Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2014
African-American Guide To Meetings, Incentives & Traveling In The West
By: Buck Samuels
It's the place where you'll find the nation's largest African-American cultural museum and its oldest Black theater, a land where civil rights history was made and a revolutionary Black music sound was born.  It's the home of America's largest shopping mall and the largest musical festival on the planet.

The Midwest, sometimes called America's Heartland, is teeming with interesting places to see and fun things to do. Its central location makes it accessible to travelers from most points on the U.S. mainland. And with a variety of venues ranging from large state-of-the-art convention centers to casinos and water parks, the region's meeting spaces can accommodate all kinds of groups.

Read on for a taste of what this region has in store.

ILLINOIS

Millennium Park continues to be one of the Windy City's hottest hangouts, while one of Chicago's most notable Black heritage attractions is the Dusable Museum of African-American History.

Lisle, situated 60 miles west of the city in the region known as Chicagoland, offers meeting space for 40 to 50 people at Lisle Station Park. The setting is an 1874 CB&Q Railroad Depot.

Moline boasts the "world's most comprehensive agricultural exhibit," in its John Deere Pavilion. For a memorable group outing, consider a Mississippi River cruise aboard the (i)Celebration Belle(ei).

The Peoria Civic Center, containing 110,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, is the largest event venue in Downstate Illinois. Two good leisure time options are the Peoria Glen Oak Zoo and the Peoria Riverfront.

At Rockford's marquee attraction, the Burpee Museum of Natural History, the famous T-rex Skeleton Jane has now been joined by Homer, a juvenile Triceratops.  The Discovery Center Museum and CoCo Key Water Resort offer more family-friendly diversions.

INDIANA

The Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington houses an impressive collection of African masks. Visitors can also appreciate the art of the museum's architectural design by I.M. Pei.  Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy kayaking and canoeing on Lake Monroe, 10 miles southeast of the city.

Evansville's Angel Mound State Historic Site is a living history village depicting the Native American heritage of the area. Two more local attractions are the Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden and the Koch Family Children's Museum of Evansville.

Fort Wayne also has some notable attractions with kid appeal, including the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo; Science Central, and hands-on museum; and one of the city's top events, the Johnny Appleseed Festival in September.

Massachusetts Avenue is a favorite shopping, dining and entertainment hub in Indianapolis. Other places to see include the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and nearby White River State Park.

IOWA

In northeast Iowa, a network of sites highlighting the state's agricultural heritage has been designated as the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. But there is much more to the Hawkeye State than farming.

Cedar Rapids, the state's second largest city, is home to the African American Museum of Iowa. It's also the site of the Home and studio of "American Gothic" painter Grant Wood, who lived and worked there from 1924 to 1934. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, houses "American Gothic," as part of the world's largest collection of works by Wood.

In Des Moines, the capital and largest city, a must-see attraction is the Fort Des Moines Museum and Education, memorial to African-American soldiers of World War I and female soldiers of World War II. The Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheater - named for the African-American opera singer) - holds a summer concert series called "Nitefall on the River." Other points of interest include Blank Park Zoo, the Des Moines Art Center and Hoyt Sherman Place, a performing arts center.

MICHIGAN

The largest museum of its kind, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit houses more than 30,000 artifacts and archival materials. Taking center stage among the displays is the 22,000-sq. ft. multi-level exhibit called "And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture." 

A family reunion itinerary for Grand Rapids might include a trip to the John Ball Zoo, where more than 1,000 animals, an aquarium, zip line tour and ropes course count among the things to see and do. A leisurely tour for meeting delegates or spouses might take in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park or the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

A reunion or incentive trip to Mackinac Island will take travelers back in time to a Victorian village. Carriage tours are a popular way to explore the historic downtown - no motorized transportation is allowed on the island. Top area attractions include the Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Fort Mackinac and the famed Grand Hotel.

DETROIT

An array of new infrastructure development signals a growing demand for Detroit as a serious contender for your meetings and leisure travel clients. Downtown Detroit's Cobo Convention Center is in the final stages of its $279 million expansion and renovation. Last summer the 371-room Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront hotel opened directly across from Cobo Center. Later this year Detroit will be home to Michigan's first ALOFT hotel, which will be located in the David Whitney building in Grand Circus Park. The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center is in the midst of a $30 million renovation project transforming 1,329 guest rooms and meeting space. Construction is expected to start by the end of this year on the 1929 former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, located across the street from Cobo Center, to be transformed into a 100-room upscale independent hotel. The Foundation hotel, which will also feature a restaurant and retail, is scheduled to open in late 2015.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Plans were recently announced for a sweeping transformation of dozens of underutilized blocks between downtown and midtown Detroit into a world-class Sports and Entertainment District. The project will connect existing and new development efforts in downtown and midtown Detroit. Groundbreaking is slated for fall of 2014.  The new $450 million, world-class arena built concurrently with the District will be a model of innovation for such a facility in a downtown setting.

MINNESOTA

Bloomington might be the ideal destination for a family reunion - or perhaps an incentive trip for a shopping enthusiast. The city is best known for the 4.2 million-sq. ft. Mall of America, which boasts more than 500 stores, 50 restaurants and a host of family attractions under its roof.

Elsewhere in the city, you can enjoy these attractions at no charge: the Bloomington Art Center, the Bloomington Historical Museum, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Normandale Japanese Gardens.

The capital city of St. Paul also offers a number of free tourist sites, including the State Capitol, the Governor's Residence, the Schubert Club Museum of Musical Instruments, St. Paul Cathedral and the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory.

Each May, St. Paul's Festival of Nations showcases the cultures of 90 ethnic groups, while the Rondo Days celebration in July is a tribute to the local African-American neighborhood that was divided when an Interstate highway was built in the 1960s.

MINNEAPOLIS

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.  The largest convention center in the Upper Midwest, the facility has achieved Level One certification to the ASTM Standard pertaining to the Evaluation and Selection of Venues for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows and Conferences. The new international sustainability venue standard is one of nine standards introduced by the meetings, conventions, exhibitions and events industry in 2012 to provide event planners and suppliers with specifications for producing events in a more sustainable manner.

While Minneapolis doesn't have that one massive ultra-mega hotel that could house super large gatherings, the city does have 7,000 rooms downtown of varying price points and types, and nearly 5,000 of those are within half a mile of the Minneapolis Convention Center. The downtown district is compact, where everything is walkable and you never really feel like you're too far away from any one thing. Even if one hotel can't hold your whole delegation, they guarantee your attendees won't be more than a quick walk away from headquarters. 

MISSOURI

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.

KANSAS CITY

Kansas City is a place where wide boulevards, bountiful parks, beautiful architecture, great meeting facilities and more than 200 fountains stand ready to welcome you with open arms.  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.

When the work day is done, head to the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District and you'll see instant proof to the genre's rich KC roots. Then take in The American Jazz Museum for a look into the city's jazz legacy, featuring legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. Finally, take in a fierce, late-night jam session at the Mutual Musicians Foundation - the perfect nightcap to an unforgettable, music-filled adventure.

No visit to KC is complete until you can literally taste it. Luckily, it's a taste you're guaranteed to enjoy - legendary KC barbecue. It's practically a rite of passage for visitors to leave with at least one sauce-stained shirt. Today you'll find more than 100 barbecue establishments in the area, each boasting its own personal house special.

ST. LOUIS

Why meet in St. Louis? They've got a whole list of reasons from affordable accommodations and world-class dining to vibrant cultural activities and a great centralized location.  St. Louis features a tight package for city-wide meetings and events in the heart of the re-developed downtown central business district. The America's Center Convention Complex offers 502,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space in six contiguous meeting halls, 80 meeting rooms, the 67,000-seat Edward Jones Dome, and much more in the middle of downtown. There are more than 7,000 hotel rooms within a mile of America's Center and more than 38,000 throughout the metro area.

If your meeting space needs are a little smaller, more than 20 hotels throughout the St. Louis area offer at least 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space that can fit any need. Looking for something a little different? The city's unique venues can accommodate groups of 10 to 10,000 or more in flexible, convenient venues. From the sleek and stylish to fresh air and fun, we've got you covered.

St. Louis offers a convenient, central location for meeting of all sizes. Lambert-St. Louis International Airport provides non-stop service to more than 60 destinations with more than 500 daily arrivals and departures, making getting here easy.

OHIO

Akron's Goodyear World of Rubber Museum and Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, former estate of Goodyear Tire and Rubber co-founder F.A. Seiberling, spotlight the industry that put the city on the map. The Invent Now Museum offers free admission to see its changing exhibits.

Columbus offers a pair of notable Black heritage attractions for the itinerary: the Kelton House and Garden - a restored Underground Railroad stop - and the King Arts Complex. A summertime meeting or reunion group might want to join the fun at the Columbus Jazz and Rib Fest in July.

The Dayton African American Cultural Festival in August is another event to consider planning a trip around. Two notable year-round Dayton attractions are the Paul Dunbar House and the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The Toledo Museum of Art offers free access to its Georgia and David K. Wells Sculpture Garden.  The Toledo Zoo, a popular family attraction, opens after hours for grownup wine tastings at Vineyard Adventures.

CINCINNATI

The renowned National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which spotlights the anti-slavery movement and other human rights struggles, is a must-see for Cincinnati visitors. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House also contains exhibits on the Underground Railroad.

Summer or fall visitors to Cincinnati might be able to catch one of the city's special celebrations, like the Macy's Music Festival in July, the Midwest Black Family Reunion in August or Oktoberfest Zinzinnati - the largest Oktoberfest event in North America, drawing 500,000 revelers each year.

Cincinnati's premier meeting venue, the 750,000-sq. ft. Duke Entergy Center, contains 200,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 40,000-sq. ft. ballroom.  The good news is that your hotel is only a short stroll away - that's because there are nearly 3,000 hotel rooms in just three blocks right next to the Duke Energy Convention Center. Seven downtown hotels include the 872-room Millennium Hotel Cincinnati, 496-room Hyatt Regency Cincinnati, and the 488-room Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. And thousands more rooms are a few minutes away throughout Cincinnati USA and on the Kentucky riverfront.

CLEVELAND

From a sleek, new downtown convention center to dozens of new and/or renovated hotels, Cleveland has the meetings and convention infrastructure covered. But we know that attendees want much more than just a great meeting space. They want nightlife, social-media worthy culinary offerings and a great arts & culture scene. Cleveland has all of that and more.

In 2010 Cleveland demolished its downtown convention center paving the way for one of the city's most needed development projects - the new $465 million Cleveland Convention Center and Global Center for Health Innovation facility.  The exhibit hall floor is 225,000-sq. ft. of Class A exhibit space with 90 ft. of column spacing, 30-ft. ceilings and direct access to 17 truck bays. The exhibit hall floor holds 1,000 10x10 tradeshow booths with direct access to water, electricity, air and other utilities.

Remaining in its central location and within walking distance of 14 downtown hotels and most restaurants and nightlife, the facility is connected to the Global Center for Health Innovaion and the future 600-room Hilton convention center hotel opening in 2016.

Cleveland's Warehouse District, Gateway District, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and PlayhouseSquare are all within walking distance with plenty of restaurants, bars, night life and sports.

WISCONSIN

The design of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison was inspired by the nation's capitol building in Washington, DC. Visitors can note the resemblance on a free guided tour. Madison is also known for being both green and fit. Visiting outdoor enthusiasts can head to one of several picturesque bike trails in the city, stroll through Olbrich Botanical Gardens or pick up the hiking trails at Lussier Heritage Center or the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.

Other notable outdoor attractions throughout the state include Devil's Lake State Park, near Wisconsin Dells, known for its 500-ft. sandstone bluffs; Apostle Island National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, a 21-island site featuring sea caves, hiking trails and a waterfall; and the Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, west of Madison.

The town of Spring Green, also just west of Madison, is the site of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd's Wright's home and workshop, which marked its centennial this year.

MILWAUKEE

An exceptional blend of stunning natural beauty, meeting facilities, entertainment and Midwest charm, Milwaukee is an exciting meetings destination with an unexpected "wow" factor,and all this at a substantial cost savings. 

Milwaukee's budget-friendly convention campus features three unique venues. Designed with input from meeting planners, the compact, three-story Wisconsin Center offers cutting-edge technology, along with sixteen loading docks and three spiral drive-in ramps with direct access to the 189,000-sq. ft. exhibit hall. The historic Milwaukee Theatre and the 12,700-seat UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena provide additional dining, trade show or concert space.

In fall 2014, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino's meeting package will expand to include a new 381-room hotel with 10,500 square feet of meeting space to add to the casino's 40,000 square feet of Expo Center and ballroom space. Unforgettable off-site venues also 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.

A water city located at the confluence of three rivers and Lake Michigan, Milwaukee features a two-mile long RiverWalk that connects colorful walk-around neighborhoods like Milwaukee's "SoHo" area, the Historic Third Ward with its Milwaukee Public Market, and Old World Third Street, both districts known for their range of vibrant nightlife.

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

To keep momentum 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.

Milwaukee - make your next meeting happen here.

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GETTING IN TOUCH

Illinois Bureau of Tourism - (800) 2CONNECT

Indiana Office of Tourism Development - (800) 677-9800

Iowa Division of Tourism - (515) 242-4705

Travel Michigan - (800) 644-2489

Explore Minnesota Tourism - (800) 657-3700

Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism - (800) BUCKEYE

Wisconsin Department of Tourism - (800) 432-8747

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