Grand Rapids at a Glance
Location: West Michigan
Access: Gerald R. Ford International Airport
Hotel rooms: 10,300
Experience Grand Rapids
Exhibit Space: 240,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: 21 meeting rooms
Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton
Guest rooms: 659
Meeting Space: 48,195 square feet
JW Marriott Grand Rapids
Guest rooms: 336
Meeting Space: 20,000 square feet
Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown by Marriott
Guest rooms: 214
Meeting Space: 10,000 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Grand Rapids
American Fisheries Society: JASM 2022
US Travel Association: ESTO 2022
National Forum for Black Public Administrators
People who know Grand Rapids characterize it as cool, clean and friendly with soft edges. Imagination and energy permeate this city’s arts, food and culture scenes, and beautiful natural areas lie at its doorstep. The Grand River flows through the city center, and numerous venues take advantage of panoramic river views. A mere 35 miles away, Lake Michigan’s shoreline beckons with sand dunes and dazzling sunsets.
Creativity and a big-city vibe embody Grand Rapids. Halfway between Chicago and Detroit, in the western corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Grand Rapids boasts a walkable downtown with more than 200 restaurants, breweries, shops, museums and entertainment venues. Public art is everywhere. Some pieces were originally installed as part of the annual ArtPrize competition and festival. ArtPrize takes place each September on varied spaces within a three-mile radius of downtown, which is also home to two art museums.
Artistic license extends to the dining scene. The World Food Travel Association has named Grand Rapids one of the world’s best dining and beverage destinations. The Grand Rapids Food Trail spotlights a wide variety of deliciousness, including the Downtown Market, touting artisan food vendors, classroom kitchens and a dizzying schedule of food events under one greenhouse-covered roof. Known as Beer City USA, the city’s “Ale Trail” encompasses more than 80 breweries.
“We’re fortunate to have a culinary school as part of our community college, and many chefs are trained here,” said Janet Korn, senior vice president of Experience Grand Rapids. “We embrace locally owned, farm-to-table and culturally interesting dining.”
Nature inspires art at the renowned Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park and on the city’s numerous biking and hiking trails, parks and golf courses. Parks and green spaces are active much of the year. For instance, Rosa Parks Circle boasts ice skating in winter and concerts in warmer months. In the next several years, restoration of the Grand River rapids will include development of a river walk.
Numerous Grand Rapids venues showcase art and nature. The celebrated Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is ranked in the top 45 most-visited art museums worldwide. Located on 158 acres, its sculpture collection features nearly 300 works, both inside and throughout the gardens, featuring artists such as Rodin, Degas and Moore. Spaces will accommodate 10 to 5,000 attendees in indoor and outdoor settings. Meetings can seamlessly transition into garden receptions and tours.
Across the river from the JW Marriott, the Grand Rapids Public Museum offers a large, open gathering space routinely reserved for conferences due to its walkable location from the downtown hotels. Meetings, social gatherings and dinners take place amidst museum exhibits for a one-of-a-kind experience. The museum’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium uses the latest projection technology and immersive surround sound for star shows.
Fostering team-building activities, John Ball Zoological Garden near downtown offers a variety of options. Attendees can tour like a kid, zip line through the trees and encounter animals via zoo experiences. Smaller meetings or luncheons, for up to 180 guests, can be held in the glass-walled Bissell Tree House, where attendees ride a funicular or shuttle to this hilltop location. After-hours zoo rentals can include camel rides, the zip line, a ropes course and more.
Major Meeting Spaces
Situated on the Grand River, the DeVos Place Convention Center façade makes a contemporary statement while maintaining its original art deco lobby. The facility features a 162,000-square-foot exhibit space, 40,000 square foot ballroom (the state’s second largest) and 26 meeting rooms, totaling 32,000 square feet. Additionally, the center’s 2,543-seat DeVos Performance Hall can be used for general sessions or a keynote address.
Connected to DeVos Place by a glass, above-the-street walkway are the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, JW Marriott Grand Rapids and the Courtyard Marriott. The 659-room Amway Grand Plaza Hotel first opened in 1913. It provides 47,120-square-feet of meeting space, four ballrooms and 42 technology-rich meeting rooms. Luxury suites, located in the property’s Glass Tower, deliver panoramic views.
“Three of the ballrooms are on the historic side, so they have a lot of character,” said Korn. “One ballroom was originally built as a bank in the corner of the hotel.”
The next-largest property, the 336-room JW Marriott Grand Rapids, boasts a football-shaped curvature to all of its rooms that showcases attention-grabbing views. According to Korn, the commissioned photography throughout the hotel celebrates Grand Rapids’ international sister cities. Attendees will find 15,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, a ballroom for 1,000 and 14 meeting, breakout and banquet rooms.
Visitors mingle with the locals at the 214-room Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown by Marriott. This tall downtown building houses the hotel, apartments and condos with river views. Meetings can utilize 10,639 square feet of event space, 10 meeting rooms and five breakout rooms.
After the Meeting
Sports lovers will want to head to Van Andel Arena. From its 12,000-plus seats, crowds watch the Grand Rapids Griffins ice hockey team and the Grand Rapids Gold NBA G league, an affiliate of the Denver Nuggets. In addition, its calendar includes big-name concerts and other events.
Entertainment at the DeVos Performance Hall features the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Ballet, Opera Grand Rapids, Broadway Grand Rapids and touring concerts. Smaller and more contemporary, GLC Live at 20 Monroe hosts live music, comedy shows and more in its 2,600-seat concert hall. At Studio Park, attendees can take in a movie at the Celebration Cinema boasting nine indoor screens with heated, reclining seats, in-theater food and a full bar, plus a 10th outdoor screen. “Visitors can find many smaller music venues throughout downtown that, on any given night, are hosting live performances,” said Korn.
Brewery tours are always popular. Within walking distance of the hotels are eight craft breweries.
“Not only do our breweries specialize in great beer, they also curate cool food that accompanies their craft beer,” said Korn. “Beer lovers and foodies enjoy visiting our breweries.”