Across the Pond

In Copenhagen, Bella Center congress and exhibition center opened a major addition last September. Its new three-story, glass-front Copenhagen Congress Center offers four auditoriums for 310 to 930 people, 25 meeting rooms, and a Congress Hall for up to 4,200 people.

In Cannes, France, the Palais des Festivals has announced the addition of "Espace Riviera" to its collection of world-class meeting and exhibition spaces. With this addition, the Palais des Festivals has approximately 270,000 square feet of meeting space and the possibility of 215,000 square feet in one continuous block. The ability to combine exhibition space with up to 26 conference rooms allows the facility to accommodate functions of up to 2,300 people.

Fregate, Dolce International's conference and golf resort in Provence, France, has completed a $7 million renovation and expansion project. The 133-room property offers 14 meeting rooms accommodating up to 200 people. Included in the expansion project was the construction of the 2,500-square-foot Fregate Room, which holds up to 200 people for a banquet.

In other news from Dolce, Vaalsbroek Conference Hotel in the Vaals region of the Netherlands has completed a $10 million expansion. The property now has 130 guest rooms, 20 meeting rooms, and the Dolce Vital Beauty and Health Spa, which features an indoor pool, fitness center, and treatment rooms. Internet access and videoconferencing capabilities also were added.

The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London has reopened after an extensive renovation, which included all 200 guest rooms and the addition of two private dining rooms and a spa.

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center in London now offers wireless Internet access from anywhere in the center. The seven-story property is located in the heart of Westminster.

The Westin La Quinta Golf Resort opened in October in Costa del Sol, in southern Spain. The 172-room resort is a joint venture of La Quinta Real Estate Group and Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Located in Spain's "Valley of Golf," the property offers 27 holes of golf, three putting greens, a driving range, and a golf academy. A 3,800-square-foot state-of-the-art conference center is adjacent to the hotel and accommodates up to 335 attendees.

Starwood is also making a move in Bilbao, Spain, recently announcing that it will manage the 215-room Sheraton Hotel Bilbao, set to open in mid-2002. The hotel will have a ballroom and other meeting space, along with a swimming pool and health club.

Northeast Watch In Uncasville, Conn., Mohegan Sun, the nation's fourth largest casino, is in the midst of an $800 million resor development project. When the expansion is complete, in 2002, it will include a 1,200-room luxury hotel tower, 100,000 square feet of meeting space, and a second gaming hall, the 115,000-square-foot Casino of the Sky. Other features: a 10,000-seat arena, 175,000 square feet of retail space, a spa, and a business center.

In Groton, Conn., the Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa is scheduled to open early this year with 285 rooms and 22,500 square feet of meeting space.

A new 190-room Ritz-Carlton hotel will open in late spring as part of Boston's new downtown Millennium Place development.

Ground was broken last May for the 1.7 million-square-foot Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on its 60-acre site in the heart of the South Boston waterfront. BCEC will offer 600,000 square feet of meeting space on one level, plus a 50,000-square-foot ballroom, a 20,000-square-foot junior ballroom, and 80 meeting rooms. A 1,120-room Sheraton hotel will be built on the grounds as well. Completion of both is set for late 2003.

The 390-room Sheraton Parsippany Hotel in Parsippany, N.J., has opened a new Training Center with 20 meeting rooms. The hotel took 20 guest rooms out of inventory and refurbished each with conference tables, ergonomically designed chairs, a wall-mounted camcorder, VCR and monitor, tackable walls, white board, and screens.

A $68 million convention center is planned for East Rutherford, N.J. The Wildwoods Convention Center will open late this year with a 75,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 11,100 square feet of ballroom space, 4,800 square feet of meeting space, plus retail space and a boardwalk.

After a $6.5 million renovation, the former Park Ridge at Valley Forge in Valley Forge, Pa., has reopened as the Sheraton Park Ridge Hotel & Conference Center. The 265-room property offers 15,000 square feet of meeting space in 22 rooms.

Hudson Valley Resort and Spa in Kerhonkson, N.Y., has completed a $25 million renovation project that included the creation of an amphitheater with state-of-the-art technology and refurbishment of the resort's existing 30,000 square feet of function space. An executive conference center with eight meeting rooms capable of accommodating groups from 10 to 250 people was added, along with 300-plus guest rooms.

The 400-room Hotel Sofitel New York opened this past June, targeting small corporate meetings with a dedicated videoconferencing room. Located on 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, the property offers six meeting rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, each for groups of up to 17 people, with common prefunction space that holds 60 guests. The audio- and videoconference room has eight seats along a 13-foot curved sycamore conference table, while a 2,500-square-foot ballroom accommodates 350 guests for a reception.

New York's Waldorf-Astoria is adding a satellite link system for live audio and video broadcasts, direct high-speed Internet connections in all guest rooms and meeting rooms, copier/printer/ fax machines in all guest rooms, and a cutting-edge business center. The 1,180-room hotel offers meeting space for up to 1,500 attendees.

Benchmark Hospitality now manages the World Trade Institute Conference Center, located at One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. A day meeting facility, the center occupies the entire 55th floor and offers 15,000 square feet of meeting space. Some $2 million in renovations are planned, including upgraded communication and audiovisual technology, and the installation of Internet kiosks.

The grace of a bygone era meets the technology of today in the renovated meeting space at The Warwick in the heart of midtown New York. The hotel's second-floor conference facilities total 6,332 square feet and are divisible into six meeting rooms, ranging from the 595-square-foot Sussex Room to the 1,811-square-foot Warwick Room. The new spaces retain the atmosphere of 1926, when William Randolph Hearst built the hotel. Meeting room technology includes LCD projectors and dataports.

Hilton Hotels Corp. staked its claim on New York City's revitalized 42nd Street with the June 2000 opening of the Hilton Times Square. The lobby of the 444-room property is on the 29th floor of a retail and entertainment complex that includes a 25-screen megaplex and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Each guest room has two dual-line phones with dataports, wireless keyboard for high-speed Internet access via the TV, and a safe that can accommodate a laptop computer. Eight meeting rooms - 6,000 square feet - host groups of 10 to 150 people.

Those readers familiar with the dark underbelly of the convention center business may look at the Grimaldi Forum and find themselves asking cosmic questions, like, "Does His Serene Royal Highness Prince Ranier III of Monaco love the smell of forklift fumes in the morning?" It really can be hard to reconcile the sometimes gritty work of putting together a corporate event with the sheer glamour of this place. Built part way into the Mediterranean - many parts of the 377,000-square-foot venue are actually under water - by an all-star team of European convention center professionals, the Grimaldi Forum has the look of luxury. Fortunately, it also has a utilitarian side.

There are, for example, 11 modular spaces in the building that convert to 23 air-conditioned and sound-proofed breakout rooms, scaled to handle groups of 10 to 200. There are three auditoriums: The Salle des Princes seats 1,900 people and has a 10,760-square-foot stage; the Salle Prince Pierre seats 800; and the Salle Camille Blanc seats 400. All can be connected for simultaneous video presentations on a separate network fitted for coaxial and triaxial connections. For on-site video production, there is also a separate 2,690-square-foot TV/film stage.

There are two areas for exhibitions: The 44,900-square-foot Espace Ravel has unobstructed space for more than 200 booths and, in most areas, 23-foot ceilings. The Espace Diaghilev, located in a separate, higher level (but still on the same floor) has 42,700 square feet of space for up to 165 booths. There is also a pair of banquet rooms, each with seating for up to 500 people.

The communications infrastructure at the Grimaldi Forum may not be at the same level as some cutting-edge U.S. facilities, but it's plenty good enough, with Category 5 copper wire for voice-image-data transmission and a separate fiber network for video. The main network is virtually ubiquitous within the building, with 4,000 access points; the fiber-based video network connects to all the major rooms.

Reassuringly, the Grimaldi Forum has already had its first big tech-industry meeting. In November, CNBC Europe and Gartner Group put on Commslive.Europe, a conference for the telecommunications industry. To learn more, visit www.grimaldiforum.com.

LONDON CALLING (VOICE-OVER IP) Yankee scale and technology meet Euro style at London's ExCel

What if you could get 700,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 38,750-square-foot conference center, mostly on one level, designed for roll-in, roll-out truck service? What if this venue had a multi-gigabit capacity Fast Ethernet network? What if it were in the snazziest new neighborhood in London? That's ExCel, the brand-spanking new (opened November 2000) exhibition center/conference center, located on the Royal Victoria Wharf in London's trendy Docklands area.

With its 970,000 gross square feet of pillarless space, U.S. conference organizers used to the wide-open look of American convention centers will feel right at home. It's certainly not the kind of venue you'd expect to find within the borders of a major European city.

But then, the circumstances of ExCel's construction were out of the ordinary. In 1855, huge grain ships were unloading at the mile-long Victoria dock. But by 1981, the Docklands was, by all accounts, an urban wasteland. The subsequent development of Canary Wharf and other projects during the next two decades was that rare thing, a triumph of urban renewal. Event managers will be pleased to discover that the fruits of this renewal are coming into place around the ExCel venue, including seven hotels with 1,500 guest rooms and 500 apartments opening now, and another 3,500 guest rooms expected to come on stream by the end of the year.

Bandwidth to Spare From day one, ExCel has been ready to handle the most demanding tech meetings. Plano, Texas-based EDS installed the network backbone using powerful Cisco Systems switches. Every one of the more than 2,500 data ports in the building is Fast Ethernet- and virtual local area network (VLAN)-enabled. Using firewalls, organizers can have varying levels of Internet/LAN accessibility and security. The VLAN service, operating under Cisco's AVVID (architecture for voice, video, and data) can run voice-over IP telephony and video as well as data. As if that weren't enough, there is also a wireless Ethernet system.

For Internet access, there are three T3-equivalent (45-megabit) digital WAN (wide-area network) links following two separate pathways into the building. ExCel is also ready with in-house UNIX support for hosting Web sites and applications.

For conference organizers who still need good old ISDN or analog phone service ("legacy service," as it is diplomatically called by Peter Campbell, information services director), there is a Mitel PABX in place.

Video uplink/downlink service is available via NTL, the Famborough, England-based international satellite and fiber-network supplier. Be aware, however, that both EDS and NTL are exclusive technology partners, which means no bringing in outside services. This should not be a problem, says Campbell. "The whole purpose of putting this infrastructure in place is to remove, or at least greatly reduce, the need for conference organizers to bring in their own systems." He adds, "We acknowledge that some events may want to show their own solutions as an intrinsic part of the event - this will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

Easy Access Beyond the technical, ExCel has physical attributes that will make any U.S. conference organizer happy, especially in terms of access. The building is mostly on one level. Any truck legal for U.K. roads can drive directly onto the exhibit floor through any one of 30 doors. There is a truck-marshaling area, capable of handling up to 1,000 vehicles. There is also that great rarity in European city venues: parking for 5,000 cars.

Already, 130 events are scheduled for this year at ExCel, expected to draw more than 2 million visitors. To learn more, visit www.excel-london.co.uk.

As the saying goes, there's surfing and then there's surfing. For example, on your way from Kahului Airport to Wailea, home of such resorts as the Grand Wailea, you'll pass through the town of Kihei. There's high-speed surfing on the waves at Kihei and high-speed surfing on the Web, not far from the base of 10,023-foot Haleakala. Here, you'll find a 330-acre parcel of land that can have a big impact on your meeting's technological options. It's called Maui Research and Technology Park (MRTP) and it is home to the Maui High Performance Computing Center (operated by the U.S. Air Force), the Hawaii Telecommunications Information and Resource Center, and the Maui Research & Technology Center (MRTC), which provides connectivity and communication services.

For these tenants, MRTC has installed not just a fiber-optic network, but also an OC48 very-high-performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS), the same kind AT&T uses for transcontinental IP service. This fiber connection is capable of transmitting data at 2.45 Gbps. (That's 2.4 billion bits per second, compared with 1.5 million bits per second for a T1 line.) Also at the MRTP is an ISP, Maui Net, offering Internet access and support; GST Telecom Hawaii, a private provider of communications products and services; and a host of incubator companies, including one (Premier Image Productions) that specializes in virtual-reality video production.

Thanks to MRTP, meeting and event organizers will find that all kinds of high-end connectivity and communication services are just a phone call away. To learn more about MRTC, call Duane Kim, program manager, at (808) 875-2432.

Actually, the entire state of Hawaii is a pretty tech-friendly place. Conference organizers looking for potential attendees would do well to check out the Hawaii Technology Trade Association (www.htta.org), the state's first private-sector trade association for its growing technology industry, and it just opened a Maui chapter last June.

They could have given the Center for Biomedical Learning another name, say, the Center for Really Cool Meeting Technologies. Do you need a built-in audience response system? A 3D imager? Videoconferencing cameras that automatically adjust to the source of the sound being picked up by the in-ceiling microphones? It's all here and more. The center was built by the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center as a state-of-the-art biomedical education facility, but nonmedical groups are welcome as well.

The largest meeting spaces in this year-old nonresidential conference center are its two auditoria. One has fixed seating for 242, the other for 110. The smaller of the two features audience response system keypads built into the seating, while wireless hand-held ARS units are available for the larger room. Both rooms have high-speed data ports at every seat and the Pointmaker system at the lectern (a pad on which you write with a stylus to mark up PowerPoint presentations or write on the screen as if it were a giant white board).

The center has three meeting rooms for groups of 25 to 40 people (each of whom could have their own data port) as well as 12 smaller Problem-Based Learning Rooms, each equipped with a doctor's office mock-up for medical training. Since you probably won't need an exam table, the medical equipment can be curtained off to create a 10- to 12-person boardroom. These rooms feature data ports at each seat and video equipment for trainings. All the meeting spaces can be configured as local area networks.

Public spaces are used for banquets, the Sarah Flaum Atrium seats 200, and a mezzanine area seats 40.

Rochester may not typically find its way onto your meeting radar screen, but this city of 1 million people offers a slew of hotels from the major chains, including Marriott, Hyatt, Crowne Plaza, and Radisson. The city's newest luxury property is the Del Monte Lodge.