What a year it has been for New York City’s meetings industry, according to George Fertitta, CEO of the city’s tourism marketing organization, NYC & Company. “In 2012, we had the most spending by our meetings and convention delegates ever,” he remarks. “5.2 million delegates visited the city, up 2 percent from (2011). Total spending was almost $5 billion, again up 2 percent from 2011. All this in a tough economy.” Add to that the fact that Manhattan is not the most cost-effective place for delegates to find lodging.
But there is an undeniable business value — even beyond the convention itself — to staying a number of days in New York City. “One of the things we know about New York City is that conventions that meet here tend to generate record-breaking attendance consistently, and I think from a business standpoint it’s very smart for groups to want to meet in New York. It’s a center of business and commerce,” says Chris Heywood, first vice president, communications, NYC & Company. “And people understand that business proposition. They’re going to be more productive in the city, not just at the convention they’re attending, but also with other meetings they can take.”
Attendees of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) Oil and Gas Investment Symposium (OGIS), held each April in the city for the past 18 years, certainly grasp that motivation. There are a “high concentration of institutional investment firms, portfolio managers and private wealth managers located in the city,” notes Tina L. Hamlin, vice president, meetings, for IPAA. “Our delegates travel from all over the country because half of the attendees come from the oil-producing states, mostly Houston (Texas), and the other half are from the investment community, which is heavily concentrated in the Northeast corridor. While the lodging costs are higher than what we would find in Houston, our members know that they need to be in New York City to get business accomplished, and we need to go to the audience we are trying to attract.”
For the past 10 years, the IPAA has held its Oil and Gas Investment Symposium at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers (1,781 guest rooms; 60,000 sf of meeting space) bringing 1,800 attendees to the hotel last year. “I have viewed every large conference hotel in the city, and the Sheraton is the perfect match for our program given the layout of space, location and responsiveness of staff,” says Hamlin. “The Sheraton Conference Services staff stands out as one of the Sheraton’s strongest assets for any meeting planner. Randall Grimes, assistant director of conference services at the Sheraton, has truly become an extension of the IPAA staff over the years. He has just as high standards as we do, is invested in our program and wants to see it be a success year after year, as does his team. He also provides a sense of calm to my staff when a challenge arises, and he always contributes to the solution.”
Quality staff is just part of the recipe for an ideal conference, of course. “The central location of the Sheraton New York also is key to our program’s success,” Hamlin adds. “We needed our attendees to have easy access from train, subway and air terminals, and to ample nearby options for great business restaurants. Additionally, each year we kick-start our investment symposium by ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ OMX, as they are a big supporter of IPAA and its OGIS programs, and they are located only a few short blocks away at Times Square.
“During any free time they may find, our members also like to get out of the hotel and walk around Central Park, which is only a few short blocks away,” she explains. “And on several occasions, the Sheraton has been instrumental in helping me arrange special outings for my sponsors and members in a private suite at Yankee Stadium. The subway that takes you directly to the stadium is located underneath the hotel, so it doesn’t get much easier than that!”
The American Bar Association found an ideal Manhattan hotel “down south,” at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park (298 guest rooms; 13,000 sf of meeting space), the location of a 100-attendee ABA forum last year as well as a board meeting this November. “We’re big Ritz-Carlton users,” notes Martin D. Balogh, director of meetings and travel. Attendees “know what they’re going to get (in terms of quality), add on top of that, Lower Manhattan on a weekend is a pretty good value, all things considered; we tend to meet on the weekends.” Balogh notes that the hotel, despite being a smaller property, has “an openness, a spaciousness. Unlike many Manhattan hotels where you can feel somewhat claustrophobic, you don’t feel that at The Ritz because of its setting” in Battery Park. “I also think that the amount of new restaurants that have opened downtown makes it more appealing. You’d almost think you’re in a European city with these cafés that fill the street.”
For the upcoming board meeting, the ABA is considering the nearby Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, Delmonico’s Restaurant and Fraunces Tavern as offsite event options. Many attendees will want to experience an iconic New York City attraction such as Fraunces, which is housed in a Georgian-style building dating from 1719. But there are plenty of major attractions that, while not indigenous to the city, will beckon many attendees nonetheless. The world-renowned Blue Man Group, for example, performs downtown at the Astor Place Theatre on Lafayette Street and offers a unique, multisensory experience. And Bowlmor Lanes, a natural locale for a small but upbeat time away from the convention, can be found in both Times Square and Union Square.
Another field with major representation in the city is publishing, and 2013 will be the fifth year The American Society of Journalists and Authors holds its conference in Manhattan, specifically the Roosevelt Hotel (1,015 guest rooms, 30,000 sf of meeting space). “Our conference relies on a heavy concentration of media people, and editors and book publishers, so for this event, there isn’t really any other place that we could hold it,” asserts Executive Director Alexandra Cantor Owens. “We typically get between 600–700 attendees,” which is close to a takeover of the Roosevelt. “Typically there will be a couple of plenary sessions, ballroom functions and a lot of breakout activity over the course of the three days,” Owens explains. “A big reason for my affection for the Roosevelt is that they have been incredibly flexible, and it’s also a big plus when you have the same people there year in and year out; there has been no turnover. We love the grand spaces, such as the ballrooms and the lobby, which is absolutely stunning; it’s one of those classic New York spaces.”
The city’s hub for larger association meetings is the Javits Center, which hosts 150 events a year. The center’s 840,000 gross sf of exhibition space can be divided into 10 self-contained halls, as well as 75 meeting rooms. The Special Events Hall can seat up to 3,200 for theater-style meetings and receptions, and up to 1,700 for banquets. In the summer of 2010, Javits gained additional space with the construction of the 110,000-sf Javits Center North, offering 80,000 sf of additional exhibition space.
The good news for groups is that Javits has embarked on a renovation project expected to be completed this year. Apart from the various electrical, mechanical and plumbing upgrades, a new green roof will be installed that will be the largest in New York City. The renovation will increase the facility’s energy efficiency by 25 percent, and the building will ultimately achieve LEED Silver status. The center also will be installing additional telecommunications services over the next 18 months, with enhancements such as free Wi-Fi service in the Level 1 Food Court area. In addition, Javits has launched the first American Express Open Business Lounge in a convention center, located on the south side of the Javits Center’s Crystal Palace lobby.
Javits’ 34th Street location on the West Side is easily accessible from a number of stellar Midtown hotels. These include mammoth properties such as the Hilton New York (2,040 guest rooms, 151,000 sf) at 53rd Street; the New York Marriott Marquis (1,900 guest rooms; 101,450 sf) on 45th Street; and the Grand Hyatt New York (1,305 guest rooms; 60,000 sf of renovated meeting space) at 42nd Street. And a planner can’t forget Waldorf Astoria New York (1,416 guest rooms; 60,000 sf) for those members looking for Gotham-style opulence. The Waldorf occupies an entire city block between Park and Lexington Avenues, and 49th and 50th Streets.
Midsize properties also abound in Midtown, including The Westin New York Times Square (873 guest rooms; 34,000 sf) at 43rd Street; the Crowne Plaza Times Square (770 guest rooms; 23,500 sf) at 48th Street; and the InterContinental New York Times Square (607 guest rooms; 10,000 sf) at 44th Street. The Hyatt Times Square will open in fall 2013 with 487 guest rooms. Meeting space is yet to be determined.
Planners looking to contract with diverse hotels for their Javits-bound delegates will note that New York City’s hotel room inventory continues to expand and is currently at roughly 91,500 active rooms. “What’s interesting is that there used to be a time when you couldn’t find a reasonably priced hotel in Manhattan, and now I think there are more options in terms of budget,” Heywood observes. “There are limited-service properties and more possibilities in terms of brand, experience and price point. The number of hotels in Lower Manhattan has tripled over the last decade.” Yet the city’s hotel occupancy remains strong at 87 percent, the highest in the nation, so early booking is essential. There are nearly 10,000 rooms already in the pipeline through 2015, and NYC & Company estimates that the city will have more than 102,000 rooms by 2015.
Following are some of the larger recent developments:
Last March, the Conrad New York (463 guest rooms; 17,000 sf) opened in Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City, proximate to the Financial District.
In October, The Westin New York Grand Central (774 guest rooms; 12,000 sf), formerly the New York Helmsley Hotel, opened on 42nd Street at 3rd Avenue after a $65 million renovation.
A 378-room Courtyard by Marriott and 261-room Residence Inn Central Park by Marriott, a multi-hotel property, is scheduled to open late this year at Broadway and 54th Street.
Some of New York City’s major existing properties are also making strides, such as the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, which has begun a $20 million renovation to transform its 60,000 sf of meeting space. This final phase of the hotel’s overall $180 million renovation debuts on March 1 to reveal the remodeled meeting space. The hotel’s meeting facilities, comprising 43 meeting rooms, an Executive Conference Center, the 13,768-sf Metropolitan Ballroom and the 8,715-sf New York Ballroom, are complemented by a dedicated Meeting Specialist team and the latest in AV equipment and high-tech communications, including a Telepresence suite.
And Lower Manhattan, which was recently graced with the new Conrad New York, also offers recently renovated meeting space at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, which completed a remake of its 13,000 sf of meeting space last winter to coincide with the property’s 10th anniversary. Attendees staying at The Ritz have the option of engaging in some “volunteaming” via the hotel’s partnership with the Battery Conservancy. Groups can help in the organic vegetable garden and assist with general park maintenance and horticulture, guided by the Ritz’s meetings and special events managers.
The Javits Center immediately comes to the mind of many association meeting planners considering a New York/New Jersey site choice, but so does the Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC), which offers an impressive 500,000 sf of contiguous space, including five spacious exhibit halls located on the building’s second level. In addition, the ACCC houses 45 meeting rooms that total 109,100 sf with flexible configurations.
And in the future, there will be a midsize conference center available in Atlantic City: Last fall, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) approved $45 million in financing for Caesars Entertainment’s planned 200,000-sf conference center at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. Located on the southwest side of the property, the two-floor conference center will feature 100,000 sf of meeting space and large windows overlooking the bay. Harrah’s Resort, which itself offers 25,000 sf of meeting space, has also recently completed the 960-room Waterfront Tower, bringing its total room inventory to 2,590.
Represented by the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the town known for its 140-year-old Boardwalk rebounded relatively quickly on the casino side after the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Casinos and related businesses reopened to the public on November 2 after closure on October 28 due to the storm. “The speed with which our partners were able to prepare to reopen their doors is a testament to the resilience of our state and our nation in the face of a disaster of this scale,” said Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, in a statement.
Located at the center of the Boardwalk and two blocks from the ACCC is Caesars Atlantic City (1,144 guest room; 24,000 sf of meeting space). The hotel’s renovated Circus Maximus Theater seats more than 1,500 delegates.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa (2,000 guest rooms; 70,000 sf) features the 30,000-sf, column-free Ballroom and Event Center, and a 1,000-seat theater. Borgata completed a $50 million redesign of its 1,566 classic guest rooms last spring; and recently introduced in-room gaming, a first for the hotel industry.
Tropicana Casino & Resort (2,078 guest rooms; 122,000 total sf of meeting space) bills itself as “the only Atlantic City casino with five Certified Meeting Professionals on staff.” Meeting and convention space includes 54,000 sf in the North and South Towers; and 45,000 sf in The Quarter and Havana Tower. There is a 20,000-sf Grand Exhibition Center, the 2,000-seat Tropicana Showroom, which is the largest venue of its kind in Atlantic City; and the 18,000-sf Royal Swan Ballroom, which will undergo renovations this summer.
During their free time, attendees can enjoy not only gaming on the 147,000-sf casino floor, but also The Quarter at the Tropicana, with its 200,000 sf of retail, dining, entertainment and spa experiences; and the Marketplace at the Boardwalk, with an additional 21,000 sf of retail, dining, entertainment options. The Quarter also features a 300-seat Imax Theatre, which can be used for presentations. The recently opened Boogie Nights ’70s/’80s dance club can be used by groups as a fun alternative for cocktail receptions and dinners. Set to debut this summer at the Tropicana are six new food and beverage venues, including Chickie’s & Pete’s, Broadway Burger Bar & Grill, Tony Luke’s, Caffè Tazza Delizioso and Casa Taco & Tequila Bar.
A solid choice in midsize properties is the 740-room Golden Nugget Atlantic City (740 guest rooms; 90,000 sf of indoor-outdoor), which underwent a $150 million renovation a year ago and offers a 500-seat Showroom and 17,000-sf Grand Ballroom.
New Jersey is certainly less expensive than Manhattan for delegates due to lower room rates and taxes, but planners may want to give them easy access to the Big Apple for business and/or entertainment reasons. The Meadowlands is a vantage point to consider in that regard. Here planners will find New York Harbor dinner cruise companies such as Spirit of New Jersey and Smooth Sailing Celebrations. Upscale lodging choices include Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel and Conference Center (427 guest rooms; 30,000 sf); the Teaneck Marriott at Glen Pointe (340 guest rooms; 26,500 sf); and the Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott, (585 guest rooms; 13,260 sf plus a new 10,000-sf ballroom opening this fall). Judy Ross, director of the Meadowlands Liberty CVB), cites another meeting space for associations to consider: The Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, which offers 61,000 sf of convention space. “They have a few conference rooms in addition to the main exhibit space, and the center sits in an area with six hotels all within walking distance,” she notes. “We have everything from budget to luxury hotels in that area. The complex also offers restaurants, and attendees can walk around and do some shopping on their free time.”
A CVB can be a key resource for navigating the dynamic New York/New Jersey region, and NYC & Company (www.nycgo.com/meetingplanners) certainly fits that bill, says IPAA’s Hamlin. “NYC & Company has always been extremely supportive of our program and our needs over the years,” she notes. “They were instrumental when it came time to look for a new venue when we outgrew the Securities & Exchange Commission space near Wall Street, and again when we outgrew the Millennium Broadway’s meeting space at Times Square, to find our new home at the Sheraton New York in Midtown.”
Recently, the CVB has launched Meet NYC, a LinkedIn group that serves as a forum for discussion on bringing meetings to the city, and a source for planners to learn about new hotel projects and key happenings around town. And as planners will discover, a lot can happen in a “New York minute.” AC&F