In the 1990s, in an attempt to lure more conventions and events to their downtown districts, many U.S. cities invested millions of dollars constructing beautiful convention centers. Of course, if the new convention center had all the amenities that meeting planners desire — efficiency, sustainability, flexible meeting space, F&B options, good public transit and airport accessibility — and many newly built ones did, the question became: “Where are we going to put all the groups that now want to come to our city?”
Pre-convention center hotels began to renovate. Developers and hotel companies met to discuss real estate and financial options for expensive, new hotels that would be physically connected to the convention centers. Downtown business leaders finally took a serious look at revitalization plans.
After nearly a decade of modest growth, the development pipeline for massive, meetings-oriented, full-service hotels is finally back, and in a big way. Several new hotels in this category are set to open in the next few years, and these properties will then stimulate new demand. New or recently renovated convention center hotels have seen an increase in overall group business, a result of favorable macroeconomic trends that are currently boosting budgets for corporate events.
“When business is healthy like it is now, companies have a tendency to have more meetings and events, and celebrate success and bring people together to set new direction,” says Mike McMahon, director of sales and marketing for the 1,048-room Fairmont Austin, which opened in March and includes 140,000 square feet of meeting space.
“We’re seeing a lot of that right now in the market. I think it’s as healthy as it’s been in a number of years. We went through a significant downturn in 2009 through 2012, and then we started coming out of that, so we’ve been in a fairly healthy recovery since then.
“Fairmont Austin’s location in the Central Business District and its connectivity to the Austin Convention Center are game changers for citywide events and festivals,” says McMahon. “The Red River Canopy Walk connects our guests with the Center, and its design and views of Waller Creek are truly unique. Within our property, we have significant in-house meeting capacity that allows us to host association gatherings for up to 2,000 guests. Partnering with neighboring hotels on Red River and Rainey streets, [there is] more than 2,200 total guest rooms within two blocks of the Fairmont Austin.”
“We’re not necessarily taking business from our competitors; we’re bringing new business to the market because of the destination and the brand.”
Director of Sales and Marketing
“Austin has been on our list of highly desirable destinations for our annual meeting for a number of years, but the hotel package was insufficient,” says Amy Lynn Phillips, CMP, senior director, meetings and exhibits for the Washington, DC-based American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “When Fairmont announced their new hotel back in 2015, we began working with Visit Austin, the Austin Convention Center, the Fairmont people and the entire downtown hotel community on a housing package which allows our attendees to walk between the hotels and the Center.”
Phillips emphasized that the Fairmont’s direct physical connection to the Convention Center was very important in her decision to use the not-yet-opened hotel. “Fairmont’s Canopy Walk provides direct connection to the Center, and that was critically important to us as we considered our headquarter hotel options,” she says. “This is the first time I contracted a hotel prior to opening. We understood the risk in contracting during pre-opening, and we were absolutely concerned about the potential delays, but it worked well in the end. The hotel is stunning and lived up to the hype.
“The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has used Fairmont hotels for other meetings and events, and the brand resonates well with our member physicians, sponsors and their spouses/guests,” says Phillips. “Fairmont Austin has an incredible Spa and Fitness facility along with a resort-style pool and fabulous restaurants, all of which were used by many of our attendees.”
McMahon says they’re able to help attract a higher level of citywide activity. “In addition to our own space, we have the ability to help activate larger programs that may need upward of 2,000 to 3,000 rooms in the CBD,” he says. “We’re seeing groups that have never been here that are intrigued by all the things that are cool about Austin. You combine that with the ability to have a meeting in a Fairmont, and that’s creating new demand. We’re not necessarily taking business from our competitors; we’re bringing new business to the market because of the destination and the brand.”
At 37 stories and 590 feet, Fairmont Austin is the tallest hotel and second-tallest structure in Austin, and with a total footprint of 1.4 million square feet, it is the city’s biggest hotel by area and the country’s largest Fairmont.
Seven hotels scheduled to open in the U.S. this year have at least 50,000 square feet of meeting space. The top three new hotels by meeting room square footage are the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center (485,000 square feet of meeting space) in Aurora, Colorado; the Hyatt Regency Seattle (103,000); and the Marriott Delta Dallas Allen & Watters Creek Convention Center, with 90,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 40-story Marriott Marquis Chicago, which will open in early September on the McCormick Place campus features 1,205 guest rooms and 93,000 square feet of meeting space, including up to 48 breakout rooms. The new property joins the existing 1,258-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place hotel on the campus.
“This property offers a new opportunity that the other hotels don’t necessarily have in Chicago,” said Cindy Ruchman, director of sales and marketing for the Marriott Marquis Chicago. “Having the event space, and guests just walk across the street through the pedestrian walkway, it offers a unique opportunity on the campus that didn’t exist before. It really speaks to ease of flow for meetings, and utilizing the space so it makes it easy for someone to plan something all in-house, as opposed to using packages where you have different hotels that you’re trying to leverage to make a group fit at a certain destination.”
Kansas City’s longtime desire to build a downtown convention hotel took a giant step forward this spring when developers broke ground for the Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel, a 24-story, 800-room, $323 million project expected to be completed by late April 2020. The hotel will include 60,000 square feet of meeting space, 15,450 square feet of restaurant, bar and retail, a 450-space garage, 9,913 square feet of recreational facilities and a 4,500-square-foot terrace.
Local business leaders believe the new convention hotel will elevate the city’s opportunities to land large conventions. The Shriners already have scheduled a July 2020 convention expected to draw 20,000 attendees, and the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science was the first group to book Kansas City solely based on the new hotel. It’s scheduled to bring 4,500 attendees in October 2021.
Adjacent to the new Loews property site is Bartle Hall, one of the six venues within the Kansas City Convention Center complex. With 388,800 square feet of column-free exhibit space on one floor, Bartle Hall offers 1,000 underground parking spaces, access to the Municipal Auditorium and the Conference Center via skywalks and underground walkways, three truck docks and 29 trailer bays.
MGM Resorts is introducing more options for the meeting planner within one of the world’s premier meeting destinations: Las Vegas. On the heels of Mandalay Bay Convention Center’s expansion, MGM Resorts is introducing association/convention group enhancements at ARIA, MGM Grand, Park MGM and Luxor, totaling approximately 900,000 additional square feet. When all expansions and renovations are completed by the end of 2018, MGM Resorts will have 4 million square feet of meeting and convention space.
ARIA’s major expansion project began in 2016 and was completed last February. A $170 million project to enhance its LEED Gold-certified convention center will deliver an additional 200,000 square feet of technologically advanced, flexible meeting space across four stories, for a total of more than 500,000 square feet. It’s highlighted by indoor/open-air verandas and the 3,000-square-foot Cypress Executive Lounge with private suites, stocked pantry, conference room and study.
Within the 200,000-square-foot expansion are ballrooms with built-in stages, an exclusive loading dock with megavator for events requiring sizable displays, versatile indoor-outdoor breakout rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and ample pre-function spaces. The top floor is a vast ballroom with two open-air verandas that can accommodate receptions for up to 2,000 attendees.
The iconic MGM Grand broke ground last year on a $130 million expansion of its Conference Center. The MGM Grand Conference Center is adding 250,000 square feet for a total of more than 850,000 square feet. As part of the expansion, Stay Well Meetings, the industry’s first-ever wellness meetings experience, will also expand its footprint by 22,000 square feet and encompass the Conference Center’s entire second floor. “The expansion of Stay Well Meetings, along with our 340 Stay Well accommodations, allows MGM Grand to offer a completely unique destination for groups that carries through the entire resort experience — from the board room to the guest room,” says Ernest Stovall, vice president of sales for MGM Grand. “The Conference Center expansion allows us to grow with the needs of our clients and drive new and expanded business to Las Vegas.”
The new 250,000-square-foot space at MGM Grand will seamlessly connect to the existing Conference Center on all three levels and include a 5,500-square-foot outdoor courtyard available for private events, a 49,000-square-foot ballroom, a 32,000-square-foot ballroom, three junior ballrooms and 11 breakout rooms. The project will open at the end of this year.
Hyatt Hotels is currently building a 45-floor, $400 million Hyatt Regency Seattle, expected to open this winter in downtown Seattle’s Denny Triangle neighborhood. Hyatt Regency Seattle is set to be the largest hotel in the Pacific Northwest, with 1,260 guest rooms, more than 105,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event facilities and an expansive Regency Club lounge.
The hotel will be located two blocks from the existing Washington State Convention Center and immediately adjacent to the proposed convention center expansion, making Hyatt Regency Seattle an ideal base for convention attendees. The property will also be convenient to popular Seattle attractions like Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium and Seattle’s Capitol Hill and Lake Union neighborhoods.
Slated for completion in 2019, the $220 million, 600-room Hyatt Regency Portland project is expected to draw new events and hundreds of thousands of visitors to the region, while enhancing the Oregon Convention Center’s (OCC) role as an economic engine.
Located north of the existing OCC, the 14-story Hyatt Regency will include 32,000 square feet of meeting venues, including 23 flexible meeting rooms.
The OCC opened in 1990, and was expanded in 2003. Since its debut, many association planners have cited the need for a nearby hotel to serve convention-goers and draw more events. According to Portland’s Metro survey, 79 percent of national meeting planners said they were more likely to book events at the OCC if there was an amenity-rich hotel next door. Now, almost 30 years later, the Hyatt Regency is inching closer to reality. After its opening, the property is expected to draw between five to 10 major new convention events each year, boosting annual hotel business in the Portland area by between 70,000 and 110,000 new room-nights.
Scheduled to open late 2018, the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center is the largest hotel currently under construction in the United States. Upon completion, the resort will feature more than 1,500 rooms and 485,000 square feet of convention, meeting and event space, including a 50,000-square-foot, column-free ballroom with a capacity of 4,000. There will be eight dining outlets, a full-service spa, salon and fitness center, year-round indoor/outdoor heated pools and a lazy river, all just 10 minutes from Denver International Airport.
As of this spring, the Gaylord Rockies has pre-booked more than 627,000 room nights, between February 2019 and 2028, 85 percent of which come from groups that have never booked a meeting or conference in Colorado. When completed, the $800 million Gaylord Rockies in Aurora will have the feel of a ski village with rock work, waterways and landscaping representative of Colorado. The fireplace will have a 16-foot-long faux wood beam about four feet in diameter as a mantle. A rock grotto that holds about 50 people will be available for events. The 24,000-square-foot Mountain Pass sports bar will seat 460 people, with 25 TVs and a 75-foot-long, 14-foot-high LED screen.
“We’re thrilled to host Commvault GO 2019 at Gaylord Rockies and be among the first in our industry to bring an event of this nature to the majesty of the Rocky Mountains,” says Janyce Harper, director of customer events at Commvault, a data protection and information management organization in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. “We’re always looking for ways to bring even greater value to our customers, and hosting our annual conference in unique locations that offer easy access, world-class conference facilities, top-notch lodging and a thriving cultural scene allows us to do just that.”
Located on 4.5 acres on Lake Grapevine, near DFW Airport, the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center had featured more than 400,000 square feet of flexible meeting, convention, outdoor, exhibit and pre-function space, including a 3,000-square-foot marbled foyer leading up to the hotel’s 179,520-square-foot Longhorn Exhibit Hall.
This past May, the property’s Vineyard Tower opened resulting in the need for additional meeting and event space. The $120 million Vineyard Tower expansion adds 303 luxury guest rooms, an outdoor terrace offering spectacular views of Lake Grapevine, 86,000 square feet of carpeted meeting space and 26,000 square feet of pre-function space. With the new expansion, the Gaylord Texan’s total offerings have increased to 1,814 guest rooms and nearly 500,000 square feet of meeting space, making it one of the top three largest non-gaming convention resorts in the United States.
The $38 million renovation at the 390-room Hyatt Regency Bethesda was completed at the end of 2017 and includes all-new guest rooms, remodeled meetings space including a stunning rooftop event space and a revitalized lobby in its 12- story atrium.
Located in downtown Bethesda, Maryland, the hotel features more than 20,000 square feet of modern function space, including an enclosed rooftop event space with views of the city, redesigned atrium terrace and 19 meeting rooms. Renovated meeting spaces include 2,269 square feet of pre-function space, 3,000 square feet of outdoor space and the 7,200-square-foot Regency Ballroom.
“The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements has held our annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda since 2009,” says Cindy L. O’Brien, managing editor of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP). “We have been to the property before, during and after the renovations, and we currently have contracts for our 2019 and 2020 events. [We] do not plan on changing the venue in the years to come. The Hyatt was originally chosen because of its Bethesda location near our Bethesda headquarters, proximity to the Washington Metro system and the number and size of the meeting spaces.”
O’Brien says that her group consists of about 300 pre-registered individuals, and anywhere from 30 to 70 onsite registrations. The group held its previous annual meeting in the spring of this year, a few months after the renovations were completed, and they enjoyed many of the improvements. “We didn’t choose the Hyatt again because of the renovations, but they certainly made it a more pleasant place to hold our meeting,” says O’Brien. “The new fixtures and carpeting lightened up the facility and modernized the look of the common areas, sleeping rooms and meeting spaces. We especially like the added rooftop space with the spectacular views, and will like it even better when the outdoor space is soon completed.”
Slated to open this month, the property recently unveiled the design concept for its public spaces, guest rooms and state-of-the-art conference and event facilities. Music City’s newest luxury hotel, the sparkling JW Marriott Nashville offers 533 guest rooms and suites, three stylish new restaurants, including award-winning Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina, 50,000 square feet of high-tech event space, a world-class Spa by JW and a collection of contemporary art that pays homage to the city’s musical history. At one of Nashville’s highest elevation points, the modern, 33-story glass tower offers great views of the city and surrounding area, and the 16 meeting rooms and two permanent boardrooms also feature views and natural light.
Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland welcomed its first overnight guests to the new 310-room luxury Live! Hotel this past May. The property is located in Arundel Mills, a 1,630,000-square-foot shopping mall just 15 miles south of Baltimore.
The 350,000-square-foot hotel features public spaces showcasing floor-to-ceiling windows, the Live! Spa and many dining and nightlife options. In June, the hotel opened its Grand Event Center, providing more than 20,000 square feet of event space, including a large ballroom with six breakout rooms and seating for up to 800. In addition, the Event Center is home to a 1,500-seat concert venue with a built-in performance stage.
An expansion project to be completed in spring 2019 will double the size of the meeting and banquet space to 40,000 square feet, and enlarge the Event Center seating capacity to 4,000 seats for concerts, special events, convention and meeting space.
The Miami Worldcenter urban development project will be home to the Marriott Marquis Miami Worldcenter Hotel & Expo Center and will feature approximately 1,700 hotel rooms and 600,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space. Amenities will include an 80,000-square-foot outdoor event deck. The structure will offer one of the most technologically advanced conference space in the country, including a 65,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom (the largest in South Florida) and a 42,000-square-foot Junior Ballroom.
Tradeshows will benefit from more than 110,000 square feet of dedicated exhibit space. An array of breakout rooms, 80,000 square feet of pool/event outdoor space and a 1,500-seat theatre will all be part of the complex. Groundbreaking will be in late 2018, with estimated completion in 2022.
The 612-room Omni Louisville opened in March, situated just one block from the Kentucky International Convention Center. The property offers 70,000 square feet of meeting and event space, 33 meeting rooms and a 20,000-square-foot urban lifestyle market and grocer. The Water Company Pool and Bar is a great reception venue, with the downtown skyline as the backdrop. Pin + Proof offers classic food and drink selections, along with four bowling alleys. Louisville International Airport is only seven miles away.
Meeting planner Matthew J. Wales, CMP, vice president, membership, events & special projects for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) did not hesitate to bring his February 2019 annual meeting to the new Omni Louisville, which had just broken ground in 2016 when Wales signed his contract. The AACTE represents more than 800 post-secondary institutions with educator preparation programs dedicated to high-quality, evidence-based preparation that assures educators are ready to teach all learners. For Wales, preparation is the key not only for educators, but for guaranteeing successful meetings as well.
“For the size of our Annual Meeting, we need to plan and secure hotel rooms for our attendees and meeting space four to five years in advance,” says Wales. “Therefore, beginning in the fall of 2014, we began working closely not only with the Omni Louisville team, but also the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Kentucky International Convention Center and other hotel partners to begin preparing for this big meeting. With all partners at the table, we were able to secure their support in advance so that once the Omni was able to begin contracting, we would be able to do so quickly and with the majority of our needs negotiated in advance.
“This process was not new to us, as we have worked with hotels under construction in some of our previous our annual meeting planning,” Wales says. “For example, we signed with the JW Indianapolis while that property was under construction in 2010 for our 2014 Annual Meeting. We also recently signed with Hyatt Regency Seattle while it is still under construction for our 2021 Annual Meeting.”
Wales and his AACTE group had attempted to bring their annual meeting to Louisville in the past, but circumstances never worked out. The new Omni Louisville changed the landscape, physically and logistically, for his group. “Given the number of attendees we have, we need a compact group of hotels for accommodations, as well as additional meeting space that is adjacent to the Convention Center,” says Wales. “The Omni gave us both — a large number of committable rooms for our attendees, as well as plenty of additional meeting space that accommodates the need of our program. We anticipate welcoming over 2,000 attendees to our 2019 Annual Meeting.”
From 248,111 square feet of superior meeting and banquet space, to AAA Four Diamond accommodations, a signature Mokara Spa, championship golf courses and 15 sprawling acres of pools and recreation, this new convention resort has a lot to offer planners. Every meeting room is equipped with state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment. A self-automated business center offers access to guests 24 hours a day, and complimentary Wi-Fi access in the guest rooms and lobby areas keeps attendees connected. .
Three ballrooms, ranging from 20,000 to 28,800 square feet, each with its own pre-function space, allow groups exclusivity and privacy, with enough boardroom and breakout space to meet the needs of every group size. Two event lawns, a banquet kitchen and a large loading dock for easy set-up have been incorporated into the design of the Osceola County Conference Center, which recently added 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting/event space.
The new Grand Salon Ballroom has been specifically designed for galas and special events. Allowing for seamless event flow, the ballroom features a new porté cochere for private arrivals, an expansive new ballroom and grand event lawn for the cocktail hour or reception. The resort has added a ninth restaurant, Market Place.
A new convention hotel will soon be part of Tucson’s skyline, with a 125-room property to break ground this year next to the Tucson Convention Center (TCC). The development company behind the hotel, Caliber Hospitality, is expected to spend $20 million on the property, its second hotel in Tucson. Caliber also purchased the Hilton Tucson East last year, which opened in March after an $8 million renovation.
The new hotel will be built east of the Convention Center on a landscaped portion of the property. The hotel will be the first and only hotel in the city that will be directly connected to the TCC. No brand has been identified as of press time, but completion is expected in late 2018 or early 2019.
Built in 1971, the TCC offers 205,000 square feet of meeting and event space along with an 8,962-seat arena. It has three performance facilities appropriate for sporting events, ice shows, theatrical performances and concerts. The TCC also hosts the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Show that draws thousands of international visitors. The arena is home to the professional hockey team, the Tucson Roadrunners, affiliated with the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes.
In late 2019, Hilton’s Conrad brand will open a 360-room luxury hotel located just an eight-minute walk from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The hotel will provide 30,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and be situated within the 10-acre, $950 million CityCenterDC, which opened in 2015. CityCenterDC is a mixed-use development consisting of two condominium buildings, two rental apartment buildings, two office buildings, the planned Conrad Washington DC Hotel, and a public park. The complex encompasses 2 million square feet over five city blocks.
Late last year, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort completed the largest transformation in the resort’s history: a $150 million, three-year project which included a redesign of all guest rooms, complete transformation of the Dolphin Resort lobby and renovation of all meeting space.
The completion of the project meant that the resort returned to operating at full capacity in time for the openings of Toy Story Land (2018) and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (2019) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is within walking distance of the resort.
Highlights of the renovation included all 2,270 rooms transformed to reflect the resort’s water-themed architecture. The new rooms offer guests an oasis featuring white, blue and gray accents, sleek multi-functional furniture and all-new bathrooms featuring vanities with backlit mirrors on iridescent glass tiles.
Technology upgrades include the addition of more outlets and USB ports and high-definition TVs. The new Dolphin Resort lobby features a geometric ceiling, enhanced lighting and more than double the amount of guest seating. The centerpiece of the lobby is a grand chandelier stretching 20 feet from the ceiling, with nearly 1,000 strands and about 10,000 individual crystals suspended above the Dolphin fountain.
The resort has built a completely new dining venue in the Dolphin lobby. Fuel offers quick service and grab-and-go food and drink options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Phins, a new centrally located lobby bar, has seating for 150 guests and offers appetizers perfect for sharing. Signature offers the resort’s own craft brew Phins & Feathers, wine on tap and creative cocktails. New private poolside rental cabanas are furnished with lounge seating, refrigerators and television.
A new 2,800-square-foot meeting and event space, Lake View, offers outdoor views of the resort’s private lake. All of the resort’s 331,000 electronic reader boards throughout the meeting space and the latest in high-density Wi-Fi have uninterrupted connectivity for groups as large as 15,000. Eighty-six meeting rooms were redesigned or added.
Last year, a developer began tearing down the Anabella Hotel next to the Anaheim Convention Center, replacing it with a $245 million, seven-story Westin Anaheim Resort. Completion of the new property is expected in 2019.
The hotel is being designed to meet AAA’s requirements for a four-diamond rating. Anaheim currently has no luxury hotels outside of the Disneyland Resort, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. The new property will be the 18th Westin in California, and the chain’s first new-build in Southern California in 25 years.
The property will include more than 485,000 square feet of flexible meeting, convention, outdoor, exhibit and pre-function space, which includes 175,000 square feet in the exhibit hall, 20,000 square feet of outdoor patio space, four ballrooms from 8,000 to 59,736 square feet and up to 81 breakout rooms. Other amenities include eight dining venues, a world-class spa, indoor/outdoor pools and retail shops.
The $113 million Westin Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas will be a 350-room headquarters hotel at the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas. With a projected opening date of January 2019, the 12-story hotel will offer 16,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 10,000-square-foot ballroom.
The 48,500-square-foot Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas, the first phase of a multi-use district opened in 2011, and the Toyota Music Factory opened in 2017. Altogether, the three facilities will make up a 40-acre mixed-use entertainment district in the heart of the Las Colinas Urban Center, Irving’s international business district.
Tampa is set to get a major new event complex anchored by a new JW Marriott and EDITION hotels. An existing Marriott hotel is also slated for renovations as part of the project. The “complex” will be a 26-story tower in the heart of the Water Street Tampa neighborhood. As part of the new Tampa EDITION and the JW Marriott Tampa hotels, the project will have a combined 150,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
The new 519-room JW Marriott Tampa hotel is being constructed adjacent to the Tampa Convention Center and Amalie Arena, and will have 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including the largest hotel ballroom in Tampa Bay at approximately 30,000 square feet. The property will have multiple social spaces; a full-service spa and fitness center; a pool and sun terrace; a full-service, ground-floor restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating; and other neighborhood-serving retail outlets. There will also be a rooftop lounge and terrace on the 26th floor, making it the highest rooftop bar in Tampa Bay. The JW Marriott Tampa is set to open in fall 2020, followed by the Tampa EDITION in 2021.
In addition to the two new JW Marriott & EDITION hotels, the 727-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina is undergoing renovations which began in fall 2017 and will continue throughout 2018. AC&F