“We brought 5,000 high school competitors and their families to the Fox Cities, and the work that the Fox Cities CVB did for our event was unbelievable,” said Ron Steinhorst, national tournament director, National Catholic Forensic League. “The staff did all the legwork for us and provided us with phenomenal hospitality.”
Accolades from meeting planners aren’t unusual for the Fox Cities, 18 communities along the Fox River 30 miles south of Green Bay. The CVB’s website includes testimonials from such wide-ranging groups as military reunions, barbershop quartets and pyrotechnic enthusiasts.
“We draw statewide and regional associations, nonprofits and corporate groups, but one of our largest events is the annual convention of the Pyrotechnics Guild International,” said Mae Ibe, director of convention sales for the Fox Cities CVB in Appleton. “They bring in 3,000 people for training and education and use the Wisconsin International Racetrack to set off fireworks.”
In addition to its hospitality and hard work, the Fox Cities’ central location provides meeting planners with easy access to most of Wisconsin’s population. Madison and Milwaukee are two hours away. Safety, sports and shopping are also high on the list of reasons to meet there.
“As the home of the Fox River Mall, the state’s second largest, we draws lots of women’s groups and holiday shopping groups,” Ibe said. “We are also known for our sports events, and one of our biggest will be the US Youth Soccer Region II Championship, scheduled for June 2011. It will bring in 12,000 people over a five-day period.”
Meeting facilities in the area include the 390-room Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in downtown Appleton, which has 40,000 square feet of meeting space; the 125-room Hilton Garden Inn in Kimberly; and two properties in Neenah, the 95-room Best Western Bridgewood Resort and Conference Center, which has 10,000 square feet of meeting space and a golf course, and the 107-room Holiday Inn Riverwalk.
As the area’s largest city with a population of 77,000, Appleton is the cultural center of the Fox Cities. Attractions in its walkable downtown include the History Museum at the Castle, where groups of up to 200 can meet among exhibits that include a look at former resident Harry Houdini, and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, which hosts groups of up to 650 for a reception or 450 for dinner.
“We also have the Building for Kids, which has 2,000 square feet of space for events or receptions that bring out the kid in everyone,” said Ibe. “They also offer team-building programs and recently had 1,200 people from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism there.”
Glass is the focus at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, where groups of 100 can hold a reception amidst the largest paperweight collection in the world.
“Although we are located in an urban area, there are also lots of natural attractions, like Homestead Meadow Farm, a special-event facility bordering a 2,000-acre woodland preserve, that can hold a reception or dinner for up to 2,000, as well as hayrides, bonfires and picnics,” she said.
Board retreats are popular at the 76-acre Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, which has a 5,000-square-foot meeting area. Groups of up to 75 can meet at the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, which also offers cross-country skiing in winter.