Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2013
Meeting In The Midwest
By: Gordon Hicks
The American Midwest symbolizes the American dream.  It's a region of charming small towns, inviting urban centers and sheer natural beauty in a pastoral setting that's perfect for outdoor adventure.

It's a combination of sites and sounds that attracts visitors from around the world.  From the shores of the Great Lakes, to the waters of three of America's great river systems - the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio - it's a region steeped in culture, history, adventure, food and fun.

The diversity of experiences the Midwest offers emanates from its cultural diversity - whether it's Jazz or Rock and Roll, barbecue or Asian fusion, German breweries or French pastries, its all hear for the taking.


Chicago is one of America's most beloved cities.  The hometown of President Barack Obama, Chicago is a mecca for shopping along the Magnificent Mile and 900 North Michigan Shops.  The Windy City is known for culturally rich mouthwatering cuisines from around the world.  With great nightlife, theater, museums and sports you'll never run out of things to do.

Located in Chicago's western suburbs, Lisle has been consistently voted one of the best places to live.  Lisle features several hotel properties with meeting space ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 sq. ft. 

Moline's annual East West Riverfest held in September is a 10-day celebration of art, culture, history and the Mississippi River.  The festival features concerts, live theater and river tours. Peoria's Grand View Drive is the World's Most Beautiful according to President Teddy Roosevelt. Rockford's CoCo Key Water Resort is one of the state's largest indoor water parks.


Bloomington, home to Indiana University, is a vibrant college town with a thriving arts community, music and sports scene.  The town features two award-winning wineries and a culinary experience second to none.  The African American Arts Institute inside the Neal-Marshal Black Cultural Center houses three performing ensembles.

Evansville's Riverfront/Dress Plaza is a great place for a leisurely stroll, outdoor concerts and spectacular views of the Ohio River.  The African American Museum is a must visit.  In September it's the Downtown Jazz and Wine Festival.

The state's second largest city, Ft. Wayne features an award-winning Children's Zoo.  The Three Rivers and the Johnnie Appleseed festivals are among the city's most popular events.

Indianapolis is known for its sports, from the Indianapolis 500 to the NFL, NBA and host city for Big Ten Tournaments.  Tour the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museums.


Its no small wonder water activities play a significant role in Iowa tourism when your eastern and western borders are the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Boating and camping are abundant on the states' many lakes.  Saylorville Lake, Coralville Lake and Clear Lake are ranked 1, 2, 3 on the Travel Iowa website.

The recently renovated U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids features 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space that can hold up to 10,000 guests.  The 6,900-seat arena hosts sporting events, concerts and conventions.

Iowa's capital city, Des Moines is on virtually every list of the "best."  One of the best places for business, the best bang-for-your-buck, most livable and healthiest.  The Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center honors the U.S. Army's first officer candidate class for African-Americans.

Des Moines offers miles of trails, free festivals, wineries and breweries and ice skating on Brenton plaza.


Grand Rapids is known for fantastic art, farm-to-fork foods, lots of outdoor recreation and beer.  The city earned the name Beer City USA in 2012 and one of the Top 10 Best Vacation Cities for Beer Lovers. The city prides itself on its Midwestern values.  Try ice-skating at the Rosa Parks Circle, walk the Riverfront or visit the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

Lansing, Michigan's capital city features wonderful attractions such as All Around the African World Museum and Resource Center, Impressions 5 Science Center, Michigan International Speedway and the State Capitol Building.

The Lansing Center is a state-of-the-art facility with 175,000 sq. ft. of meeting space including 75,000 sq. ft. of column free exhibit halls and 20 breakout rooms. 

Mackinac Island located between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas has the Grand Hotel and the Mission Point Resort - two great properties for hiking, biking, water activities, weddings and music festivals.


Detroit is divided into five distinct districts, perfect for planning your travel, tourism, meeting and conventions needs. 

Visitors to Detroit can enjoy three pro-sports teams, upscale casinos, theaters, a thriving arts district and live entertainment sure to keep you up all night.   Downtown is home to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and The Carr Center, dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the African and African-American cultural arts tradition. 

The Dearborn/Wayne region is the birthplace of Henry Ford and the museum that bears his name.  The area features the Black Holocaust Museum and the Labor Day Weekend Detroit Jazz Festival.

Greater Novi is known for its many boutique shopping experiences, trendy malls and lots of fine dining.  Twelve Oaks Mall is the region's largest.

Macomb is all about the great outdoors.  With miles of coastline, Macomb is ideal for boating, skiing, fishing, hiking and golfing.  The area has lots of sports bars, restaurants and the Macomb Performing Arts Center.

The Oakland area features a wonderful café scene along its tree-lined streets, the Detroit Zoo and numerous venues like the DTE Energy Music Theater and The Palace at Auburn Hills, home to the Detroit Pistons and year-round concerts. 

Cobo Center anchors the city's meeting infrastructure in downtown Detroit. The state-of-the-art facility boasts 2,400,000 gross sq. ft. including 723,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space, 623,000 of which is contiguous. About 4,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance of the center.


The Land of 10,000 Lakes is easily one of the best outdoor recreation areas in America.  Jet skiing, fishing, boating, canoeing, paddleboat riding on the Mighty Mississippi and biking doesn't begin to tell the story of this outdoor wonderland.   Try your hand a snowshoeing and snowmobiling, ice skating and skiing - it is all here for the taking.

Nickelodeon Universe in Bloomington is the country's largest indoor amusement park featuring 30 rides on seven acres.  The park is located inside Mall of the America.  Bloomington is also home to the 14,000-acre Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

St. Paul, Minnesota's capital city features the Saint Paul RiverCentre.  It's the city's premiere convention, entertainment and events center.  The 250,000 sq. ft. RiverCentre hosts meetings, tradeshows, galas and intimate gatherings. 

The RiverCentre is connected to the 5,500 seat Roy Wilkins Auditorium as well as the 18,000-seat Xcel Energy Center.


Minneapolis is the perfect blend of natural beauty, urban sophistication and a thriving business sector.  No other American city has a chain of lakes, the mighty Mississippi, and 200 miles of walking/biking trails literally steps from the most vibrant arts and music scene outside New York City.

The city has some of the finest museums in the nation and Fortune 500 companies including Target Corporation, 3M, Best Buy and General Mills.  From the boardroom to snowboarding, Muskie to Monet, outdoor enthusiast to African artist, Minneapolis is the American city where natural and urban drama share a single stage. 

With a Delta Air Lines hub at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Metro light rail system connecting the airport and Mall of America to downtown, Minneapolis is easy to explore.

Mall of America is Minnesota's largest attraction and the largest shopping complex in America.  Shop at the Mall of America or the area's various boutiques shops and enjoy no sales tax on shoes and apparel.

Both Minneapolis and neighboring Saint Paul have kicked it up a notch when it comes to restaurants and great dining options featuring numerous James Beard Award winners.

Three local chefs have earned the title Best Chef Midwest: Tim McKee of La Belle Vie and Sea Change (2009), Alex Roberts of Brasa Premium Rotisserie and Restaurant Alma (2010) and Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa (2011).

The area's 55 museums includes; Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Minnesota African American Museum. 

The Minneapolis area features more than 75 professional theater and dance companies and music groups, such as the Tony Award-winning Guthrie Theater and Penumbra Theatre, one of only three professional African-American theaters in the nation. 

Catch Broadway shows, concerts or comedians on the stages of the Hennepin Theatre Trust.  All are great event venues.

Whether you are planning a board meeting for 30, a shareholder meeting for 2,500 or a party for 10,000, the Minneapolis Convention Center is equipped with the amenities and services to ensure your event is successful. Between the 475,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and the 87 meeting rooms, you'll find the Center's award-winning Kelber Catering service and technical capabilities are second-to-none.


It's a state renowned for its natural beauty and unique place in American history with more than 1,000 Civil War battles fought on its soil. 

The African-American history is chronicled at places like the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing just north of St. Louis, The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site where he wrote the ragtime classic The Entertainer and the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, site of the famous Dred Scott case. 

The Gateway Arch symbolized America's westward expansion and the St. Louis Zoo is arguably the nation's best. Known by many as the "Live Music Show Capital of the World," Branson has more than 50 live performance theaters, three lakes, a dozen golf courses, a world-renowned theme park and museums. 

In Springfield everything starts with sports and outdoor recreation.  The rolling hills and nearby Ozarks Mountains is fertile ground for fishing, hiking, biking and camping.


This city of rolling hills and beautiful scenery on the banks of the Missouri River is known for Jazz, Fountains and Barbecue. 

From the roaring 20s through the early 40s Jazz reigned in Kansas City. Visit the American Jazz Museum located in the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District to learn more about Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Big Joe Turner and others who shaped this era of Jazz.

Stop by the Mutual Musicians Foundation on Friday and Saturday for a late-night "Jam Session" from midnight to 6am.  The Foundation is the original home of the Black Musicians' Protective Union Local 627 A.F. of M.  The building is a National Historic Landmark.

Also in the 18th and Vine District next door to the Jazz museum is the Negro League Baseball Museum.

The City of Fountains features several unique water features.  The best known are the Fountain of Neptune on Country Club Plaza, The Waterworks Fountain at Kaufman Stadium and Civic Courtyard Fountain inside the Legends at Village West.  Also the Spirit of Freedom Fountain at Cleveland Avenue and Brush Creek Boulevard is a tribute to the contributions of African-American citizens in Kansas City.

No place says barbecue like Kansas City with over 80 area establishments offering their special flavors on ribs, chicken, pork, sausage and fish.

Country Club Plaza is the city's famed shopping district.   This 14-square block area modeled after sister city Seville, Spain features upscale entertainment and Moorish architecture.

Crown Center, the international headquarters for Hallmark Cards is a must and features a hands-on art session at Kaleidoscope.  The outdoor plaza is home to numerous festivals and events as wells as a winter ice terrace.

The Crossroads Arts District is a collection of old warehouses that now house restaurants, locally owned boutiques and a thriving art scene.

The eight-square block Kansas City Convention and Entertainment Facilities can accommodate every need with 388,800 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space on one floor; 48 state-of-the-art meeting rooms; 46,484-sq. ft. Grand Ballroom; a 2,400-seat fine arts theater; an arena that sits more than10,700 people and a unique outdoor festival plaza. The complex is connected to major downtown hotels and parking by skywalks and underground walkways.


Akron defines family-friendly with attractions such as; the American Toy Marble Company, Akron Zoo, Invent Now Museum and the MAPS Air Museum.

Visit Cincinnati's National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on the banks of the Ohio River.

Cincinnati is a thriving meeting and convention destination for African Americans. The 750,000 sq. ft. Duke Energy Center is within three blocks of 3,000 hotel rooms, shopping and the Fountain Square entertainment district. 

Columbus, the capital and largest city has the 410,000-sq. ft. Greater Columbus Convention Center with over 2,000 hotel rooms connected or adjacent to the facility.

Dayton, the "Birthplace of Aviation," features the Dayton Aviation Heritage Museum National Historic Park and the National Museum of the United States Air Force at nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base

Sandusky is Ohio's playground.  Challenge Park is a collection of four exciting family-friend activities:  Challenge Golf, Challenge Racing, RipCord and Skycraper.

Toledo, the "Water Recreation Capital of the Midwest" is more than water, with art, architecture, sports, recreation the Hollywood Casino and the world famous Toledo Zoo.


This city is home to over 100 different ethnic groups and there's a festival celebrating most, if not all of them.  Annual events include, the Vintage Ohio Wine Festival, the Taste of Cleveland, Tri-C JazzFest and the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert. 

Cleveland's best-known attraction is The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  Explore everything from Jimi Hendrix handwritten lyrics to the costumes of Tina Turner and the music of Michael Jackson.

The city has the second largest performing arts center in the nation - Playhouse Square. Cleveland has 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 and tons of family attractions.

The brand new 750,000 sq. ft. Cleveland Convention Center features approximately 226,000 sq. ft. of exhibit spaces and 35 breakout rooms. Cleveland is one of the nation's top meeting and convention destinations for the medical community.  The Global Center for Health Innovation, slated to open in October has eight meeting rooms and is connected to the Convention Center. 

The International Exposition (I-X) Center is the single largest multi-purpose facility in the region with one million sq. ft. of exhibit space.


Madison has been on virtually everyone's list of the best places to live for years.  The state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin is affordable for residents and visitors alike. 

Looking for kid-friendly Madison try the Henry Villas Zoo - one of the only free zoos in the nation.  Visit the Cave of the Mounds, a 400 million year-old cavern or take the kids to Madison Children's Museum.  The city also has over 200 miles of bike and hiking trails.

Madison has two premiere meeting venues, Alliant Energy Center and the Monoma Terrace Convention Center allowing the city to host gatherings up to 10,000 with over 8,000 hotel rooms at low-cost Midwestern prices.

Wisconsin Dells has been christened "The Waterpark Capital of the World!®"   It features the largest concentration of waterparks in the world including America's largest outdoor waterpark, the country's largest indoor/outdoor combination and the state's largest indoor waterpark.


When nearly 600 meeting planners convened in Milwaukee at this year's Connect Marketplace, the city was thrilled at the opportunity to throw the largest site inspection in its history.

Connect Marketplace planners, as well as attendees of the recent National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (August 2013), came away with a new image of Milwaukee as an exceptional blend of stunning natural beauty, meeting facilities, entertainment and urban-easy charm - an exciting second-tier destination where there's no sacrifice of quality and "wow" factor, and all this at a substantial cost savings.

Meeting planners helped design the Wisconsin Center - one of three facilities on Milwaukee's convention campus. Featuring 189,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, the convention center is just a skywalk away from 1,200 rooms in recently upgraded flagship hotels, the Hilton Milwaukee and Hyatt Regency Milwaukee.

Unforgettable off-site venues include the Harley-Davidson Museum, the spectacular lakefront Milwaukee Art Museum with its moving "wings," and neighboring Discovery World, whose Pilot House is renowned for its 360-degree view of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The elegant Potawatomi Bingo Casino raises the stakes with its Expo Center and ballroom.  The casino features Off-Track betting rooms, nearly 3,000 of the latest slot machines, table games such as poker, blackjack, craps and of course bingo.

The casino has several partner hotels where visitors qualify for perks at the casino.  All you have to do is head to the front desk of a partner hotel and ask for the Potawatomi Casino Stay and Play Voucher and take it along with your room key and identification to the casino to receive your perks.

A free shuttle service is available from most downtown Milwaukee hotels.  Partner hotels include the Ambassador Inn Marquette, Ambassador Hotel, Doubletree Hotel by Hilton Downtown Milwaukee, Hilton Garden Inn Downtown and several others.

A charming RiverWalk connects colorful walk-around neighborhoods in Milwaukee like the trendy Historic Third Ward with Milwaukee Public Market and Old World Third Street, showcasing the city's German heritage.

And located only eight miles from downtown, General Mitchell International Airport is one of the country's most affordable major airports.

To keep the momentum of a banner year 2013 going, VISIT Milwaukee is offering a $5,000-$10,000 cash incentive to groups booking meetings in the Wisconsin Center from September 2, 2014 to December 31, 2016 (certain restrictions apply).

Along with cash incentives, planners will discover that Milwaukee's average daily cost of first class lodging and three meals is the lowest of its competitive set.

A trip to middle America makes us yearn for simpler times.  The small towns and villages that dot the landscape of the Midwest offers solitude and a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of big city life.

Yet, the big city life of Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and St. Louis are right around the corner.  The beauty of these Midwestern urban centers is how they've all managed to maintain a certain charm and inviting spirit that makes all visitors feel welcome.  The Midwest truly is America at its finest.


Illinois Office of Tourism

(800) 2CONNECT

Indiana Office of Tourism Development

(800) 677-9800

Iowa Tourism

(515) 725-3084

Michigan Economic Development Corporation

(888) 784-7328

Explore Minnesota Tourism

(888) TOURISM (868-7476

Missouri Division of Tourism

(573) 751-4133

Tourism Ohio


Wisconsin Department of Tourism

(800) 432-8747

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