Located near Sophia Antipolis, a sort of French Silicon Valley, the Acropolis in Nice has for three years been the site of Microsoft's Tech-Ed Europe conferences, organized by Mike Jackson, project manager with Ultimate Events in London. Jackson gives Acropolis staff members high marks and he's not the only one to be impressed. The facility has also attracted other high-tech companies such as IBM, Honeywell, and Nexus Business Communications Ltd.

The Acropolis has worked hard to attract those meetings, beginning with the basics--electricity. The facility offers plenty of power, and is equipped with three emergency generators. For Microsoft Tech-Ed '98, Jackson brought in 700 computers, so the 5,000 delegates could access the Internet. Jackson worked with France Telecom to rent ISDN lines, bundled together to create the equivalent of a T2 line. The cost, including installation and usage for the four-day meeting, came to about U.S. $18,000. The situation was an improvement over 1996, when Jackson used regular phone lines "lashed together," but there were still some problems. "You can't get T1 or T2 lines in France," Jackson says. "They either have ISDN or their own version of a T1 line [E1, which has slightly greater capacity], which doesn't always work." Only 15 lines worked at a time, and transmission was slow. But that's not the fault of the Acropolis, Jackson stresses. "It's not just what the venue can do, but where it is positioned within the [Internet] hubs. From Nice, everything routes up to Paris, and from Paris over to the UK, and from the UK over to the U.S. That slows everything down."

On the plus side, the Acropolis features its own radio and television studio, and a video production unit. It also has satellite broadcast capability--which enabled Bill Gates to give a virtual speech at Microsoft's 1997 meeting. And the designers didn't sacrifice beauty for technology. The three-level Acropolis is decorated in purples, mauves, and blues, with 30 art works gracing the halls. The center offers 37 meeting rooms seating up to 500, and four auditoriums; the largest accommodates 2,500. A block away, the 170,000-square-foot exhibition center holds 895 exhibit booths, and also has 14 meeting rooms and a 250-seat auditorium.

The Doubletree Hotel Austin recently completed a $4 million upgrade to its 350 guest rooms, conference center, and public areas. Guest rooms now feature work areas, dataports, two phones, and Starbucks coffee. The hotel, which offers 27,000 square feet of meeting space, also has added T1 connections in meeting rooms.

Just east of San Francisco, a new event space has docked. The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, veteran of World War II and the Vietnam War, is now a permanent fixture at the Alameda Naval Air Station and is ready for group events. The ship's flight deck--900 feet long, 100 feet wide at its narrowest, and 70 feet above the water--can host 1,000 people for dinner and guarantee spectacular 360 degree bay views. Below deck, a 20,000-square-foot hanger bay is also available.

For planners who need to be connected, fiberoptic service is expected to be online by the beginning of the year, according to Bob Walker of Event Technologies, which is handling all production services for events, including video production, lighting, sound, power distibution, satellite links, and computer support.

The 189-room Hotel Monaco Denver opened in October, sister property to the Hotel Monaco San Francisco and Hotel Monaco Seattle. Targeted to the wired business traveler market, the property offers T1 Internet access from all 189 guest rooms, as well as two-line phones with fax and copier features, and a "tech honor bar" (with floppy discs, pens, paperclips and other workplace necessities). Laptop computers are available through the hotel's sales office. The hotel has 4,000 square feet of conference space. The Kimpton Group, which operates the Monaco properties, plans to open a fourth in November, the Hotel Monaco Chicago, with 192 rooms and similar services

*The 197-room Club Hotel by Doubletree at Bayside in Boston will open in April '99 next to the Bayside Expo and Conference Center. Bayside Expo features 270,000 square feet of exhibit space and 30,000 square feet of meeting space. An additional 18,000 square feet of space comprised of 10 new meeting rooms and a ballroom will open at the end of this year adjacent to the hotel. The Club Hotel features a "Club Room" designed to offer business travelers access to an office environment while on the road.

By the time you read this, voters in Portland, Oregon will have said yea or nay to a proposal to expand the city's Oregon Convention Center by about 60 percent. Ballot measure 26-69 would give the green light to a $95 million project to add an additional 115,000 square feet of exhibit space, a new 35,000-square-foot ballroom, up to 40,000 square feet of new meeting rooms, plus new parking, new loading docks, and an expanded lobby.

"We're turning away business from clients who have maxed out the facility," says Mark B. Williams, general manager of Portland's Metropolitan Exposition-Recreation Commission, which manages the convention center. The average convention size at the facility is 3,500, and the city would like to be able to take two meetings of that size at the same time. "We've got 3,000 new hotel rooms coming on in the next 12 months," says Williams. "Most of then are under 300 rooms, and most are in the downtown area, so we can take larger groups without sending them to the suburbs."The convention center is linked to downtown via a three-mile light rail link.