Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2010
African-American Guide to Meetings, Incentives & Traveling in the Midwest
By: Michael Bennett
It’s been commonly referred to as “America’s Heartland” or just the “heartland.” The Midwest came to be called such, because the patchwork of major urban centers and small towns are considered to be the broadest representation of all that is American culture. The 10 states we profile here have a combined population of over 60 million –about a fifth of the total U.S. population.

Mother Nature has also blessed the region with great natural beauty. It’s the combination of culture, entrepreneurial ingenuity, natural beauty, central location and affordability that makes the Midwest the destination of choice for meetings, incentives and tourism.


When you think of Illinois most of us look no further than Chicago. It’s a city blessed with fine restaurants, nightlife, theater, music, culture, shopping and wonderful attractions, but there’s more to the state than the Windy City. Visit the Southland region of Chicago and Lansing to get away from the big city or try the village of Lisle, which was ranked by Money magazine back in 2007 as #20 of the “100 Best Places to Live.” The Quad City area has a wonderful mix of cuisines including Cajun and Jamaican along with zydeco and reggae music and a fall Irish folk festival. Over in Peoria the Riverfront Museum and the Caterpillar Experience Visitors Center are must see attractions. Rockford is the quintessential family-friendly Midwest town with a couple of great museums – Burpee Museum of Natural History and Discovery Center Museum. And of course no visit to Illinois is complete without a stop at The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

Burpee Museum of Natural History


The Hoosier state has a lot to be proud of from world famous universities to top-notch sports franchises and arguably the world’s most famous auto race, the Indianapolis 500. Visitors to Evansville usually stroll along the Riverfront, head to the Lady Luck Casino, or take a step back in time visiting the Reitz Home Museum or Angel Mounds State Historic site. Over in Ft Wayne’s their Children’s Zoo is ranked as one of the top 10 in the U.S. Indianapolis is one of America’s premiere sports town. Check out the NCAA Hall of Champions Museum and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum or take the kids to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. South Bend is more than Notre Dame; the city houses the College Football Hall of Fame, the Chocolate Museum and the Studebaker National Museum. On the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan, La Porte County’s shoreline has become a popular destination for business meetings, family reunions and romantic escapes. Visitors can head to the 486-room Blue Chip Casino Resort and Spa, Captain or the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore/Mt. Baldy.


With America’s two largest rivers forming its borders water activities are a significant portion of the tourism offering, but there is more to the state than water and farmland. Casinos are big business. In Cedar Rapids, there are three casinos to choose from. Be on the lookout for a new events center. Cedar Rapids recently started the design phase of the project. Visitors to Davenport can tour Native American sites or attend one of the areas many festivals. The shortlist includes the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival and the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. Des Moines is on virtually every list of the “best.”— One of the best places for business, the best bang-for-your-buck, the most livable and the healthiest. The Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center honors the U.S. Army’s first officer candidate class for African-Americans. Sioux City features a revitalized down town with beautiful riverfront attractions and events. Visitors should not miss Trinity Heights, the restored Orpheum Theatre and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Waterloo attractions include; the Lost Island Water Park, John Deere Tours, the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium for children, and the Isle of Capri Casino.

Fort Des Moines Chaple


This state is a history buff’s paradise encompassing everything from legendary cowboy towns to countless museums; and the state’s legacy as pioneers, aviators and farmers. Kansas City is home to the Kansas Speedway. The speedway also has driving schools, national barbeque contests and enough meeting space to handle 5,000 people. If you need to take the kids to burn off some energy try the Schlitterbahn Vacation Village Waterpark. Topeka is home to the Kansas Museum of History and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Topeka has over 3,000 hotel rooms and 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Wichita is the state’s largest metropolitan area and features 35 museums that allow visitors to relive the early days at the Old Cowtown Museum or explore the town’s evolution as “Air Capital of the World” at the Kansas Aviation Museum. The city has a new 15,000-seat arena, 8,000 hotel rooms and 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.


One of the state’s premiere destinations is Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. It’s a cosmopolitan city with a small town sensibility. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library is here, along with numerous museums and the wellearned nickname of “Tree Town” for its dense forestation and trees. Detroit has some of the best attractions of anywhere. Here are just a few, The Henry Ford, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Detroit Institute of Art. There are four major casinos in the metro area, and some of the best convention and hotel space in the country. Flint is the birthplace of General Motors and the beginning of the UAW. Much of that history can be observed through the Sloan Museum. There are several meeting venues throughout the city, the largest can hold up 2,000 people in a reception style format. Grand Rapids, is a town of big city excitement featuring more than 60 restaurants, nightclubs, museums, theaters and sports venues all within a five-minute walk of each other – yet the city prides itself on its small-town Midwestern virtues. Try ice-skating at the Rosa Parks Circle, walk the Riverfront or visit the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

Century II Convention Center, Wichita Kansas


Michigan’s capitol city has some extremely affordable attractions, hotels/motels, Bed and Breakfast, campgrounds and Michigan State University.

For a look at multi-cultural Lansing pay a visit to the Malcolm X Homesite Marker, Michigan Historical Museum or the Michigan State University Museum.

There are numerous attractions such as All Around the African World Museum and Resource Center, Impression 5 Science Center, Michigan Walk of Fame, Michigan International Speedway and the State Capitol Building.

Lansing has performing arts centers, dinner theaters, art galleries and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. There are parks, nature centers, wildlife exhibits and hiking trails throughout.

Lansing is a great city for meetings with multiple venues led by the Lansing Center. It’s a state-of-the-art facility with over 175,000 sq. ft. of meeting space including nearly 75,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit halls and 20 breakout rooms. The center is attached via a covered walkway with a Radisson Hotel.

If you are looking for quiet beauty try Mackinac Island located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. The Grand Hotel and the Mission Point Resort are two great properties for families, weddings and small gatherings. Enjoy hiking, biking, water activities, shopping, golf, carriage tours, music festivals and much more.


The Land of 10,000 Lakes has an $11 billion a year tourism industry with the leisure and hospitality industry employing some 245,000 residents. Duluth is a cosmopolitan, European and Middle American city all wrapped in one beautiful package. Stroll along the Lake Superior waterfront – the world’s largest lake. Tour historic mansions and museums or try a horse drawn carriage around Canal Park. Dance the weekend away at one of the many festivals or try some of the best skiing east of the Rockies. Bloomington is home to the world-famous Mall of the Americas, the largest shopping center in the U.S., and attracts 40 million visitors annually. There are 500 stores and countless entertainment options. Another Bloomington attraction is the 14,000-acre Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.


The city attracts over 18 million visitors a year and for good reason. It’s a city of art and culture, festivals and fairs, great nightlife, a renowned music scene that features everything from Jazz to Rock and of course the Mississippi River.

The town is littered with hundreds of upscale stores and funky boutiques. Oh and did we mention no sales tax on apparel and shoes.

The energy and affordability of downtown Minneapolis makes the city ideal for meetings and conventions. The 475,000 sq. ft. Minneapolis Convention Center is connected via a climate-controlled skyway to various hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues The city has over 6,000 hotel rooms, with most less than 30 minutes State Capitol Building from the airport.

Minneapolis Skyline

Minneapolis’ twin city St Paul offers visitors’ outstanding museums and art galleries, paddleboat rides along the greatest of American rivers the Mississippi, a wonderful mix of ethnically diverse cuisine and the renowned


It’s a state of bountiful wilderness and parks with 840 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, backpackers and off-road vehicles. It’s where small town meets urban America. And it’s easy to get here with two major airports on either end of the state. Branson is arguably one of the most unique towns in the country. Known by many as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World,” Branson has more than 50 live theater performances, three lakes, a dozen golf courses, a world-renowned theme park and museums. The town continues to attract some of the world’s top entertainers.

Columbia home to the University of Missouri is no slouch when it comes to culture and music either. Kansas City is known for jazz, blues and Kansas City-style barbecue. There are over 90 barbecue restaurants in the city. The city is undergoing a major renaissance with $9 billion in improvements, $4.5 billion of which is being spent in the downtown convention district area. Springfield, located in the state’s southwest corner has over 6,000 hotel rooms in the general area and some 800 plus restaurants.

Christmas Lights, St. Louis

One of the most iconic structures in America is the famous Gateway Arch in St Louis that symbolized the city’s role in westward expansion. Like other Missouri cities profiled here, jazz, ragtime and blues play a significant role on the entertainment landscape. And if you’re a beer lover this is the place.

The St. Louis Zoo has pretty much appeared on every list at one time or another as the top rated zoo in the United States if not the world. Admittance to the St. Louis Zoological Park is free.


This state was one of the primary passageways to westward expansion. As a result the state has a colorful maze of scenic byways and highways. The names speak for themselves – Gold Rush Byway, Louis and Clark Scenic byway and Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway to name a few. Lincoln is one of those great Midwest destinations with big city excitement in a serene country setting. The Lancaster Event Center has over 400,000 sq. ft. and seven total meeting rooms. If you happen to visit the city during college football season, everything is Nebraska Cornhusker football.

Omaha's Qwest Center

The state’s largest city, Omaha sits right on the banks of the Missouri River. Omaha is home to several Fortune 1,000 companies and some of the countries top engineering and architectural firms. For meeting planners that means the city knows how to host gatherings of all sizes. Omaha is the home of Warren Buffett, the College World Series, one of the regions’ top attractions for visitors and features the world’s largest indoor rainforest at the Henry Doorly Zoo. Forbes voted the city the “Biggest Bang For the Buck City.”


Located just 39 miles from Cleveland, Akron is ideal for group gatherings looking for easy access, convenience and intimate surroundings. The largest venue is the John S. Knight Center with 30,000 sq. ft. of space with a max capacity of approximately 3,000 depending upon configuration. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati was a key stop for escaped slaves and one of the best places to get a history lesson is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Today, Cincinnati is a thriving city that has played host to numerous African American conventions including the NAACP. They city is served by a major airport located just across the Ohio River in Kentucky and the 200,000 – sq. ft. Duke Energy Convention Center.

Kalahari Resort in Sandusky took its unique indoor vacation concept outside with the unveiling of the new African-themed Safari Outdoor Adventure Park featuring a thrilling zip line tour, ropes course, climbing walls and more. Known for its under-one-roof getaway, which includes America’s largest indoor waterpark, Kalahari Resort’s Sandusky, Ohio property marked its fifth birthday with its fourth major expansion, just in time for summer.

Kalahari Resort, Sandusky

Opened on May 29, the Safari Outdoor Adventure Park adds to the outdoor entertainment which currently includes: a 77,000-sq. ft. outdoor waterpark, playground, shuffleboards, sand volleyball courts and Safari Adventure Animal Park, which opened last summer and offers up close and personal encounters with African animals including giraffes and zebras.

Columbus is the capital and largest city in Ohio and home to the largest university system in the country, which includes The Ohio State. Known as the “Birthplace of Aviation,” Dayton is at the crossroads to Interstates 70 and 75 making access to the city easy. Greene County near Dayton can also claim aviation as part of its historical footprint. The county was also home to numerous stops along the Underground Railroad. Toledo, in the state’s northwest corner is a convenient Midwest location for affordable meetings and conventions with 7,000 plus hotel rooms, high-tech meeting venues, great entertainment and the world famous Toledo Zoo.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum calls the city of Cleveland home, but there is more to this city than the celebration of music. The city has the second largest performing arts center in the nation – Playhouse Square; a concentrated square mile of arts and culture in an area known as University Circle; a culinary experience that’s second to none, kayaking on Lake Erie, family attractions and so much more.

Cleveland is home to over 100 different ethnic groups and there’s a festival celebrating most, if not all of them. There are arts parades, sporting events, concerts and annual events such as Vintage Ohio, Taste of Cleveland and the Cleveland National Air Show.

Visitor at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Cleveland hosts approximately 250 meetings and conventions annually and tourism is the fourth largest employer in Cuyahoga County generating $6.4 billion of economic impact. The city has three significant meeting venues in terms of size – the 375,000-sq. ft. Cleveland Convention Center, the International Exposition (I-X) Center is the single largest exposition center in the world at 1.6 million sq. ft. of exhibit space, and the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University with a capacity of 15,000 including floor seats.


Tourism is the state’s third largest industry due to the many resorts in northern Wisconsin and the familyfriendly attractions in the Wisconsin Dells area, which accounts for 3 million visitors per year. Green Bay is famous for football, but is quickly becoming known as one of those affordable Midwestern meetings and convention destinations. On the western side of the state on the banks of the Mississippi River is La Crosse. It’s another one of those wonderful regional meetings and conventions cities where visitors can enjoy a cruise on the Mississippi, visit the many fine specialty shops or take part in a multitude of outdoor activities. Lake Geneva in the state’s southeast corner is a resort that’s become very popular, especially with residents from Milwaukee and Chicago. The city of Madison has some of the best facilities in the United States for group gatherings, including Alliant Energy Center of Dane County and Monoma Terrace Convention Center.

Wisconsin Dells

Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells is a “world-away” waterpark experience in the heart of the Midwest. Situated along I-90/94, the authentically African-themed resort greets Wisconsin Dells visitors with a sneak peek of its colorful web of award-winning outdoor and in-door slides, attractions, and activities. The resort is home to one of America’s largest indoor waterparks, and offers more than one million gallons of water fun, 742 guestrooms, 10 stand alone five-bedroom suites, the full-service Spa Kalahari and Salon, a fully equipped fitness center, on-site restaurants including Kahunaville, unique retail shops, a 15-screen cinema, 100,000-sq. ft. convention center and a 110,000-sq. ft. Indoor Theme Park. Kalahari also features Trappers Turn, a 27-hole award winning golf course.

Milwaukee RiverWalk


This city is a vibrant multicultural oasis that continues to impress. The city’s multicultural appeal is what makes this town so special and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by meeting planners including the NAACP, which held its national convention here a few years back.

Milwaukee has invested over $2.5 billion in new tourism product since 1998 and as a result has some of the best meeting venues and tourist attractions in the country.

Mitchell International is the fastest growing airport in the nation and the cost of flying in and out of the city is among the lowest in the United States according the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If you’re looking for a large venue for your group check out Frontier Airlines Center with 189,000 sq. ft. of contiguous space with a grand ballroom that can hold up to 4,000 depending on configuration.

Milwaukee offers so much to the visitors its difficult to condense in such a short space, but make sure you stroll the Milwaukee Riverwalk. Cities all across the country have looked to Milwaukee to try and emulate their own successful Riverwalk design.

From theaters to art, museums to nightlife, casinos to sailing, restaurants to your favorite brew Milwaukee is a can’t miss destination.


Illinois Bureau of Tourism (800) 2CONNECT
Indiana Office of Tourism Development (800) 677-9800
Iowa Division of Tourism (515) 242-4705
Kansas Travel and Tourism Division (800) 2-KANSAS
Travel Michigan (800) 644-2489
Explore Minnesota Tourism (800) 657-3700
Missouri Division of Tourism (888) TOURISM
Nebraska Division of Travel & Tourism (877) NEBRASKA
Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism (800) BUCKEYE
Wisconsin Department of tourism (800) 432-8747