Planning a large gathering?

    West Michigan offers wide variety of event venues
    Lilley Mansion courtesy photo

    It was a family reunion planned for everyone in the family to enjoy. Translation: No one in the family had to do the work. Lilley Mansion in Spring Lake did it.

    But first, a little history: The house was built in 1876 by lumber baron Francis Lilley, back when Spring Lake boasted nine sawmills. In 2019, the house was moved two miles, from Rachaels Way to Division Street, and extensively remodeled. Now it’s a posh bed-and-breakfast with beyond-first-class care that hosts a variety of get-togethers.

    “This is not your everyday venue,” said event planner Cassie Celestin, who works closely with Lilley Mansion owner/host Patrick Roggenbau. “People feel really special here.”

    A weekend reunion of three generations included a Friday cocktail hour and family-style dinner, a Saturday breakfast buffet and sit-down dinner, and a Sunday brunch.

    The Felt Mansion next to Saugatuck Dunes State Park also offers the same “Wow!” factor. Dorr Felt was a self-made millionaire, his riches came mostly from his invention of an early adding machine. The property hosts many upscale weddings and other gatherings, and like the Lilley mansion, it offers overnight lodging.

    If you’re wondering where to hold an upcoming gathering too big for the home, but too small for a mansion, not to worry. Many lakeshore venues host reunions, showers, birthday parties, bachelorette parties… events smaller and less formal than weddings.

    In addition to the Lilley and Felt mansions, history also offers the 1890s Kirby Hotel in Douglas and the 1901 Weaver House at Pine Bend in West Olive (an Ottawa County Parks site).

    Holland’s Merchant Hall, more than 100 years old, has telltale brick walls, tin ceiling, chandeliers. The renovated Frauenthal Center in Muskegon began its life in 1929 as the Michigan Theater. Other theaters that double as party venues include the Park Theatre and Sperry’s Moviehouse in Holland.

    Museums and studios that double as venues come with stunning built-in embellishments. Check out the Holland Area Arts Council, Holland Museum, Grand Haven’s Tri-Cities Museum, Muskegon’s Lakeshore Museum Center, Saugatuck Center for the Arts, and Capizzo Studio in Saugatuck.

    Venues without longstanding charm get dressed up for special occasions.

    The bottom line? Many sites have the space for a party, so think broadly. Big venues can get cozy for smaller events. And many smaller venues known for other purposes may also host parties.

    A start to a list includes Barclay Place Event Center in Muskegon; Baker Lofts Events by Gilmore, Butternut Event Centre and Warehouse 6 in Holland; The Harbourfront Grand Hall and 707 Events in Grand Haven; Trillium in Spring Lake; Bella Maria’s Event Center in Norton Shores;  A Cut Above Event Center and Ivy House in Saugatuck.

    Some B&Bs offer small venues for get-togethers.

    Restaurants often have rooms for private parties. So do yacht clubs, marinas and golf courses – Macatawa in Holland, American Dunes in Grand Haven, Ravines in Saugatuck, Oak Ridge in Norton Shores, Terra Verde in Nunica, Spring Lake Country Club, Muskegon Country Club.

    Check out civic centers — the Holland Armory, Midtown Center Study Hall in Holland, Central Park Place in Grand Haven.

    If scenery is important, think of places by Lake Michigan – Geneva Retreat Center in Holland, Camp Blodgett in West Olive, Shoreline Inn & Conference Center in Muskegon. The Holiday Inn in Spring Lake offers views of the Grand River.

    On Holland’s Lake Macatawa, consider Boatwerks Restaurant, Yacht Basin Conference Center, Port 393, Anchorage Marina and the Pump House Museum.

    Get out on Lake Michigan on the Knot Normal yacht or MI Party Boat Charters’ tiki boat, both of which sail out of Grand Haven. The Star of Saugatuck, a sternwheeler paddleboat, travels up the Kalamazoo River into Lake Kalamazoo and then Lake Michigan. Aquastar (formerly the Port City Princess) cruises Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan.

    The Holland Princess, a Victorian paddlewheel replica, sails on Lake Macatawa from Dunton Park in Holland. On calm days it ventures through the channel to Lake Michigan.

    Wineries, breweries and distilleries sometimes offer party space. See Fenn Valley Vineyards & Wine Cellar or Modales Wines in Fennville, OddSide Ales in Grand Haven, and in Holland, New Holland Brewing or Brew Merchant.

    Meet nature at the Art Farm or Johnson Farm in Fennville, Happy Hens Farm in Holland, The Barn at Stanton Crossing in West Olive.

    Old Stonegate Farms in Nunica was built in 1867. Today, it combines the nostalgia of yesteryear — a rustic barn, yard games, s’mores over a fire — with upscale service and amenities. The Little Red Barn of Nunica, built more than 100 years ago, also offers rustic charm.

    City, township, county and state parks display nature at its finest, and some offer covered pavilions or lodges/cabins. Consider Pioneer Park in Muskegon, Connor Bayou in Grand Haven, Pine Bend in West Olive, and Rycenga Recreational Park in Spring Lake.

    State parks along Lake Michigan are Muskegon, Duck Lake, P.J. Hoffmaster, Grand Haven, Holland and Saugatuck Dunes. Keep in mind that state parks, as well as some county parks, have entrance fees.

    Afternoon or early evening events that include children benefit from kid-friendly outdoor spaces with playgrounds. The pavilion at Tanglefoot Park in Spring Lake opened just last year. On some days it’s the venue for a farmers market, on others, a party venue. Its summertime splash pad is a hit.

    Think about the not-so-typical, too. The 1903 Greater Muskegon Woman’s Club, built specifically to be a woman’s club, bills itself as “perfect for a bridal shower, a Red Hat gathering, or a birthday party for a little princess.”

    The Historic 1881 New Groningen Schoolhouse in Zeeland is a two-room schoolhouse with with modern amenities. Griff’s Icehouse West in Holland includes the possibility of skating. USS LST (Landing Ship Tank) 393 and Silversides (submarine) Museum in Muskegon come with intriguing military history. The Holland Fish and Game Club in Zeeland hosts gatherings.

    The message here? West Michigan has many venue options for events. Consider this your starting point.

    Tips for a successful event:

    It might look like a checklist, spreadsheet, or binder with scraps of paper, magazine pages and photos.

    Some party hosts opt for a DIY approach. Others choose a planner’s expertise from the get-go. Sometimes the first option morphs into the second.

    The hoped-for bottom line? A successful gathering that just might make your guests say “Best. Time. Ever.”

    Event planners Cassie Celestin of White Dress Events and Holden Bassett-Alee of Holden Michael Events suggest these things to consider:

    What’s the occasion?

    What’s the date? Initially, be open to several. “Start the planning process as soon as you can,” Celestin said. “If you’re last minute, you can’t be picky.” Bassett-Alee adds, “People are planning their events years in advance, so it’s to a client’s advantage to be open to several different dates. We’re currently fielding inquiries for 2025, and have gotten inquiries for as far out as 2027.”

    Who’s coming? Adults and kids? Adults only?

    How many guests?

    What’s the budget?

    Consider more than one option. Browse websites for ideas, beginning with local tourism/convention bureaus. Ask friends, colleagues and neighbors for suggestions.

    • Consider hiring help for specific tasks, such as a caterer, baker, decorator or housecleaner. It frees up your time to do other things.
    • Think outside the box. Many venues are multi-faceted; for example, a bed-and-breakfast, community center or park might provide both the space and help for a dinner.
    • Research potential sites before visiting them. Be sure to learn exactly what’s included.
    • Consider out-of-town guests’ needs. Provide information to them. Create a website for them. “All these details are ones that will help your guests feel taken care of,” Bassett-Alee said.

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