Admit it. Chattanooga, Tenn., is not where you expect to find the latest and greatest, especially in Southside, the warehouse-filled economic development zone 10 blocks south of the riverfront tourist area. For the most part, your assumptions were correct; that is, until April, when the city opened The Chattanoogan, a 200-room conference center managed by Benchmark Hospitality. Benchmark has made its name in the tech meeting market running such properties as Chaminade Executive Conference Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., and The AT&T Learning Center in Basking Ridge, N.J.

Eric Whitson is the man who's out to change your expectations. The Chattanoogan's director of sales and marketing, a 13-year Benchmark veteran, explains that the city built the property for two strategic reasons: to serve as a redevelopment anchor for Southside and to introduce the city to the high-profile corporate audience that would be drawn to the facility but might otherwise not find a reason to visit Chattanooga. Whitson expects to draw heavily from Nashville, Birmingham, and especially Atlanta, where an educated audience of conference center users already exists because of several excellent properties there.

The Chattanoogan has T1 Internet access throughout the property, including the guest rooms, where access is complimentary (data ports are conveniently built into desktops), plus 40 miles of Category 5 cabling and a fiber-optic backbone. An Ethernet infrastructure allows technicians to configure any combination of meeting rooms and guest rooms into a local area network. Highlights of The Chattanoogan's meeting space include an 88-seat amphitheater with data ports and electrical outlets at every seat (everyone can be networked), a 7,752-square-foot ballroom with built-in rear-screen projection, and a circular, 16-seat boardroom with built-in teleconferencing and a flatscreen plasma presentation monitor. Five general session rooms for 20 to 50 people and 12 smaller breakout rooms complete the space.

For more information on The Chattanoogan, visit