The votes are in; here are the winners as decided by the readers of Michigan Meetings + Events.
What does it mean to be the best? In Michigan, the bar keeps moving north. As our state continues to rebuild and flourish, new venues come on line, new restaurants open their doors and what it takes to truly stand out continues to expand.
So it’s inspiring to see so many long-standing vendors and venues continue to earn our readers’ loyalty. Newcomers are welcome and often impress, but we clearly have many industry players that built their operations to last.
So hats off to our winners—you’ve earned your recognition.
With such an embarrassment of riches in the mix for venues, the Fox Theatre can be especially proud of its position as our readers’ choice for Best Meeting/Event Venue (in Detroit Metro Area, No Hotel). The ornate, 5,000-seat theater, designed by architect C. Howard Crane, was built in 1928. Today it’s a designated National Historic Landmark. Planners can choose to bring guests to the Fox’s gorgeous Grand Lobby for a reception, or take over the whole theater for a truly unforgettable experience.
And though Detroit may be our state’s largest city, it’s certainly not the only one attracting large groups. Grand Rapids is home to state-of-the-art venues, gorgeous green spaces and renowned cultural institutions. And in the case of the 158-acre Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which combines cuttingedge meeting and event space with beautiful art and lush gardens, you can get all three. So it’s easy to see why it wins Best Meeting/Event Venue (outside of Detroit Metro, No Hotel) year after year.
We try to stay neutral on matters of collegiate rivalries. But our readers do not—and we clearly have some Spartans reading these pages, because Michigan State University is our winner for Best College/University Venue for the third year in a row. The home of the green-and-white boasts top-notch spaces like the Breslin Center, Wharton Center, Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Huntington Club at Spartan Stadium, the MSU Union and MSU Chapel.
A university is a wonderful place to host multiple meetings and events simultaneously. Sometimes, though, you have to pull everyone together in one space, and that’s a job for a convention center. Michigan is in something of a golden age of convention centers, between major renovations and new sites coming on line. Our readers prefer Grand Rapids’ DeVos Place Convention Center as this year’s Best Convention Center. Completed in 2005, DeVos Place offers a 162,000-square-foot exhibition hall, along with a 40,000-square-foot ballroom and 26 meeting rooms. It’s also an easy stroll from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, the 12,000-seat Van Andel Arena and other downtown amenities, and just 15 minutes from the local airport.
Not all events require enough space for a blowout. Some focus on bringing together smaller groups of people, fostering connections between attendees and cultivating a cozy, connected atmosphere. When an intimate venue is what you want, Black Star Farms is your choice. This year’s Best Intimate Venue’s flagship 160-acre property, near Suttons Bay, is a short drive from Traverse City and offers 10 rooms, an on-site café, on-site catering, multiple event venues and two tasting rooms in the greater Grand Traverse area. Guests can enjoy farm-to-table cuisine, cooking classes, wine tasting, or just exploring the hiking trails and seeing the farm animals on the property. An additional winery and tasting room is located on Old Mission Peninsula.
Outstanding new spaces are pulling events to all corners of the state. We’re excited for any winner of our awards, but it’s especially cool that Hotel Indigo, which is hosting our Best of Michigan after-party, is this year’s Best New Venue. The sleek, modern hotel, which opened in May, is set in the city’s waterfront Warehouse District and offers the on-site Warehouse Kitchen + Cork restaurant.
Sometimes “new” comes in the form of a serious face-lift. Plenty of venues have a lot of good still to give, if only given a chance to bring that good back to the surface. And the mother of all renovations in our state has surely been to Cobo Center. The $279 million project came in on budget and on time, and the center can’t stop topping its revenue goals since. With the stunning three-story glass atrium, sweeping 40,000-square-foot Grand Riverview Ballroom and dazzling 4,800-square-foot marquee digital sign on the building’s exterior, Cobo has many new features to wow even those who have been coming to the space for decades. It’s your choice for Best Renovation.
We might not have lounge-outside weather for most of the year, but when we do, it’s heavenly. When the temperatures are warm and the breezes are cool, it’s time to take to a rooftop. And what better rooftop than that at Hockeytown Cafe, where we can indulge our collective love of sports? Our readers’ choice for Best Rooftop has a clear view of the action in Comerica Park, a staff well versed in hosting groups and a central location in the heart of downtown Detroit
Of course, sometimes we want to be right in the action. Sports venues offer events spaces aplenty, along with the opportunity to incorporate a game into the guest experience. Comerica Park, our readers’ choice for Best Sports Venue, has the best of both—appealing event spaces for intimate groups and giant crowds alike, including the MotorCity Casino Hotel Tiger Club, Jack Daniels Champions Club and the Beer Hall. And, of course, it’s got the Tigers. Schedule your event so guests can watch a game—or set them up on the field itself.
SOUND AND VISION
Sight, sound and touch: A successful event stimulates the senses.
Tight execution often comes down to A/V. The more complex and dazzling technology becomes, the more critical the audio-visual provider’s skills. Brighton-based AV Squared has more than 20 years’ experience in corporate events, and that experience clearly pays off for its clients. The company won the nod for Best Audio-Visual/Visual Presentation Provider.
A great band can make a night unforgettable. Get people dancing and singing along, and they’ll go home happy and talking about what an amazing night they just had. Three Men and Tenor wins Best Band, a new category this year. The Lansing-based vocal group just celebrated its 25th anniversary of making beautiful (and often humorous) melodies together, with an emphasis on American pop standards.
Of course, there’s more than one way to get a crowd on its feet—just ask any DJ worth her fee. Black Tie Productions knows how to fire people up and bring a party to its peak. They’ve certainly had plenty of practice: the Flint-based company opened its doors in 1982. It prides itself on tailoring entertainment to the client, and offers additional services like photo booths and uplighting. Black Tie is your choice for Best Entertainment Provider.
Few things are more likely to make a guest gasp upon arrival at an event than dazzling décor. Well, maybe truly fabulous flowers. Emerald City Designs is our readers’ choice for both, winning Best Décor Provider and Best Florist. A quick perusal of the portfolio on the company’s website makes it clear why Emerald City is such a favorite—you’d be hard-pressed to find lusher floral or more captivating décor. From creating classically elegant ballroom weddings to transforming rustic barns into magical spaces, Emerald City’s skills know no bounds.
And when the event is over and everyone is home, what remains are the memories. We want to savor the experience and see the special moments we missed. Traverse City-based Sarah Brown Photography captures those moments in a way that people love. She’s this year’s Best Photographer.
MEET, STAY, AND PLAY
Casinos are designed for guests who want to go hard. But the best ones are also designed to help them recover. MGM Grand Detroit, our winner for Best Casino, dominates in both realms. The casino features three signature restaurants, including two Wolfgang Puck restaurants: Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina and Wolfgang Puck Steak. If you’re feeling lucky, the casino floor beckons with Vegasstyle gaming that includes over 100 table games, nearly 3,500 slots, video poker and a poker room. Guests can also wind down in the Immerse Spa, a Four Star resort-style spa. And the serenity that descends when one passes from the casino floor into the high-end hotel feels nearly magical. The 100,000-square-foot casino also boasts over 30,000 square feet of flexible event space that can accommodate up to 1,200 people.
The Inn at St. John's
When you want an all-in-one experience for your group, you need luxe hotel rooms, cutting-edge meeting and event space and plenty of amenities. After all, the idea is to ensure your guests never need to leave. And who would want to, if your venue is the The Inn at St. John’s, our winner for Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (Fewer than 200 Guest Rooms)? With its Romanesque architecture, marble floors, high ceilings, 27-hole golf course and delectable 5ive Steakhouse, the 118-room inn earns our readers’ love year after year.
Even large groups sometimes want to stick together. When they do, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is hard to beat—in fact, they’re unbeatable, based on our voting, which chose it as this year’s Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (More than 200 Guest Rooms). The resort has undergone a renovation, which should make its 600 guest rooms and condos and 86,500 square feet of flexible meeting space even more appealing. Try a cherryinfused pedicure in the spa, poke around the resort’s many shops or hit the nationally renowned golf courses.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
The national media is discovering what we’ve known for some time: Michigan is a dining destination. In fact, we’re a destination for just about everything that can happily go down one’s gullet, including beer, wine and liquor.
Zingerman’s Deli has been making Michigan proud for decades, routinely landing on short lists of the nation’s best sandwich shops. But the company is much more, and its catering operation is outstanding, too. Zingerman’s Catering, this year’s winner for Best Caterer, is relentless about sourcing its ingredients from the best farmers, cheesemakers and butchers, and drawing on the company’s global reach to find the best specialty products to share back home.
Grand Rapids is Beer City USA, but you have to head a bit farther north to experience our Best Craft Brewery/Brewpub. Short’s Brewing Co. sits in charming downtown Bellaire—not exactly a main thoroughfare, yet the brewery is a national powerhouse and wins our top nod year after year. Short’s keeps having to expand its production facilities to keep up with demand, and routinely rolls out tasty new brews. We’re proud to call them ours.
The Up North region clearly knows its hooch, because it’s also home to your favorite distillery. Best Distillery is new to our awards this year, in recognition of our state’s burgeoning booze industry and our distillers’ habit of winning global awards for their products. Grand Traverse Distillery wins the inaugural nod. The company has been distilling locally grown grain since 2007, turning it into vodka, whiskey and gin. Its tasting rooms can be found in downtown Traverse City, Leland, Grand Rapids and Frankenmuth, so you never have to travel far to enjoy its products.
Traverse City is also home to Red Ginger, our readers’ choice for Best Restaurant with Private Dining Space. The Asian-fusion restaurant opened in 2007 and is located downtown next to the historic State Theatre. It offers creative cocktails, sushi and dishes that draw inspiration from across Asia, along with a beautiful second floor devoted entirely to private dining.
Zingerman’s also runs a bakery—which you likely know, because its delectable brownies and cookies can be found in most Michigan grocery stores. Visit the company’s website in search of a gift, and good luck making an easy choice of which tasty treat to send to your kid’s teacher. With sweets tables a trend that won’t go away soon, we’re all fortunate to have a company that can really throw down the sugary goods. Zingerman’s Bakehouse is our Best Sweets Provider.
Michigan wines are crafted in nearly every corner of the state. But the wineries near Traverse City still set the standard for delicious delivery of grape juice. Some are also home to gorgeous inns and stunning natural views. Black Star Farms, which is opening a restaurant and launching a food line, is clearly keeping its eye on its core product, because readers chose it as this year’s Best Winery.
GOLF AND SKI
Michigan is known for its natural beauty, and our resorts capitalize on it by giving visitors plenty to do outdoors year-round.
Golfers know our state abounds in outstanding greens. Those at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa are truly stellar and include the nationally recognized The Bear, Michigan’s first Jack Nicklaus’ signature course. In fact, Grand Traverse hosted the Michigan Open for 28 years and is routinely recognized by national publications as one of the Midwest’s leading places to play the game. The resort runs its own golf academy and offers a host of excellent amenities. The internationally renowned Dave Pelz Golf School has recently been added to the Golf Academy’s offerings. Readers chose it as this year’s Best Golf Resort.
In the winter, we hit the slopes. Skiing offers opportunities for everything from team-building to family outings. And a good ski resort offers a wide range of ways to enjoy the snow. Crystal Mountain Resort, your top choice for Best Ski Resort, certainly does just that with its 58 downhill skiing and snowboarding trails. There are also dedicated fat tire bike trails and 25 kilometers of crosscountry ski trails (5 kilometers are lit for night skiing). The resort’s 250 rooms, condos, suites and townhouses provide plenty of space for a group to spread out. Child care is available, and even pets are welcome.
Talk to any successful business owner and ask him or her the secret to the company’s success. You’ll get the same answer, every time: Service. Taking care of people is what sets an organization apart.
Convention and visitors bureaus are built on service. They make sure they understand the people and places in their community, and then help visitors connect with the right venues and experiences. It requires CVB staff to really know their region, and to care deeply about it. It also requires them to be very attentive to visitors’ needs to ensure they have an outstanding experience. This year, we divided our recognition in this category into two groups, in acknowledgement of our state’s many appealing smaller cities.
The top dog for the big-city CVBs is, once again, Traverse City Tourism, your choice for Best Convention & Visitors Bureau (over 50,000 in Population). We’re happy to celebrate their victory with them on their home turf, because the city has bent over backwards to host us in style—the sort of service that landed them this award in the first place.
Cozier destinations abound in Michigan. Among the most charming is Frakenmuth, Michigan’s Little Bavaria and home to everything from Bronner’s to the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s Splash Village. That might make it an easy destination to promote, but it doesn’t change how hard the staff at Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and CVB works to do so. Their efforts have earned our readers’ support as Best Convention and Visitors Bureau (under 50,000 in Population).
Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and CVB
We give event planners a lot of credit for their ability to deliver a dazzling guest experience. But planners really distinguish themselves in their service to their clients—after all, planning requires excellent listening skills, considerable patience and a willingness to go above and beyond to bring a client’s vision to life. Anyone in the Michigan events industry knows that David C. McKnight and his team at Emerald City Designs are fanatically dedicated to excellence—which is probably why they’ve been in business since 1993, and certainly why they’re our readers’ choice for Best Event Planner/Event Planning Company
Successful meeting planners must be experts in everything from effective learning strategies to structuring a seating plan for a panel discussion. Events North, this year’s Best Meeting Planning Company, is helmed by Allison Beers, a past MIM+E Hall of Fame inductee. She clearly knows her stuff, and the meeting attendees who make the trip to Traverse City get the pleasure of both the beautiful surroundings and her team’s considerable skills.
Event rental companies are the unsung heroes of successful events. Most ordinary folks have no idea how crucial their choice of rental company is. But any planner will wax passionate about his or her favorite rental vendor—because they know full well that a rental company can make or break a client’s vision. Art Craft Display, Inc. is one of the industry’s major players, and will mark 60 years in business in 2018. The company has offices throughout the state and supports events and exhibits throughout the Midwest. The company is known for its professionalism and reliability, and it’s our readers’ choice for Best Rental Company.
Planners are always on the hunt for a fresh venue for their annual meetings. But sometimes they bring a meeting or event to the same venue, year after year—and it’s usually because of the venue’s outstanding service. Crystal Mountain Resort, winner of Best Service (Meeting/Event Venue), has long distinguished itself in the meetings industry with its Crystal Center, the only conference facility in northern Michigan approved by the International Association of Conference Centers, whose quality standards include high demands for conference and business services.
Few things are more fundamental than getting guests from point A to point B in a timely, safe and comfortable fashion. Transportation providers are critical partners in successful meetings and events. Here, again, experience counts. Taylor-based Metro Cars has been providing luxury transportation since 1990. And they have clearly stayed on top of their game, because Metro Cars is your choice for Best Transportation Company.