ColoradoJune 18, 2024

Elevating Meetings in the Centennial State By
June 18, 2024


Elevating Meetings in the Centennial State
Cake Boss Buddy Valastro and Richard D. Hoelzel, CDM, CFPP, FMP, of Idahoan Foods, were among the attendees at Innovations 2024 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO. Courtesy of Dot Foods

Cake Boss Buddy Valastro and Richard D. Hoelzel, CDM, CFPP, FMP, of Idahoan Foods, were among the attendees at Innovations 2024 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO. Courtesy of Dot Foods

In the past decade, entrepreneurs, chefs, hoteliers, venue operators and meeting planners have discovered what longtime residents have always known: Colorado is a state that inspires. Its grand vistas range from sweeping prairies to alpine lakes, from the stark beauty of high-lonesome desert canyons and mesas to lofty peaks set against impossibly blue skies. Whether a meeting is set in diverse, bustling urban corridors or away-from-it-all resorts, inspiration is ever present at the Centennial State.


Resting on laurels isn’t something Denver does. The Mile-High City’s rich history still informs its present day, but Denver is no “cow town.” Michelin-starred restaurants; sleek, new hotels; and an up-to-the-minute expanded convention center deliver a contemporary vibe in concert with meticulously preserved historic buildings that honor the city’s past. It’s a combo that draws planners, executives and attendees alike. Dot Foods set its Innovations 2024 conference in Denver in the spring with 3,500 in attendance. Innovations is an apt name for the event and for the company’s forward-looking intentions. Ashley Bickel Marhanka, senior meetings and events planner, tradeshow, says in-person events have returned in full force, and for this company, that’s imperative.

“The struggles that once plagued our company no longer restrict our imaginations. We like to think of the best thing we can do, then work toward it. Instead of looking to see what fits the mold, we try to go outside the box. Anything is possible! You just have to ‘think big.’ And we’re back to doing that 100%!”

That’s not to say everything is easy. “There are always challenges that present themselves as you go,” Marhanka concedes. “Meeting planning is never black and white — it’s always gray, and how you pivot makes the difference in the outcome. However, once you plan through a global pandemic, you feel like you can take on any pivot at that point!”

Denver is a new destination for this meeting, but it proved to be a good choice. “Our attendees love the walkability of downtown. All of our host hotels were within .1 miles of the convention center. Airlift was a plus, and being able to use so much of the diverse space in Colorado Convention Center helped make our decision easy. In our survey, 39% of respondents said the location of Denver impacted their decision to attend Innovations in 2024. After being in St. Louis for 25 years, the move to Denver was a great one for our company,” she says.

Marhanka worked with the Visit Denver staff, which was a real positive. “Jeremy and Angie were amazing to us. When we had questions about partners in Denver, they were there to minimize any struggles we had. They graciously met us for many site visits and came to see us twice onsite. We also explored changing our pattern for 2025 and though we will not move forward with the new pattern, they worked with all of our hotel partners to get commitments on the new dates.”

Most of the conference events were held at the Colorado Convention Center (CCC), which recently completed a major expansion. “We were excited to use the brand-new Bluebird Ballroom. That combined with the exhibit-hall space, theater and other ballrooms made for a great one-stop shop for the majority of our events.”

To Marhanka’s earlier point, even with the best-laid plans, the unexpected can always happen. “The escalators breaking down and attendees climbing what we lovingly referred to as ‘the mile-high steps’ to the Bluebird was disappointing,” she says. “However, the way the CCC, Visit Denver and Sodexo LIVE! handled the situation was great. They moved meals for 3,500 people to a new location overnight. Like I said, it’s all about how you pivot.”

At the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, Marhanka worked closely with Vanessa Salas and her team for several events during the meeting. “The food was great and their flexibility on space was much appreciated. We will be hosting our VIP meetings in 2025 in the hotel again. The meeting space was great,” she adds.

Her suggestions for groups considering Denver and Colorado Convention Center are, “Maximize the space there. Our event is just the right size for the convention center and downtown Denver, but there’s also room for us to grow. Being able to use other spaces in the Colorado Convention Center for events outside our tradeshow was imperative. Also, don’t be afraid to pivot. Something will always happen at some point. No event is perfect, but it’s all in how you make it right! Denver will move mountains for you if needed, and that is good customer service!”

Well-known meeting-industry group HelmsBriscoe held its own annual business conference in Denver in 2023. The global venue-selection company is in a unique position to evaluate how things have shifted since the pandemic as it works with thousands of clients booking meetings across many industries.

“Each client’s strategy to return to in-person meetings has varied,” says Kari A. Dobbins, associate vice president, associate advancement. However, she continues, “HelmsBriscoe just finished our strongest Q1 in our company’s history, so we know our clients greatly value face-to-face gatherings, and we feel very positive about the future of in-person events.”

Dobbins says that at this point, HelmsBriscoe is only conducting in-person events, including for its company meetings. “When it comes to our company’s events, we’re fully back in person and have resumed our normal planning and meeting-execution processes.”

When choosing a destination for the company’s own events, Dobbins says the goal is to choose those that are accessible and easy to travel to from a variety of locations, including international locations as the company has attendees from across the globe. Denver fit the bill, although this meeting was the first annual conference that the company has held in the city. There were 1,600 in attendance. “The attendees were excited to experience a new destination. As a planner, I found the central location made it easier for attendees to travel to the destination without spending extra nights away from home. And all around, the costs were very reasonable, in particular with food and beverage expenses,” she says.

Dobbins worked closely with Visit Denver to plan the conference. They organized Dobbins’ group’s pre-planning meeting and stayed in constant contact with them throughout the planning process. Visit Denver also hosted a fun and interactive opening night networking event at the Denver Art Museum for their attendees. “The pre-planning and onsite experiences were great,” Dobbins adds. “The convention center is very organized with processes and documentation necessary during pre-planning, which made communication with the center and budgeting very easy.”

A prime reason for choosing Hyatt Regency at the Colorado Convention Center was its location. “Proximity to the convention center was a plus,” Dobbins notes. “In addition to the number of guest rooms and pricing, the hotel was also the host of a few of our conference events, and its space options, service levels and amenities were a great fit for our meeting.”

The group held the final night gala and awards dinner in the hotel’s Centennial Ballroom, which Dobbins calls beautiful. “We also experienced the culinary talents of the hotel’s food and beverage team, which introduced its four-course personal-preference menu, allowing our attendees to choose their own entrée. This was a new experience for our guests that was well received.”

The Denver meeting was definitely a success. “Denver is a great destination for a meeting. The proximity of hotels, offsite venues and restaurants to the convention center provides planners and attendees with many options within walking distance. The value for services also makes this a budget-friendly destination without sacrificing quality of service.”

The city has a lot going on for planners and groups in addition to the completed expansion of the convention center. Of interest to sustainability-focused groups is Denver’s achievement at the end of last year to platinum-level certification based on the Events Industry Council’s Sustainable Event Standards. The city is the first destination to reach that highest level of certification. Also of interest is Michelin’s recognition of 26 Denver restaurants, including three awarded one star.

Several hotels come online this year, including Populus at Civic Center Park in the heart of downtown, the first carbon-positive hotel. The 13-story, 265-room hotel will feature event space, multiple F&B venues and a rooftop deck and bar. The hotel will be carbon positive thanks to the sustainable design and construction, as well as substantial ecological efforts offsite, including an initial commitment to planting 70,000 trees — offsetting an embodied carbon footprint equivalent of nearly 500,000 gallons of gas and removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Denver’s former Kimpton Hotel Born has been rebranded as the Limelight Hotel, a brand familiar to anyone who has spent time in Aspen, and a new Kimpton Claret Hotel has opened in the south Denver area.

Colorado Springs

Down in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor is one of the country’s preeminent resorts and a perennial favorite of all kinds of groups. Libby Junker, senior vice president of international implementation at Anytime Fitness, says the resort met the needs of the company’s November Biennial Conference with 2000+ attendees. The group took over almost all of The Broadmoor, as well as six overflow hotels.

“As a franchised business, having the opportunity to bring our club owners and staff together is critical to not only educate on future brand initiatives but also to celebrate the success of each of the club owners and staff,” Junker says. “Our clubs are located in all 50 states and over 40 countries. Therefore, we look for destinations that are a place our attendees not only desire to visit but can travel to with ease.”

The Broadmoor was an ideal location for the conference. “It offered the perfect amount of meeting space for our event,” Junker says, “plus beautiful accommodations and all on a campus that allowed our attendees to enjoy the mountain views.” Additionally, attendees had two airports to choose from. “Most U.S. cities have direct flights to either Denver or Colorado Springs,” Junker notes, “and international travelers could fly in via Denver.”

Junker worked directly with The Broadmoor and says the resort’s staff “truly became one with our planning team.” She also calls The Broadmoor’s service absolutely incredible. “The Broadmoor is second to none! We will look for every opportunity to come back and visit again!”

N.R., director of marketing with a global law firm, brought a group of 230 to The Broadmoor for the 2024 partners’ retreat. “We loved Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor,” she says. “The hotel is luxurious and inviting and the amenities and service are topnotch. The nearby hiking and other activities were also wonderful.”

The choice of The Broadmoor as the setting for the meeting had much to do with its location. “We chose The Broadmoor because it stood out as being incredibly unique but still accessible, which isn’t the norm with resorts anymore,” N.R. says.

The group used much of The Broadmoor’s conference space and brought in AV as well as a local DMC to help with design and décor. She says it was, “a seamless process.” In addition, the group leaned on Visit Colorado Springs for help with items for the welcome bags.

“We will be back at The Broadmoor. The service and amenities are incredible. The property is meticulously maintained and the planning team at the Broadmoor is amazing.” Still, N.R. advises, “You will also want to use a great DMC to incorporate those really memorable elements into each event you plan.”

The city of Colorado Springs also has a lot going on that groups should know about. Hotel Polaris will open this fall at the north gate of the U.S. Airforce Academy with 375 guest rooms and spectacular views of Colorado’s mountains. Its location alone makes it worth considering for all kinds of meetings. It lies just 26 miles from the Colorado Springs airport, 78 miles from Denver International Airport, 10 miles from Garden of the Gods park, 15 miles from downtown Colorado Springs, 50 miles from metro Denver and just 20 miles from America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak. But also of note is the fact that it will have 26,000 sf of indoor meeting space, including a 12,000-sf ballroom featuring ample natural light. Additionally, the venerable Mining Exchange hotel underwent a renovation and has reopened with 128 re-designed guest rooms and additional upgrades. The spectacular 117-room Garden of the Gods Resort & Club, set at the edge of the naturally spectacular Garden of the Gods park, has wrapped up a $40 million renovation to guest rooms, dining venues, the spa and the resort’s more than 22,000 sf of indoor and outdoor space, including unique boardrooms and meeting spaces with audiovisual and business services. Drawing inspiration from the ethereal surrounding landscapes, groups from 10 to 300 can take their Colorado meetings and events to new heights.

The city is renowned as an Olympic training center and groups meeting this summer can take advantage of a celebration of the Paris Olympics in the city and at the stellar United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum through September 8. The museum will host daily activations, as well as athlete meet-and-greets, among other events.

Aurora & Beyond

Although Denver and Colorado Springs may be among the Centennial State’s best-known meeting destinations, in reality they are just two of many. The city of Aurora, adjacent to Denver, has its own attractive meeting assets, not the least of which is Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, a destination unto itself with 1,387 rooms, more than 500,000 sf of meeting space, a spa and a water park. The hotel may seem to have everything, but it recently added a new amenity — the experiential Topgolf Swing Suites. And more will be new when the resort completes phase two of a major enhancement project this year, including the “re-concept” of three of its five restaurants, a remodel of the Grand Lodge and a new event pavilion increasing the resort’s already substantial function space.

Also new in Aurora is The Benson Hotel & Faculty club located in the heart of the Anschutz Medical Campus and Fitzsimons Innovation Community, making it ideal for smaller meetings, particularly those relative to the health and medical industries.

Finally, for those who have their sights on a mountain meeting, it’s hard to beat Vail. The mountain town offers easy access from Denver, a slew of impressive restaurants and hotels to suit every budget. Recently on scene is a Marriott Residence Inn in West Vail, which includes a small amount of meeting space that could work well for a board retreat or other compact gathering where a mountain destination is preferred.

The bottom line is this: Wherever you choose to meet in Colorado, inspiration and options abound. From luxury mountain resorts to cosmopolitan hotels and dude ranches, to hidden gems, the Centennial State checks all the boxes with postcard places.  C&IT

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