Building is booming in America’s Midwest.
Even during the recent slowdown, Midwestern destinations have been hard at work adding new parks, hotels, visitor centers, retail and restaurant projects, and attractions. Here are just a handful of must-see projects across the Midwest that will cater to group travelers.
Hotel Millwright was built in an old woolens mill in the middle of Iowa’s Amana colonies, a series of seven small villages that were built as a utopian self-sustaining community in 1855. The hotel, which opened in September 2020, pays tribute to the area’s milling past by reusing historic looms and equipment as furniture or objets d’art.
As a National Historic Landmark, the hotel was unable to change certain things about the building, so guests may find a wool carding machine or fire doors in their guest rooms or notice giant gears hanging from the ceilings. Everything in the building has a story and a purpose. And although there aren’t as many sheep in Amana as there once were, the woolen mill property still processes wool and weaves it into blankets today.
The hotel has 65 rooms, two of which are premier suites. The Indigo Room offers a full-service dining experience curated by executive chef Jim Vido, and the Electric Thread Social Club is a whiskey and bourbon bar on campus. The Merino Loft is a 7,000-square-foot event space on the second floor of the historic weaving building that can host groups of 225 people. Groups that stay at the hotel are within walking distance of the town’s major attractions, shops, wineries and restaurants.
Fort Wayne Promenade Park
Fort Wayne, Indiana
The $20 million Fort Wayne Promenade Park in Indiana opened in 2019 and features a playground; the Parkview Tree Canopy Trail; the Auer Lawn and Sweetwater Band Shell, an amphitheater; and canal boat tours. When the city was first built, the river was not included in its development. Over the past five years, the city has worked to rectify that mistake by finding ways to connect the city to the three rivers that flow through town.
Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot offers 45-minute or 90-minute tours on the Sweet Breeze canal boat, introducing visitors to the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers and highlighting points of interest along the way. Groups can rent the Sweet Breeze for a private tour with cocktails or a sit-down dinner or book guided tours along the rivers via canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Smaller groups can take a tour on Captain Black’s pontoon boat, which also takes them along the scenic St. Marys and St. Joseph rivers.
The Tree Canopy Trail is a boardwalk through the treetops along the St. Marys River that gives visitors a view of Fort Wayne and the river from 20 feet up. Promenade Park also features large porch swings, a splash canal for kids and Trubble Brewing, a riverfront cafe and beer garden that serves events at the park’s band shell.
The park is a block away from the Landing, another historical area with locally owned restaurants and a new boutique hotel, the Bradley, which will open this summer.
Grafton SkyTour at Aerie’s Resort
The owners of Aerie’s Resort in the small river town of Grafton, Illinois, decided a couple of years ago to build a chondola — half chairlift, half gondola — to bring guests up to their resort property on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The Grafton SkyTour is only the second attraction of its kind in the country and features 60 open ski-lift-style chairs mixed with 12 enclosed gondolas that can seat up to four people. The SkyTour takes visitors from Main Street in downtown Grafton up to the resort and winery for stunning views of the rivers.
Travelers who want to visit the winery or restaurant at the top of the hill can purchase a $10 round-trip ticket to spend the whole day at the resort. It takes about 15 minutes to ride to the top.
The resort has a winery and wine club; a lodge; and Aerie’s Terrace, a multilevel lodge with a brand-new Tree Bar, which can host 900 people for drinks, lunch or dinner. The venue will host live music once pandemic restrictions are a thing of the past.
The resort also has seven zip-line courses that take about 2.5 hours to complete. The resort is popular because of its proximity to Pere Marquette State Park, the largest state park in Illinois, and its location at the northwest end of the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, also known as the Great River Road.
Edsel and Eleanor Ford House
Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan
The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, is getting a new state-of-the-art visitor center and administration building to help the historic site better engage visitors. The home of Henry Ford’s son Edsel, the house and gardens are situated on 88 acres. The home itself was preserved as it was when the Ford family lived there, complete with furnishings, antiques and art. What was missing from the site was a modern way to tell the family’s story. The 48,000-square-foot visitor center will host a permanent exhibit that tells the story of the Edsel Ford family and the art and architecture of their home using home videos, letters and technology.
A changing exhibition gallery will allow the historic site to bring in national and local exhibitions that relate to the Ford family, as well as display objects in the collection that have not been exhibited before, like the prototype of the Lincoln Continental and a 1934 Model 40 Speedster.
The lobby will have an admissions and information desk, a retail shop and a destination restaurant, the Continental. Groups can sit down for a more formal dining experience or grab a premade meal and take it outside to enjoy on the estate. There is a beautiful event space above the restaurant with a balcony that overlooks Ford Cove. It can seat 200 people. The site is also getting a new 17,000-square-foot administration building to help it meet the needs of modern visitors.
The Dayton’s Project is a redevelopment of Minneapolis’ historic Dayton’s department store, which operated in the city from 1901 to 2001. The historic Art Deco building features high ceilings, huge windows and beautiful architectural elements. The developers of the mixed-use office, retail and restaurant concept wanted to keep as many of the building’s original elements as possible. They also added new entrances and a three-story grand staircase between floors with a beautiful Art Deco-style ironwork railing.
The first and second floors will feature retail shops that connect to the city’s enclosed Skyway, and the basement level will house a well-curated food hall featuring 50 local restaurateurs. The upper floors will have top-of-the-line office spaces, and the seventh floor will host a whole set of tenant amenities, like a rooftop deck, a lounge and a 10,000-square-foot fitness center.
The 45,000-square-foot food hall will be the first project of its kind in the city. It is being curated by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. The project is open concept, meaning that the food vendors will share the kitchen space, equipment and supplies, which will cut down on their overhead costs. The food hall will have none of the restaurants people associate with mall food courts.