The Milwaukee area is one that keeps up with the demands of planners, offering a number of updated group-friendly hotels, increasingly popular districts that attendees enjoy exploring on their downtime and intriguing activities that are unique to this attractive and fun Midwest destination.
Milwaukee’s energy has risen in recent years as more people choose to live and work downtown, according to Jeff Baryenbruch, executive director of sales at Visit Milwaukee.
“With this shift, new supportive restaurants and retail have been developed, and as a result, convention attendees have more options to enjoy than they had five years ago,” he says.
Milwaukee’s hotel portfolio, already home to longtime meetings standouts such as the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, Intercontinental Milwaukee and The Pfister Hotel, is also growing to showcase the city’s evolution. Over the last couple of years four new hotels have opened: Brewhouse Inn & Suites in April 2013, Hilton Garden Inn in November 2012, Milwaukee Marriott Downtown in June 2013 and Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in August.
“The new 19-story hotel at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino has a terrific function-space-to-guest-room ratio, presenting an excellent package to the meeting professional,” Baryenbruch says, adding that Potawatomi offers groups a “self-contained” experience. “When the day of meetings is complete, convention attendees can enjoy a delicious dinner in one of the several on-site restaurants or try their luck in the casino.”
Baryenbruch adds that several hotels are in development stages, including the proposed 200-room Westin Milwaukee and a 158-room Kimpton property.
The Kimpton hotel, tentatively scheduled to open in 2016, will reside in the increasingly popular historic Third Ward, which is within walking distance for attendees convening in the city, according to Baryenbruch. The area features shopping and dining opportunities as well as pubs and special event venues.
“Milwaukee is a water city,” he says, explaining that a three-mile RiverWalk connects unique neighborhoods and guarantees easy walkability, and all summer long the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan are busy with excursion boats and kayak rentals. “Groups may enjoy a pub crawl by pontoon boat to three local microbreweries along the river.”
Milwaukee Kayak is one go-to outfitter that provides kayak, canoe and standup paddleboard rentals, and S/V Denis Sullivan, Milwaukee’s replica of a three-masted tall ship, offers “all hands on deck” sails for groups throughout the summer.
‘The group is expected to help hoist sails,” Baryenbruch says. “It’s a spectacular outing on Lake Michigan.”
Land pursuits after the meeting include visits to attractions like the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Harley-Davidson Museum, where groups can grab a bite or hold a private event at the popular Motor Bar & Restaurant.
Several new eateries opened over the past year, including Ardent, which has a private dining area for groups of up to 20 people and will customize a menu and wine pairing for a group; Goodkind, with specialties including rotisserie dishes such as lavender-anchovy crusted leg of lamb; and Cafe Bavaria, which also hosts private events and offers German beers and dishes, including schnitzel, Bavarian sauerkraut, beef stroganoff and grass-fed burgers such as the Ludwig and the Julie Andrews.
Meanwhile, teambuilding options in Milwaukee include cooking classes in the demonstration kitchen at the trendy Milwaukee Public Market; outings to Evolution Gastro Pong, which combines great food, 12 table tennis courts and a stadium-style center court; and Splash Studio, a painting bar that’s run by local artists and is a hit with groups of all sizes: