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.
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.
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:
Planners can rent out the entire John Ball Zoo and can include special experiences like zip lining.
Photo by Brian Craig for Experience GR.
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, historic buildings and 264 acres of woods, streams and meadows traced with 3 miles of trails. The center has indoor and outdoor spaces ideal for meetings, including a brand new auditorium.
The Japanese Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is the perfect place to spark creative thinking.
Photo by Alina Albin for Experience GR.
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, and mini golf. They have private rooms to accommodate your corporate meeting needs as well as the fun to reward all your creative thinking.
Looking for a new and exciting team building activity? Amped Virtual Reality is right up your alley!
Photo by Haley Chicoine for Experience GR.
Amped Virtual Reality
The versatile event space at Amped Virtual Reality includes a spacious main room equipped with state-of-the-art lighting, sound and 28 TVs – perfect for networking and socializing – and two side rooms for breakout sessions and private conversations. Take your meeting to the next level with a team-building virtual reality session. There are more than 40 VR experiences to choose from, with several multiplayer and group activities. Located in southeast Grand Rapids, Amped VR can accommodate 6 to 60 people.
BattleGR Tactical Games & Sports
Combine your meeting with a fun team-building experience at BattleGR. This northeast Grand Rapids facility offers meeting space with A/V solutions and food options as well as a variety of group bonding activities, including axe throwing, tactical laser tag, archery tag, cornhole, volleyball, basketball and football bowling. A dedicated Company Events Coordinator will assist you with all details.
Originally built in 1916 and serving as an elementary school for nearly a century, Leona Road has been fully renovated with modern Scandinavian styling and large open spaces accommodating up to 300 seated guests. A roomy outdoor terrace/greenspace is perfect for cocktail receptions and networking. Food and bar service is available. Leona Road is on Leonard St., on the city’s west side, just 10 minutes from downtown Grand Rapids.
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 a game of softball, kickball, or catch with 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 14,000-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.
Get your team into the fresh air at local agritourism sites like Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery.
Photo by Robert Nuemann for Experience GR.
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.
Luxury Golf Courses
RedWater Events is the event facilitator for five Grand Rapids golf clubs: Thornapple Pointe (public) and StoneWater, Sunnybrook, Watermark and Thousand Oaks (all private). Each of these venues have a variety of indoor spaces equipped with state-of-the-art A/V equipment and lush outdoor spaces in secluded settings. In-house catering and beverage services and a dedicated event staff help ensure a successful meeting.
Many city and county parks offer enclosed lodges, often equipped with presentation equipment and kitchen facilities, for meetings and other corporate events. Surrounded by woods, waters and greenspaces, they are naturally relaxing and inspiring spaces. Options include Ada’s Roselle Park (accommodating up to 75 people) and Fallasburg Park (150), Byron Center’s Douglas Walker Park (150), Caledonia’s Lakeside Park (120), Grandville’s Johnson Park (150) and Wyoming’s Pinery Park (100). All are within 10-30 minutes of downtown Grand Rapids.
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.