With a host of new facilities and convention center expansions in the pipeline, as well as unique regional culture and creative spaces to explore, Midwest cities offer an accessible and affordable option for groups.
Indianapolis broke ground on the sixth expansion of the Indiana Convention Center (ICC) in August this year, with completion anticipated for summer of 2026. The expansion will include one of the top-10 largest convention center ballrooms in the U.S. as well as the additional space required to host two citywide conventions at the same time. A skywalk over Capitol Avenue will connect the expansion to the existing convention center. The project will also add a 40-story convention-focused Signia by Hilton, which will become the tallest hotel in Indianapolis, transforming its skyline. Once completed, it will bring the total number of hotel rooms connected via climate-controlled skywalks in Indianapolis to more than 5,500, more than any other city in the U.S.
“While Indy may be best known for our famed racecars and hosting major sporting events, it’s our downtown neighborhoods teeming with culture that truly provide an authentic experience for visitors”, says Chris Gahl, executive VP, Visit Indy. “And attendees can easily explore Indy’s six cultural districts via the city’s 8-mile Cultural Trail connecting our neighborhoods to the expanding Indiana Convention Center and enabling you to get from your hotel to the front door of more than 350 restaurants, bars and museums.”
Gainbridge Fieldhouse, home to the NBA Indiana Pacers and WNBA Indiana Fever, is set to complete the second-largest renovation in NBA history as it puts the finishing touches on the outdoor Bicentennial Unity Plaza. Opening in time for the 2024 NBA All-Star Game, the new plaza will be home to a community basketball court, seasonal ice rink, community-based public programming and new public art—providing a gathering space for locals and visitors alike.
“The new Bottleworks Hotel and District sits on the site of the former largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in the world, while the renovated Stutz Building serves as a gathering space with some of Indy’s best restaurants and artist studios located within,” says Gahl. “Both provide unique environments rich with history and teeming with opportunity to create meaningful experiences. In a city known for hospitality, Indy is always looking to go above and beyond to create exceptional experiences for visitors.”
“In Branson, we take pride in offering a wide variety of creative and cultural options for MICE events,” says Reed Warner, director of meetings & conventions, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB. “Whether your group is looking for artistic, music or recreational activities, Branson has options to fit any group’s creative and cultural needs. One very interesting option—Branson and the Ozarks Region were blessed with a unique geological history with many ancient cave systems, natural springs and rolling mountains.”
Branson was once home to the indigenous people of North America, specifically the Osage Tribe. Countless artifacts of their culture have been excavated from the rugged wilderness around Branson and have been preserved by local collectors and conservationists. Top of the Rock and The Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum blend the lost culture of the Osage with the natural beauty of the land they inhabited to create an elevated cultural experience for MICE groups.
“Creatively, Branson has become a hotbed of up-and-coming folk, indie and country artists,” says Warner. “Performance venues such as the Nest are creating a more intimate setting for MICE groups to connect with local musicians. We’re using the soulful and acoustic sounds of our destination to elevate mixers, receptions and networking events for our corporate events, and the feedback has been encouraging.
Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing is set to undergo complete guest room renovations beginning winter of 2023. The renovation will completely modernize a popular hotel for MICE groups in Branson. Also set to open later this year on Branson Hills Parkway is The Social Birdy, a new 9,000-sf hub for leisure and recreation. The venue will include a full-service golf shop, golf lessons and a professional-style 18-hole putting green, as well as five golf simulator bays.
“MICE groups are now seeking experiences that offer a unique blend of culture, history, cuisine and activities to give them an immersive adventure they won’t find anywhere else,” says Warner. “Branson is so lucky to have all of these components in spades. One of the major changes we are seeing is our planners are eager to take their groups outdoors. There is an increased focus on health and wellbeing and the Branson community has acted quickly to satisfy that trend. Recently, our destination has added Howler Bike Park, Pink Jeep Tours and 37 North Expeditions to our growing list of outdoor adventure options. For the planner seeking something a bit different with elevated service and facilities, Branson is a perfect destination to help push the boundaries of what attendees expect and help the planner challenge them while making a lasting impact from the event.”
“Creativity and culture continue to expand in Milwaukee and our MICE groups are continuing to take advantage of our experiences when they visit our destination,” says Leslie Johnson, VP of sales and event experience, VISIT Milwaukee. “Visitors can extend their meeting trips to include our world-class museums, including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World and Harley-Davidson Museum. Participants can explore the city by getting in a little cardio with our walking tours, paddle/peddle taverns or by experiencing one of our yoga classes along the lakefront.”
Milwaukee’s convention facility, the Baird Center, is currently undergoing a $456 million expansion that is set to be completed in early 2024. The expansion will double the size of the convention center and add 24 new meeting rooms, at least 400 indoor parking spaces, six new loading docks and a fourth-floor ballroom with space and seating for at least 2,000 people. A new Hilton Tempo hotel as well as a Marriott Tribute Hotel are also coming to Milwaukee soon.
“MICE groups are looking for unique destination experiences for their attendees,” says Johnson. “They’re now looking for cities their members and attendees wouldn’t typically go to. With Milwaukee’s options more similarly matching some tier-one cities, our destination can showcase options that can be found nowhere else in the world such as the , our city of festivals and more.”
Outdoor experiences for groups in Milwaukee can include golf, fishing excursions on Lake Michigan, tailgating experiences and picnics along the shores of Lake Michigan. Indoor options, meanwhile, can include brewery tours and the city’s culinary scene including several James Beard nominated and award-winning chefs.
“Milwaukee was not traditionally viewed as a destination for incentive travel,” says Johnson. “We have similar experiences to larger Midwest destinations and similar markets but we provide a more accessible and affordable destination. We’re also a destination with a rich history of industry and breweries. The MICE industry continues to expand and bounce back post-pandemic and Milwaukee is trending ahead of similar cities to provide places to meet.”
“For the past decade, people have been talking about a renaissance in Detroit,” says Claude Molinari, president and CEO, Visit Detroit. “Twenty-twenty-four will be the year that shows Detroit isn’t just coming back, our city never left and now people are going to see just what a spectacular place the Motor City is.”
Next year will see the completion of two billion-dollar projects in Detroit. Ford’s restoration of Michigan Central Station will create a global home for future mobility innovation as well as a community asset of art, music and green space. The Bedrock real estate firm, meanwhile, is set to complete the Hudson Tower, which will be the second-tallest building in Michigan and home to an Edition Hotel. Other upcoming projects include North America’s first EV-charging road, the completion of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park Development, as well as the Henry Ford Museum’s addition of The Jackson House.
“Detroit is a city of true creativity and culture, and our destination has meaningful and unique experiences throughout the metropolitan area,” says Molinari. “The city has more than 140 neighborhoods, each with different characteristics and history. Meeting, convention and event visitors can engage with locally owned businesses, urban farms and working artists and musicians.”
Year-round in 2024, Detroit will continue its program of cultural events and festivals such as the Movement Electronic music festival, the Month of Design in September, as well as the NFL Draft from April 25-27.
“Detroit’s commitment to integrated sustainability raises the bar for MICE groups because we see ourselves as the stewards of our local culture and planet,” says Molinari. “Huntington Place is one of the most sustainable convention centers in the world, and events in the metro Detroit region consistently find ways to connect attendees with the local community.”
explorebranson.com/meetings; visitmilwaukee.org/meetings-and-conventions; visitindy.com/meetings/meeting-facilities; visitdetroit.com/meet-detroit/plan-detroit-meeting