Like remora fish that cling to the underbellies of sharks, convention hotels have a symbiotic relationship with their nearby convention centers. One can’t live without the other, and when urban convention centers begin to bring in the mega events, local hotels renovate and new properties pop up seemingly overnight.
Every year conventions attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to American cities, resulting in many billions of dollars spent nationally on flights, rental cars, hotel rooms, restaurants and in local businesses and attractions. That’s why in St. Louis local business leaders are discussing major renovations to its downtown convention center and the Dome at America’s Center (formerly the Edward Jones Dome), two venues which are helping draw association meetings and conventions into the city’s revitalized downtown district.
“I have used Westins for several other meetings and have complete confidence in their product. We won’t even be using the adjacent Music City Center as the entire meeting will be held at The Westin, and we will use their catering department for all of our functions.”
— Laura Romaine, CMP
“The America’s Center convention complex, which includes The Dome at America’s Center, is a key economic engine for our region bringing in more than 600,000 event attendees each year, consuming an estimated 351,600 hotel rooms in both St. Louis City and County,” says Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis. “These visitors not only use hotel rooms, but they enjoy our world-class restaurants, shopping, entertainment venues and attractions, helping generate $258 million in economic activity and more than 3,300 jobs for our residents.
“As a prime example, the recent First Robotics Championships was held from April 27–30 and drew an estimated 40,000 students, mentors and parents from around the world to St. Louis, generating an estimated $24 million of direct economic impact. That’s a win-win for our region and our entire hospitality community,” Ratcliffe said. “This event filled every hotel in St. Louis (city) and St. Louis County.”
The America’s Center Convention Complex includes 502,000 sf of exhibit space, a 28,000-sf ballroom, the 67,000-seat America Dome, the 1,400-seat Ferrara Theatre and the St. Louis Executive Conference Center.
One of the major changes in the America’s Center convention district came last year when the Renaissance St. Louis Grand (across from the convention center) was renovated and rebranded as the Marriott St. Louis Grand. The $30 million renovation has transformed St. Louis’ largest hotel with all 917 guest rooms completely remodeled, including new refrigerators and 47-inch flat-screen televisions. The hotel also added 6,400 sf of meeting and event space for a total of more than 77,000 sf.
Hotel developers and management firms in other cities, such as Cleveland, Detroit, Nashville, Orlando, Washington, DC, and Anaheim have stepped up new-builds and renovations as their local convention centers expand.
Cleveland, Ohio, will be the center of attention in July when it hosts the Republican National Convention July 18-21. To prepare for this major event at the city’s Quicken Loans Arena, $3.5 billion of private and public funds are being invested in the visitor-related infrastructure developments near the convention center, which will be sure to help attract association events in the months and years following the RNC. The largest property in the city opened June 1 just in time for the RNC: the 600-room Hilton Cleveland Downtown, which connects to the Huntington Convention Center. The hotel features the SkyBar on the 32nd floor, onsite restaurants, a pool and 50,000 sf of meeting space. Also new to downtown this year are the 189-room Drury Plaza and the 161-room The Kimpton Schofield Hotel — both housed in historic buildings.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Darlene Behr organized the four-night, 2015 Gaufest convention, using the Hilton Milwaukee Center City and Hyatt Regency Milwaukee properties, both of which are physically connected to the Wisconsin Center by an enclosed walkway. “Our group, SVEV D’Oberlandler, is a Bavarian Schuhplattling group whose mission is to perpetuate the Bavarian culture through song and dance,” says Behr. “The Gau is patterned after the seven regional Gaus in Bavaria, and every two years we have a national Gaufest where we hold our competitions for teams of no more than six couples and single couple competitions. This year was the 25th Gaufest, and our club was chosen to host the big event, which turned out to be 1,200 adults and 200 children.
“We utilized the Hyatt Regency, the Hilton City Center and the Wisconsin Center, and both properties are connected to the WC, which made it very convenient,” Behr said. “I understand that the Hilton had gone through renovations, but because everything was completed and cleaned up, it was not evident during our visit. Everything looked beautiful at the Hilton, and I don’t believe the Hyatt went through any renovations during that time. During the multi-day event, we used Ballroom ABCD at the WC and the exhibition center on the third floor. We also used 101ABCD for our competition walk-through. At the Hyatt Regency, we used several of the small ballrooms off the lobby, and at the Hilton we used the Empire and Crystal ballrooms, and several smaller ballrooms off the Crystal.”
The Hyatt Regency offers 481 guest rooms, including 18 suites, Bistro 333 and Bar 333, and a total of 33,767 sf of function space and 2,372 sf of prefunction space, with 23 meeting rooms offering individual or master controls for heat/AC, sound, music and multiple electrical/microphone outlets.
The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, a 10-minute walk from the Cobo Center, completed their large renovation project that transformed all 1,298 rooms and 100,000 sf of meeting space. The 70-story hotel is one of the tallest in the U.S., and the property spent about $30 million on the renovation project. The property’s 52 deluxe suites all have been redesigned, and now include dedicated space for hosting small events. The meeting space at the hotel spans three floors, with 34 separate rooms totaling 100,000 sf of meeting space. The refurbished concierge lounge is available to elite members of Marriott Rewards program. Located on the riverfront, in downtown Detroit, guest rooms offer views of the city skyline, the Detroit River and, across the river, the city of Windsor, Ontario.
Last year Detroit’s downtown 2.4-million-sf Cobo Center completed the $229 million third and final phase of its major, multiyear renovation and expansion project, which touched every aspect of the venue.
A lesser known convention center and several new hotels about 25 miles from downtown Detroit in Novi, Michigan, have begun attracting meetings and expositions.
“There has been a great interest among planners in the Suburban Collection Showplace, Detroit’s suburban convention center in Novi,” said Blair Bowman, owner/manager of the Suburban Collection Showplace. “Our venue is scheduled to begin a major expansion. We will be adding a 200,000-sf addition on the event and exposition center’s west side. Construction will start after Labor Day this year, and we are expected to open the complete 600,000-sf facility in 2017,” Bowman says.
Adjacent to the Suburban Collection Showplace is the 126-room Hyatt Place Detroit/Novi Hotel, where an indoor corridor runs from the hotel property directly into the convention center. “We have been doing very well with state and regional association meetings and conventions,” Bowman says. “We went from hosting 90 events in 2005 to having about 800 various events scheduled for this year alone.”
One of the larger events at SCS took place last spring when the Michigan Dental Association (MDA) met in Novi for their annual convention. “We had 4,000 participants for our convention at the Suburban Collection Showplace,” says Andrea Sundermann, CAE, director of continuing education for MDA. “We used four hotels, including Hyatt Place, a new property connected to the SCS, the Doubletree by Hilton Novi, which was just finishing their renovations, the Baronette Renaissance Hotel and the Hilton Garden Inn, a fairly new property. All three of these properties are located in Novi, and all offer shuttle service to the SCS, about six to seven minutes’ drive. Some participants drove their own vehicles or took taxis the short distance to SCS.
“All the hotels worked out great, but I just wish there had been more hotel rooms available at the Hyatt Place, which was so convenient to the convention center. On the other hand, there were more offsite dining options at the hotel properties farther from SCS, and some attendees at Hyatt Place missed having that convenience.”
One of the benefits for meeting planners working with Suburban Collection Showplace and the adjacent Hyatt Place is that both properties are under one owner. “Service was excellent both at the Hyatt Place and Suburban Collection Showplace, making it a very easy place to do the business of event planning,” Sundermann says.
In Austin, Texas, the Hilton Austin, located directly across the street from the Austin Convention Center, has recently announced the beginning of a multimillion-dollar transformation initiative that will include a full renovation of the hotel’s lobby, public areas and meeting space, as well as the launch of two new restaurant concepts, and a flexible event venue — to be completed by the end of the year. With 801 guest rooms, including 81 concierge-level rooms and 25 suites, the Hilton Austin is the largest hotel in the city, features the largest ballroom in Austin and offers a total of 80,000 sf of meeting and event space. The Governor’s Ballroom and the Austin Grand Ballroom are each divisible into five different rooms to accommodate individual group needs, and both ballrooms flow into ample prefunction space and breakout rooms. The property’s wrap-around prefunction space offers floor-to-ceiling windows and views of downtown.
The Reverbery, which opens in the Hilton Austin in late summer, offers an “Austin-cool” recording studio vibe, with flexible indoor and outdoor space and specially designed food and drink menus. The Austin Taco Project — a craft beer and fusion taco bar — opens late fall and features a streetfront patio just off Austin’s music “Main Street.” Also opening late fall will be a 3,000-sf Starbucks, one of the first in Texas to offer Starbucks Evenings menu. All the renovations come on the heels of a $23 million upgrade to the hotel’s 801 guest rooms, suites and executive lounge that was completed in 2014.
Opening in Houston, Texas, this October is the Marriott Marquis Houston, which will add 1,000 new guest rooms, more than 100,000 sf of meeting space and Houston’s largest ballroom (39,000 sf) to the city. A rooftop terrace will feature a group pavilion and a Texas-shaped lazy river. The downtown hotel will be connected to the George R. Brown Convention Center via a climate-controlled skybridge.
The city of Anaheim, California, is buzzing with new hotels and renovations around the expanded Anaheim Convention Center. The Anaheim Marriott, part of the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) campus, completed its renovations last year. Updates were made to meeting spaces, including fresh carpeting, art, sound walls, furnishings and a fiber-optic network. All 1,030 guest rooms and suites were upgraded and renovations also were made to the hotel’s lobby, featuring the new nFuse Bar & Kitchen. The lobby was redesigned to activate Marriott’s Great Room Concept, with more Wi-Fi and power outlets as well as wireless charging stations in the lobby area and public spaces. Another renovation included new state-of-the-art “smart” elevators.
“We are expecting about 2,100 or more participants for the CalABA 35th Annual Western Regional Conference on Behavior Analysis (CalABA 2017) in February 2017,” says Kristine Howes, senior conference planner at Sacramento State’s College of Continuing Education. “Our conference will be held at the Anaheim Marriott and Anaheim Convention Center, and although we do have overflow hotels, our largest room block will be at the Marriott. The property will be very convenient for access to the convention center, and all breakouts, general session and exhibits will take place at both the Anaheim Marriott and Anaheim Convention Center.
“CalABA is a growing association, and their conference is increasing in size annually,” said Howes. “They have grown out of containing their conference in a traditional hotel, so Anaheim was a good fit, with the amount of the meeting space we needed at the Marriott and its location adjacent to the convention center, just a four-minute walk from the hotel. This conference alternates between north and south, so we are looking to find a home in Southern California, and hoping that Anaheim will be it.”
When Orange County’s first JW Marriott opens in Anaheim in 2018, it will become the first four-diamond hotel outside of the Disneyland Resort. The 12-story, 466-room JW Marriott at the Anaheim GardenWalk Mall will be within walking distance to Disneyland and the ACC.
Other properties that are, or soon will be, part of the Anaheim Convention Center’s orbit include Homewood Suites by Hilton Anaheim Convention Center, which opened last December just across the street from the convention center. A new Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort/Convention Center (opening summer 2016) is just a stone’s throw from the ACC and will feature 262 studio, one- and two-bedroom kitchen suites with living rooms and spacious bedrooms. Another property opening this summer, adjacent to the ACC, will be the 296-room Residence Inn.
Many meeting planners, cognizant of the allure of Nashville, Tennessee, and with a history of working with Starwood properties, have already booked groups into The Westin Nashville (opening September 27, 2016) next to the massive 1.2-million-sf Music City Center. “We have about 150 participants already to attend our November 2017 Legal Seminar event,” says Laura Romaine, CMP, senior meeting planner for NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.
Is Romaine concerned about organizing and promoting a multiday event at a convention hotel property that has not yet opened? “Not at all, the information, pictures and presentation all provided enough insight needed to ensure that this property would be able to accommodate our group,” she says. “I have used Westins for several other meetings and have complete confidence in their product. We won’t even be using the adjacent Music City Center as the entire meeting will be held at The Westin, and we will use their catering department for all of our functions.”
For Romaine’s group, the location and proximity to downtown was her main concern when looking at properties in Nashville, and the date of her meeting (end of 2017) made it less stressful when dealing with a property where a site inspection was not possible. “A tip that I would share with meeting planners is to request the hotel’s food and beverage menus and AV pricing as soon as they become available, regardless of how far out the meeting is, to review and prepare for meeting budgets. Our meeting is not until the end of 2017, so I was not nervous at all about the completion time of the hotel.” The new Westin Nashville will be an easy walk to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Frist Museum and the music clubs along Broadway.
The 454-room Westin Nashville offers 20,000 sf of meeting space. Standing 27 stories, it will have the city’s highest rooftop bar, called L27. The venue will provide a rooftop pool deck with seven cabanas available for rent, and will comfortably seat more than 200 guests when used as a private event venue.
Another Nashville notable is the Omni Nashville Hotel, which ranked No. 1 on Cvent’s list of the Top 100 U.S. meeting and events hotels in 2016. The three-year-old, 800-room Omni with 80,000 sf of meeting space sits across from the Music City Center and is integrated on three levels with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Plans for additional convention hotels in Nashville are already underway. A 35-story, 532-room JW Marriott hotel tower is expected to open directly across the street from Music City Center in late 2017, and another developer has secured funding for a 21-story, 468-room, Marriott-branded property that will be constructed just a few blocks away. The developer of this $137 million property said the hotel would be the first in the nation to feature three Marriott brands contained in the same building, with a rooftop amenity deck open to guests of any of the three. At press time the brand mix includes a 204-room AC Hotel, a 126-room Residence Inn by Marriott and a 125-room SpringHill Suites. The opening date for this property has not yet been announced.
In Orlando, Florida, the Hilton Orlando, connected by a covered walkway to the Orange County Convention Center (second largest convention center in the U.S.), unveiled 11,000 sf of new meeting space that includes the Key Largo and Key West meeting rooms, prefunction space and an additional registration desk. The expansion means that these meeting rooms now can be divided into up to eight total meeting rooms adjacent to the existing 15,000-sf Florida Ballroom. Only steps away from the 50,000-sf outdoor Promenade, the newly expanded area is a multifunctional space ideal for small or large events and meetings.
With new upgrades to the hotel’s Wi-Fi technology, the Hilton Orlando serves up high-density internet service throughout all meeting spaces, public areas and the 1,470 guest rooms and suites.
The Orlando area thrives on medical conventions, and many of them are quite large. The American Association of Orthodontists was held at the Orange County Convention Center from April 30 to May 3 and drew 16,000 attendees, resulting in a $31.5 million economic impact.
Even local association planners like to stay in Orlando and use some of the convention properties for their events. “We are located in Orlando, and two of our annual meetings take place in the city. I like to familiarize myself with as many properties as possible and was excited to receive an invitation for a site visit to the Hilton Orlando,” says Melissa Keahey, FSAE, director of meetings and events at the Orlando-based Emergency Medicine Learning & Resource Center, home of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians and the Florida Emergency Medicine Foundation. “During my site visit the reveal of the new Key Largo and Key West meeting rooms was shown to me and I was very impressed. The transition from the existing space into the new space was seamless and I was unable to distinguish between the two. It is very important that the ‘new does not outshine the old’ as most of my meetings and events would require overflow into other space. The new meeting space has its own dedicated prefunction space and registration desk. Attendees appreciate easy access to registration, refreshment breaks and conference staff. Restrooms are also conveniently located. This keeps attendees in the meeting area and helps avoid confusion, making my job easier!”
While some meeting planners may book a recently renovated convention hotel without doing a site visit, Keahey feels that her visit to the Hilton Orlando really helped her develop an affinity for the property and the staff. “I look for properties where I feel a connection with staff, and begin to develop an instant relationship,” says Keahey. “These are the people that will help me put out fires and ‘save the world’ during inevitable onsite complications. We need to be able to smile through the stress and get the job done together! I want this to also be important to the hotel/resort.”
The new Hilton West Palm Beach, in West Palm Beach, Florida, became the only hotel in South Florida to be directly connected to a convention center when it opened in January. Hilton guests enjoy easy access to the 350,000-sf Palm Beach County Convention Center via an enclosed walkway. The hotel offers 24,000 sf of meeting and event space as well as two outdoor event lawns. The Hilton West Palm Beach is the final piece in the CityPlace master plan, which brought West Palm into a new age, offering a mix of more than 80 national stores, specialty shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts is across the street, and nearby are the restaurants and nightlife of Clematis Street, the Intracoastal waterfront and the Norton Museum of Art.
Noteworthy in Louisville, Kentucky, is the new-build Omni Louisville Hotel, which broke ground earlier this year. The 612-room hotel, which is set to open in 2018, is located one block from the 300,000-sf Kentucky International Convention Center. Omni Louisville Hotel will have 70,000 sf of flexible meeting and event space.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will host the 2016 Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Arena, just south of downtown, with some events at Pennsylvania Convention Center in city center, from July 25–28. At Loews Philadelphia Hotel, a three-minute walk from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a $25 million renovation project was completed last year that included upgraded technology, enhanced guest rooms, new meeting spaces, an expanded lobby lounge and the debut of Bank & Bourbon restaurant. The property completed renovations to all ballroom spaces and suites in January.
Once known as the historic Philadelphia Saving Fund Society building (PSFS), the Loews Philadelphia Hotel has restyled guest rooms, and has added five new meeting rooms that can accommodate smaller groups under 30 people. The new spaces include the PSFS Room with panoramic city views from the hotel’s 33rd floor, the Library Boardroom located on the exclusive Club Lounge level, and the Penn Room, a private meeting room with three walls of windows.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center offers more than 679,000 sf of exhibit hall space with seven halls and 82 meeting rooms, plus the 55,408-sf Terrace Ballroom, the largest ballroom in the Northeast.
In Washington, DC, funding has been approved for a dual-branded Marriott hotel project being developed across from both the existing Marriott Marquis and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The two new Marriott hotels, a 357-room Courtyard and a 147-room Residence Inn, will be housed within one building. The Marriott Marquis, a four-star luxury hotel, is connected to the convention center via an underground tunnel, and won the 2014 Development of the Year award at The Americas Lodging Investment Summit. The three hotels together will provide a total of 1,600 Marriott guest rooms just steps from the convention center. AC&F