba" suites on New Year's Eve-each with five bedrooms, home theater systems, billiard tables, and kitchens-to augment its 740 guestrooms. Further, in May, Kalahari will open a remodeled Trappers Turn Golf Club clubhouse, redesigned to handle larger banquet functions for attendees playing the 27-hole course.

"The Ny-Um-Ba suites have been selling like crazy," said Helen Wick, group marketing manager with the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau. "They've been very popular with management retreats."

Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort, meanwhile, will debut its 18-hole Wild Rock Golf Club this spring, adding to its existing nine-hole course. Also, this summer, the resort's Glacier Canyon Lodge and Conference Center will open an additional 20,000 sf of versatile banquet space and outdoor space accommodating more than 1,000 attendees.

Finally, the 600-room Chula Vista Resort, with 200,000 sf of meeting space, has added a new water park, upgraded its Spa Del Sol, and revamped its 18-hole golf course.

Madison Gets Very, Very Green
For planners interested in eco-friendly meetings, Madison's Monona Terrace has become the first convention center to receive silver-level certification under the LEED rating system. The U.S.Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating gave Monona Terrace high marks in sustainable site development, water and energy savings, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Madison's other major convention facility, Alliant Energy Center, has become a green-certified business as awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Meanwhile, the city of Madison has received one of 13 Solar America Cities Awards from the U.S. Department of Energy for its efforts, and Madison's Dane County Regional Airport nabbed one of only four environmental achievement awards to airports from Airports Council International - North America. The airport was lauded for restoring nearby wetlands and Starkweather Creek.

Originally published March 24, 2008