Autumn weather brings golden leaves, the beginning of a new academic year and the longing for a fresh start. If you’re tired of the usual meeting and event options, these venues on or near Michigan’s scenic and historic university campuses off er savvy planners the chance to go “back to school” and host distinctive and interactive events.
East Lansing: Artful Events
You can mingle with a Matisse or ogle an Eames while wining and dining in one of the most dramatic meeting spaces in East Lansing. The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University is a dynamic contemporary art museum that serves as both a teaching institution and a cultural hub, with event spaces that range from the 25-45 person capacity Collector’s Lobby to the main level that can seat 250.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, “the stunning architecture provides an unforgettable and inspiring element for your special event,” says Special Events Coordinator Alysia LaBonte, who adds that many events incorporate museum tours into their events. “Galleries are staffed by interdisciplinary students, who act as wellversed personal guides.”
The MSU Board has hosted events that range from a small party for 35 (“intimate, seated dinner and company meetings are elevated by the art and architecture,” she says) to a larger party for 250, with advanced artmaking activities on different levels of the museum, live music, butler-style appetizers and a performance of aerial acrobats.
“We’ve strategically partnered with three approved caterers in the greater Lansing area that accommodate special menu requests, diverse budgets, and make recommendations for event flow within our unique event space. All stay current with catering trends and incorporate seasonal and fresh ingredients into their menus. Caterers will also provide chef-attended food stations and interactive stations on request,” LaBonte adds.
Shawn Premer of Consumers Credit Union raved about a recent event for 45 in the Broad’s Collector’s Lobby. “Our guests absolutely loved the space. It was intimate and inviting. They also loved the ability to tour the museum and see the artwork.”
Another option is the museum’s new industrial-style Art Lab, which includes a main rental space and other smaller rooms across the street. “When we’re not hosting our own experiments, it’s open for professional meetings, brainstorming retreats or special events,” LaBonte says.
Farm-to-Table Near Ann Arbor
“One of the best things about Cornman Farms is that you can step into the countryside within 15 minutes of leaving Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan campus,” says founder and executive chef Kieron Hales of the 42-acre unusual event space in nearby Dexter.
“The history of our buildings, dating back to the 1830s, and the level of service we provide is what truly sets us apart. You can host a private dinner in our restored white farmhouse for up to 50 people and have the entire property to yourself, while still having that comfortable feeling of eating in a friend’s home.”
Cornman Farms now is part of the Zingerman’s family, so it’s not surprising that the fresh food is as spectacular as the venue. “We’re a place that truly cares about our food and where it comes from. We are lucky enough to have our own chef’s garden where we grow a lot of the produce we serve on our seasonal menus. Our setting allows us to be flexible to customize events to guest’s needs. Dietary needs are not just accommodated, but it’s really a joy for us to get creative with what is in season. We have even had guests come out into the gardens to pick what they’d like in their meal,” says Hales.
Past events have included Siemens Global Marketing Summit, which included “everything from a goat-milking competition to a blind tasting comparing grocery store versus farm fresh produce as well as a water wheel planting competition to see who could plant a row in the shortest amount of time,” he says.
The site has also hosted car launches for Honda, Ford and Kia, “where we accommodated everything from bumper cars to balloon rides and car displays,” Hales says.
Angela Bisaro of the Siemens PLM global marketing team called the staff “miracleworking,” adding that the summit was one of the best the company had ever seen.
“[Zingerman’s] provided our employees with such a fun, collaborative and comfortable environment and it felt like a retreat. [They] have certainly set the bar for our future corporate events,” she says.
The site also offers a new Cook for a Cause program, which has quickly become a chef favorite. “The program allows guests to come in as a group and experience the property, a farm-to-table meal and at the same time support the community through our local nonprofits,” Hales explains.
Marquette: Simply Superior
Elizabeth Peterson says the Upper Peninsula’s natural wonders make it one of the best places to host an event. “We live in one of the most beautiful places in the country,” says Peterson, sales manager of Northern Michigan University’s Simply Superior Catering and Events team.
But if the area’s scenic sites aren’t enough, the Marquette-based college also boasts a man-made wonder in the world’s largest wooden dome, which is where the university’s football team plays and where the event’s staff often host unforgettable events, such as private dinners on the football field. “People are just fascinated by the Superior Dome,” she says. “It really is a sight to see.” It was built in 1991.
Menus add a U.P. flavor, too. “We do a lot of custom menus, including local whitefish (a huge request, she says), traditional pasties and even a local sausage called cudighi, which they bring in from Ishpeming. It’s delicious,” Petersen explains of the U.P. treat. “If you get a pizza up here it’s always an option.”
While it’s part of the university, the dome is not in the middle of campus, so it might present some logistical challenges. “We’ve always been able to make it work,” Petersen says. “That includes hot and cold trucks that deliver food right into the dome if needed.”
In 2019, NMU will increase its meeting options with the unveiling of renovated $20 million University Center, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and conference project.
Jennifer Lammi, executive director of the Marquette Builder’s Exchange, is a fan. Her group has hosted the U.P. Builders Show there for 26 years. “A lot of shows are hosted in rooms with 8-foot ceilings,” she says. “The [Superior] Dome is a comfortable and really unique environment.”
Join the Club in Grand Rapids
Like a side of history with your event? At Grand Valley State University’s Allendale and Grand Rapids Pew campuses, membership definitely has its benefits, says Kathleen Wright, CMP, CTA, assistant director of conference planning. But even nonmembers can enjoy the school’s clubby perks.
One out-of-the-ordinary option is the 40-seat University Club, part of the Richard M. DeVos Center on the Grand Rapids Pew Campus. Guests can dine and sip on furniture that once filled the landmark Lumber Baron Bar in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, a spot where history was made in 1981.
A plaque in the space explains its significance: “The bar was the site of the Trilateral Summit Meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Mexican President José López Portillo and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau—the first meeting in the U.S. of North American heads of government.”
When the bar closed in 1997, the hotel donated its woodwork and furnishings to GVSU in an effort to preserve its storied legacy. It’s now a favorite spot for intimate meetings, rehearsal dinners, small weddings, business receptions and retirement parties.
Campus caterer Classic Fare Catering offers several options to complement the space, from tailored personal menus to reception stations, including Dim Sum or Chocoholic.
While small, the club can be joined with other rooms in the expansive DeVos Center for larger events, Wright says. “We have used it as part of the event that accommodates up to 1,200 people and celebrates our graduating seniors. It always gets rave reviews.”
GVSU’s Kris Pachla recently hosted a teacher workshop in the University Club, adding that while it was an unusual place for the event, “it worked out great. Teachers felt like it was a really swanky venue.”
The university’s Allendale campus, about 14 miles west of Grand Rapids, also offers the manor-like Alumni House, presented by college alumni to the campus in 2000. The onsite Perry Dining Room accommodates up to 150, with an adjoining patio that overlooks the nearby gardens. The 10-seat Emeritus study is reminiscent of an Old World lounge and a favorite spot for a casual meeting or small reunion, Wright says.