Long-established meeting destinations such as Atlantic City, New York and Las Vegas thrive in part on a certain nostalgic appeal: Groups want to have those classic experiences, whether it’s the Boardwalk, Carnegie Hall or the Flamingo of Bugsy Siegel fame. But what’s new in these cities can be just as engaging, and hotel openings, expansions and renovations are often exactly the kinds of new developments that catch a planner’s eye.
Such was the case in 2016 when Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City introduced the $125 million Waterfront Conference Center. According to Glendia Bursey, executive assistant to Jeff Bender, CEO of Harris Computer Systems, the conference space was the major factor in selecting Harrah’s for the 2017 Harris Customer Training Conference. “To date it was the best conference space that I have worked in. The overall feedback on the space was amazing.” Held in November, the conference brought 1,400 attendees to Harrah’s for the first time, and participants were able to experience the renovated Bayview Tower guest rooms. Completed last summer, the $30 million project redesigned and enhanced the 450 guest rooms and suites with fresh design elements such as a lavender and blue color scheme, and new luxurious bathroom amenities. All Bayview rooms and suites now feature high-speed internet access and accessible charging stations, in addition to 55-inch LG LED televisions. Besides the rooms renovation, The Pool at Harrah’s/The Pool after Dark received a $2.6 million redesign and a brand new, $300,000 fitness center was added.
An enhancement project at Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel, a Mohegan Sun property, somewhat parallels the developments at Harrah’s. Last year, Resorts renovated all 480 rooms in its Ocean Tower, and prior to that opened a new conference center in 2015. The guest room renovation was inspired by Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, with sand-toned carpets, coral patterns and tropical dark woods. The new high-tech conference center offers 64,000 sf of meeting space, encompassing 24 meeting rooms, four ballrooms and a multipurpose showroom.
Wayne Feret, general manager of Praxair Distribution Inc., has been bringing sales meetings to Resorts for about 15 years, and truly appreciates the evolution of the property. He most recently brought a kickoff meeting of about 100 attendees to the hotel, and back in 2015 brought in one of the first groups to use the new conference center. The stage for general session “used to be like an old Vaudeville stage with curtains,” he recalls. “And when they rebuilt the conference center, it’s now much more accommodating and modern with the big screen, 90-inch TVs in each one of the breakout rooms. We had zero technical issues this year with our computers; we hooked them in and the speakers worked well, everything linked in. It was a picture-perfect event.”
The service, not just the new facility, also was conducive to the success of the program. “They went the extra mile because when you have these meetings, at the last second things change. Two other people needed to present, and they were able to accommodate me by adding extra breakout rooms very quickly,” Feret relates. On the F&B side, the group enjoyed the property’s Landshark Bar and Grill on the Boardwalk for the opening night reception of the last sales meeting. “It’s a great atmosphere,” says Feret. “We had an open bar, and they had the endless Jimmy Buffet mini cheeseburgers, pulled pork and more. People trickled in to the event between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. It was a great gathering place.”
The hotel renovations and conference center openings in Atlantic City should be on the radar of any planner considering the Northeast. Following is a selection of other significant hotel developments in various regions of the country.
Atlanta is now home to a new offering from Omni Hotels & Resorts that will especially appeal to baseball fans. The 264-room Omni Hotel at the Battery Atlanta is a full-service hotel that serves as a cornerstone of the mixed-use community adjacent to SunTrust Park, future home of the Atlanta Braves. Groups can avail themselves of more than 20,000 sf of function space, rooftop hospitality suites and an elevated pool deck and bar with views into the Battery Atlanta.
In Orlando, work is progressing on the expansion of Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, the largest of the six convention hotels at Walt Disney World Resort. This year, the resort will complete a new 15-story, 500-room tower, along with a new rooftop restaurant and lounge atop the tower offering views of nighttime fireworks. Currently, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort houses more than 500 guest rooms and 220,000 sf of function space. At Universal Orlando Resort, two value-priced properties will debut in the summer of 2019: a 750-room hotel and a 2,050-room hotel, both located near Universal Orlando’s three theme parks as well as Universal CityWalk.
In September 2017, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, completed a $150 million, three-year makeover that included a total redesign of all 2,270 guest rooms, renovation of the resort’s 331,000 sf of meeting space and a top-to-bottom, $12 million transformation of the lobby (for details, see page 44).
In Miramar Beach, Florida, the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has announced a $2.7 renovation of its 15,000-sf Linkside Conference Center (for details, see page 42).
In Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the JW Marriott brand is making strides with the agreement to operate the new, 519-room hotel being developed next to the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The 26-story hotel is expected to open in 2020. Together, the properties are expected to help the Tampa Convention Center book larger groups. In addition, it has been reported that Strategic Property Partners, a joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, plans to spend $40 million to renovate the 719-room Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina by early 2019.
Hotel development in Music City has been in full swing with several major new openings, beginning in 2016 with the debut of the 453-room Westin Nashville, adding 20,000 sf to the city’s meeting space inventory. This year will see the 533-room JW Marriott Nashville open in July. The 33-story property will house 50,000 sf of function space, the award-winning Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina, a world-class Spa by JW and a collection of musically inspired contemporary art. In addition, by midyear a tri-brand hotel opens in Nashville’s SoBro neighborhood. The property will comprise an AC Hotels by Marriott that occupies 209 rooms in one wing, and a combined 125-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott and 136-room Residence Inn by Marriott in the adjoining wing.
“Nashville is under some massive construction in the downtown area right now, and they’re growing by leaps and bounds,” says Judy Payne, CMP, director, meetings and travel with GameStop. The GameStop Annual Conference in 2019, bringing in an expected 7,000 attendees, will utilize the new Westin and the AC Hotels property. “This will be our first event in Nashville in about a decade since we’ve grown so large,” Payne explains. “GameStop purchased EB Games in 2005 and immediately went from 2,000 stores to 4,000. We outgrew the Gaylord, so now that Nashville has that beautiful downtown convention center, it’s large enough to hold us, and they’re adding all these beautiful downtown hotels.”
When doing a site inspection for a new property, Payne observes certain best practices. “First, I try to reach out to a fellow planner who’s been there before me, and hopefully get their opinion on what works best and what doesn’t, because nothing travels faster than word of mouth,” she says. “If I can’t get that, I post on forums and see what people have said who have (utilized) these brand-new hotels, like the ones that are popping up in Nashville.”
Ideally, a property would be open for at least a year and a half before her meeting, she adds. But in general, when onsite with her group at a recently opened hotel, “we’re going to go in wide-eyed and ready, knowing that there’s probably a few kinks they haven’t worked out yet. But we’re always willing to work with the hotel as a partner to get the best overall experience for our attendees.”
A newly built property that opened in late December in the city of Denton, Texas, makes that town more promising for meeting groups. The Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center is built to LEED Gold specifications and features a 70,000-sf convention center that can divide into 22 separate meeting rooms. Amenities include an outdoor pool, 8,000-sf event lawn and 24-hour health club. The 318-room property is located in the heart of the up-and-coming Rayzor Ranch Town Center, close to a variety of shops, bars and restaurants.
“Having a business-class hotel and event space here in Denton expands Peterbilt’s options for hosting events locally,” says Robert Woodall, assistant general manager, sales and marketing, Peterbilt Motors Company. “We are pleased to see the hotel and convention center come to fruition and are excited to take advantage of this new local resource.”
Omni Hotels & Resorts is not only making an impact on Atlanta with the opening at the Battery Atlanta, but also in the Midwest. The 612-room Omni Louisville Hotel opens in March. Located in proximity to 4th Street Live, the Kentucky International Convention Center and Whiskey Row, the property offers groups approximately 70,000 sf of function space. The hotel is home to Bob’s Steak & Chop House, a rooftop pool deck, a Mokara Spa, and even a speakeasy with a bowling alley.
And in Austin, the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa has begun a $150 million renovation and expansion, expected to be completed by mid 2019. The project will redesign the property’s guest rooms, lobby, poolscape and golf course, add a new 180-room resort tower (bringing the total to 493), a conference center with six new meeting rooms and a new ballroom, an event pavilion, six dining outlets, Mokara Spa and tennis complex.
Caesars Entertainment not only has been enhancing its Atlantic City hospitality product but also its considerable portfolio in Las Vegas. In 2016, the company upgraded more than 4,800 rooms at four of its Las Vegas resorts, including Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Paris Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas. Last year, Caesars invested more than $100 million in renovating its 1,181-room Palace Tower, including the exclusive 29th floor with its luxurious villas. Through the second quarter of this year, the company continues its $90 million renovation of 1,270 rooms at the 3,460-room Flamingo Las Vegas, a project that began in August. The property’s 70-year history is being celebrated in the “retro-chic” redesign. (Turn the page to learn about the new Caesars Forum.)
In Colorado, the 613-room Hilton Denver City Center debuted its $27 million renovation in December. The 20-story property affords Rocky Mountain views and is located near the Colorado Convention Center and Denver Art Museum. The hotel’s 32,000+ sf of meeting space is serviced by an in-house AV staff.
Planners who favor the Disney experience will have a new option in Anaheim, California, with Disneyland’s first new-build hotel in nearly 20 years. Construction is expected to begin this summer on the 700-room, AAA Four Diamond hotel, located at the north end of the Downtown Disney parking lot. A 2021 opening is expected. A tried-and-true Disney meeting hotel in Anaheim, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, recently finished remodeling its guest rooms, pool area, concierge-level Craftsman Club and updating lobby furniture. The Grand Californian houses more than 940 guest rooms and 20,000 sf of function space that includes the 11,900-sf Sequoia Ballroom.
The Anabella Hotel near the Anaheim Convention Center is being replaced with the new 613-room Westin Anaheim Resort by 2019. Among several property highlights will be three restaurants, a resort-style pool with tropical landscaping and a rooftop lounge that allows groups to enjoy Disneyland’s nightly fireworks. The Westin Anaheim will also be well stocked with meeting space: 42,000 sf, including a 16,000-sf grand ballroom.
Also of note is an airport hotel renovation in Portland, Oregon: the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel completed a $7.5 million improvement project in January. All 215 rooms and suites have been refurbished and now feature more media outlets, and the F&B offerings have been enhanced with the opening of Rose & Compass, showcasing Northwest cuisine. The hotel offers groups 22,500 sf of meeting space spanning 15 rooms.
The Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel also has introduced its “Meetings in a Minute” concept with several four-person meeting rooms equipped with business amenities.
Indeed, the idea of accommodating small and sometimes informal gatherings has guided redesigns at many hotels, Payne observes. “It could be expanding their bar with a lot of networking pods, or adding little cubbies to the common areas so people can sit down and have little impromptu meetings when they need to,” she notes. “One thing that I’ve seen at many of the newer hotels around the Dallas/Fort Worth area is that they’re creating the opportunity to have small, impromptu meetings. For example, the Courtyard Dallas DFW Airport North/Grapevine has in the restaurant area little booths that seat maybe four to six people. At the end of each booth there is a built-in monitor with dongles so you can easily plug in and put your PowerPoint right there on the wall, so you can immediately have a screen. You can have a conversation and a meeting without having to secure a room or going through the hoops of trying to find a location where you can put your PowerPoint up. It’s a fantastic feature.” C&IT