For nearly 200 years, Ann Arbor has offered rest and refreshment to curious and adventure- bound travelers. Looking back to its founding in 1824, this verdant land offered its towering burr oaks as respite for Virginian John Allen and New Yorker Elisha Walker Rumsey, who had lofty goals of establishing flour and grist mills along the Huron River. The town was named in honor of their wives, Ann and Mary Ann, and an arbor of grapevines that the settlers built. Mary Ann’s good cooking and pleasant personality helped Ann Arbor gain renown. That reputation for warm hospitality, great food and being a natural oasis remains today, continually turning the heads of meeting and event planners across the nation. “A great place to have a meeting is the same as a great place to go on vacation,” says Margaret Wyzlic, director of communications and public relations for Destination Ann Arbor. “Ann Arbor is a wonderful place to visit, even if you aren’t going to a meeting.” In 2018, Washtenaw County—Ann Arbor is the county seat—welcomed 3.9 million visitors, generating $832 million in visitor spending.
“Ann Arbor is this unique hybrid of college scene, tech start-up and outdoor recreation haven,” says Wyzlic. A quintessential college town thanks to the University of Michigan’s ubiquitous presence, the atmosphere is eternally youthful and fresh, with an eager sense of wonder and curiosity. It’s as if the call of hope and promise that drew the first settlers still calls to today’s pioneers.
The University of Michigan was the first public university in the Northwest Territories. It enrolled five students its first year, with just one residence/classroom building. Today, it’s one of the most distinguished universities in the world, with a sprawling campus. “There are several venues on campus available to groups,” says Nancy Harper, national sales account executive for Destination Ann Arbor. “They range from small meeting rooms for 10 people to an arena with capacity to hold 12,707.”
Some of the most popular spaces include Rackham Auditorium, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Hill Auditorium and the Michigan Athletics facilities. Apart from these highly regarded event spaces, the campus is also a draw for many event planners looking to infuse some fun and excitement into their meeting or conference.
“Central campus has a vibrant vibe and a life of its own, yet just a few blocks away people can walk to enjoy the essence of true Ann Arbor. There are many activities and festivals that take place on central campus. It's great for conference attendees,” says Harper.
If you need to also secure accommodations for out-of-town guests, you have some truly unique options in downtown Ann Arbor. Graduate Ann Arbor, located right on campus at Huron and State streets, creates “a distinct sense of place for visitors and guests.” “Graduate Ann Arbor seamlessly fuses elements inspired by the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan into its design, evoking a cozy collegiate feel with nods to the history and culture of the town,” says Graduate Ann Arbor General Manager Jason Nelson. “The motor mural behind the front desk and chalk equations on the wood columns pay homage to the evolution of the auto industry that Michigan is known for.”
Graduate Ann Arbor offers four different event spaces, accommodating anywhere from 10 to 300 people and offering an in-house award-winning catering service. Guests staying at the hotel can also enjoy a 24-hour fitness gym; Poindexter, its signature all-day café; and the Allen Rumsey Cocktail Lounge, named for Ann Arbor’s founders.
Weber’s Restaurant and Hotel offers world-class dining, four-star accommodations and spacious, luxurious spaces fitting for any event or conference. Weber’s is family-run, with the Weber family personally overseeing every aspect of the restaurant and hotel’s operations since 1937.
“We are a luxury property that’s family run,” says Michael Weber, vice president. “We care about making sure our product is top-notch. And you have the Weber family involved, which gives you a smaller, hands-on feel to our service.” It offers 10,000-square-feet of interior event space, which includes two ballrooms and three private banquet rooms, and soon will provide an option for a transparent dance floor to cover the pool, so planners may rent out the entire pool area for events. Also new to Weber’s Hotel are state-of-the-art bathrooms in each guest room, complete with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and built-in Bluetooth speakers.
If fitness is your bailiwick, a great new addition to the city’s hotel accommodations is EVEN Hotel Ann Arbor. Located next to the Kensington Hotel, it occupies the space of what was once the Holiday Inn Express. But, after a $6.5 million renova- tion, it’s hardly reminiscent of its previous environs. Designed with the active business professional in mind, it offers amenities you won’t find anywhere else in the city. "This is completely different from anything in Ann Arbor," says Managing Director Daniel Fine. "There's no other place in the area that allows business travelers to maintain their active lifestyle so easily. Whatever your lifestyle, we have you covered—enjoy a great workout in our 24-hour athletic studio or a private work- out using the in-room fitness equipment, and our on-site restaurant offers both healthy and indulgent choices.”
Each room has its own fitness area with a full-length mirror, exercise ball, stretch bands, exercise and yoga videos, yoga blocks and a mat. Guests even get their own water bottle to keep and the hotel will wash your exercise clothes at no additional charge. EVEN Hotel was designed around its 1,500-square-foot gym, with all the pre- and post-workout ame- nities someone could need. Planners can also utilize three meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 40 people. Coming in 2020 is an outdoor patio open year-round with cushiony couches, a canopy and an outdoor fireplace, perfect for relaxing with a cocktail after a long day.
A sense of innovation and trendiness permeates Ann Arbor throughout, and at the epicenter of this is Zingerman’s.
“Zingerman’s is a culinary and food-based enterprise. It has done a great deal to shape the food culture of our entire city,” says Destination Ann Arbor’s Wyzlic. Zingerman’s has much to offer throughout Ann Arbor, but it is most famous for Zingerman’s Deli, located in the heart of the Kerrytown district. “There are so many people who are passionate about food and come here to work at Zingerman’s.”
For meeting planners, Zingerman’s offers two outstanding venues that are worth exploring. Zingerman’s Greyline opened in 2016, accommodating groups of 40 to 200 in a space that’s decidedly urban in décor. “We kept the facade and ‘BUS’ sign from the historic Greyhound bus station that used to be here with an art deco design, which we carried through the space with light touches here and there,” says Terra Brock, event manager at Zingerman's Catering & Events. “It also has a custom-built bar that is definitely a beautiful centerpiece in the space.” Gaze upon downtown Ann Arbor from photo-worthy 12-foot-tall windows in the turret. Meeting planners have access to all the necessary amenities to make their event a success, including easy access to Zingerman’s catering for a one-of-a-kind dining experience. “We’re attached to (but not affiliated with) the Marriott Residence Inn, which is very convenient for out-of-town guests,” says Brock. “And, our location is a huge draw—we’re close to everything!”
For more of a rural ambiance, Zingerman’s also rents three spaces at Cornman Farms, a working 42-acre farm in Dexter, just west of Ann Arbor, which is a supplier of Zingerman's Roadhouse restaurant. Putting the farm in “farm to table,” there is space for 15-300 people and Cornman offers a range of customizable packages for private and corporate events.
If you drive a little further west, you’ll find Chelsea, a quaint, picturesque community that’s home to Jeff Daniels’ famous Purple Rose Theater, the historic Jiffy Mix factory, and Ugly Dog Distillery, which makes vodka from 100 percent Michigan wheat. Just off Exit 159 at M-52 is the Chelsea Comfort Inn. Adjacent to the hotel is the Village Conference Center, a multiuse venue renovated in May 2017. Its banquet team manages all the room setup, teardown, meal services, beverage service and on-site A/V for the center’s more than 4,300 square feet of event space.
“We are able to make a guest feel like they are in the comfort of their own home and make them stress-free during the time of their event,” says Nicholas Wedlick, Village Conference Center manager. “We have an on-site chef that is so intricate with his food and is able to create a guest dining experience that is uniquely our own to share.”