The Northwest is a region of awesome natural beauty, where snowcapped peaks and crystal lakes are but a stone's throw from urban centers, providing corporate groups with a plethora of post-meeting recreational opportunities. Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., just three hours apart on Interstate 5, are the Northwest's major cities, and each will unveil an expanded convention center in the early 21st century. New meeting hotels are opening in both cities. Seattle has taken development fever a step further: In July, it opened a new baseball stadium for the Seattle Mariners--at more than $500 million, it is the most expensive stadium project in U.S. history--and next May, passenger ships on the Alaska circuit will be chugging in and out of a new cruise terminal. The pace of development is slower in the cities of rugged Idaho and Montana, outdoor playgrounds that are striving to capture a larger share of the corporate meetings market.

IDAHO Boise hotel news * In early 1999, the Doubletree Hotel BoiseRiverside renovated 70 guest rooms, adding workstation desks with data ports, modem lines, and ergonomic chairs. The 304-room hotel, which offers 20,000 square feet of meeting space, plans to renovate its entryway and lobby next spring.

* The Grove Hotel has opened The Sports Zone, a sports bar and restaurant. The 250-room downtown property has more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 6,845-square-foot ballroom.

important info Boise CVB * (800) 635-5240, (208) 344-7777

* Fax: (208) 344 6236

* www.boise.org

Total Hotel Tax: 11%

Coeur d'Alene hotel news * The Coeur d'Alene Resort, the area's largest meeting property, with 337 guest rooms and 23,000 square feet of meeting space, recently renovated its lobby.

important info Coeur d'Alene Tourism Marketing Bureau * (208) 664-3194

* Fax: (208) 667-9338

* www.coeurdalenechamber.com

Total Hotel Tax: 2%

MONTANA Billings hotel news * The Sheraton Billings renovated its 282 guest rooms this year at a cost of $1 million. The downtown property has 18,200 square feet of meeting space.

* The Holiday Inn Billings in September was scheduled to complete a yearlong, $5 million renovation of the entire property. The hotel has 315 guest rooms and 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

important info Billings Convention & Visitors Council * (406) 245-4111, (800) 711-2630

* Fax: (406) 245-7333

* www.billingscvb.visitmt.com

Total Hotel Tax: 4%

Bozeman important info Bozeman CVB * (800) 228-4224, (406) 586-5421

* Fax: (406) 586-8286

* www.bozemanchamber.com

Total Hotel Tax: 4%

Flathead Valley In 1999, Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell completed an expansion that more than doubled the size of the passenger terminal. In September, Northwest Airlines expanded its fall/winter service to Kalispell by offering twice-daily service from MinneapolisSt. Paul, with a stop in Great Falls, Mont. The new service gives Kalispell year-round, daily service on Northwest.

hotel news * The Outlaw Inn in Kalispell was purchased in July 1998 by Cavanaughs Hotels of Spokane, Wash., and is now Cavanaughs Outlaw Hotel. The property, with 220 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space, has just completed a $1 million renovation of its lobby, all corridors, and about 50 guest rooms.

important info Flathead CVB * (406) 756-9091, (800) 543-3105

* Fax: (406) 257-2500

* www.fcvb.org

Total Hotel Tax: 4% (6 % in Whitefish)

Missoula Northwest Airlines inaugurated nonstop service between Missoula and MinneapolisSt. Paul early this month.

hotel news * The C'mon Inn opened in August with 119 guest rooms and three meeting rooms, the largest seating 40.

important info Missoula CVB * (406) 543-6623, (800) 526-3465

* Fax: (406) 543-6625

* www.missoulachamber.com

Total Hotel Tax: 4%

OREGON Portland hotel news * In early 1999, the $30 million Portland Marriott Downtown completed a $4.3 million renovation that included all 503 guest rooms and the lobby. As part of the project, the lobby-level Columbia Room, seating 80, was added. The property has 20,000 square feet of meeting and function space.

* The $28 million Marriott City Center was scheduled to open in August. The 260-room hotel has 3,900 square feet of meeting space.

* The Westin Portland was scheduled to open in August. The 205-room property has 2,060 square feet of meeting space and high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms.

* The Paramount Hotel opens this month with 154 guest rooms and 1,500 square feet of meeting space.

* The Hilton Portland is planning to break ground on the 321-room Hilton Executive Tower in May 2000. Completion is expected two years later. The downtown property currently has 455 guest rooms and 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Starwood Hotels & Resorts converted the Riverside Hotel to the Four Points Portland Downtown in July. The 140-room property has 756 square feet of meeting space.

* The Salishan Lodge, in Gleneden Beach, Ore., on the Pacific Coast two hours southwest of Portland, is now being managed by Westin and has been renamed the Westin Salishan Lodge & Golf Resort. The property has 205 guest rooms, 14 meeting rooms accommodating groups of up to 500, a business center, and an 18-hole Scottish-linksstyle course.

important info Portland Oregon Visitors Association * * (503) 275-9770

* Fax (503) 275-9774

* www.pova.com

Total Hotel Tax: 9%

WASHINGTON Seattle Development is occurring on multiple fronts in the Northwest's largest city. The Bell Street Pier Terminal, Seattle's first cruise ship terminal, is under construction and scheduled to open in May 2000. Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines will offer cruises to Alaska's Inside Passage from the new terminal. Safeco Field, a natural-turf ballpark for the Seattle Mariners, opened in July next to the stadium it replaced, the Kingdome.

The Kingdome, home also to football's Seattle Seahawks, will be demolished in January 2000; a new football stadium will open on the Kingdome site in August 2002 (in the interim, the Seahawks will play at Huskies Stadium on the University of Washington campus). Because the Kingdome was used as an exhibition center, a new facility--the Stadium Exhibition Center--is scheduled to open in November 2000. It will have 280,000 square feet of exhibit space. Finally, the convention centers in Seattle and neighboring Bellevue are being expanded, and both projects involve new hotel development.

hotel news * The expansion of downtown Seattle's Washington State Convention & Trade Center, which is due for completion in mid-2001, includes the development of a 450-room luxury hotel, The Elliott, above the new 100,000-square-foot exhibit area being added, and a new 40,000-square-foot home for the Seattle Museum of History and Industry. The Elliott, being developed by the R.C. Hedreen Co., will have more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 150-seat auditorium/theater and a videoconferencing facility.

* The Renaissance Madison Hotel is planning to renovate its third-floor meeting areas and some guest corridors in the fourth quarter of 1999, and is renovating its rooftop restaurant, Prego, which is in the hands of a new chef, Peter Orel, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. The restaurant renovation will be completed in the fall. The restaurant accommodates groups of up to 72. The 553-room Renaissance Madison has 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Starwood Lodging Corp.'s W Seattle Hotel, among the first of the company's new W brand, was scheduled at press time to open September 1. The 27-story, 426-room downtown property will have 10,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, including a 4,500-square-foot ballroom. The hotel will also house an upscale restaurant from the Drew Nieporent Myriad Restaurant Group, which runs such renowned eateries as Montrachet and Nobu in New York City and Rubicon in San Francisco.

* A summer 2001 opening is planned for the Westin Sea-Tac Airport, a 16-story, 384-room. in-terminal hotel. The property will have a swimming pool, a fitness club, a business center, and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Courtyard by Marriott Seattle Downtown at Lake Union opened in May with 250 guest rooms and 2,000 square feet of meeting space.

* As part of a $4 million project completed this spring, the Radisson Hotel Seattle Airport took over the adjacent Quality Inn. The enlarged, renovated property now has 308 guest rooms, up from 170, and 25,000 square feet of meeting space.

* East of Seattle in Bellevue, the Meydenbauer Center will break ground in spring 2000 on an expansion that will double its size. As part of the project, the block surrounding the center will be privately developed; on tap are a 550-room headquarters Marriott, a 300-room Ritz-Carlton, and 265,000 square feet of entertainment and retail space, including five restaurants and a health club. The center's expansion is being coordinated with the private development to ensure a cohesive convention and entertainment district. The Meydenbauer Center will have 60,000 square feet of exhibit space, 36,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, and 55,830 square feet of prefunction space upon completion of the expansion in the spring of 2002. The hotels would open shortly thereafter.

important info Seattle-King County CVB * (206) 461-5800

* Fax: (206) 461-5855

* www.seeseattle.org

Total Hotel Tax: 15.6% in Seattle

East King County CVB * (425) 455-1926

* Fax: (425) 450-5642

* www.eastkingcounty.org

Total Hotel Tax: 14.4% in Bellevue

Spokane * A 95,000-square-foot addition to the passenger terminal at Spokane International Airport is scheduled for completion this fall.

important info Spokane Area CVB * (800) 662-0084, (509) 624-1341

* Fax: (509) 623-1297

* www.spokane-areacvb.org

Total Hotel Tax: 10.2%

Corporate Meeting Executives Say In 1997, the inaugural Potato Business World Convention International, attended by potato processors from around the world, was held in Amsterdam, Netherlands. But for 1999, England-based Potato Business World magazine, which puts on the event, decided to hold the convention in spud country: Boise, Idaho.

The independent meeting planner who organized the July convention, Mike Noble of Noble Events, in Crowborough, England, initially feared it would be difficult flying 130 people from Asia, Europe, Australia, South America, and the United States to the Idaho capital. But Boise, he learned, enjoys frequent service from two cities that are international hubs--Seattle and MinneapolisSt. Paul--"so bringing in attendees turned out to be easy."

The event was held at the city's convention center, Boise Centre on the Grove, and attendees were lodged at the adjacent Grove Hotel. Participants were smitten with the surroundings. "They have beautiful parks and it's a city of trees, so it's a lovely little city to walk around" Noble says. "There is enough life in downtown Boise, and enough good restaurants, to keep the average delegate amused for several days."

Noble was especially impressed with the handling he received from the Boise Centre and the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau. When two speakers wanted to rehearse their presentations at 6:45 on two mornings, the Boise Centre gladly opened early. "Nothing was too much trouble for them," Noble says. He found the same level of service from the CVB, which, among other services, organized a last-minute tour of local wineries for several speakers who had arrived in town early.

Venue Menu * Portland: The Oregon Zoo's "Great Northwest: A Crest to Coast Adventure," opening in phases between 1998 and 2001, offers a bonus to meeting groups: a Cascades-style lodge that houses a restaurant and a divisible meeting space. The lodge has wood beams, decorative black iron chandeliers, and Northwest artwork. There is banquet seating for 500. The zoo is at the Washington Park station of the MAX light rail line. Call (503) 220-2448.

* Seattle: Next May, Argosy Cruises, which operates a fleet of 14 vessels providing public cruises and private charters, plans to launch a dinner cruise ship whose food service will be overseen by a Seattle-area restaurant. The 180-foot ship will seat up to 600 in four dining areas; groups can charter the entire vessel or separate dining areas. Argosy Cruises, (206) 623-1445.

The Portland Oregon Visitors Association's downtown information center, 26 S.W. Salmon St., now houses Ticket Central. All the city's performance venues, whether offering tickets through Ticketmaster, Fastixx, or independent means, sell their tickets to visitors at the information center.