Racine and Kenosha should be considered as locations for your next event

By Nancy A. Herrick | Photo Credit: Real Racine

As Kenosha County treasurer, Teri Jacobson helped plan the annual conference of the Wisconsin County Treasurers’ Association a few years ago.

“We had 63 out of 72 counties represented and about 100 people attending,” she says. “I wanted to have the conference in downtown Kenosha because of the wonderful setting overlooking Lake Michigan and because there is so much to do within walking distance.

“We had a wine tasting at the Public Museum, karaoke at a nearby tavern, live music at a little Irish pub – all downtown. We booked almost the entire Best Western Harborside and Conference Center and it all worked out extremely well.

“In fact, members are still raving about it three years later.”

Jacobson knew what other planners might want to check out: that Kenosha (and for similar reasons, Racine to the north) can be a special place for conferences and meetings.

Kenosha and Racine are located on the shore of Lake Michigan in the far southeast corner of Wisconsin, between Milwaukee and Chicago. They are the fourth and fifth largest cities in Wisconsin and their populations are about 99,000 and 78,000 respectively.

Their accessibility to the major cities of Milwaukee and Chicago can be considered an advantage for event planners.

“Some 12 million people live within 100 miles of Racine,” explains Dave Blank, president and CEO of Real Racine, the Racine County convention and visitors bureau. “Plus, it takes just 20 minutes to get to the Milwaukee airport and 50 minutes to get to Chicago’s O’Hare from Racine. So we are well-located.”

Neither city has a large convention center, but Racine and Kenosha venues attract their share of smaller conferences and local and regional meetings.

Deanna Goodwin, marketing director for the Kenosha Convention and Visitors Bureau, says it best: “We may be a relatively small destination, but we do have several facilities with meeting and conference space and we can offer a beautiful setting and a memorable experience.”

Here are some things for meeting planners to keep in mind if Kenosha and Racine are on the radar.

WHERE TO MEET

Kenosha The Best Western Harborside Inn and Kenosha Conference Center overlooks the Port of Kenosha and Lake Michigan. It has five floors and 111 hotel rooms, half of which have harbor views, and is just a short walk to downtown restaurants and museums.

“We are in a bit of a state of flux right now, but have meeting facilities for as many as 250 in our largest room and another that holds up to 50 people,” says Dan Young, who started his job as general manager in July. “Going forward more renovations may be anticipated. But if location, location, location is what’s most important, as Kenosha’s only downtown hotel, we have a lot to offer.”

Kemper Center is a historic landmark along the Lake Michigan shore, just south of Kenosha’s downtown. Once a private home for a U.S. senator and later an Episcopal girls school, the 17-acre Kemper campus also includes an arboretum, arts and recreation facilities and a state-of-the art conference center with total meeting space of more than 8,000 square feet.

Kemper’s hospitality staff can help businesses, organizations and associations plan their events at any of the nine indoor meeting facilities that accommodate up to 200 or outdoor settings for up to 500.

Another unusual and historic venue, Circa on Seventh is located in the harborside area of downtown Kenosha in a renovated old theater that now accommodates as many as 220 guests. Its catering company, Culinary Infusion, can come up with a special dining experience at this venue – from gourmet box lunches to an elegant seated dinner, and everything in between.

Also downtown, the Kenosha Museum Group provides 7,400 square feet of unusual meeting and reception areas as part of the Public Museum and adjacent Civil War Museum, allowing attendees to learn about history while participating in a conference. The Friends Gallery mezzanine provides a panoramic view of Lake Michigan, the lobby features a 60foot atrium and the Daimler Chrysler Hall can accommodate up to 200. Smaller classrooms can hold groups of up to 60.

In nearby Pleasant Prairie, just off Interstate 94, the full-service Radisson Hotel and Conference Center has seven meeting rooms with 5,500 square feet of meeting space. The largest can accommodate 500 people for a reception or 280 for banquet dining.

There are 120 guest rooms, including 18 one-bedroom suites and 10 luxury whirlpool suites and a restaurant is on site. Racine Some of Racine’s best-known conference hotels also are going through some changes.

Formerly the Racine Marriott, the Racine Architect Conference Center and Hotel is undergoing a $10 million renovation. When it is complete, the full-service venue will carry the luxury brand Delta by Marriott, one of just a few in the country.

“The hotel and conference facilities are still up and running,” says Kris Tembo, director of sales and marketing for the facility in the Racine business district, west of downtown. “We are going through a renovation and expect to be done by June 2017.”

In addition to 222 guest rooms, the venue has 12,000-plus square feet of meeting space, including the Grand Ballroom that accommodates 300, the Huron Room for 100 and a total of seven break-out rooms.

Downtown, the Harbourwalk Hotel Racine on the lakefront is transitioning to a Doubletree by Hilton and is undergoing an extensive update. Perhaps best known for its views, its meeting facilities include the Harbourview Room that accommodates up to 100, the Zephyr Room for up to 90 and the Links Room for up to 80.

Also on the lakefront is Festival Hall, a 15,000-plus square foot modern and versatile facility that is part of the Racine Civic Center. Festival Hall hosts everything from symphony concerts to bridal shows, banquets and corporate events. It also has a 1,050-square-foot conference room.

Also part of the Civic Center is Memorial Hall, a larger facility with eight rooms in one historic building downtown. Of its nearly 17,000 square feet, the largest venue is the 8,400-square-foot Diamond Auditorium that seats up to 1,200 for theater seating or 450 for a banquet. Next largest is the Ruby Red Room with 4,900 square feet that accommodates 200 for theater seating or 150 for a banquet.

The Wingspread Conference Center, a national landmark, was designed in 1936 by Frank Lloyd Wright as a home for Herbert Fisk Johnson of Johnson Wax. It now serves as a conference center with a focus on the environment and the community. It is located north of Racine on 36 wooded acres along the Lake Michigan shore in Wind Point.

West of Interstate 94 is one of the newest conference facilities in Racine County, Veterans Terrace. The facility is adjacent to Echo Park in Burlington with nature walks on the grounds along the White River. It has five venues that can accommodate groups ranging from 75 to 400.

THINGS TO DO

Kenosha For $1 per ride (or $3.50 all day), adults can ride the Kenosha Electric Streetcar’s restored trolleys on a two-mile loop that takes passengers along the shoreline, through two historic districts, around downtown and to the METRA train station, which is the northernmost stop of the Chicago commuter train.

The trolley route serves the Kenosha Public Museums, which are three cultural attractions under one umbrella. The Civil War Museum emphasizes the role of the Upper Midwest states in the war and tells many personal stories of what citizens experienced in the effort. The Kenosha Public Museum focuses on the natural sciences and fine and decorative arts with exhibits on Native Americans, geology, world cultures and more. The Dinosaur Discovery Museum is an actual research lab that focuses on current efforts in learning about dinosaurs, in association with the Carthage College Institute of Paleontology.

Many people come to Kenosha County from Wisconsin and northern Illinois to shop at the many outlet stores. The best known and most easily accessible are the Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets adjacent to the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center at I-94’s Exit 347, which is just north of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. There are almost 100 stores in three large sections.

If you would like to take a little taste of Kenosha home with you, the Jelly Belly Visitor Center and candy store in Pleasant Prairie is a good place to start. Free tours are offered daily (except holidays) and include a train ride through the warehouse as visitors learn how the little jelly candies with the unusual flavors are made. Racine Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprint can be seen around Racine. In addition to Wingspread, several Wrightdesigned buildings can be found on the SC Johnson campus at 1525 Howe St.  The Great Workroom, completed in 1939, has almost a half-acre of floor space and 31-foottall columns that support the ceiling instead of internal walls. The 15-story Research Tower, completed in 1950, is an excellent example of cantilever construction. Wright designed the Golden Rondelle Theater as the Johnson Wax Pavilion for the New York World’s Fair in 1964-’65. Afterward it was dismantled and rebuilt on the campus. All are open for tours.

A few blocks from Racine’s downtown area is North Beach, a 50-acre city park with silky sand and clear water that has received accolades from USA Today, Midwest Living magazine and Parents magazine. It was the first beach in Wisconsin designated as a Certified Blue Wave clean beach by the National Clean Beaches Council.

The Racine Art Museum, at 441 Main St. downtown, is a nationally recognized contemporary craft museum that seeks to elevate craft to fine art. It presents craft media such as ceramics, glass, metals, polymer and more alongside paintings and sculptures.

Racine is the home of kringle, a rich oval Danish specialty that is the official Wisconsin State Pastry. This sweet, flaky treat can be found at many local bakeries such as Larsen’s, Lehmann’s, Bendtsen’s and O&H, with each having their own recipe and flavors. You won’t want to leave Racine without sampling it.

The Lake Michigan shoreline offers a great opportunity for charter fishing. Dozens of charters run daily offering half and full day trips, perfect for those groups seeking a more adventurous outing.