In November, Pennsylvania Governor Rendell released the first $16 million needed for construction plans and land acquisition for the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center. The long-awaited $650 million project is under way and expected to be open by 2009. If property acquisition goes smoothly, construction will start in early 2007. The convention center will contain one million square feet after expansion.
Something new in Washington, the DC Circulator, will bring a smile to the faces of planners trying to manage logistics for a group meeting in The District. It launched in July to provide quick, direct access to some of the most popular points in the city. From 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., 365 days a year, 29 buses painted red, white, black, and yellow now link downtown with Georgetown, the convention center, hotels, restaurants, the Kennedy Center, and the Southwest Waterfront (at the National Mall). The cost of a ticket is $1.
This past October, about 200 rooms were added to the plans for a headquarters hotel at the new Washington Convention Center. Marriott will manage the property.
Fueled by an 87 percent occupancy rate for 2005 and a stepped-up economy, by the end of 2007 New York City will add nearly 5,000 new hotel rooms in new and expanded properties to its current inventory of 70,723. One of those properties is a real New York icon: The Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park is being restored and divided into hotel rooms and private apartments. The landmark property, now a Fairmont Hotel, was closed last year for a $350 million renovation. It will open in 2007 with 182 private residences and 282 hotel rooms.
Last year, the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center opened on the school's campus at Blacksburg. This 147-room upscale hotel and adjoining meeting facility is owned by Virginia Tech and managed by Hilton Hotels. Wired and wireless Internet access is available in the inn and in 23,705 square feet of meeting space.
In Baltimore, the newest attraction on the Inner Harbor is a Comics Museum, with all the memorabilia and silliness of the past 50 years of laughable characters and heroic endeavors. Group tours are already coming out grinning.
The new Courtyard Newark — University of Delaware will serve as a teaching laboratory for the university's hospitality school. It includes a test hotel room where the school will study changes in hotel design and guests preferences. Connected to the University's Clayton Hall Conference Center, the combined complex has more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space.
The InterContinental Harbor Court Baltimore (converted from the five-star Harbor Court Hotel) opened this spring overlooking the Inner Harbor. Part of a mixed-use property that includes an eight-story tower with 195 guest rooms, the hotel has 8,000 square feet of function space, with 11 meeting rooms, a ballroom, and three boardrooms.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts will open two new airport hotels — a Sheraton and an adjacent Westin less than three miles from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The 203-room BWI Sheraton is slated to open this fall with more than 4,600 square feet of meeting space. The 260-room BWI Westin is scheduled for spring 2007 and will have nearly 7,300 square feet of meeting space.
During the next 12 to 18 months, owners of the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City will convert 117 guest rooms to 42 junior suites, 4 king suites, and a concierge lounge, thus reducing guest room count to 171 rooms and suites. The concierge lounge on the redesigned key-access 6th and 7th floors will serve complimentary continental breakfasts and receptions. Ballrooms, event space, and 28 conference rooms make up 40,000 square feet of meeting space. Refurbishment of the Cameo Ballroom and Poplar breakout rooms is also planned, as is renovation of the Terrace Restaurant, spa, and golf pro shop.
Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa launched the first phase of its expansion last August. At a cost of $200 million, it is adding casino space, two nightclubs, retail space, and several restaurants, including a Wolfgang Puck Café, to be completed this year. The second phase will consist of an 830,000-square-foot tower, adding 800 guest rooms, including 100 suites. The 40-story tower will also include indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and fitness center, more meeting space, and more retail shops. Estimated at $347 million, the tower's completion is targeted for late 2007.
Donald Trump's casino company will spend $110 million upgrading its three Atlantic City gambling hotels. It will build an indoor promenade at Trump Taj Mahal, a new restaurant at Trump Plaza, and will renovate meeting and convention space and add a new restaurant at Trump Marina. The company already spent $32 million in 2005 on room renovations and other improvements at the three properties. In June, construction started on an 800-room hotel tower at Trump Taj Mahal.
The Palm, a legendary restaurant since 1926, opened a new location in 2005 in The Quarter at Tropicana, a venue that mirrors Old Havana and features shopping, dining, and entertainment. The Atlantic City Palm seats 270 people in 8,200 square feet and offers groups three private dining rooms. Completion of The Quarter at Tropicana also included the 502-room Havana Tower, boosting the resort's total room count to 2,127; and 45,000 square feet of new meeting space, which brings its function space to 122,000 square feet.
Congress Hall, an historic, 106-room beachfront hotel in Cape May that was restored and reopened three years ago, last year added Harrison Conference Center for a total of 5,500 square feet of meeting space.
W Hotel, a hotel-condominium tower in Hoboken, is scheduled for completion early next year. There will be 225 hotel rooms on the first 16 floors of a 25-story building, along with 11,000 square feet of meeting space.
A $65 million renovation of its mezzanine level has given the Park Central New York at 870 Seventh Ave. at 56th St. 6,000 square feet of new event space, with 12 meeting rooms, 3 boardrooms, and exhibition space. An 8,500-square-foot ballroom can accommodate up to 800 people in the 935-guest room historic hotel.
The 750-room Millennium Broadway Hotel in the heart of the theater district has an IACC-approved, 110,000-square-foot conference center with 37 meeting rooms. The hotel recently completed restoration of the 102-year-old Hudson Theatre, seating up to 750 people, which is available for product introductions, concerts, meetings, and other events. Restoration of the theater uncovered Tiffany mosaics, which have been restored and lend a touch of class to an event held there.
The 1926 Warwick Hotel will convert the top eight floors of the legendary Philadelphia hotel to 100 condominiums. In addition, a $15 million renovation to the hotel will completely upgrade the lobby, grand ballroom, Crystal Ballroom, and mezzanine level. A fitness center and club lounge will be added as the property converts to the Warwick Radisson Hotel.
Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue closed its top floor last July for a $7 million makeover. There are now two restaurants, one in the current Founders space and one in the Barrymore Room. There is a new nightclub/lounge, and an area known as the Loge has a chef's dining area, with seating for up to 15.
The Marriott Pittsburgh Airport was converted from a Wyndham with a $10 million redo of its 316 guest rooms earlier this year. The lobby and 12,000 square feet of meeting space were renovated, and the hotel will add a new restaurant.
Hershey Resorts has renovated its two 18-hole courses and is building a new 43,000-square-foot clubhouse in the town of Hershey. Next to the clubhouse is an all-season pavilion that includes a fireplace and is perfect for après golf events.
Skytop Lodge in the Pocono Mountains has completed its new Executive Conference Center, which doubles the resort's meeting space to 20,000 square feet.
Hotel executives turned on the water tap in Scotrun, Pa., and the 401-suite Great Wolf Lodge in the Pocono Mountains officially came to life last fall. The $92 million water-themed resort and park is a four-story, log-sided collection of suites that range from lofts with fireplaces to a two-bedroom Grizzly Bear Suite and more than 6,000 square feet of meeting space, including a tiered symposium room. A 90-foot tall, 78,000-square-foot indoor water park complex features 11 water slides, and six pools.
Crowne Plaza Valley Forge hotel in King of Prussia in May went completely smoke-free, the first in the area to do so. Before the smoking ban, staff swept through the hotel's 225 rooms, restaurant, lounge, Liberty Conference Center and 130-seat amphitheater, and two ballrooms to deep clean, fumigate, and disinfect every surface. General Manager Bob McGowan says the smoking ban has resulted in increased bookings.
The former Holiday Inn Richmond has opened as the 282-room Crowne Plaza Richmond West following a $1 million renovation. A new business center has been opened convenient to nearly 10,000 square feet of function space, which includes a ballroom, three meeting rooms, and four boardrooms.
In November 2005, the City of Norfolk negotiated an agreement for a public-private mixed-use project that features a 240-room Norfolk Hilton Hotel and restaurant, a 5,000-square-foot retail/restaurant area, lobby cafe, lounges, and conference facilities with 70,000 square feet of meeting and function space. It will include 50 residential units above the hotel in downtown Norfolk at Main and Granby streets. Construction will most likely begin in early 2007 and is expected to be completed in spring 2008.
In late September, the Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center reopened in downtown Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley after a $21 million restoration that included all 124 guest rooms and nearly 11,000 square feet of meeting, pre-function, and dining space. The 1924 hotel was recently recognized by the National Trust for Historic Hotels of America for its architectural significance.
A dramatic redesign of its Grand and Regency Ballrooms headlines the $12 million renovation at the Hyatt Regency Reston completed in September. The hotel has 518 guest rooms and 32,000 square feet of meeting space located five miles from Dulles International Airport in Reston Town Center.
The 320-room Wyndham Hotel Roanoke near the Roanoke Regional Airport will renovate all guest rooms, the lobby and common areas. The hotel has 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
Berry Hill Plantation Resort in South Boston, Va., an antebellum mansion built in 1842, reopened last year as a Benchmark Resort. Berry Hill has 92 guest rooms, a restaurant, and the Colonial Tavern, with its private wine cellar. There are 12 meeting and event rooms. Benchmark plans the addition of 100 guest rooms, a spa, an 18,000-square-foot conference center, and 18 holes of golf.
Kimpton opened its seventh District hotel on June 15; the 335-room Hotel Palomar Washington DC is modeled after the original Hotel Palomar, which opened in San Francisco in 1999. After a $32 million renovation, the Dupont Circle hotel will have 10,500 square feet of meeting space, including the Phillips Room, which can accommodate up to 300 attendees, a pool, and a fitness center.
Wyndham City Center Hotel at M Street and New Hampshire Avenue will become the 355-room Renaissance M Street this fall following an $18.5 million renovation. The hotel is refurbishing its guest rooms, meeting space, lobby, restaurant, and bar.
The Hyatt Dulles completed a $4.2 million renovation last fall that features 316 suites, 7,300 square feet of function space, pool, and fitness center.
Ask the CVB
District of Columbia
Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corp.
(202) 789-7000; www.washington.org
Total Hotel Tax: 14.5%
Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau
(888) 302-2852, (410) 280-0445
Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association
(800) 343-3468, (410) 659-7300
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%
Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority
(888) 228-4748, (609) 348-7100
Total Hotel Tax: 12% + $2 per room, per night
NYC & Company
(800) NYC-VISIT, (212) 484-1200
Total Hotel Tax: 13.624% percent plus a $3.50 per-room, per-night charge
Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 359-0758, (412) 281-7711
Total Hotel Tax: 14%
(800) 225-5745, (215)636-3300
www.pcvb.org; Total Hotel Tax: 14%
Valley Forge CVB
(800) 441-3549, (610) 834-1550
Total Hotel Tax: 9%
(800)388-9119, (703) 838-4200
Total Hotel Tax: 11.5% plus $1 per room night
Arlington Conv. & Visitors Service
Total Hotel Tax: 9.75%
Fairfax County Conv. & Visitors Corp.
Total Hotel Tax: 9%
Virginia Beach Department of Convention & Visitor Development
(800) 822-3224, (757)437-4700
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%
Williamsburg Area CVB
Total Hotel Tax: 10% plus $2 per room night
Richmond Metropolitan CVB
Total Hotel Tax: 13%
For reasonably priced rooms in New York City, winter, from January through March, is best for bargains, with summer (especially July and August) second best. Fall is the busiest and most expensive season except for Christmas, but November is quiet and affordable (except for parade-route hotels at Thanksgiving).
Here's another tip for NYC accommodations: Go uptown or downtown. Midtown locations are highly overrated when the subway can take you anywhere in minutes; even if you stay on the Upper West Side. Also, you'll get the best value for your money by avoiding the Theater District.
Are you taking a group to the nation's capital and want the latest weather forecast before you leave? On the Web at www.wunderground.com/forecasts/DCA.html you'll find 5-day forecasts that include high and low temperatures, plus wind, cloudiness, and percentage chance for precipitation. Or, pull up the same info for Baltimore, Roanoke, Richmond, the Big Apple, or the beach at Atlantic City.
The redesigned Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Del., has opened an event facility with 87,000 square feet of space for meetings, conventions, and corporate events. The $7 million makeover of the former arts center has created a hall of two enormous curving walls leading from an atrium lobby into Governors' Hall. That space adjoins the 22,000-square-foot Wilmington Hall, an all-black exhibit space that offers a dramatic backdrop for shows. Chase Center has 10 conference and meeting rooms, a 260-seat theater, a seminar room, and ballroom space that seats up to 1,000 people. (302) 425.3929, (888) 862.2787; www.centerontheriverfront.com
In the Big Apple, The Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center opened last November for the first time in 20 years. The view is unobstructed for 360 degrees at 67 stories above midtown Manhattan. A private room with two outdoor garden terraces (for nice weather) hosts groups for a bird's-eye view of the city that never sleeps. The Observation Deck is open 365 days a year. www.topoftherocknyc.com
Let attendees experience a cypress swamp, an Appalachian cove, the Chesapeake Bay underwater, or an underground limestone cave at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News. The Exhibit Gallery can accommodate up to 300 for a banquet, 800 for a reception. Smaller spaces such as the Conference Room or the Science Lab can hold from 45 to 80 people. (757) 595-1900; www.valivingmuseum.org
Reopened in December 2005, Richmond, Va.'s, Walkerton Tavern debuted in 1825 as one of a pair of identical houses built on each side of Mountain Road, Henrico County. One house was Mr. Walker's residence while the other served as a tavern equipped with a wine cellar, three ice houses, and a 20-horse stable. Throughout history, Walkerton has been used as a store, post office, voting precinct, and a field hospital for wounded Union cavalrymen. Today, the tavern features historical displays, original furniture, and reproductions of 19th-century pieces and is open to the public five days a week. The Tavern and its gardens also are available for private functions including conferences and group meetings. www.henricohistoricalsociety.org/Brookland.html
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