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Posted on Sat, Jan 30, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

Places to have a meeting in the Ann Arbor area

By Edward Vielmetti

The City of Ann Arbor is entertaining proposals from developers for a conference and convention center hotel to be located on the Library Lot, next to the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. But what if you have a meeting that you want to hold before construction is complete, and you can't wait?

There are lots of places for meetings in the area. Here's a guide to some of the locations you might consider.

Cafes, restaurants, and bars

The thriving cafe culture in Ann Arbor means that there are dozens of places where you and a small group of friends can sit down to chit-chat without needing to do much planning and without requiring that you purchase more than a tasty beverage to secure your seat for an hour or two.

Local cafes generally can accommodate groups of 6 or 8 without any advance warning, and they have the great advantage that since you are meeting in public you can pull in other folks who are interested in your knitting circle or book group just by having people overhear what you are doing.

The oldest of these groups in the area is the breakfast meeting on the Old West Side at Washtenaw Dairy, where the regulars are so regular that they have a key to open the door.

Restaurants welcome regular lunch meetings, either in the main restaurant space or in a private dining room. Derek Mehraban's weekly Wednesday LA2M meeting for marketing professionals fills Conor O'Neill's "Celtic Room" with 75 to 100 people, and my weekly Thursday A2B3 meeting at Eastern Accents seats 20 to 25. Some private dining rooms also have audio-visual equipment including projection systems and sound systems set up for your use.

There are bars that have private function space, available either as a rental or free when you fill the place with people drinking tasty adult beverages. Three good examples of this are Arbor Brewing Company in Ann Arbor and Frenchie's and the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti. These places can accommodate dozens of people, and the Corner Brewery is big enough to host the annual Shadow Art Fair.

Civic space

Area schools, public and private, have cafeteria, gymnasium, and auditorium space for use after hours and on weekends. In Ann Arbor, the Rec and Ed department is the best place to go to for reserving space. Be prepared to pay for custodial services, and be aware that because it's a school there may be requirements on acceptable use that are quite different from bars. There are several religious groups that use Ann Arbor school auditoriums for their weekly services.

Churches, temples, synagogues and other places of worship will often have basements, halls, nurseries and gymnasiums available, either for members of the congregation or for the public at large. There's a wide variety of spaces available in these facilities, especially during the week. Several cooperative nurseries use church facilities, for instance, to host their programs. Even if the organization doesn't specifically list a rental policy on their site you can often ask, and if your program is relevant to the mission of the organization you will often find welcoming arms.

Several area parks have space available indoors as conference or meeting space. Washtenaw County's Independence Lake Park has a meeting room with space for 35-40 people, a projection screen, tables and chairs and screened windows, overlooking the swimming beach and woods at the county park.

In Ann Arbor, the Eli Gallup Meeting Room at Gallup Park has windows overlooking the Huron River. The city's Cobblestone Farm has three story oak timber frame barn with room for 220 guests and 3,200 square feet of handicap accessible rental space, a warming kitchen, and restrooms.

Public libraries often have meeting rooms available. The Ann Arbor District Library's FreeSpace meeting room at the downtown branch can be reserved for free by nonprofit groups four times per year, as long as there is no admission charged. Other groups using meeting rooms in library space include Washtenaw Literacy for literacy tutoring and discussion groups.

Commercial meeting space

There are two coworking spaces in the area that are notable for hosting meetings and groups. The A2 MechShop, located in Scio Township is a shared workshop space which hosts the meetings of groups like the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor Area Robotics Club and the GO-Tech technology group. In downtown Ann Arbor, the Workantile Exchange has rentable meeting room space on Main Street.

Many condominiums and apartment buildings have clubhouses and common rooms, and these make a good place for inexpensive parties and events. These are often reserved for people who live in those facilities.

Corporate offices, cafeterias, and board rooms are an untapped source for meeting space. If your professional association has members who belong to companies that are large enough to have space for meetings, then you should be able to secure regular after hours access for efforts relevant to that group.

Hotel ballrooms

At least six area hotels have meeting space for hundreds of people, in flexible configurations that can host large groups as well as provide hotel space for people otu of town to stay. The Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest in Ypsilanti Township, the Dahlmann Campus Inn downtown, the Four Points Sheraton Ann Arbor and the Kensington Court Ann Arbor near Briarwood, the Holiday Inn Near The University of Michigan in northeast Ann Arbor and Weber's Inn on the west side all have substantial amounts of space for larger meetings.

University space

From university library meeting rooms to the 106,201-seat Michigan Stadium, facilities at area universities are available for use - if you know who to ask and if you are somehow affiliated with a university organization.

For smaller meetings, you are best off working with a student group as a co-sponsor for events since they often can get spaces at deeply discounted rates or for free. The university's Maize Pages list more than 1100 student groups, and it's likely that one of them will be interested in what you are trying to organize.

Major venue spaces like the Power Center and Crisler Arena have restrictions on commercial use, requiring that you go through the Office of Major Events or a university facility planner to make arrangements. So, if you're looking to bring the Queen of England to town for a visit, you'll have to make a deal.

Friends and family

Private residences provide the bulk of the meeting spaces in town. Find your friend who bought the biggest house with the biggest kitchen, and make sure you are on good terms. If you don't have a big house with a big kitchen, a back yard can do the trick - ask Brandon Zwagerman from the new west side's Madison House who organized regular house parties and concerts. Brandon now lives in Brooklyn but still comes back to run the wildly successful Mitten Fest.

Convention centers

If you need 700,000 square feet of exhibition space, let the folks at the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit know - it's a space big enough to hold the annual North American International Auto Show.

Take it to the streets

There's no reason to keep your meeting inside. Take it to the streets with a block party, or host a parade and take over town. The ultimate expressions of this here are the annual FestiFools parade with enormous puppets taking over Main Street on Sunday, April 11, and the annual Ann Arbor Art Fairs filling the city with half a million visitors from July 21 to July 24.

Who needs a convention center when you have miles of pavement and temporary tents?

Edward Vielmetti writes for You can reach him at 734-330-2465 to invite him to your next event.