Louisiana and Mississippi, in the heart of the Mid-South region, took a serious blow from Hurricane Katrina last year. But the region is coming back. New Orleans, specifically, is courting corporate business. The Marriott properties are all back up and running, the number of daily flights in and out of Louis Armstrong Airport is on the rise, and the Morial Convention Center recently welcomed its first convention since Katrina.
Baton Rouge, despite its proximity to New Orleans, remained largely unscathed by Katrina.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi remains out of commission until January 1, 2007. Vicki Miller, special events marketing coordinator, says there was one fortunate turn for the Coliseum. “All of our seats in the arena were sent to Arkansas before the storm to be reupholstered. That saved nearly all the seats in the arena.” The convention center, which was completing plans to nearly double its size pre-Katrina, will resume its expansion plans after reopening.
In Huntsville, Ala., Huntsville Bicentennial Water Park, situated above Huntsville's Big Spring and intended to commemorate the city's founding at that location, opened last summer. And getting to Huntsville keeps getting easier. Nonstop air service to the city is now available from more than a dozen airports across the nation.
Riverwalk Orange Beach on Alabama's Gulf Coast will open in spring 2007. The development's first phase includes a marina, retail and restaurant space, Gulf World Marine, and a swim-with-the-dolphins experience. A 680-unit condo-hotel resort with more than 68,000 square feet of meeting space will open in early 2008. Additionally, The Wharf opened with a new 10,000-seat amphitheater. This development will involve a luxury inn and meeting space of up to 20,000 square feet.
And in Kentucky, the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau is exploring expansion of the NKY Convention Center. This past summer the convention center underwent a $400,000 renovation of its exhibit hall, creating additional large group meeting space and breakout space.
A $40 million, 300-unit EMBASSY SUITES HOTEL HUNTSVILLE will open in November downtown. The hotel will be connected to the 600,000-square-foot VON BRAUN CENTER by skybridge. The Von Braun Center offers 170,000 square feet of convention space. A 9,150-seat arena, a 2,153-seat concert hall, and a 502-seat playhouse theater are also available.
HOLIDAY INN HUNTSVILLE DOWNTOWN reopened after a $3 million renovation. Formerly the Hilton Huntsville, the hotel offers 273 rooms and 14,000 square feet of meeting space.
Coming to the Bridge Street Town Centre entertainment, retail, and residential complex next year is a 200-room WESTIN HOTEL. The property will boast an 8,000-square-foot ballroom, a 1,500-square-foot boardroom, and a 6,000-square-foot function lawn.
In Birmingham, the historic TUTWILER HOTEL, in the heart of downtown, is finishing $7.2 million in renovations, and was on schedule for a late September opening at press time. There will be 67 suites in the 166-room hotel. After the project is complete, the hotel will be reflagged as a Hampton Inn and Suites.
BIRMINGHAM-JEFFERSON CONVENTION COMPLEX has invested $17 million in improvements since 2002, and another $22 million is on the boards. By summer 2007, the BJCC will have completed its five-year renovation plan.
Montgomery is planning a $157 million convention center and adjacent hotel. The 347-room hotel will be in front of the existing civic center, and will include a 14,000-square-foot ballroom and meeting space as well as a full-service spa. The civic center will also expand, bringing total meeting space to 73,000 square feet and adding a 1,800-seat performing arts center.
Marriott's GRIFFIN GATE RESORT in Lexington completed a $12.5 million renovation of all 409 guest rooms and 21 suites. The resort has more than 18,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space with high-speed Internet access and wireless capabilities.
The 146-room COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT — NORTH in Lexington completed a $3.7 million renovation.
The $22 million 21C MUSEUM HOTEL in Louisville transformed five 19th-century buildings into a 90-room boutique hotel with more than 5,000 square feet of meeting space.
The KENTUCKY EXPOSITION CENTER in Louisville completed a $52 million expansion, adding 166,500 square feet of exhibit space and 57,000 square feet of meeting and conference space in its south wing. Phase two is under way and includes adding 265,5000 square feet of exhibit space and replacing 96 columns with five in the East Wing.The second phase is expected to cost $50 million and be complete in fall 2007.
Louisville's new convention hotel, the MARRIOTT LOUISVILLE DOWNTOWN, opened in 2005. It has 617 rooms and 50,000 square feet of meeting space, and is connected to the Kentucky International Convention Center by skywalk.
GALT HOUSE HOTEL & SUITES has finished a $60 million renovation. All 1,300 rooms and suites, meeting space, and public spaces have been redone.
CHURCHILL DOWNS, in Louisville, completed a $121 million renovation in 2005. The track has 1.4 million square feet of space, of which 600,000 square feet are new. Meetings rooms, luxury suites, and a ballroom have been added.
The EXECUTIVE WEST hotel in Louisville finished a $13 million renovation. All 611 guest rooms were upgraded. A fitness center, wireless Internet access, and new roofing were added.
The HYATT REGENCY in downtown Louisville refurbished its 392 guest rooms in 2005. The hotel has 22,000 square feet of meeting space.
Steps from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the 331-room MARRIOTT NEW ORLEANS had been open only about a month before Hurricane Katrina hit. The hotel sustained no water damage, and all repairs have been completed. The property can accommodate groups and events of up to 400 attendees.
The 1,616-room HILTON NEW ORLEANS RIVERSIDE is open and welcoming business downtown, steps from Harrah's Casino. The hotel offers 130,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.
The BATON ROUGE RIVER CENTER expansion, which opened in 2004, includes more than 200,000 square feet of new and renovated space. The new 70,000-square-foot exhibition hall can be combined with the arena to create more than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space.
The 293-room HEIDELBERG HOTEL AND CAPITOL HOUSE in downtown Baton Rouge has been rebranded the HILTON BATON ROUGE CAPITOL CENTER. It was originally built in 1927, and was home to legendary Louisiana governor Huey Long. The hotel now features 18,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 350,000-square-foot SHREVEPORT CONVENTION CENTER opened in January. The center has a 100,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall. The second level includes an 18,000-square-foot ballroom, 10 meeting rooms, and a boardroom. The center has wired and wireless connectivity, in addition to closed-circuit television throughout the building. A 14-story, 316-room Hilton hotel will open in December and be connected to the center.
The first and second phases of Tunica's $39 million airport expansion are complete. TUNICA AIRPORT is now capable of supporting narrow-body commercial charter operations.
Four new hotels have joined the Hattiesburg area. QUALITY INN and DAYS INN were completed in 2005, and added almost 200 rooms to local inventory. A HILTON GARDEN INN and COURTYARD MARRIOTT are under construction in the Pine Belt.
Opened in March, the $14 million redevelopment of W.L. MILLS CONFERENCE CENTER adjoins the GATLINBURG CONVENTION CENTER with an additional 50,000 square feet, totaling 300,000 square feet of meeting, banquet, and exhibit space. Mills Auditorium, an 8,800-square-foot structure, was restored, and a 17,000-square-foot ballroom was added.
The 280-suite EMBASSY SUITES HOTEL MURFREESBORO and adjoining 80,000-square-foot conference center are expected to open in fall 2007.
The 163-room MUSIC ROAD HOTEL and the 140-room MUSIC ROAD INN in Pigeon Forge are expanding their MUSIC ROAD CONVENTION CENTER to almost 15,000 square feet. The 3,360-square-foot Symphony Ballroom will open in November. Addition of the ballroom will expand total banquet seating to 850 guests.
The PEABODY MEMPHIS completed a renovation of all 464 guest rooms.
Formerly a Radisson, the DOUBLETREE HOTEL in Memphis underwent an $8 million transformation into a more upscale property. It now offers 280 rooms.
CUMBERLAND HOUSE HOTEL has 131 rooms and opened in September 2005. It is one block from the University of Tennessee campus and adjacent to the Knoxville Convention Center and World's Fair Park.
The former DAYS INN in Knoxville has been remade into a HOTEL INDIGO from InterContinental Hotels Group.
In 2005 the GAYLORD OPRYLAND RESORT & CONVENTION CENTER in Nashville opened a 27,000-square-foot Relâche spa. The property is also in the midst of a $45 million, multiyear room renovation.
In 2005, the NASHVILLE AIRPORT MARRIOTT completed a $2.3 million renovation, including a new 7,200-square-foot ballroom, bringing total square footage to more than 23,000.
A West End Nashville office building is being converted to a 140-room HOTEL INDIGO. It is scheduled to open this fall.
UNION STATION HOTEL in downtown Nashville is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation that should be completed by September.
NASHVILLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT has begun a $35 million, three-year terminal renovation.
Ask the CVB
ALABAMA GULF CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU
(800) 982-8562; www.gulfshores.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11%
(205) 458-8000; www.bcvb.org
Total Hotel Tax: 14%
HUNTSVILLE/MADISON COUNTY CVB
(800) 843-0468; www.huntsville.org
Total Hotel Tax: 13%
(800) 240-9452; (334) 262-0013
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%
BOWLING GREEN AREA CVB
(800) 326-7465, (270) 782-0800
Total Hotel Tax: 11%
KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM
(800) 848-1224; www.visitlex.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13.42%
NORTHERN KENTUCKY CVB
(859) 261-4677; www.nkycvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11.24%
ALEXANDRIA/PINEVILLE AREA CVB
Total Hotel Tax: 13.5%
CAJUN COAST VCB
(800) 256-2931; www.cajuncoast.com
Total Hotel Tax: 12%
BATON ROUGE AREA CVB
(800) LA ROUGE
Total Hotel Tax: 13%
LAFAYETTE CONVENTION & VISITORS COMMISSION
Total Hotel Tax: 12%
NEW ORLEANS METROPOLITAN CVB
Hotel Sales Tax: 13%
SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CONVENTION & TOURIST BUREAU
Total Hotel Tax: 13.1%
(800) 354-7695; www.visitjackson.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11%
(888) 488-6422; www.tunicamiss.com
Total Hotel Tax: 10%
(800) 533-0611; www.tupelo.net
Total Hotel Tax: 9.25%
CHATTANOOGA AREA CVB
Total Hotel Tax: 17.25 percent
GATLINBURG DEPT. OF TOURISM AND CONVENTION CENTER
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%
KNOXVILLE TOURISM AND SPORTS CORP.
(800) 727-8045; www.knoxville.org
Total Hotel Tax: 17.25%
Total Hotel Tax: 15.95%
Total Hotel Tax: 14.25%
Total Hotel Tax: 12%
Gatlinburg, Tenn., is approximately a two-mile-long walking community with more than 450 establishments in the downtown area. The best way to get around is Gatlinburg's extensive trolley system. Fifty cents will get you almost anywhere you want to go.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Pigeon Forge's next-door neighbor. The park's primary visitor center, Sugarlands, is only about 20 minutes from Pigeon Forge. Inside the park is a collection of short loop trails called Quiet Walkways that allow visitors to experience the outdoors and still not get more than a few hundred yards from their vehicles. www.nps.gov/grsm/
Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport offers daily nonstop flights to Atlanta, Dallas, Washington D.C., New York, Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati, and Orlando.
Northern Kentucky has the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to ventriloquism. www.venthaven.com
In 2005, the SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER opened the CIVIL RIGHTS MEMORIAL VISITOR CENTER in Montgomery, Ala. The center houses exhibits, a 69-seat theater, and a classroom. www.splcenter.org/crm/memorial.jsp
Located along the banks of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, La., the USS KIDD, a Fletcher-class destroyer, is ideal for a gathering. Auditorium seating for 100 people is available in the museum; tours can be arranged. Overnight stays are an option, and caterers are available. www.usskidd.com.
In Shreveport, La., SCI-PORT DISCOVERY CENTER is completing a major expansion, adding a 25,000-square-foot space center, a rooftop observatory, a stargazing deck, and an interactive Space Dome. www.sciport.org
THE CLAY CENTER FOR ARTS & SCIENCES in Charleston, W.Va., has two main halls, the MAIER FOUNDATION PERFORMANCE HALL and WALKER THEATER. Both facilities are a part of the Clark Performance Place. The Maier hall seats 1,883 people. The Walker Theater is a movable black-box theater that can seat up to 200 people. www.theclaycenter.org
The MUHAMMAD ALI CENTER opened in Louisville, Ky., in November 2005. The center is an international cultural and educational institution developed to preserve and share Ali's legacy as a peacemaker. Its 92,000 square feet of space includes meeting space for conferences and evening events. www.alicenter.org
MUSIC MANSION THEATER has been transformed into WONDERWORKS/PIGEON FORGE, Tenn., a sister attraction to the original WonderWorks in Orlando, Fla. Part interactive science museum and part entertainment venue, components include the Disaster Zone, the Space Zone, and the Lights and Sound Room. There are more than 100 interactive exhibits, a laser tag facility, and a 300-seat theater, all of which are available for meeting groups and special functions. www.wonderworkstn.com
HELICOPTER HEADQUARTERS opened Memorial Day weekend in Pigeon Forge. The attraction is devoted to the history and lore of helicopter flight. It includes aircraft and flight simulators, and has space for receptions and events of up to 400 people. www.helihq.com
The SHAW CENTER FOR THE ARTS opened in March 2005 in BATON ROUGE, La. It is home to an art museum, a small theater, and a rooftop sushi restaurant. The LSU Museum of Art, on the fifth floor, is a great venue for events, with 14 galleries and 16-foot ceilings. The 13,000-square-foot gallery can host up to 400 people. The center is within walking distance of Baton Rouge River Center. www.shawcenter.org.
Cajun Coast Golf
Atchafalaya Golf Course at Idlewild, in Kemper Williams Park & Campground in Patterson, La., is a new addition to Cajun Coast tourism. The latest addition to the Audubon Golf Trail, this 18-hole public golf course features dramatic elevations, indigenous flora and fauna, and an elevated Acadian-style clubhouse, all designed by Robert Von Hagge.