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Get to Know Grand Rapids at the Going On Faith Conference

World-class gardens, a presidential library and great food await Going On Faith Conference attendees this summer in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The western Michigan city has a population of just under 200,000 people, with 1.2 million residents living in the metro area. This year’s conference will take place September 4-6 in DeVos Place Convention Center on the Grand River downtown.

As is customary, the conference’s host city will offer various tours.

“The plan is to do four sightseeing tours with two destinations in each,” said Dave Nitkiewicz, specialty markets sales manager for Experience Grand Rapids. “One tour will include the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Grand Rapids Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.”

The Public Museum opened in 1994 on the river downtown and contains three floors of exhibits. They include the Chaffee Planetarium, the Cook Carousel Pavilion and the Meijer Theater. The Ford museum is the presidential museum and burial site of Gerald Ford, the nation’s 38th president, who served from 1974 to 1977, and his wife, first lady Betty Ford.

“The second tour will be of Ferris Coffee and Nut, a local coffee and nut roaster and distributor,” said Nitkiewicz, “and we’ll also take them to our Downtown Market Hall.”

House-roasted coffees are produced in Ferris’ airy industrial building with an inviting patio. Visitors can also buy nuts, chocolates and other merchandise. The Downtown Market has about 20 indoor vendors, and many head outdoors spring to fall. The facility offers hands-on cooking classes, rooftop greenhouses and space for private events.

A third tour highlights art and architecture and includes the Grand Rapids Art Museum or, as the locals call it, the GRAM. It will also stop at the Meyer May House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home completed in 1909 and located in the Heritage Hill Historic District.

The last tour will be to two breweries and focuses on beer tourism. “Sometimes we’re known as Beer City USA,” said Nitkiewicz. Grand Rapids has a booming craft beer industry, and delegates can hoist a pint at a couple of stops in celebration of the Going On Faith Conference.

In addition, the conference’s opening night dinner will be at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, a world-famous, 158-acre botanical garden and outdoor sculpture park that is the second-most-visited tourist attraction in Michigan. With dinner comes a tour of the grounds.

If delegates want to linger and explore more after the conference, Grand Rapids will offer opportunities to get to know the area, including beautiful Lake Michigan.

“We’ll have a post-conference familiarization tour and hope to have 20 different tour operators attend,” said Nitkiewicz. “Lake Michigan is absolutely breathtaking, and we enjoy bringing people there. Post-conference, we’ll have a one-day excursion to three small beach towns.”

Nitkiewicz is confident that visiting Grand Rapids for the Going On Faith Conference will help inspire delegates to return to the area.

“Our biggest advantage in Grand Rapids is that people don’t know what to expect,” he said. “In the hospitality and tourism industries, exceeding expectations is my favorite part. No expectation means people don’t know anything about an area. We’re off the radar. I love it when people come with no expectations but with an open mind.”

Dan Dickson

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