Long regarded as a place for adventure, challenge, and trend-setting innovation, the Northwest remains a favorite stomping ground for visionaries who like to do things on a grand scale. While Oregon, Idaho, and Montana have yet to make a big impression on the medical meetings market, these states can look to Washington for inspiration: Washington State has been a top ten choice of physicians responding to our annual Physician Preferences Survey for three years running. Today, medical meeting planners find these states ideal for either large or small-scale gatherings in cities known for technology and innovation.

Seattle, Portland, Boise, and Billings have very different atmospheres, but they are linked by that famous western spirit. And these grown-up western towns have plenty of top-notch space for meetings that will provide new perspective under big skies.

The "Emerald City" of Seattle, surrounded by trees, mountains, and water, now boasts a one-year-old, $95 million waterfront development project, including the Bell Street Pier and its Bell Harbor International Conference Center. The Port of Seattle project lies at the edge of Elliott Bay with views to the Olympic Mountains and green-and-white ferry boats gliding across Puget Sound. Designed for gatherings from 10 to 1,000, and billed as the most technologically advanced conference center on the west coast, the Center has high-tech satellite transmission, audiovisual, and language translation capabilities to go along with stunning waterfront views from its meeting rooms and outdoor deck space.

In the heart of downtown, expansion plans are under way at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center to increase heavy-load exhibition space and enhance meeting rooms, prefunction areas, equipment rooms, and lobby space. The Seattle Center, home to the landmark Space Needle plus a 74-acre campus with various meeting and exhibition venues, is another popular choice for meetings, as is the University of Washington and its extensive hospital and medical complex.

Just 179 miles away, Portland is a compact and manageable city that lies beneath the snowy peak of Mount Hood. The city beckons with a combination of striking skyscrapers and red-brick charm downtown, 9,400 acres of city parks, and a successful light-rail system that allows meeting attendees to move from the eye-catching Oregon Convention Center to downtown hotels, theaters, and restaurants with ease. It's no surprise that in a city known for environmentally conscious, active residents, nearby attractions include top-notch skiing, golfing, kayaking, fishing, and hiking.

With a population of just 150,000, Idaho's capital of Boise is the national and international headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies, including Boise Cascade, Ore-Ida, and Micron Technology. Located at the base of foothills where desert meets the Rocky Mountains, visitors to Boise enjoy nearby skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, golf, and outstanding white-water rafting. The resort city of Coeur d'Alene (population 30,000) in northern Idaho is another popular choice for meetings, largely due to picturesque Lake Coeur d'Alene and the luxurious lakefront Coeur d'Alene Resort with its ample conference space and spectacular golf course.

In Billings, MT, nestled between five majestic mountain ranges and the golden rimrock bluffs, modern "pioneers" can feast on rib-eye steaks and cheer on nightly rodeo riders in a town still steeped in history. Not known for modern high-rise hotels, Billings provides groups with more modest lodges, inns, or, for a more authentic experience, working guest ranches.

Convention & Exhibition Centers Seattle The Washington State Convention & Trade Center has an award-winning design, public art displays, an 18,000-square-foot Atrium Lobby, and three exhibit halls that combine for a total of 102,000 square feet of space. The Center's two ballrooms--the largest at 30,000 square feet and divisible into three sections--provide an elegant, hotel-like ambience.

Seattle Center, with a 74-acre urban park setting and on-site catering options, offers 125,000 square feet of meeting space in 32 separate facilities. The Flag Pavilion and Exhibition Hall have 54,000 square feet of exhibit space and can host up to 1,500 persons; the Mercer Arena can handle meetings for 6,000 persons. Smaller groups can opt for the Northwest Rooms or the versatile meeting spaces of the Center House Conference Center.

On Seattle's waterfront, the Bell Harbor International Conference Center occupies 47,000 square feet, including a 5,000-square-foot exhibition hall and 4,000 square feet of prime deck space.

Portland The Oregon Convention Center offers striking architecture and more than 150,000 square feet of exhibition space that is contiguous and column-free. Total square feet, including offices and various meeting rooms, tops 500,000. Light rail links the Center with downtown hotels.

The Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center provides more than 330,000 square feet of flat-floor exposition space and is most often used for trade shows. In March 1997, a new $13.5 million exhibition hall (Hall E) debuted, adding 108,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space, a four-bay loading dock, meeting rooms, and an expansive lobby. The Center is conveniently located north of downtown Portland on the bank of the Columbia River, just off I-5. Approximately 1,400 hotel rooms are within a few minutes' drive.

Boise The Boise Centre "On the Grove" is a convention facility in the center of downtown, which opens onto a picturesque public park area. The 84,000-square-foot Centre offers 24,000 square feet of exhibit space and up to 20 meeting rooms that accommodate 20 to 3,000, theater-style. There is also banquet seating for 1,800 and a 326-seat auditorium with audiovisual equipment.

Hotel News Idaho * Courtyard by Marriott in Boise opened in fall 1996 with 167 rooms, some with kitchens, as well as a business center and fitness and laundry facilities.

* Scheduled to open in early 1998, the 250-room WestCoast Boise Hotel will be linked to a 5,000-seat sports arena and events center, a 30,000-square-foot health club, and a fine dining restaurant. .

* The upscale, lakefront Coeur d'Alene Resort accommodates 2,200 for meetings and also offers a "floating boardroom" option (lake cruises for up to 400 attendees).

* Its sister property, the Coeur d'Alene Inn, has recently undergone a $4 million renovation of its meeting space for 600.

* The Best Western Templin's Resort in Post Falls, just adjacent to Coeur d'Alene, is on the Spokane River and can accommodate gatherings of up to 1,000.

* A new 118-room Ameritel Inn opened this summer in Coeur d'Alene.

Oregon * Downtown Portland's $23 million, 221-room 5th Avenue Suites opened in May 1996 in a landmark 1912 building. The hotel has 4,500 square feet of meeting space, a business center, an Aveda spa, and a four-star restaurant.

* Embassy Suites Hotel, at the former historic Multnomah Hotel in downtown Portland, is scheduled to open this fall with 276 suites and 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

* A new Marriott Hotel is currently under construction in downtown Portland with an approximate completion date of mid-1998. Estimates are for 300 rooms.

* On the scenic Oregon Coast at Gleneden Beach, Salishan Lodge, the newest Dolce International-managed conference resort, plans a $7 million investment in refurbishing meeting space, conference dining facilities, and all 205 sleeping rooms. The resort's Scottish-style golf links recently completed a $2.5 million renovation.

* Sunriver Resort, 15 miles south of Bend in central Oregon, completed phase I of a $4.5 million renovation of its main lodge in June. Phase II, beginning in the fall, includes an upgrade of meeting space. A recent $3 million renovation updated the historic Great Hall Conference Center and fully refurbished the resort's 211 guest rooms and suites. On property are 54 holes of golf (The Woodlands is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design) and 28 tennis courts, as well as rafting, fishing, and biking.

Washington The boutique-style Alexis Hotel in downtown Seattle completed a $5 million renovation in March 1996. The hotel now has 109 rooms plus a new conference center and fitness facilities.

* The Sheraton Seattle Hotel & Towers, adjacent to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle, underwent a $7 million renovation in May 1996 to upgrade guest rooms and the lobby. The 840-room hotel offers 40,000 square feet of meeting space and a business center.

* A new 125-room WestCoast Paramount Hotel opened in September in downtown Seattle.

* In May 1996, Cavanaugh's Inn on Fifth Avenue opened in downtown Seattle, with 300 rooms and suites and more than 12,000 square feet of business and conference facilities.

* The Salish Lodge, 25 miles east of Seattle at scenic Snoqualmie Falls, has opened the most extensive resort spa in the Pacific Northwest at a cost of $1.4 million.

* The Hotel Monaco opened in August two blocks from the Seattle Art Museum and a short walk to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle. It has over 6,000 square feet of meeting space in nine rooms. The 11-story hotel offers 189 guest rooms, each with two phone lines, voice mail, and modem ports.

* Sleeping Lady is a rustic conference retreat on 67 acres in Leavenworth, two-and-a-half hours from Seattle. Wenatchee airport, 22 miles distant, has daily flights. At the gateway to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness district, the retreat offers over 10,000 square feet of meeting space and sleeping accommodations for up to 200.

Venue Menu Idaho An unusual place to hold an event in Boise is the Old Idaho Penitentiary, one of the few territorial prisons left in the U.S. The Pen closed in the 1970s and is now open for evening functions: The grounds have been turned into rose gardens, and the cell blocks are open for exploring.

While always known for its potatoes, Boise is also home to wineries such as Pintler Cellar or Ste. Chapelle, both of which offer picturesque indoor or outdoor party space.

Washington A North Coast Native American-style salmon barbecue at Tillicum Village on Blake Island tops the list of favorite Northwest theme parties for groups of up to 900.

Within the city of Seattle, the landmark Space Needle, built for the 1962 World's Fair, is linked to downtown by a monorail and offers party space for up to 350 persons with a stunning 360-degree view. The Pacific Science Center, Seattle Aquarium, Pike Place Market, Seattle Art Museum, and Boeing's Museum of Flight are other venues that can accommodate groups.

Montana Meetings delegates ready to relax in Billings can opt for a wagon train or cattle drive adventure, an outdoor hoe-down at a guest ranch, a pitchfork fondue party at Zoo Montana, a tour of Yellowstone National Park, or a chance to witness a colorful Native American Pow-Wow. The Return West Ranch Company, 18 miles from Billings in Huntley, debuted last summer and welcomes small groups for seminars or teambuilding programs at their working ranch and Executive Cowboy School. Guests stay at a nearby Victorian-style hotel.

Other venue options include the lawn of elegant circa-1900 Moss Mansion, the Yellowstone Art Center (renovations due to be completed this August), or the Peter Yegen, Jr. Yellowstone County Museum.

How's the Weather? In Seattle, high temperatures range from 45 degrees in January to 75 degrees in July, with mild temperatures common much of the year. Seattle gets fewer inches of rain per year than cities such as New York and Houston. Still, it's best to bring along your bumbershoot. (That's Seattle-speak for umbrella.) The driest months are June through September.

In Boise, while summer temperatures can rise to 90 degrees, the seasonal average is about 75; winter average is about 30 degrees.

Billings' sheltered location and low humidity gives it weather that is milder than most expect from Montana. Highs range from 86 degrees in July to about 30 degrees in January. Snowfall averages about 57 inches per year, but seldom accumulates to great depths.

Tax and Money Matters State sales tax in Idaho is five percent. There is no retail sales tax in Oregon. A nine percent bed tax is charged on accommodations. State sales tax in Washington is 8.2 percent. The hotel industry tax is 15.2 percent, which consists of the state sales tax and a Seattle Convention & Trade Center tax of seven percent. Montana implements a 4 percent accommodations tax .

Getting There Idaho Boise Airport is served by Delta, Northwest, Southwest, United, and Horizon Air. Driving distance from the airport to downtown is just three-and-a-half miles or about $5.50 by cab.

Montana The Logan International Airport in Billings is served by Delta, Northwest, and United, as well as regional carriers Big Sky, Horizon, and Skywest. The airport is within about ten minutes' drive of downtown, a $12 cab ride.

Oregon An expansion project currently under way at Portland International Airport means major construction on the airport roadways, terminal, and parking garage. Completion is expected by fall 1998. The airport is about a 15-minute drive from downtown.

Washington Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is served by all major carriers. The airport is 16 miles from downtown, which can be reached by taxi ($30), Grayline Airporter bus to major hotels ($7.50 one way/$13 round-trip), or Shuttle Express van service ($15 one way).

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For a complete guide to convention bureaus, centers, and hotels, visit Medical Meetings'World Wide Web site at http://www.meetingsnet.com

Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau

Terry Kopp, director of sales

* (208) 344-7777

Fax (208) 344-6236

Billings Area Chamber of Commerce

John Brewer, director of convention & visitors council

(406) 245-4111

Fax: (406) 245-7333

Portland Oregon Visitors Association

Michael Smith, director of convention sales

* (503) 275-9770

Fax: (503) 275-9770

http://www.pova.com

Seattle/King County

Convention & Visitors Bureau

Kathy Paxton, convention sales manager

* (206) 461-5833

Fax: (206) 461-5855

http://www.seeseattle.org

Dee Valencia is the director of marketing in charge of the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in a different U.S. city every February. In 1997, Seattle was chosen as the site. "Usually we opt for San Francisco when we come to the west coast," explains Valencia. But after the logistical coordinator visited Seattle several times, the Emerald City and its Washington State Convention & Trade Center won out for the meeting location. A key factor in the decision was the close proximity of downtown hotels, especially the adjacent Sheraton Hotel, which served as meeting headquarters. "We always take into consideration how far our attendees have to walk . . . especially in February," notes Valencia. Because it is a session-based show with some 160 concurrent sessions held throughout the week, ranging in size from 25 to more than 1200, versatility of meeting spaces was of paramount importance. Valencia called the Washington State Convention & Trade Center "excellent" for space flexibility. "Overall, Seattle was definitely a pleasant surprise for us," says Valencia. "Our attendees really liked the city."

Jerry Davis, executive director of the Idaho State Dental Association, explains that fun and free time are important parts of his organization's annual meetings. Last June, 675 delegates, spouses, speakers, and guests arrived at the Coeur d'Alene Resort for the event.

"We generally have our days finished by one p.m., and the rest of the afternoon is open for play," says Davis. "So the resort's outdoor recreation, and particularly the golf course with the floating green, are big draws. Most of our members are from the southern part of the state, so they don't get a chance to come up here and play this course very often." The annual meeting also includes social activities in the evening that capitalize on the picturesque location, including a boat cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene. On the practical side, with 57 exhibits, nine speakers, and various courses and seminars over three days, Davis praises the resort's organized staff and excellent meeting facilities in addition to the beautiful surroundings.