One of the many quotable lines from Sir Winston Churchill, popular among architects, is from his October 1944 speech to members of the British House of Commons.
“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
Churchill was talking about the need to rebuild the House of Commons after the historic structure was destroyed by a German bombing raid in 1941. But Churchill’s insight might well apply to meeting planners when considering the potential of a historic hotel for an upcoming conference or event.
What does it say to your attendees about your company when your event is held in a historic property? Think about the underlying message of stability, tenacity and strength and how you might build on that.
How does the history of the building you select shape their experience during the gathering? Are your attendees more thoughtful and respectful in a building that commands such by its mere presence? Can you influence their behavior in the future, such as greater productivity, sales, etc., by hosting a meeting at such a hotel?
“The Peabody is the perfect marriage of historical perspective and modern attitude and conveniences. Our out-of-town guests are always very excited to experience this hotel.”
— Velvet Graham
Perhaps some of these hotels and experiences will make you think a little differently about Winston Churchill’s words and how buildings shape us.
The influence of a structure had never occurred to Jody Harris before she coordinated the annual dealer conference for National Computer Corporation, a software company for which she is director of product services.
The South Carolina native now based in Greenville realized that indeed a building can make a difference in how a person feels as soon as she began her site visit at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, a Historic Hotels of America member listed on the National Register of Historic Places that dates to 1935. The oceanfront property has grown from a simple dance club to a 197-room resort that offers everything from golf, diving and sailing to tennis, cycling and horseback riding.
“You know how there are some homes where you just come in and sit down, places where you know you are already welcomed and comfortable,” she says. “The architecture there does that with all the lovely balconies and porches, and I know our attendees felt that, too.”
For Harris, the mild weather available in March was one of the first considerations for the 200-plus people who would be attending the conference from cities across Canada and the northern U.S.
“It’s a laidback, traditionally Southern place,” she says. “From my perspective, it’s a place that honors its heritage and South Carolina’s heritage. It’s more than a great waterfront property.”
All public spaces in the King and Prince underwent a major renovation in 2013, which included removing the lobby swimming pool, thus creating more prefunction space around the Lanier Ballroom. Accommodations in one of the buildings also has become pet-friendly.
Harris noted little details such as historic images engraved in the stained glass of the Delegal Room and banquet furniture appropriate to the period of the hotel that celebrated the resort’s longevity and created a unique experience for attendees. She estimates that about 40 percent of the group stayed a few extra days to enjoy the property.
“There’s something about the hospitality of a place with history,” Harris says. “It seems the staff absorbs that history and has such pride for what they represent.”The March 2016 conference also celebrated the company’s 30th anniversary. That and the fact that the company’s previous conference at Bahia in San Diego had been so overwhelmingly popular with attendees placed additional stress on Harris to find and coordinate just the perfect event.
“We’ve never used the same property twice for our dealers conferences, but I’m quite sure that’s about to change now that we’ve experienced this gorgeous gem,” she says.
For as many years as most employees can remember, the Air Hydro Power Company in Louisville, Kentucky, has foregone any holiday party for its 165 or so employees in favor of a “Year Beginning Celebration” in early January.
“It helps take the pressure off of the holidays, especially for our employees with children and their many holiday activities,” says Sharon Stetter, administrative assistant responsible for special events.
The Year Beginning Celebration has always been held in one of Louisville’s many event venues, including the historic Brown Hotel.
But after a visit to the historic resorts in French Lick, Indiana, Stetter, who admits she is often the wet blanket for party planning, enthusiastically recommended to her bosses to take the party on the road. After polling a number of employees who, too, liked the idea, the company booked the entire West Baden Springs Hotel for their weekend party. French Lick is about an hour north of Louisville.
“The entire property, from the moment you pull into the driveway, has such a feel or aura to it of a quieter, more peaceful time,” Stetter says.
French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel date to the 1850s and celebrate a period of great mineral spa resort experiences. In 2006–07, the two hotels reopened as one resort after a $560 million, multiyear renovation.
In 2015, a 58,000-sf expansion to the Meeting and Event Center debuted, including a 22,000-sf adjustable ballroom. The center now boasts 27 meeting rooms of various sizes for a total of 163,000 sf of meeting and event space throughout the resort.
Certainly the most visually stunning and unique of those spaces is West Baden’s domed atrium, frequently called the Eighth Wonder of the World. It spans 200 feet and includes 35,000 sf of floor space. A majority of the hotel’s 243 guest rooms open to a balcony overlooking the atrium.
In early January, when the Air Hydro Power party was held, the hotel’s 40-foot-tall Christmas tree and other holiday decorations still adorned the lobby, creating a festive, yet calming environment.
“After the craziness of the holidays, it was just an extra gift to be able to relax in such an atmosphere,” Stetter says.
Air Hydro Power utilized various corners of the atrium to host receptions for new employees and their spouses, a cocktail party, dinner and dancing. Several employees took advantage of spa services and additional time at the resort after the corporate event was complete.
“Everyone loved it so much, we immediately booked for 2017,” says Stetter.
When the people at Air Hydro Power return, they’ll find an expanded 6,100-sf Pavilion on the Pete Dye golf course that includes a covered patio with gas firepit. A new event barn will add 5,200 rugged square feet to the meeting options.
Calvin Coolidge was president in 1923 when the building that is now the Jefferson Hotel opened for residents, but most recently it’s been President Barack Obama who prefers the Jefferson for many of the high-level meetings he hosts in the nation’s capitol.
The 95-room hotel is one of the few in the city with the approved security needs to accommodate the president and many of his high-profile guests.
And just occasionally, when the president is at the hotel, incoming guests, such as the executive committee members of the American Beverage Association, are alerted that a slight delay might occur as they check in.
“The Jefferson does a very good job of alerting us to when our schedule may coincide with the president’s,” says Trudi Moore, meetings and events manager for the ABA. “It’s never been a concern for any of our members. Indeed many are flattered to be in the same building as the president of the United States.”
The boutique hotel is ideal for the small events that Moore coordinates for the board. The 25–30 attendees are presidents and CEOs of some the nation’s biggest beverage companies. They, too, appreciate the safety and security of the location, as well as doing business in rooms where some of the greatest leaders of history have stayed and done business. Original documents signed by Thomas Jefferson are among the artifacts that speak to the historical significance of the building.
“Other than when the president is in the building, our board members have never had to wait for their rooms,” Moore says. “The staff here truly understands the etiquette of working with high-level executives, which is one reason the Jefferson is perfect for our board meetings.”
Another place that has hosted a number of presidents, celebrities and even England’s Prince William is the Peabody in Memphis, thus confidentiality and etiquette are among the many standard amenities at this hotel that dates to 1869.
With her company based in Memphis, Velvet Graham, a senior director at ServiceMaster, has used the Peabody for a wide variety of conferences, events and overnight accommodations. When she needed to coordinate a town hall-type meeting that would eventually announce the company’s long discussed decision to keep its corporate headquarters in Memphis, Graham knew that she could count on staff at the Peabody to maintain the confidentiality of the event while assisting with a complex press conference.
“They do a great job of understanding our unique needs and always show a great deal of creativity in keeping things fresh,” says Graham, who coordinates meetings for seven brands under the ServiceMaster umbrella.
2015 saw a complete renovation of the hotel’s 16,200-sf Grand Ballroom and prefunction areas, along with the Peabody Executive Conference Center.
As 2016 comes to an end, renovations should be complete on the Continental Ballroom, where Elvis Presley attended his high school prom in 1953, as well as the Skyway Ballroom where the likes of Lawrence Welk, Tommy Dorsey and the Andrews Sisters performed.
“The Peabody is the perfect marriage of historical perspective and modern attitude and conveniences,” Graham says. “Our out-of-town guests are always very excited to experience this hotel.”
Boston Park Plaza, Boston, Massacusetts. Opened in 1927; completed a $100 million renovation in May 2016 of all guest rooms and 50,000 sf of meeting space, new steakhouse and Starbucks.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The most recent addition to the Broadmoor’s meeting venues is the Broadmoor Estate House, a 13,000-sf five-bedroom mansion across the street from The Broadmoor Cottages. The house became available in September 2016.
Brown Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky. Opened in 1923; hotel’s 4,000-sf rooftop garden reopened in fall of 2016; accommodates up to 400 guests; hotel’s 16 stories is one of tallest in downtown.
Brown Palace Hotel & Spa, Denver, Colorado. Opened in 1892; added an additional 3,500 sf of meeting space in October 2015; complete remodel of guest rooms on four floors.
The Elms, Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Opened in 1888; where Harry Truman learned he had indeed defeated Dewey; complete remodel of spa and return of historic lap pool in 2015; Google Fiber wireless internet in early 2017.
Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan. Opened in 1887; an additional five two-room suites in spring 2017; complete remake of business center with Apple products and wireless printing.
Hotel Jerome, Aspen, Colorado. Opened in 1889; complete interior renovation/upgrade in 2012; the hotel has recently purchased the adjacent Aspen Times building with plans to turn the entire property into meeting space; details on completion date unknown at this time.
InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco, California. This historic property celebrates its 90th birthday in December 2016; hotel is a member of Nob Hill Connection, five historic hotels in the Nob Hill district.
Jefferson Hotel, Richmond, Virginia. Dates to 1895; will complete a three-year, three-phase reconstruction project in early 2017 that included all guest rooms as well as Lemaire Restaurant; rotunda lobby ceiling completely restored.
Keswick Hall, Charlottesville, Virginia. Built in 1912; complete guest room renovation in December 14; new Pete Dye-designed 18-hole championship golf course August 2015.
Omni Severin, Indianapolis, Indiana. Built in 1913 and designed by Kurt Vonnegut’s grandfather; back lobby and 17,000 sf of meeting space received a $2 million facelift in late 2016; only hotel in Indianapolis with balconies.
Partridge Inn, Augusta, Georgia. Built in 1910; 144 guest rooms; completely remodeled in 2015 including more than 8,000 sf of event space; high-speed Wi-Fi at 100 mbps; first hotel in Georgia to be included in Historic Hotels of America.
Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Opened in 1893; new app to tour hotel’s public art investment; $2 million in upgrades in public spaces in 2016.
Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel, Des Moines, Iowa. Present hotel, third under Savery name, opened in 1919; significant history with Women’s Army Corps during WWII; closed in August 2016 for complete renovation of heating, cooling, electrical; major renovation of guest rooms, baths and meeting spaces; scheduled to reopen in March 2017.
The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, St. Petersburg, Florida. Open since 1925, the Vinoy completed renovations of the mezzanine and plaza levels in 2016. In the coming two years, the Vinoy plans upgrades at its Snell Isle facilities including an expanded swimming pool; 361 guest rooms, marina; 99,000 sf of indoor/outdoor event space.
Waterfall Resort, Ketchikan, Alaska. Structure built in 1912 converted to all-inclusive remote sport-fishing resort in 1983; 52 oceanfront acres and full-service meeting facilities; 2016 season debuted eight new boats making it the largest private fleet in Alaska. C&IT