Courtesy Greater Green Bay and the Lakeshore CVB
Like people worshipping at an altar, a group of strangers quietly gathers around the base of a statue. They shield their eyes from the sun’s glare to squint up at the 22-foot sculpture. Some snap photos; others simply stare.
It’s a routine scene outside the Titletown Brewing Co. in Green Bay, Wis. Back when the historic brick building was the Chicago and Northwestern railroad station, fans would gather there to welcome home the Packers, the football team founded in 1919 by Curly Lambeau.
It is also the site of the “Packers Receiver,” a statue of a football player catching a pass, perched atop a giant football. The statue last summer was repainted to resemble wide receiver Donald Driver, who spent his entire pro career with the Packers.
Packers lore permeates the town, providing meeting planners with a ready theme. To the south, the Brewers keep things bubbling in Milwaukee, and in Appleton, fans embrace the Timber Rattlers baseball team.
But visitors to the state that is known mostly for cheese, beer and paper products are as enthusiastic about its cultural opportunities as they are its recreational venues.
For the meeting planner, Wisconsin blends top-notch event facilities with a side of cheese curds and brats for a distinctive experience.
Home of Champions: Green Bay
Located where the Fox River, one of the country’s largest northward-flowing rivers, meets the body of water known as Green Bay, the city dates back to 1634, when a small trading post was established. Green Bay is the oldest city in the state.
The big news there is the expansion of the KI Convention Center on Main Street in downtown Green Bay. The center will nearly double in size from 41,000 square feet, excluding prefunction space, to 75,000 square feet of meeting space. June 2015 is the targeted completion date.
“We were losing groups and unable to retain groups,” said senior sales manager Scott Dettmann. “Now we can go after the large trade shows that are part of conventions.”
The convention center curls around the Hyatt on Main, an all-suites hotel with 241 rooms. The hotel was built in 1984 at the same time as the convention center and was renovated in 2009.
The city of Green Bay and the Redevelopment Authority purchased the neighboring 146-room Clarion Hotel for $2.85 million to secure air rights above the hotel for the expansion. The hotel will undergo a floor-by-floor renovation. It has not been determined whether the property will remain a Clarion.
The redevelopment of the nearby Hotel Northland, where the Packers stayed during the Vince Lombardi era, was expected to start this fall, but the developer still needs additional financing.
Although the NFL schedule is released the April before each season’s start, planners needn’t worry about booking space before then. “We will take the guaranteed business,” Dettmann said. “We can’t let a weekend sit idle until the schedule comes out.”
Green Bay’s ties to athletics also appeal to sports groups. Its Brown County Veterans Memorial Complex includes the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, with 7,500 seats; the 43,000-square-foot Shopko Exhibition Hall; and its newest venue, the Resch Center, which can be set for up to 10,500 seats.
The complex is next to Lambeau Field, whose number of seats and number of event options increased this year with its South End addition.
Lambeau is the third-largest NFL stadium, and it has nearly 100,000 square feet of event space. The 6,827-square-foot Legends Club Room includes a 10,441-square-foot prefunction space. MVP (Most Valuable Player) boxes seat 20 to 50 people. An imposing 39,561-square-foot atrium can handle groups of up to 400.
The Packers Hall of Fame, closed for 18 months for renovations, is also on-site, and guests can take a 60-minute stadium tour. They’ll travel to its top, which overlooks the city, then down to the field. “We have the jewel of the NFL right here in itty-bitty Green Bay,” said tour guide Don Tolkacz.
On the Packers Heritage Trail, visitors learn why the Packers have sold out season tickets since 1960. Beth Ropson, director of sales for the Greater Green Bay and the Lakeshore Convention and Visitors Bureau, recommends that groups book a trolley and a guide to tour the trail.
Titletown Brewing Co., named for the Packers’ 13 world championships, is among the stops. The brewery offers tours, and it has private rooms, including a second-floor space that overlooks the Fox River. Ask for the fried cheese curds, served with roasted tomato sauce, and a beer tasting.
Admittedly, Green Bay is about more than the Packers. The Green Bay Botanical Gardens is a rolling green space peppered with blooms and inspiring backdrops for events.
The National Railroad Museum rents its 26,000-square-foot Lenfestey Center, home to trains and engines, including the Union Pacific Big Boy, a steam locomotive that’s as long as half a football field.
Ropson suggests a cruise on the Fox Lady, docked at the Clarion, or a trip to Bay Beach Amusement Park, home of the Zippin Pippin, one of the nation’s oldest wooden roller coasters. Originally built for a park in Memphis, Tenn., it was reportedly Elvis Presley’s favorite.
“It’s a great little gem,” said Jim Schmitt, mayor of Green Bay, who in September took visiting press on a quick roller coaster ride.
The roller coaster is an unexpected find, much like Green Bay.
“For the size of the city,” Ropson said, “we have a lot to offer outside the Packers — people are surprised at that.”