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  • Michigan Meetings + Events 2009 Readers' Choice Best Of Award Winners

    POSTED August 3, 2009

The 2009 Readers' Choice Best of Award Winners
Michigan Meetings + Events readers set a new record this year, casting more votes than ever before. So give yourself a pat on the back for being the best at caring enough about Michigan’s meeting and event industry to recognize these outstanding individuals and companies.

View photos from the event here.

This year they gave me, the editor, the opportunity to add my own picks to the mix. It sounded like fun until I realized how hard it was going to be to select a few from so many great candidates. So go easy on me. I did my best to come up with truly Michigan categories that recognize the new, the old and the bold.

Editor's Picks:

Mackinac Island
In the course of helping out one of our sister titles, I interviewed a planner who plans executive retreats (before those became dirty words) at the most elite resorts in the country. And I immediately wanted to say: "You should consider Mackinac Island." The good news is you don’t need to be among the elite to enjoy venues like the Grand Hotel, Mission Point Resort-where this year’s OrgPro will be held-or the many other historical and unique properties on the island. (Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, 906.847.3783,

Village at Grand Traverse Commons
The project is only at the halfway mark, but the Village at Grand Traverse Commons is already a hit with meeting planners. A growing number of restaurants, shops and other businesses are literally giving the former mental hospital a new lease on life and new options for planners. "[Planners] want to do dinner at Trattoria Stella and take people shopping in the Mercato," says Mike Norton, head of media relations for the Traverse City CVB. "Definitely, it’s become a big part of the mix." (Traverse City,

Mind Body & Spirits
Greening your event still takes a little extra work (although the results are so worth it), so when a venue like Mind Body & Spirits comes along, it makes going green that much easier. From the ground up-actually, below the ground, as the building is heated and cooled by a geothermal system-the restaurant is a lesson in sustainability. The cuisine is healthy, as local as resources currently allow and all over the map. On and off-premise catering available. (Rochester, 248.651.3663,

Big Bear Adventures
Planners tell me they’re always looking for post-meeting recreation ideas and I love what Big Bear has to offer: Four seasons of great outdoor activities accessible to just about anyone in a group. Depending on experience (and willingness to get wet), you can canoe, raft, tube, kayak or "cat" (catamaran) down the Sturgeon River at very reasonable rates. In the wintertime, rent cross country skis or snowshoes, or enjoy a guided winter raft trip. Bundle up and go with the flow! (Indian River, 231.238.8181,

Readers' Choice Winners:

KLA Laboratories
Runners up: Schmaltz Productions, City Animation
KLA Laboratories celebrates the company’s 80th anniversary in business this year, but the only thing vintage about KLA is their dedication to quality, service and safety. If you’ve attended a conference at the Lansing Center, a Pistons game at the Palace (the loudest arena in the U.S. thanks to KLA) or stayed at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn, you’ve seen and heard their work. In addition to audio-visual installations, they offer event production support and rentals, too. (Dearborn, 313.846.3800,

The Henry Ford
Runners up: Boyne Highlands Resort, The Inn at Bay Harbor
At The Henry Ford, it really does take a village-double entendre fully intended here-to give the kind of service that makes an event successful, from the first person you meet to staff not-so-behind the scenes. Volunteer Rose Siwak is a good example (you might find her answering questions in one of the Village gardens). "We serve the visitors as if they are our family," says Siwak, "by sharing our knowledge and skills in a friendly, pleasant and fun way." (Dearborn, 313.982.6220,

Viviano Flower Shop
Runners up: Blumz by JRDesigns, The Flower Company
The presence of fresh flowers at a meeting or event signals that you’re attending something special. Understanding what it takes to deliver that special touch made Viviano’s a winner. "Corporate meetings and events are all unique," says Senior Account Executive Mike Czaja. "[The] work is often much more involved than just floral work. We’ll do whatever is necessary to get the job done." (St. Clair Shores/Shelby Township/ Chesterfield Township, 800.VIVIANO,

Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Runners up: Grand Traverse Resort, Sysco
A tour of the Gold LEED-certified Ford Rouge Factory is an education in green innovation, from the "World’s Largest Living Roof" overhead to the air tempering system. Morning, all-day and evening private event packages featuring the five-part tour are available to groups of up to 1,350 guests. "Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres served way up on the observation deck in the evening is stunning," says Amy Cox, director of event sales at The Henry Ford. (Dearborn, 313.982.6220,

Boyne Mountain
Runners up: Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
Skiing, splashing and sliding, golf and a whole lot more. But this is what readers remember: "When it came time to plan the Team Leader Retreat for Graff [Chevrolet of Bay City] last year I called Steven [Scribner]," writes Lisa Kusey-Rechsteiner. "Steven initiated everything and got the ball rolling…Our group was treated so well that I decided to have my Team Leader Retreat for the Magic Bean Cafe at Boyne as well." (Boyne Falls, 800.TO. BOYNE,

Odawa Casino Resort
Runners up: MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino
Maybe they should go back to calling it Victories. Odawa Casino Resort (formerly Victories) edged out two heavyweights in a very tight race. Odawa’s sleek O zone nightclub and its "party pods" make it a northern Michigan standout, as does Sage, the casino’s fine dining establishment. The 137-room hotel recently earned a three-diamond rating from AAA. Odawa also offers 19,000 square feet of meeting space, but what online reviewers frequently mention is the friendly and helpful staff. (Petoskey, 877.442.6464 ext. 8086,

HOTEL WITH MEETING SPACE (Less than 200 guest rooms)
The Inn at Bay Harbor
Runners up: The Townsend Hotel, Cherry Tree Inn and Suites
Part of the Boyne property family, the Inn at Bay Harbor-A Renaissance Golf Resort, has been earning well-deserved notice of its own. In 2008, the Inn’s 10th anniversary, it made the list of the 500 World’s Best Hotels and was awarded Silver Medal Status by Golf magazine. The scenery, inside and out, is stunning, but even the most beautiful venue will disappoint without good service. So take note: The Inn at Bay Harbor consistently ranks in the top five of customer satisfaction surveys for all Renaissance Resorts. (Bay Harbor, 800.862.6963,

Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau
Runners up: Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau
CVBs are a welcome mat, one-stop shop and invaluable source of information and support for planners. This year the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCCVB) earned the top spot with voters like Bernadette Droste of the Michigan Dental Association. "The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful," says Droste. "Quality, promptness and courtesy all are important to me, and they are obviously important to the TCCVB too." (800.TRAVERSE,

NEW VENUE (Opened within last year)
TIE: Great Wolf Lodge, Westin Book Cadillac Detroit
Runners up: Flat 151 and Wilderness Crossings, Doubletree Suites Fort Shelby
- The Great Wolf Lodge’s (pictured left) new conference center addition clearly made a splash with readers. To keep business separate from pleasure (that would be the waterpark, arcade, mini golf course and MagiQuest), the center has a dedicated entrance and includes a ballroom, 13 meeting rooms, a pre-function area, audio-visual and high-speed Internet access. (Traverse City, 231.941.3600,
- Since its $200 million renovation debuted last fall, the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit has been one of the city’s best ambassadors, reminding Auto Show journalists and other guests of past glory, present success and hopefully a brighter future. For planners, it’s a reminder that venues dressed to impress-those gorgeous ballrooms, the stately boardrooms- still awe attendees. (Detroit, 313.442.1600,

HOTEL WITH MEETING SPACE (More than 200 guest rooms)
Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn
Runners up: Boyne Mountain, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
I had the opportunity to attend a cooking class and dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn recently. It served as a reminder what a classy place it is. The ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz know that every point of contact counts, from a welcoming "Glad you’re coming, looking forward to seeing you" e-mail to the friendly restroom attendant. But what struck me most is I didn’t feel like I was at a hotel-it felt more like someone’s beautiful, gracious home. You will too. (Dearborn, 313.441.2000,

Forte Belanger
Runners up: Quality Kosher Catering, GrandView Catering
Forte Belanger remains at the top of their game when it comes to catering. Creative, high-quality cuisine is only part of the equation. "I know (clients) will be taken care of with superior service and attention to every detail," says Heather Monaghan, event coordinator at the GM Heritage Center. "It really goes beyond their amazing cuisine. John Forte’s team ensures that each of their events is a memorable experience for the guests." (Troy, 248.288.3300,

MEETING/EVENT VENUE, No Hotel (in Detroit Metro Area)
The Henry Ford
Runners up: GM Heritage Center, Rock Financial Showplace
The Henry Ford has been a perennial winner in multiple categories since we launched Michigan’s Best of Awards in 2005, and here’s why. "I [voted for] The Henry Ford because of their unique venues and the excellent service given to an event planner by their staff," says Julianne Joseph, head of corporate development for White Construction. "The Henry Ford exudes professionalism in everything they do, and they make sure that all of a client’s needs are met and exceeded." (Dearborn, 313.982.6220,

MEETING/EVENT VENUE, No Hotel (outside Detroit Metro Area)
Lansing Catering
Runners up: Hagerty Center, DeVos Place
Spartan Chassis Inc. holds a Fire Truck Training Conference at the Lansing Center every August. "Their attention to detail and swift response time is what we need for our conference and that is what we get year after year," says Shows, Events and Promotional Strategist Andrea Hussey. If the Lansing Center’s response time can please fire truck technicians, imagine how satisfied your group will be. And that’s not all. "The facilities are impeccably clean," Hussey notes. (Lansing, 517.483.7400,

Camp Daggett Adventure Center
Runners up: Brook Lodge, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
A beautiful log lodge, 100-plus acres of forest and 1,400 feet of Walloon Lake frontage provide the background scenery for corporate teambuilding programs at Camp Daggett. Full and half day packages utilizing ropes courses and problem solving activities can be customized to your groups’ schedule and needs. Weather uncooperative? The camp has a nearly 5,820-square-foot Indoor Adventure Activity Center with the same elements. (Petoskey, 231.347.9742,

Runners up: Big Rock Chophouse, Opus One. TraVino Traverse Wine and Grille
It’s not too surprising readers came up with Andiamo for this category, considering that the majority of their 11 locations offer private dining. Want a waterfront venue for a small group? Try Andiamo St. Clair Shores Lakefront or Andiamo Detroit Riverfront. Holding a banquet for 1,000? You’ll want Andiamo Warren. While each location has a distinct personality and atmosphere, they all have something in common: great Italian food. (

Boyne Highlands
Runners up: Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa, Red Run Golf Club
The Golf Channel’s "Big Break X: Michigan" shot at Boyne Highlands Resort last year, showcasing the resort’s 72 holes of championship golf. Best of voters already know Boyne Highlands is one of Michigan’s crown jewels of golf: this is the second hole-in-one for the resort in this category. Follow in the TV series’ competitors spikes with a Big Break package for the golfers in your group or just take advantage of the complimentary nine-hole par three. (Harbor Springs, 800.TO.BOYNE,

Destination Michigan
Runners up: Special D Events, Planit Michigan
Because their now four-time Best of award-winning services aren’t limited to just northern Michigan, last year Meetings Up North became Destination Michigan. Whatever you call them, they’ve earned the recognition. Just some of the testamonials: "Most dedicated team I ever worked with." "From beginning to end, the professionals at Destination Michigan exceeded our expectations." "You guys are the BEST!!!!" We couldn’t have said it better. (Traverse City, 866.876.6784,

ENTERTAINMENT (Band, DJ, entertainer, etc.)
Mike Staff Productions
Runners up: Maggie McCabe, Mega 80s
Your trusty editor is a writer, not a public speaker, so I was happy to hand over the microphone to a professional DJ at Michigan Meetings + Events’ 2008 Best of Awards gala. Kurt Colone from Mike Staff Productions was the hit of the party; having him back again was a given. He’s a great example of the quality service, talent and ability available through Mike Staff Productions and how their expertise can take your event to the next level. Readers agree, evidently. (Troy, 248.689.0777,

Special Events Rental
Runners up: Art Craft Display, Taylor Rental Center/Party Plus
Special Events Rental recently made its Hollywood debut-their truck rolls through the closing credits of Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. But readers have already made Special Events Rental a star, designating them the best a second time. "Special Events Rentals is a forward thinking rental company that strives to fulfill their clients' needs," says Natalie Matovski, lead designer at Forte Belanger. "We are proud to have them as a partner." (Warren, 586.755.0000,

Well, another fantastic Best of Michigan Awards party has come and gone. Every year, I think we’ve topped ourselves, though, really, each year’s celebration is wonderful in its unique way.

This year we took the party to Traverse City, a much-needed visit by the magazine’s readers and supporters to the region that has done so much to lure tourism to Michigan. The local meeting and events industry folks bent over backwards to make the experience exceptional. We spread out over two venues—the City Opera House and the Hotel Indigo—and enjoyed wonderful hospitality wherever we were.


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.