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For five years, Spa Grand Traverse Director Dawn Olsen thought about the changes she wanted to make to the resort’s 7,000-square-foot spa and salon.By Cymbre Foster
Renovated Spa Grand Traverse is a serene have for guests. For five years, Spa Grand Traverse Director Dawn Olsen thought about the changes she wanted to make to the resort’s 7,000-square-foot spa and salon.
It had been 12 years since there had been any major renovations, and she knew it was time for a transformation. “I’ve thought a lot about what a guest wants,” says Olsen, who has been Spa director for six years. Ultimately, her goal was to create a space with even more benefits for guests. The long-awaited facelift to the two-story spa became a reality in February 2018. Olsen, her staff, and guests couldn’t be happier with the outcome that includes improvements to traffic flow and increased privacy and serenity. The new space is also fresh and inviting — from updates to the lobby and 23 treatment rooms to makeovers of the reception area and décor.
“It’s just much more modern,” Olsen says. “For me, it’s now a more serene spa environment, and the spa aesthetic has changed dramatically.”
Her favorite addition is the noise barrier that was installed between the reception area and the rest of the spa, because it immediately created a more relaxed environment.
“I love the wall that we built in the reception area,” she says. “It really makes it much more conducive to guests as well as giving it a much more updated appearance.
“There’s also a better flow for relaxation purposes". They can no longer hear the phone ring or hear us greeting other guests. We also moved the upstairs waiting area away from the facial rooms, again, to diminish the noise levels while guests are in treatment.”
Adding to the serenity is a change-up in the color scheme and the addition of an updated, modern finish with new furnishings and artwork. “The color palette is more relaxing, and we also changed the furniture,” Olsen says. “We ended up repainting all of the cherry wood throughout the spa with a more up-to-date paint color. Ultimately, we made small aesthetic changes that created a fresh space for our guests.” The renovations, which took two months to complete, are more than skin deep.
“I think our local guests love to see us reinvesting in the business and keeping up with the times,” she says. “Overall the resounding response is that they love the new setup.”
The staff is also thrilled with the new space, she adds.
“The team absolutely loves the new fresh space,” Olsen says. “We all feel very proud of our current work environment and feel that it offers a more modern approach to our goal of relaxation.”
New Look for Iconic Governors' Hall
Premier gathering space undergoes $1.5 million renovationBy Brian McGillivary
Governors’ Hall at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa has hosted hundreds of stellar events over the years. Now it enters its fourth decade with a $1.5 million renovation.
The ballroom at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa had a stately and august air that never revealed its age. Still, after three decades, it was time to shake off the old and make a splash. Governors’ Hall, named after the convention that led to its construction, underwent a $1.5 million renovation in 2018 and now sports a look that celebrates the waters of Northern Michigan, says Ryan Buck, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa Director of Sales. “It’s a total transformation, which is incredibly exciting for everybody,” Buck says.
The makeover included new lighting, audio, wall coverings, flooring, ceilings, and furniture. The warm blue and gray color scheme depicts water interacting with the elements in nature.
“It’s neutral enough that a group can come in and really make it their own without having issues,” Buck says. “But it definitely will feel like Northern Michigan. It’s going to be a very exciting, but calming, space for our guests.”
The makeover does not alter the original bones of a structure designed for its ease of use and ability to accommodate a wide array of events. It can be used as a theater for 2,300 people, an elegant dinner setting for 1,500, or to even host a cattlemen’s auction. It has a door large enough to truck in a U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter.
“Some groups come in and spend a lot of money transforming the space,” Buck says. “Governors’ Hall really cleans up nice.”
A Grand Vision
With 580 rooms and 86,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, the Resort gets little downtime. Technology upgrades to the hall started months in advance, with the major work for the $1.5 million project squeezed into a three-week window.
The short turnaround and attention to detail mirrors the Resort’s actual founding by Paul Nine, a Detroit-area attorney. “Our founder had a really great vision for this property and this area,” Buck says. “He envisioned a meeting-focused resort experience operating year-round.”
It was 1980 when Nine decided to build a six-story hotel outside of Traverse City, followed by a signature golf course designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. He took it even further when, a few years later, he announced plans for a $7 million, 17-story, 186-room tower and a 19,000-square-foot banquet hall just to hold a national governors’ meeting.
The Resort had a lead on hosting the National Governors Association summer meeting, but needed a ballroom and additional rooms, Buck says. The move clinched the 1987 National Governors Association Summer Meeting, chaired by future President of the United States Bill Clinton.
Now, Governors Hall is long established. Its unique setting earns many repeat customers, including a rare return visit by the National Governors Association in 2007.
“We have groups who have been coming here for 30-plus years,” Buck says. “It’s quite extraordinary, and having a great event space makes that happen.”
Reuniting at the Resort
“It’s a beautiful place to reconnect and build close ties to those we love in one of the most spectacular places in Michigan.”
—Lori, Leaver family reunionBy Jillian Manning // Photography by Megan Renae Studios
In the early 1980s — when wineries were few and far between and the State Theatre was enjoying its original heyday — the Leaver family held their first family reunion in Traverse City. Ross and Kathryn Leaver’s four daughters had growing families of their own, and the reunion was a chance to gather the children and grandchildren together for a weekend of fun.
Fast-forward nearly four decades, and the Leavers now boast more than 50 family members, including four generations that stretch from ages 1 to 87. Although the family is spread throughout the country, the beauty and tranquility of Northern Michigan draws them back to Traverse City every few years. For the last three reunions, they have returned to Grand Traverse Resort and Spa to celebrate.
“The Resort is the perfect place for us to stay for our reunion,” says Lori, whose family lives a few hours south in Midland. “My adult children agree that this year was one of our best vacations ever. “It’s a beautiful place to reconnect and build close ties to those we love in one of the most spectacular places in Michigan.”
On a July weekend this past summer, 28 Leavers arrived at the Resort for a welcome reception in one of the Valleyview condominiums. Shouts of greeting chorused from the balcony, and hugs and headlocks were doled out in equal measure. Lynda, one of the original Leaver daughters who started the reunion tradition, smiled as she thought about how her family has expanded. “It’s a joy to see the spouses and little ones joining the family,” she says. “I can’t believe how much things have changed.”
The Resort’s wide array of lodging opportunities and amenities appeals to Leaver families of all sizes, from couples staying in the Tower to larger groups spread among the condos. Those with young children, like Ryan and Maigan, parents to a 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, especially love the family-friendly atmosphere.
“They may be too young to fully appreciate dinner with their aunts and uncles, but they’re definitely not too young to appreciate the pool,” Maigan says, laughing. “They stayed in until they were both pruney. And they were so excited to visit the toy store in the lobby.
“Grandma let each kid pick out a toy, so Hunter got a giant brachiosaurus and Hannah immediately spotted a colorful caterpillar.”
Once the greetings had been shared, what’s new had given way to remember when and photographer Meg Bowen of Megan Renae Studios sprang into action. Family photos are a must-have for each reunion, though it’s nearly impossible to convince this crew to keep straight faces.
“It’s so great to be able to see my cousins that I grew up with as adults and have relationships with them,” says Kristen, one of the 14 Leaver cousins. “Every time I’m with all the cousins, my sides are in stitches from the laughter — I feel like I did a thousand sit-ups and my face hurts from all the smiling.” The next 48 hours of the reunion weekend plowed ahead at full steam. Family time with the Leavers is packed with adventure, from swimming in Grand Traverse Bay to a highly competitive “jarts” tournament, a vintage lawn game that inevitably brings out the family’s cheerleaders and trash talkers. Jesse, the 22-year-old runner-up of the 2018 games, nearly lost to two of his great uncles during the tournament. But in the end, beginner’s luck triumphed.
“This was my first year playing, and they definitely have more experience than I do. I don’t want to lose my title, so I’ll have to practice before the next reunion,” he joked.
Breakfasts were shared at Sweetwater American Bistro, and several couples headed 16 floors up in the Resort’s Tower to enjoy dinner at Aerie Restaurant & Lounge. “The out-of-town families are always stunned by the view,” says Ralph, who lives in Traverse City and loves to bring visitors to Aerie. “The food is excellent and creative, and you can’t beat the sunset over the bay.”
Out and About
For the Leavers, another part of the beauty of the visit is the chance to explore the Traverse City area. That includes scenic morning drives along the Leelanau Peninsula or tours of the old state hospital inside the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
“Visiting the state hospital was awesome,” says Josh, who as a lover of history and ghost stories found the old buildings and sprawling grounds fascinating. “It was so cool to learn about the area and the history.”
In fact, Traverse City has become so beloved to the family that a growing number of them now call it home all year round. “I’m so grateful we can gather our family here,” says Eric, who moved to Traverse City in the early 1990s. “Year after year, we continue to enjoy Traverse City with a family that appreciates the natural beauty in our area. It’s important to us to be able to share this special place with the younger generations.”
Multiple generations come together for the Leaver family reunion, made easy with the variety of family-friendly accommodations available at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and the diverse array of activities and attractions on-site and around the Grand Traverse area.