Pacific Northwest communities are leaders in many areas that are important to the modern meeting industry: farm-to-table, quality and healthy cuisine; walkability and access to public transportation; and green facilities, to name a few. Combine these features with beautiful settings and interesting options for offsite events, and you have a winning combination for event destinations. Here are a handful of cities worth exploring for future meetings or conventions.
The Association for Research in Vision & Ophthalmology (ARVO) first held their 11,000-person annual meeting in Seattle in 2013 — the first time in 18 years the meeting wasn’t in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The experience was so positive that the association returned in 2016.
The proactiveness and excellence of Visit Seattle (the local CVB) and other partners was a big part of the draw, according to Lancey Cowan, JD, ARVO’s senior director of meetings. “The CVB was very flexible and very attentive to our specific needs,” she says. “It wasn’t a cookie-cutter process.” ARVO goes through several steps and does multiple site visits before booking a meeting location, and Visit Seattle happily helped them during the entire process.
“The thing about Seattle is that they have the facilities that can compete with the bigger cities, but they have more of a small town feel. It’s laidback, but it’s also intellectual and progressive. People really liked the vibe.”
— Lancey Cowan, JD
Their staff also went above and beyond when ARVO ran into a potential problem. The association unwittingly organized an offsite party at the Experience Music Project on the same day as Seattle’s annual Mayday protest. Two thousand meeting attendees needed to get from the convention center to the museum, and there was some concern that people might struggle to reach the venue, especially if the protest turned violent.
Two Visit Seattle staff members trailed behind the protestors to track their route and watch for problems. They reported back to ARVO’s staff, who also were watching the protest live online. In the end, the protest didn’t interfere with the event, but Cowan was impressed by their dedication to keeping meeting attendees out of harm’s way.
The Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) proved to be a quality and responsive venue. In 2013, Cowan provided them with feedback about problems with room labeling. When they returned in 2016, the problem had been fixed. “They really do listen to their clients’ feedback and take action as a result of it, which is great and fairly unique,” she says.
Meeting attendees also gave a big thumbs up to Seattle. They liked the convention center’s downtown location because it gave them easy access to restaurants, coffee shops and attractions. Many local businesses hung up customized signs welcoming attendees. Even the fishmongers at Pike Place Market created a special welcome message, which Cowan says people were photographing and tweeting like crazy.
“The thing about Seattle is that they have the facilities that can compete with the bigger cities, but they have more of a small town feel,” Cowan says. “It’s laidback, but it’s also intellectual and progressive. People really liked the vibe.” These and the city’s many other attributes are the reason the association has already booked the WSCC for two future meetings.
ARVO isn’t the only group to fall for Seattle. Rob Hampton, senior vice president of convention sales at Visit Seattle, says about 65 percent of the convention center’s business is repeat business.
While the venue has much to offer, “we’re fortunate to have lots of great facilities for offsite events, including the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Seattle Center and the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field,” Hampton says. Pike Place Market, a popular tourist attraction, is being refurbished for the first time in 40 years and is adding an indoor/outdoor event space that will overlook the water.
The area surrounding Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has so many meeting facilities and outstanding destinations that it deserves its own examination. Depending on the needs of attendees and planners, it may be a better fit than Seattle’s downtown core.
The biggest draws to south Seattle are its proximity to the airport, and its significant room and meeting space availability. The area has more than 60 hotels with more than 10,000 rooms. Rates are typically 20 to 30 percent lower than those in downtown Seattle. Yet the city center is easily accessible by the Link light rail system.
Although there’s no convention center in the area, the CVB can help meeting planners find appropriate spaces at major hotels such as the Hilton Seattle Airport and DoubleTree Seattle Airport. South Seattle also offers some unusual choices for smaller meetings and offsite events. They include the Museum of Flight, Des Moines Beach Park and Cedarbrook Lodge, which sits on 11 acres of wetlands.
South Seattle’s capacity to host meetings is only growing. Upcoming openings include a 347-room Hyatt Regency in nearby Renton; a 165-room Residence Inn by Marriott that’s being developed on Angle Lake; a 189-room private hotel called Washington Place that’s slated to open in summer 2017.
Bellevue (population 133,000) lies just east of Seattle. It also can serve as a nice alternative for associations that like Seattle’s amenities but don’t want to be in the center of the city.
The community’s four-story, 54,000-sf Meydenbauer Convention Center underwent a $12.5 million renovation earlier this year. Four major hotels with their own event spaces are within a 0.7-mile radius of the convention center. The largest is a 732-room Hyatt Regency with 70,000 sf of meeting space. The 353-room Hilton Hotel, which has 60,000 sf of meeting space, comes in second in terms of event capacity. Both the Seattle Marriott Bellevue Hotel and The Westin have around 350 rooms and 25,000 sf of event space.
Bellevue has been voted one of the safest cities in America. It has a highly walkable downtown with many interesting shops, restaurants, spas and museums. It’s a quick public transit ride to downtown Seattle or nearby hiking trails and beaches.
Tacoma’s flourishing arts district, manageable size and easy-to-navigate convention district make it a must-consider for planners looking at the Pacific Northwest.
“The Greater Tacoma Convention Center is located in downtown Tacoma within walking distance of several hotels, dining, shopping and even the Foss Waterway Waterfront,” says Nick Mann, group marketing manager for Travel Tacoma & Pierce County. “It’s a modern facility with glass walls reaching from the ground floor to the top floor.” On clear days, meeting-goers can see Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier from the top floors. Like many in the region, the convention center has an advanced sustainability program to help minimize its carbon footprint.
Two blocks away is the stylish Hotel Murano, which honors Tacoma’s legacy as a center of glass art by displaying numerous glass sculptures throughout the property. The Courtyard Tacoma Downtown can accommodate up to 450 people in its nearly 16,000 sf of event space, and is also within walking distance of the convention center. Both hotels have their own meeting spaces.
Other major venues in the region include the McGavick Conference Center in Lakewood and the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup (home to one of the largest fairs in the world).
Among Tacoma’s cultural attractions are the Museum of Glass, Tacoma Art Museum, America’s Car Museum, Slater Museum of Natural History and theater district. Event attendees also may enjoy visiting Point Defiance Park, which has beaches, a zoo and aquarium, gardens and hiking trails.
Because of its mission and member interests, the Public Lands Alliance (PLA) seeks destinations with abundant public lands, parks and natural spaces for their annual convention and trade show. Spokane, an eastern Washington city with 210,000 people, fit that bill to a “T.” Features such as Manito Park, a 90-acre park and arboretum; Riverfront Park and its 40-mile Centennial Trail; and the scenic Spokane Waterfall in downtown were among the features that got planners excited about visiting the community. At soon as they did, they knew Spokane was an ideal destination for a future gathering.
PLA received outstanding service from Visit Spokane, the local CVB, even before they arrived. Amy Norris, manager of global accounts for HelmsBriscoe, says a Visit Spokane representative attended PLA’s meeting the year before they came to Spokane to promote the upcoming conference, and created special marketing materials and other resources for them.
Meeting attendees spent the bulk of their time at the recently renovated, 500,000-sf Spokane Convention Center. “The exhibit hall has floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the river,” Norris says. “Their footprint definitely has the ‘wow’ factor.”
The staff at the convention center went above and beyond to provide good service. On the final day of the event, PLA hadn’t met their food and beverage minimum. With an hour’s notice, the kitchen staff arranged a champagne toast to accompany a major announcement the organization was making.
“I was extremely impressed at how the chef and catering staff pulled together this really beautiful last break,” Norris says. “It was certainly something they didn’t have to do because they would have gotten the money one way or another.”
The Davenport Grand, which is attached to the convention center, served as the main conference hotel. Service there also was excellent, Norris says. In fact, every aspect of the event impressed PLA’s membership.
“A lot of participants hadn’t been (to Spokane) before, but once they got there, they understood why the event would be held there,” she says. “You can see pictures of Spokane and they’re beautiful, but being there really seals the deal.”
“Portland does meetings right,” says David Tharp, CAE, executive director for the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). From the beginning of his planning experience to the last moments of IAFP’s four-day annual meeting, Oregon’s largest city met or exceeded his expectations.
IAFP wanted to take their 2015 gathering to the Pacific Northwest because it was a region they hadn’t been to in a long time. When they started looking for locations, Portland stood out for several reasons. “Compared to other cities in the Pacific Northwest, costs were very affordable,” Tharp says.
He and his team also liked the environment and accessibility of the airport. “Twenty percent of our attendees come from outside North America, so we need good airline connections,” he says.
Travel Portland, the local CVB, provided IAFP’s first brush with Portland’s welcoming residents. “The CVB was very helpful in scheduling our site visit and getting us around to all the hotels,” Tharp says. “They had outstanding staff and were always checking back with us to see if we had any trips planned to Portland and if we needed anything while we were there.”
The Oregon Convention Center was excellent and excelled in an area where it’s often hard to please attendees: meals. “Overall we had really good comments on food and beverage and the variety of foods offered,” Tharp says. “The labeling of food is very important now, and the staff there at the convention center did a great job of doing that labeling properly and providing the special request meals.”
Because Portland doesn’t have an adjoining convention center hotel, many attendees had to stay in the city’s downtown, which is on the opposite side of the Willamette River. The CVB provided people staying downtown with free passes to take the MAX Light Rail service to the convention center.
IAFP doesn’t plan many evening gatherings for their meetings, but people looking for entertainment had plenty of choices. The annual Organic Beer Fest happened to coincide with the event and was one of many things that gave people a good taste (literally) of the Northwest experience.
“The atmosphere in Portland had people excited,” Tharp says. “I think everybody was generally overjoyed with being there in Portland and had a great experience.”
For associations that do need venues for offsite events, there are plenty of good choices. Plus, “We are constantly adding new and innovative facilities for meetings and conventions,” says Desiree Everett, director of convention sales for Travel Portland. “Since sustainability is a huge part of our culture, many of our facilities also have a sustainability or green meetings focus. Some of our most interesting new meeting venues bring new life to historic buildings, and offer planners creative options for meeting spaces.”
Recent openings of interest in Portland include Wayfinder Beer, a 110-seat craft brewery located less than a mile from the convention center; and Pine Street Market, an informal eatery that offers plenty of choices for locavores and foodies.
Eugene, which is located 100 miles south of Portland, provides a quality meeting experience in a small-town setting. Major hotel and event facilities include the Hilton Eugene, which has 274 rooms and 30,000 sf of meeting space; and the Valley River Inn, a 257-room hotel with 15,000 sf of meeting space.
Looking for something out of the ordinary? Matthew Knight Arena is home to the University of Oregon basketball team, but the 12,500-seat facility also can be utilized for lectures, concerts and more. The Hult Center for the Performing Arts has two theaters, the largest of which can seat nearly 2,500 people.
Eugene offers approximately 6,000 overnight rooms now and is adding seven new hotels in the next few years. They include a 124-room Hyatt, 120-room Home2 Suites by Hilton Eugene Downtown University Area and 81-room Fairfield Inn.
Eugene is the county seat for Lane County. The whole area is rich with opportunities for offsite events and pre- or post-meeting travel. Drive west to the town of Florence and the Oregon coast. Going east takes visitors along the stunning McKenzie River and into the Cascade Mountains. Head south and southeast to visit Cottage Grove and Oakridge, two towns with small-town charm, funky dining establishments and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Boise is Idaho’s state capital and largest city. It has the biggest convention center and only major airport. And these are just a few of the things that make Boise a great destination for meetings.
The downtown Boise Centre just went through a major expansion. It now offers 85,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space in two buildings. A more unusual option for meeting space is Jack’s Urban Meeting Place (JUMP), a community and entertainment venue that also can host meetings and other types of events. Among its unusual features: a collection of vintage toy trucks and tractors; an adjoining park and amphitheater that are great for outdoor entertaining; and a five-story slide that allows visitors to skip the stairs.
Boise has solid hotel offerings now and continues to add new facilities. The largest space for overnight guests is the Riverside Hotel on the banks of the Boise River. It has 303 rooms, 22,000 sf of meeting space and a resort-like feel. The Grove Hotel is a block from the convention center and has 250 overnight rooms and 14,000 sf of event space. Coming soon are the Inn at 500, a 111-room boutique hotel; a 186-room Residence Inn; and a 152-room Hyatt Place hotel.
The community has a number of cultural attractions, unusual venues and outdoor recreational opportunities that meeting attendees may enjoy. “The largest concentration of Basque people outside of Spain live in Boise,” says Terry Kopp, director of sales for the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Downtown’s Basque Block has restaurants, a heritage museum and meeting venues.
Groups also may enjoy hosting smaller events at the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a territorial prison that’s how a historical site; the Stueckle Sky Center, which overlooks Boise State University’s famous blue football field; and the Owyhee Rooftop, a historic hotel that offers 270-degree views of the city. Folks interested in outdoor adventures don’t have to travel far for hiking and biking, whitewater rafting, golf courses, skiing and more.
New and Noteworthy
Seattle. In 2017 Seattle will break ground on an expansion of the Washington State Convention Center. The new building will be one block away from the existing center, and has a unique “stacked” design that allows it to provide 435,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space in a relatively small footprint. Construction should be finished in 2020.
To provide additional room capacity, downtown Seattle is also adding a 1,264-room convention hotel (with 105,000 sf of meeting space) that will be adjacent to the new convention center building. Hyatt will manage the property, which will be the largest hotel in the Pacific Northwest. Construction should be finished by late 2018.
An additional four hotels will open in downtown in 2017. They include a 309-room Residence Inn by Marriott, 282-room Embassy Suites Hotel, 184-room SLS hotel and 147-room Moxy Hotel by Marriott.
Tacoma. Two new hotels are expected to open in 2018. The four-star Marriott Downtown Tacoma will be adjacent to the convention center and provide 300 rooms and new meeting space. The Silver Cloud Hotel Point Ruston will add 180 rooms (80 percent of which will have views of Commencement Bay).
Bellevue. A Hilton Garden Inn with 254 rooms and an AC Hotel by Marriott with 234 rooms are expected to open in the first quarter of 2017. A 250-room W Hotel is coming in the summer of 2017.
Portland. Metro, which owns the Oregon Convention Center, is currently in negotiations with Hyatt and a private developer to build a 600-room, $230 million hotel that will be adjacent to the convention center. Assuming construction moves ahead on the scheduled timeline, the hotel should open in 2019.
The Portland Hilton and Executive Tower is in the midst of a major remodel. The 782-room downtown hotel is currently adding two meeting spaces, two breakout rooms and a ballroom. That will bring the property’s total meeting space to 60,000 sf. Hilton also is reconfiguring the hotel’s lobby, adding communal gathering spaces and regional-themed décor to make it a more inviting place for guests to gather. AC&F