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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Meet on the Water in the Heartland

Waterfront destinations connect guests with nature in a way that many conference facilities can’t.

Venues that are near or even on the water offer planners picturesque settings, but waterfront sites with views of lakes, sounds of running rivers and smells of ocean air also help attendees disconnect from the busyness of the daily grind and focus on the business at hand.

There’s no shortage of wonderful lakefront and riverfront destinations in America’s Heartland. Here are some ideal settings for waterside events.

Grand River Center

Dubuque, Iowa

Many people “don’t realize what we have here in Dubuque,” said Sue Moran, director of sales and marketing for the Grand River Center, the Iowa city’s convention center. Planners and attendees arrive to find that the backs of the center and the adjoining water-park resort hotel overlook the Mississippi River with views of rolling hills, two bridges and three states: Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

“It’s a wow factor when people show up,” she said.

The Grand River Center and neighboring Grand Harbor Resort are in a riverfront area known as the Port of Dubuque, where visitors will also find the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, the Diamond Jo Casino and the Stone Cliff Winery.

The 86,000-square-foot center includes a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall and flexible meeting rooms that can be divided into six spaces. Outside the 12,000-square-foot ballroom is a glass-walled prefunction concourse, and outside the concourse is an adjoining patio overlooking the river.

The River Room is an all-glass jewel box that cantilevers over the paved riverfront trail behind the conference center. The room can accommodate 80 for seated meals and is the facility’s most popular space for receptions and VIP events, Moran said.

A skywalk connects to the neighboring Grand Harbor Resort, where half of the hotel’s 193 guest rooms deliver river views and the on-site Tony Roma’s restaurant offers waterfront patio dining during the summer. Dubuque River Rides offers seasonal sightseeing tours and dinner cruises aboard its paddle-wheel boat.

Blue Water Convention Center

Port Huron, Michigan

The Blue Water Convention Center sits where the St. Clair River meets Lake Huron, just at the foot of the arching Blue Water Bridge. It’s not surprising, then, that the center’s water-view spaces “are our most popular rooms,” sales and marketing manager Gina Quade said. Those include the divisible 1,540-square-foot Riverview Suite and the 20,400-square-foot Lake Huron Convention Hall, which has tall windows looking out at the St. Clair River. The hall can seat about 900 at rounds or be split into two spaces.

“It’s such a picturesque view of the Blue Water Bridge; it adds a different touch as opposed to a regular meeting or event space that has a view of the parking lot,” she said.

The Great Lakes Hall is a 5,000-square-foot prefunction area with 40-foot-wide floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors that open onto an adjoining patio overlooking the river.

The center opened in April 2015 and has been popular for weddings and corporate events, especially for executives “trying to impress clients or higher-ups in their company.”

The 149-room DoubleTree by Hilton connects directly to the center, and balcony rooms offer views of the river and the bridge. Freighters Eatery and Taproom is the center’s on-site restaurant that also provides catering for events.

A short drive away, Huron Lady Cruises offers dinner cruises, specialty tours and private charters aboard the 73-foot Huron Lady II, which has two decks and can accommodate as many as 100 passengers.