As Midwest cities grow more sophisticated about drawing conventions, conferences, trade shows, reunions, and incentive events, many of them are carefully watching the convention powerhouses in Orlando, Las Vegas, and Denver and following suit. Here's a fresh look at the up-and-coming powerhouse destinations in the Midwest.
Indianapolis has a good start, but so do Wisconsin Dells and Sandusky, Ohio — look at the groups all those waterparks are drawing. Rosemont has become a big meetings draw in spite of being so close to Chicago.
McCormick Place and the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont recently installed flight screens to provide attendees with up-to-the-minute airport information. This is not the FAA-regulated schedule information, but information on real-time delays caused by air traffic control, aircraft maintenance, crew availability, and weather.
The floods this summer took a toll, but the Midwest is coming back fast. Wisconsin Dells CVB wants planners to know that although the area was affected, all resorts, restaurants, and waterparks are 100 percent now. It has more than 8,000 guest rooms and all its meeting venues up and running, even Chula Vista Resort near Lake Delton has been all dried out since the lake burst its banks into the Wisconsin River. Chula Vista's new Wisconsin Dells Center offers space for sporting events and trade shows of all sizes, including 27 meeting rooms.
In Michigan, Detroit is undergoing a renaissance. Hotel St. Regis has reopened, the MGM Grand opened last year, and work is under way to renovate two long-closed downtown landmarks: The storied Book-Cadillac is being restored as a 455-room Westin Hotel, and the former Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel is being converted into a 204-room Doubletree Guest Suites. Additions and a renovation at Cobo Hall are being considered.
Hotels have been increasing steadily in western Michigan for several years. In downtown areas, Grand Rapids is leading the pack. The new JW Marriott Grand Rapids already has seen a boost from the growing medical community.
In Indianapolis, construction on Lucas Oil Stadium was completed in August 2007, and an expansion to the convention center started this past summer.
When completed in fall 2010, the Indiana Convention Center, in combination with the new stadium, will offer nearly 750,000 square feet of exhibit space. Connected to the center/stadium complex will be a new headquarters hotel, the 1,000-room JW Marriott Hotel, which is slated for completion in the spring 2010.
Work is under way on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a 7.5-mile path linking the city's prime attractions, which is scheduled to be open in 2009. Other entertainment options in the city are the Museum of Contemporary Art and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian Art.
Cleveland, which gave itself a big boost as a downtown meetings destination in the 1990s with the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, has decided to link the University Arts and Retail District to downtown Cleveland along Euclid Avenue with the installation of rapid transit.
The Arts and Retail District is adjacent to University Circle, the city's main hub for museums, performing arts, and educational facilities, where there is a new Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as ongoing expansions to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
East of Cleveland on Lake Erie, Sandusky has gotten into the waterpark business and discovered meetings are a big reason for business to bloom. Kalahari's chief financial officer, Mary Bonte Spath, announced last year that in the nine months since the NIA conference center had opened. the park had done as much business as it did in 12 months before the opening. Last December it opened an addition to its indoor waterpark and 96 more condominium units.
The former IBM Building at 330 N. Wabash is about to become a hotel. LaSalle Hotel Properties will create 335 rooms that showcase five-fixture bathrooms on floors two through 13 in the yet-unnamed “five-star, super-luxe hotel” and will offer 17,000 square feet of space for meetings and social events.
Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, which opened in January, has already been Hot-Listed by the editors of Condé Nast Traveler in the May 2008 issue. The 339 luxury guest rooms on Wabash Avenue comprise floors 14 through 27 of a 92-story residential tower and include Sixteen, a fine-dining restaurant, meeting and event space, the Trump Health Club, the Spa at Trump, and later in the year, 53 spa guest rooms. The hotel also has two ballrooms, five conference rooms, and two executive boardrooms.
Last September, La Quinta Inns & Suites broke ground on a hotel in the Financial District. La Quinta Inn & Suites — Chicago Downtown will have 241 guest rooms, two meeting rooms, and a business center when it opens late this year.
This summer Chartres Lodging Group reopened the old Chicago City Centre Hotel & Sports Club, newly transformed into the 500-room Doubletree Chicago Magnificent Mile. It has 17,000 square feet of meeting space.
Hard Rock Hotel Chicago completed a $106 million renovation. The hotel has 381 rooms, 20 suites, and conference facilities for up to 400 guests.
InterContinental Chicago O'Hare opens this month near the airport in Rosemont with 556 guest rooms and 70 suites, as well as 53,000 square-feet of meeting and event space.
A 200-room Courtyard by Marriott with two office buildings is planned near the new Inter-Continental hotel (see item above). Construction is expected to be finished by spring 2010.
The 369-room Doubletree Hotel Chicago-O'Hare Rosemont, across from the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, has been purchased by the Dow Hotel Co. and will undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation.
In Chicago Southland, Hickory Creek Resort in 2009 will open a 105-room themed hotel; a 120-room extended-stay hotel; 94,500 square feet of mixed-use office, meeting, and commercial space; an indoor waterpark; and more.
A multimillion-dollar redevelopment has restored the Doubletree Hotel & Conference Center Chicago-North Shore in Skokie. The 369-room hotel offers more than 22,000 square feet of redesigned, IACC-certified meeting space.
Starwood opened the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center just outside Chicago in Lombard, Ill. The hotel offers 500 guest rooms and 39,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
In Tinley Park, a 35-minute drive from Chicago, the 202-room Holiday Inn Select & Convention Center is considering an expansion of its 40,000-square-foot convention center. Plans would more than double that space.
The 500-room Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center offers 48,000 square feet of meeting space and a 100,000-square-foot, pillar-free convention center.
The Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg is slated to begin a renovation of all guest rooms, public space, and meeting rooms.
The 497-room Hyatt Regency Indianapolis unveiled a $13 million renovation in November. Changes include new meeting space, bringing the total to 30,000 square feet.
Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre has had several enhancements and renovated 378 guest rooms, including 45 suites. The hotel has more than 18,000 square feet of meeting space.
With 202 rooms within a few blocks of the convention hall, the Clarion Downtown Fort Wayne is undergoing renovation.
In November 2007, the Hotel Pontchartrain became the Sheraton Detroit Riverside. Renovated in a two-year, $35 million makeover, the hotel offers 367 guest rooms and eight meeting rooms, the largest of which is 5,307 square feet.
The 235-room Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. Guest rooms, two ballrooms, and 30 meeting rooms accounting for 30,000 square feet of meeting space were renovated.
A 100,000-square-foot convention center should be on the ground in Macomb County by 2010. One of its three developers asserted to the Detroit Free Press that “already, organizers for shows dedicated to events from boats to building have expressed interest in booking the new convention center when it opens.”
Construction began last year on a $30 million, 175-room Embassy Suites Hotel to be connected to the Earle Brown Conference Center in Heritage Center near Minneapolis. The hotel is expected to be complete in spring 2009.
In place of the Midland Bank Building comes the Hotel Minneapolis. The building has been transformed into a 224-room hotel, restaurant, and conference center that will host meetings for up to 230 attendees.
The 403-room former Grand Lodge Hotel in Bloomington has been renamed the Radisson Hotel Bloomington. The 403-room hotel has 5,200 square feet of meeting space and is connected to the Water Park of America.
Plans for the huge expansion of the Mall of America, Bloomington, include a $40 million, 202-room Kimpton hotel. Construction was expected to be complete this summer.
CoCo Key Water Resort, a 50,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, opened in November 2007 at the Sheraton Cincinnati North. The hotel has 257 guest rooms and 18 meeting rooms.
Doubletree Hotels opened the converted 306-room Doubletree Hotel Columbus/Worthington in August 2007, 10 miles north of downtown. There is a 7,600-square-foot ballroom and 17,000 square feet of meeting space.
The reflagged Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel and Convention Center will undergo a two-year renovation of its guest rooms and meeting space.
Kalahari Waterpark Resort and Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells now has 26 meeting rooms and a 17,000-spuare-foot ballroom, a total of 100,000 square feet of event and conference space. In addition to the resort's several hundred variable suites, consider six new five-bedroom townhouse units for a small meeting.
The 483-room Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, connected via skyway to the Midwest Airlines Center and adjacent to the Bradley Center, U.S. Cellular Arena, and the Milwaukee Theater, will undergo an $18 million renovation.
The Abbey Resort on Lake Geneva has undergone refurbishment in the past two years of its 334 guest rooms and suites and more than 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space. In April 2007, it was taken under new management by the Hostmark Hospitality Group.
Megabus, the Midwest's direct city-to-city bus transport, which is based in Chicago, has successfully expanded its service routes to include Ann Arbor, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; and Louisville, Ky., as well as the previously served cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Toledo.
“As before, passengers who book travel far enough in advance can secure tickets for as low as $1,” says Brian Souter, Megabus CEO.
Ask the CVB
Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau
Rosemont Convention Bureau
Tinley Park Chamber of Commerce
Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association
Fort Wayne CVB
Detroit Metro CVB
Grand Rapids/Kent County CVB
Saint Paul CVB
Greater Columbus CVB
(800) 354-2657; www.ExperienceColumbus.com 
CVB of Greater Cleveland
(800) 321-1001; www.positivelycleveland.com 
Greater Cincinnati CVB
Greater Madison CVB
Greater Milwaukee CVB
Wisconsin Dells VCB
In Milwaukee, the Harley-Davidson Museum opened this past summer. The museum can accommodate 20 to 1,050 guests indoors and up to 15,000 people outdoors. Meals can be as memorable as a “Road King Breakfast” with all the fixings, “Brake Out” afternoon snacks of penny candy and root beer floats, or a New York strip steak dinner. (877) 736-8738; www.harley-davidson.com/wcm/Content/Pages/HD_Museum/ 
In Lisle, Ill., the 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum is both a park and an outdoor museum of woodlands, wetlands, and gardens. The arboretum is open 365 days a year, and attractions include the four-acre Children's Garden, the Maze Garden, the the Fragrance Garden, and the Schulen-berg Prairie. The new Visitor Center houses the Gingko Room and Restaurant, a couple of meeting rooms, and a gift shop. (630) 968-0074; [email protected] ; www.mortonarb.org 
An addition to the beautiful Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2006 created additional spaces for groups to meet. Graves Reception Hall, with soaring maple panels and a barrel-vaulted ceiling, can host up to 350 people. The Pillsbury Auditorium can seat 250 guests theater-style. For smaller groups, the Wells Fargo Community Room with its banks of windows brings the outdoors in. (612) 870-3049; [email protected] ; http://artsmia.org