Off-site meetings can be game-changers, and, if you get creative with the location, they can be combined with a lot of effective team building – or just plain fun.

Ever tried your hand at target ax throwing with your coworkers? Or ridden a funicular to get to your meeting site? How about strategizing next year’s budget while you feed goats on a farm?

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“There are logistics involved like transportation and parking, but it is 100 percent worth it if you are trying to brainstorm or conduct some serious collaboration.”

The Grand Rapids area has plenty of meeting places ideal for unique off-site gatherings and team building exercises. That goes for local companies looking to get out of their corporate environment or conference planners looking to get their attendees out of the convention center for a taste of the area.

“There are logistics involved like transportation and parking, but it is 100 percent worth it if you are trying to brainstorm or conduct some serious collaboration,” said Amy Young, CMP, CTA, president of Destination Consultants.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, companies have increasing numbers of employees who work remotely as well as contractors and vendors. An offsite gathering gets everyone out of their daily workspace and into a fresh frame of mind fertile for new ideas. Just be sure to check out the current travel guidelines as part of your planning process.

Axe throwing is an exciting, darts-like activity for anyone ages 14 and up - just don't forget to wear close-toed shoes.

Getting the team together offsite can present fertile ground for new ideas -- and fun experiences.

Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids

As for conferences, Young said it’s essential that meeting planners take advantage of the local flavor, activities and history of the destination city, soaking up the diversity and the culture.

“Otherwise, why travel at all? It’s no different from staying home and meeting in a hotel there,” she said. The local convention and visitors bureau will have plenty of suggestions for unique places as well as solutions for attendee transportation.

 Here are a few sites to consider in Grand Rapids and Kent County that are a short drive away from downtown:

John Ball Zoo
In addition to its unique animal habitats, John Ball Zoo also offers summer camps for kids.

Planners can rent out the entire John Ball Zoo and can include special experiences like zip lining.

Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids

John Ball Zoo

John Ball Zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals representing 230 species, but it also features a ballroom in the park pavilion overlooking a rose garden and the Bissell Tree House, a beautiful meeting space at the top of the zoo accessible on foot or via a hillside funicular. The tree house features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown. (You can rent out the whole zoo, too, and throw in some added experiences like camel rides, the ropes course or the zip line.)

Blandford Nature Center

Experience a little green therapy at your offsite by heading to Blandford Nature Center. It features a collection of wildlife, a working farm with goats, sheep and pigs, historic buildings and 264 acres of woods, streams and meadows traced with 6 miles of trails. The center has indoor and outdoor spaces ideal for meetings, including a brand new auditorium.

Visitors taking Igor Mitoraj's Light of the Moon - Further Out out Frederik Meijer Gardens & Scuplture Park.

Visitors taking in Igor Mitoraj's Light of the Moon - Further Out at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Regardless of the weather, you can always get a dose of tropical warmth at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Admission to the 158-acre gardens, including the steamy, five-story Tropical Conservatory featuring more than 500 plant species, comes with rental of any of their meeting spaces. They offer small breakout rooms to large banquet facilities. And if the weather is nice, taking a sculpture tour or visiting the Japanese Garden are sure to spark creative discussion.

Games, go-karts and more

Craig’s Cruisers is a great place to work hard and play hard – only in addition to arcade games, throw in a trampoline park, go-karts, bumper boats, bumper cars, laser tag, mini golf, a ropes course and a ninja course. (Everyone knows someone who secretly wants to be a ninja, right?). They have private rooms to accommodate your corporate meeting needs as well as the fun to reward all your creative thinking.

Fifth Third Ballpark features meeting rooms, suites, outdoor decks and more.

Lake Michigan Credit Union Ballpark features meeting rooms, suites, outdoor decks and more.

Photo by West Michigan Whitecaps

Lake Michigan Credit Union Ballpark

Do you have a lot of baseball fans in your group? Checkout Lake Michigan Credit Union Ballpark (LCMU Ballpark for short), home to the West Michigan Whitecaps, a Class A farm team for the Detroit Tigers. The stadium has a spacious meeting room overlooking center field, suites for more intimate settings, one of the outdoor decks or even the parking lot. You can also include batting practice for your group!

Former furniture city factories

Before Grand Rapids was known as Beer City, it was known as "furniture city" for the numerous furniture brands headquartered there. Now these factory spaces have been turned into attractive gathering spaces that retain the beauty of their original function. A few recent examples include:

The Goei Center is in a 15,000-square-foot former Kindel Furniture factory. New Vintage Place was once a power plant for nearby furniture manufacturers and Clearwater Place was originally the City of Grand Rapids' Drinking Water Filtration Plant. Cheney Place is in the 20,000-square-foot home of the former Cheney Talking Machine Factory, a turntable manufacturer founded in 1914. Cheney has the added bonus of an onsite vintage furniture rental to break out of the corporate conference mode.

A group photo at Robinette's.

Get your team into the fresh air at local agritourism sites like Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

On the farm

Several of the area’s agritourism sites like Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm Market and Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery accommodate meetings for those who want to pair the corporate work with fruit picking, farm tours, hayrides or cider tasting, depending on the season. Or, get the beauty of the farm without the work at Hydrangea Blu, a 100-year-old barn turned event space that offers all the rustic flavor of a barn with plenty of surrounding green space and all the modern amenities needed for gatherings.

Invented sports

We didn’t forget about the ax throwing we mentioned earlier. We’ll also throw in fowling, which is a combination of football and bowling. Both make for a unique activity that just might make your off-site meeting the most memorable your team ever experienced.

You can explore a mix of bowling and football at the Fowling Warehouse in Cascade Township. But if you’re looking for something a little more primal, check out tomahawk bowling at Kat’s Alley and Tomahawk Lanes in Ravenna – a combination of darts with a tomahawk axe and the scoring of bowling.

So, where will your next off-site meeting be? Let us know in the comments below or contact our sales team for assistance.