When Windy Christner, CMP, senior director, meetings and expositions for the DC-based American Pharmacists Association, planned a conference in March for about 5,800 attendees — pharmacists, pharmacy students and educators, and exhibitors from about 200 companies — she chose Hilton Baltimore as the headquarters hotel. The hotel is connected to the 1,225,000-sf Baltimore Convention Center, where Christner held a pirate-themed opening reception in the exhibit hall, working with the convention center caterers to come up with a menu.
The closing reception took place at the Camden Yards baseball stadium, immediately across from the Hilton and the convention center. Attendees partook of traditional ballpark food and drinks on the concourse level, took photos with the scoreboard and field in the background and browsed through stadium photos and memorabilia while a local “Tonight Show”-style band played.
“Including local law enforcement was brilliant. Having extra partnership is an added bonus that bumps up everyone’s level of really trying to assist onsite — if you know one another, it’s easier if something should happen. Luckily I never had to see them.”
— Windy Christner, CMP
“As the last event of the meeting, the one people go to and then go home, it has to go well and be impressive — and I had to be able to afford to do it,” Christner says. Mission accomplished, as she was able to negotiate one price that included both the rental and the food. “Baltimore was more on the budget-friendly side compared to union-labor cities, one of the easier cities to work within my budget and not continually try to scale things down,” she says.
As a member of the Customer Advisory Board of Visit Baltimore, Christner says she got to see firsthand the renaissance of the harbor area. “Baltimore is a very attractive destination, easy to get around, a lot of choices — culture, history, restaurants,” she says. Many attendees asked why the association hadn’t been to Baltimore before, Christner says, and they commented on how friendly and welcoming the hotel staff and community in general were.
After her experience of having a formalized process for reviewing emergency plans with not only hotel security but with the harbor and local police, a process Visit Baltimore introduced her to, Christner says this is a standard practice she will use with all destinations. “Including local law enforcement was brilliant,” she says. “Having extra partnership is an added bonus that bumps up everyone’s level of really trying to assist onsite — if you know one another, it’s easier if something should happen. Luckily I never had to see them, but I really felt I had another part of the team there in place.”
The $200 million, 350,000-sf, 17-story Live! Hotel expects to open in late 2017 to supplement the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, Maryland, with 310 rooms, a 1,500-seat theater, banquet space for 800 attendees, a gelato bar, spa and salon, and 1,000 new parking spaces.
A 150-room, Edgar Allen Poe-referencing Delta Hotel by Marriott at Inner Harbor Baltimore was slated to open in December offering free Wi-Fi and bottled water, a fitness center, cocktails-and-high-end-burgers restaurant TellTale and the 2,000-sf Raven Ballroom.
Sagamore Pendry Baltimore Hotel plans to debut in early 2017 in the century-old Recreation Pier at Fell’s Point, the Ellis Island of Baltimore. The 128-room hotel has a pool, ballroom, restaurant, whiskey bar and 24-hour fitness center.
Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel has seen $4.5 million in renovations, with updates to its 27,000 sf of meeting space that includes new furniture, color palette and fixtures, and a foyer expansion with an atrium view that offers an extra 1,300 sf of prefunction space. The fine-dining Watertable with its harbor views also got a spit and polish. It can accommodate functions for up to 22 attendees.
The 323-room Radisson Hotel Baltimore Downtown-Inner Harbor features a rooftop swimming pool, free Wi-Fi and breakfast, a 24-hour fitness center, and 18,500 sf of meeting space that can work for up to 1,500 attendees.
Planners looking for intriguing offsite venues can consider Westminster Hall, which with its stained glass windows, pipe organ and wood floor, can work as a banquet space for 250 or a lecture or conference space for up to 350, with AV available onsite.
The B&O Railroad Museum offers a 10 percent discount to nonprofit organizations that rent the facilities, which are manifold and include Roundhouse, which can fit 450 for a seated dinner or 2,800 for a reception; 12,000 sf of outdoor space; the Harry C. Eck Education Station, which has AV capability and can hold 110 attendees in 1,200 sf; and a WWII observation car with a bar that can seat 20.
The workers who built the B&O railroad in the 1840s established Pigtown, today a historic community with boutique shops and restaurants for attendees to browse. When it opens in early 2017, the Sagamore Spirit Distillery will serve the rye it distills from the local spring water on a five-acre complex on the waterfront in Port Covington, which itself is undergoing a $5.5 billion redevelopment. A 40-foot, 3,700-pound, handmade copper still is among the memorable sights on the new campus, which along with the 22,000-sf distillery will include a water tower, a 27,000-sf welcome center with one indoor and one outdoor tasting room, and an as-yet-unnamed restaurant from James-Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini.
One of the gems of the mid-Atlantic states, Atlantic City has had a few challenging years, however, it remains, as Caesars Entertainment Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events Michael Massari has noted, “within a tank of gas of one-third of the U.S. population.” As such, the shifting sands of the casino-hotel model haven’t dampened association planners’ enthusiasm for meeting here. Patrice Maillet, director of business development for the Trenton-based New Jersey School Boards Association, for example, says, “Shakeups haven’t affected our conference.” Her 102-year-old organization routinely holds its annual training meeting there because “there really is no place in New Jersey” that can accommodate groups as large as hers: 8,100 school board members, school administrators, and exhibitors and vendors for the three-day Workshop 2016 held in October at the Atlantic City Convention Center, which has 486,600 sf of connected exhibit space and an additional 109,100 sf in the form of 45 meeting rooms. There’s also a covered walkway connection to the 502-room Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel, which itself has 27,000 sf of meeting space that includes the nearly 12,000-sf Crown Ballroom.
Maillet aims to bring something fresh to the proceedings each year, and she relies on her strong relationships with Meet AC and the convention center to make that happen. “We all know each other. Everybody does what has to be done to get it done,” she says.
An annual challenge for her is “to figure out how to promote companies, but also keep the integrity of our training component. We’re constantly trying to come up with ways to increase the floor traffic — we’re about creating destinations throughout the exhibit floor.” Solution: small classrooms on the perimeter of the conference floor, so exhibitors can have a booth but also contribute to the educational component of the conference. “It’s not good enough that we got their contract. We want them to feel it’s worthwhile for them and for our attendees; then it’s a match made in heaven,” she says.
Caesars Entertainment’s $200 million show of faith in Atlantic City continues apace: Harrah’s Resort is beginning a $30 million renovation of its 450 guest rooms and suites in Bayview Tower, ready in third-quarter 2017. Glass-domed nightclub The Pool After Dark, the fitness center and the food court also will get makeovers. The Claridge Hotel had a busy fall, joining the Radisson brand as well as introducing its new 15,000-sf Conference Center at the Claridge and The VÜE Rooftop Bar & Lounge at the Claridge.
The bankruptcy-beleaguered former Revel Atlantic City is tentatively scheduled to reopen (perhaps without a casino, as Showboat Atlantic City recently did) in early 2017 as TEN, hiring several senior executives from the now-shuttered Trump Taj Mahal.
Resorts Casino Hotel offers planners an All Inclusive Meeting Package that includes three daily meals onsite (with dinner at Gallagher’s Steak House, Capriccio, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville or LandShark Bar & Grill), meeting space, snack breaks, AV, Wi-Fi, parking and guest room starting at $199 per attendee per night double occupancy, $239 single occupancy, week nights only. Resorts offers approximately 39,000 sf of meeting space.
Michael Symon will be the latest of the Iron Chefs to join the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa lineup when he opens the 223-seat Italian eatery Angeline by Michael Symon in spring 2017.
Tropicana Atlantic City in November opened 10 North Lounge, a smoker-friendly space inside the casino that also has a house piano man who plays weekly.
When Helen Kutska, senior director, convention services for American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, was casting about for the right place to bring 120 board directors, oil company executives and member company representatives, plus spouses, for the biannual board business meeting in September, she had particular criteria in mind. To work, the property had to be within an hour’s drive of a major airport; it also had to be in a “proper resort setting.” The 168-room Salamander Resort & Spa on 340 acres of horse country in Middleburg, Virginia, about a 30-minute ride from Dulles Airport, more than fit the bill.
“The accommodations were fabulous,” she says, noting that the resort staff were very attentive and the food “got a lot of compliments from our guests, and they have discerning palates. And the activities for downtime were great and offered a lot of alternatives.” Attendees participated in a golf tournament, a walking tour of Middleburg, clay shooting, an art class and a tour of the local wine country. On property, trail rides and zip-lining tempted participants, as did watching a dressage demonstration as part of an outdoor reception.
Victor Parra, president and CEO of Alexandria, Virginia-based United Motorcoach Association, also convened his annual board meeting in June (about 40 attendees including partners) at Salamander, with which his chairman was already familiar. “Providing an environment that is enjoyable really adds to the success of the event,” he says. In the afternoons, attendees enjoyed on- and off-property activities. At night, “the grounds had little areas where people could smoke cigars around the property and have after-dinner drinks — little fire pits throughout the evening. It was a really pleasant experience.”
One event that really resonated with the group was a dinner at Red Fox Inn and Tavern, established in 1728. “Having the entire upstairs in this historic building was just a real treat,” Parra says. Overall, Parra’s experience was “probably one of the best board meetings we’ve had. I really like the service and culture that’s been instilled in the hotel. The staff all treated you individually as if you were a special guest and made good eye contact. People knew the answers when you asked questions. You really felt you were being taken care of.”
Fourteen hotels — 2,200 rooms — opened in the DC region in 2016, and 16 more are scheduled to open in 2017. The 263-room Trump International Hotel, a $200 million renovation of the Old Post Office, opened in September with 38,000 sf of meeting and event space, including a 13,200-sf ballroom; the 10,000-sf Spa by Ivanka Trump, and DC’s first BLT Prime. One of the three Presidential Suites, the $20,000-per-night, 6,300-sf Trump Townhouse, has a private entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The once-infamous Watergate Hotel, opened in 1967 and closed 40 years later, has reopened after a $125 million renovation. The new space has 336 naturally lit guest rooms with marble bathrooms, granite vanities and multiple suites, including two Presidential Suites; a restaurant, Kingbird, that serves “American cuisine with a French twist” with both indoor and riverfront seating; design marvel The Next Whisky Bar, with curving walls of backlit whisky bottles; a rooftop lounge Top of the Gate, with wraparound vistas of the skyline and river; 12,500-sf Argentta spa; the brand new 7,000-sf Moretti Grand Ballroom; and 10,000 sf of outdoor space.
The $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor, less than 1 mile from the city, opened in early December with a 308-room hotel,125,000-sf casino, 3,000-seat concert venue and 18,000-sf retail hub. Planners can work with 50,000 sf of meeting space, including a 16,200-sf ballroom and a 6,000-sf terrace. Sting, Cher, Bruno Mars and Ricky Martin are just a few of the entertainers already booked to perform in the Theater at MGM National Harbor, which planners also can book for fixed-seat meetings as well as large receptions. Two cocktail lounges, a 27,000-sf spa, seven dining options (including restaurants by chefs José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson and the Voltaggio Brothers) and the pastry shop Bellagio Pâtisserie, which boasts a 26-foot fountain of melted chocolate are or soon will be available.
A 4,200-seat, as-yet-unnamed Events DC-shepherded “Entertainment and Sports Arena,” which will house the Washington Mystics and be a practice facility for the Washington Wizards, is scheduled to break ground in 2017 and be ready in fall 2018.
“There’s an absence of this type of event in the market in New York,” Travis Rush, vice president, business development of NYC-based Kellen Company says of the third annual Kellen Conference, a one-day event for 100 senior leaders of associations to discuss the future of the association industry. He says Kellen’s strong network of industry partners, knowledge of the New York market and desire to provide a convenient locale for such a short meeting, especially for the about 20 percent of attendees who flew in, were factors in choosing to host the conference in NYC for all three years.
This year, Kellen worked out a partnership with Midtown hotel Intercontinental New York Barclay. First opened in 1926, the hotel emerged in April from a $180 million renovation with seven meeting spaces at more than 15,000 sf, as well as 704 redesigned guest rooms and 31 suites. Event space includes the 4,954-sf Grand Ballroom and the 3,500-sf Empire Ballroom, and The Gin Parlour, which offers 88 gins. Kellen’s June conference was the second major hotel event after the renovation.
Rush was impressed with the “highly attentive” service, as well as the way the hotel worked with his and with presenter Rudy Giulani’s teams on security. His advice to association planners considering New York City: “Look around. There are lots of different types of event space, special event venues, old converted banks, luxury venues with rooftops, and not all are connected to a hotel or a major brand. Recognize that you have a lot of options, and there’s probably one that’s perfect for the personality of your event.”
New York City expects to have 135,000 total hotel rooms by the end of 2019. The 189-room Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown opened in September, with some 6,815 sf of meeting space, including a nearly 3,000-sf Greenwich Ballroom that can house up to 175 attendees. Cut by Wolfgang Puck, the chef’s first NYC restaurant, offers seating for 64 in the main dining room and can accommodate about half that number in two additional spaces: the lounge and a private dining space. A rarity in space-deprived Midtown is the 75-foot indoor pool, as are the large bathtubs provided in the guest room marble bathrooms. A spa and a 6,000-sf fitness center round out the offerings.
The 1,306-room Grand Hyatt New York, connected by a passageway to Grand Central Terminal, offers attendees guided architectural tours of the train station; 20 percent discounted group tickets to One World Observatory at the top of One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, with 9,000 sf of its own event space; and a 10 percent Visitor Savings Pass to nearby Macy’s Herald Square to attendees who have traveled more than 100 miles. Macy’s also offers group wine tastings, cooking classes and chef demonstrations.
If all goes as planned, the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center will culminate in 1.2 million additional sf of event space, including a 60,000-sf ballroom. The project is to some degree bolstered by an adjacent project, Hudson Yards, which when complete will have more than 17 million sf of commercial and residential space, a 150-room luxury hotel, meeting spaces and an observation deck. What it already has: a new, dedicated subway stop on the 7 line.
March saw the debut of Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel. Billed as the city’s first “digitally enhanced hotel,” the space offers 4,500 sf of event space, 348 guest rooms and the 8,000-sf rooftop restaurant Rock & Reilly’s.
This past summer, Midtown East event space Convene Park Avenue opened with 12,000 sf of flexible meeting space and multiple room configurations that can accommodate groups as small as eight and as large as 275. A video wall, fireplace and all-inclusive packages that include space, AV, food and production service are a few of its notable components.
With more than 200,000 sf of convention and ballroom space, and “within a few hours’ drive of half the population of the United States,” as Richmond Region Tourism notes, the city has more importantly positioned itself as the mid-Atlantic’s nexus of “history and hip.”
The preponderance of the city’s convention space is to be found at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, which offers planners a 178,159-sf exhibit hall, a 30,550-sf ballroom, 36 meeting and banquet rooms, and a nearly 260-seat hall.
Some 650 rooms are an easy stroll away from the convention center, including the Crowne Plaza Richmond Downtown, which when completely renovated will morph into the more upmarket Delta Hotel by Marriott, and The Jefferson, whose 262 rooms have become 181 more commodious chambers that include foyers, boudoirs and marble baths. The two lobbies and the Lemaire restaurant — which features a New American menu served under high ceilings and amid marble columns — were refurnished, and three ballrooms were redecorated.
All 194 rooms at the Four Points by Sheraton Richmond were recently renovated, as were all 10,000 sf of indoor meeting space. Next up for refurbishing: the fitness center and pool.
The Homewood Suites by Hilton Richmond-Chester, a 20-minute ride from the Richmond International Airport, is currently upgrading its lobby decor. Along with its 118 suites, it offers 2,250 sf of meeting space that can accommodate 150 attendees for a reception.
For planners looking to step away from hotel meeting and banquet space, Richmond offers a wealth of options, including the Amtrak Main Street Station, which can seat 100 for a banquet or hold up to 200 attendees for a reception; Boathouse at Rocketts Landing, in an old waterfront power plant building that can do 230 standing/150 seated on the ground level and offers more intimate spaces on the upper levels with sweeping views of the James River; the 1920s-era John Marshall ballrooms: the Virginia Room, which has a balcony overlook and can seat 350, and the 30-foot-high Marshall Room with floor-to-ceiling windows, which can seat 175; and Bolling Haxall House, a nationally registered mansion that can seat 200 for dinner and offers reduced fees for nonprofits to negotiate individually.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ five-gallery, 400-piece Fabergé collection is back from an international tour as of late October and once again ready to wow attendees, who also can tour the Virginia Capital and Executive Mansion, designed by Thomas Jefferson and still occupied, as it has been since 1813, by the sitting governor. Attendees can tap into Richmond’s burgeoning craft beer scene — 20 breweries and counting — with Richmond Brewery Tours or wander at will using the Richmond Beer Trail Map and earn points toward prizes at each stop.
Apart from its laidback coastal vibe, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Chesapeake Bay on another, one of this city’s chief draws is its military history. It also groups naturally into a few hubs: some 7,000 of the city’s 10,000-plus hotel rooms are within three miles of the Virginia Beach Convention Center (150,000 sf of exhibit space and a 31,000-sf ballroom), itself a five-minute drive from the Boardwalk. The city’s VB Wave trolley system makes it easy for attendees to stop at the aquarium, water park and malls, and Town Center, with its preponderance of restaurants, nightlife, shopping and entertainment, also is a natural hub, with at least a dozen economical hotel options.
A veritable skyscraper on the Boardwalk, the 18-story Oceanaire Resort Hotel reopened after a $70 million upgrade that now includes retro touches, the Ultra Martini Lounge, five pools — including the indoor Aqua 21 infinity pool — and 2,600 sf of meeting space, privileges at the nearby Ocean Beach Club and special association meeting packages.
The Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront opened on the Boardwalk in 2014 with 36 suites among its 167 all-oceanfront rooms and 5,000 sf of meeting space, a 3,500-sf ballroom, and restaurants Lager Heads and the Garden Grille among its offerings.
Along with B&B-style features in certain of its 240 rooms, such as fireplaces or views of the lake or garden, The Founders Inn and Spa also offers 25,000 sf of meeting space that includes the 13,000-sf Virginia Ballroom, which can seat 1,000 for a banquet, as well as a total of 18 meeting spaces that can accommodate groups much smaller than that. The hotel also offers food prep-based teambuilding activities as well as the elegant, naturally lit Swan Terrace Grill steak and seafood house, and the more casual Hunt Room, where attendees can shoot pool after a burger or pizza.
The Military Aviation Museum will transport attendees back in time with its collection of aircraft from the World Wars, some of which are still flown on occasion by volunteer pilots. Far older is the 1759 Georgian-style Upper Wolfsnare Plantation, built by a ratifier of the U.S. Constitution, where planners can arrange group tours.
Attendees can spend downtime at the 94,000-sf Virginia Beach Tennis and Country Club, with its 10 indoor and 28 outdoor courts along with a Junior Olympic pool; fitness center with Technogym equipment; and spin, Zumba and yoga classes. The club has an arrangement with its sister property, the nearby 295-suite Virginia Beach Resort Hotel and Conference Center, to allow 1.5 hours of complimentary access for each night attendees stay at the resort. The resort is ensconced on a private beach and offers 16,000 sf of meeting and event space, free parking, an indoor and an outdoor pool, and complimentary niceties such as bike rentals.
Lynnhaven Mall recently welcomed a Dave & Buster’s to its lineup that can accommodate groups of up to 200. The intrepid can head out for ziplining at the The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium, which offers 13 “treetop trails” potentially suited to teambuilding activity. The more earthboud can explore the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, with its 800,000 gallons of aquariums and habitats principally devoted to Virginia’s marine life. AC&F