Fox Cities at a Glance
Location: East-central Wisconsin between Oshkosh and Green Bay on the Fox River
Access: Appleton International Airport; interstates 41, 45 and 10
Hotel Rooms: 3,500-plus
Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau
Fox Cities Exhibition Center
Built: January 2018
Exhibit Space: 30,000 square feet in three exhibition halls
Other Meeting Spaces: 7,250 square feet of prefunction space and 17,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space
Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley
Meeting Space: 40,000 square feet
DoubleTree by Hilton Appleton
Meeting Space: 5,000 square feet
Best Western Premier Bridgewood Resort Hotel
Meeting Space: 10,000 square feet
DoubleTree by Hilton Neenah
Meeting Space: 8,600 square feet
Though “something for everyone” is a cliche, the area in Wisconsin known as the Fox Cities exemplifies that phrase nicely. Comprising 19 individual communities sprinkled along the shores of Lake Winnebago and the Fox River, Fox Cities offers almost everything a meeting planner could want, including lovely water views. Its most populated municipalities, Appleton and Neenah, are rife with meeting spaces, attractions, arts and culture, and nightlife.
Powering mills and factories, the Fox River and its rapids played an important part in the development of the area. By the 1870s, the area had become known for its paper, earning it the nickname Paper Valley. In 1882, Appleton made history when incandescent light illuminated Kimberly and Clark’s Vulcan Paper Mill and a local home now known as the Hearthstone Historic House Museum.
Today, the river and its banks are morphing into recreational areas with public trails, such as 3.2-mile Loop the Little Lake trail that connects the cities of Menasha, Neenah and the Village of Fox Crossing and includes a pedestrian bridge with fishing platforms. Former mills are becoming condos, hotels and restaurants. It should come as no surprise that Appleton landed on liveability.com’s 2019 Best Places to Live list.
“Fox Cities is safe, secure, walkable and affordable, all with a down-home feel,” said Mary Rhode, marketing director for the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.
With four hotels opening this year and possibly two more breaking ground in 2020, Fox Cities is in the midst of a building boom. The new properties will provide overflow guest rooms for large meetings. And this fall, the 164,000-square-foot Fox Cities Champion Center will open in Grand Chute as the Midwest’s premier indoor sports tourism complex.
Known for friendly locals, Fox Cities will no doubt roll out the red carpet in these new venues.
“We pride ourselves in our experienced hospitality professionals,” Rhode said. “They get compliments from planners and attendees all the time.”
A slice of green outdoors, the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve offers spectacular vistas and 8.5 miles of trails to stroll, sure to spark creativity and positive thinking. Accommodating four to 250 day guests, its lodge has indoor and outdoor meeting and activity space.
“Everywhere you look is green,” said event manager Shelley Lauer. “After lunch, many attendees grab their cookie, get on the trail and walk.”
Customized team building includes a low-ropes course, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. An outdoor survival skills challenge gives participants the opportunity to work as a team to choose a survival site, construct a shelter and build a fire.
Another venue is downtown Appleton’s $45 million Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, host of a Broadway series that includes a run of “Hamilton” this October and the Fox Cities Symphony. Meeting spaces within the center’s 25,000 square feet include two private rooms; two performance spaces, 2,100-seat Thrivent Financial Hall with its 5,000-square-foot stage and the 450-seat Kimberley-Clark Theater; and a reception-perfect main lobby.
On the campus of Lawrence University in Appleton, the $35 million, 107,000-square-foot Warch Campus Center is a LEED Gold-certified facility. Offering 10 formal and informal spaces for many-sized groups, the center reflects surrounding nature with natural stone, open spaces, gorgeous views and a nearby river walk.
Home to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers baseball team, Fox Cities Stadium hosts meetings year-round in its Fox Room, a banquet venue for 250. The stadium’s Leine Lodge can handle 30 to 50 guests, and private luxury suites overlook the baseball field.
Major Meeting Spaces
Built in downtown Appleton in 2018, the contemporary Fox Cities Exhibition Center (FCEC) is area headquarters for conventions, trade shows and special events of all sizes. Its 30,000-square-foot meeting space is divided among three exhibition halls, plus 7,250 square feet of prefunction space and 17,000 square feet of outdoor space bordering Jones Park.
Connected to FCEC by a skyway with wide park views, the Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley adds 40,000 more square feet of gathering space. One of its four restaurants is Vince Lombardi’s Steak House. “Both properties are well located in a vibrant downtown,” said Linda Garvey, general manager for the Fox Cities Exhibition Center and Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley.
All the meeting rooms in the Best Western Premier Bridgewood Resort Hotel in Neenah overlook green space. The hotel’s nine-hole golf course offers an incentive to complete work and hit the links. With nine meeting rooms and four executive suites, the Bridgewood has a 5,653-square-foot ballroom that seats 500. Among its amenities, the area’s only resort hotel has a full-service restaurant and lounge and a 5,000-square-foot aquatic center.
“What separates us from the rest is our ongoing employees training program,” said Joe Williamson, director of corporate sales for Best Western Premier Bridgewood. “We put our money where our mouth is.”
The DoubleTree by Hilton Appleton is just off a complete renovation. Said Alyssa Shertz, the Doubletree’s director of sales and marketing, “Absolutely everything has been freshened, including our meeting space, all guest rooms and our outdoor courtyard.”
After the Meeting
“We’re an urban destination close to nature,” the CVB’s Rhode said. “Our pace is slower, the traffic’s not crazy, and there’s so much to do.”
A great way to get to know the Fox River Valley is by touring aboard a 35-passenger restored canal boat, hiking part of the 42-mile Paper Trail loop around the Fox Cities, paddling a kayak or visiting a few museums.
Housed in a 1923 Masonic Temple, the History Museum at the Castle features compelling exhibits on native sons Harry Houdini and Sen. Joe McCarthy. In addition to displays of sparkling paperweights, the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass teaches hands-on glass-object-making classes, fun for spouses or team building. Other studios offer mosaics, painting and pottery sessions, all with wine.
The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and the Conservatory at Lawrence University host frequent concerts throughout the summer. The region also has a lineup of festivals, such as August’s Mile of Music, which features 200 artists in 70 venues in a one-mile stretch through downtown Appleton.
The Fox Cities are also home to the state’s largest concentration of retail outlets. Shopping options include the Fox Cities Mall, eclectic boutiques, and top-class antique shops.
Attendees can wind down over handcrafted beer at Stone Arch Brew Pub; wine, yoga and flatbread pizzas at LedgeStone Vineyards; and locally sourced menus at myriad globally inspired restaurants.
“Often, a planner who chooses us for a meeting will come back for a vacation,” said Rhode. “We always hope they do.”