Raleigh, N.C., threw a block party last July for 60,000 residents, officials, visitors, and event planners to celebrate the reopening of Fayetteville Street. The massive party — dubbed “Raleigh Wide Open” — marked the return of automobile traffic to a main street that had lost much of its commerce and culture as a pedestrian mall. In 2008, Fayetteville Street will also be home to a 400-room Marriott (with 15,000 square feet of meeting space) and the adjoining new Raleigh Convention Center.
That party was so much fun that the Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau and convention center staff did it again in October, inviting 500 meeting planners, workers, and dignitaries to lunch among the steel beams and cranes on the convention center site. They celebrated the fact that more than 30 conferences and conventions have already booked the 500,000-square-foot facility. The convention center will include 19 meeting rooms, an exhibit hall with 150,000 square feet of space, and a 32,000-square-foot ballroom.
The checkered flag dropped on Charlotte, N.C., in the frantic final heat with Atlanta; Richmond, Va.; Daytona Beach, Fla.; and Kansas City, Kan., to become the site of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. As the site chosen will be very near the Charlotte Convention Center and will have some meeting space, officials are already planning to tie the two facilities together by adding a new, larger ballroom and a walkway to the Hall of Fame. Groundbreaking for the $108 million Hall of Fame is anticipated in 2008, and it is expected to open no later than March 2010.
Event planners looking at Charlotte will want to keep an ear to the ground to see if US Airways' bid to take over Delta Airlines at a cost of $8 billion is successful. Charlotte is the largest US Airways' hub and has nonstop service to 123 cities. Industry analysts predict that a merger with Delta, which is larger and has its major hub in Atlanta, only 240 miles away, would reduce the more than 600 daily flights from Charlotte to less than 250. A University of North Carolina study found that the airport generates nearly $10 billion a year for the region's economy and supports more than 100,000 jobs in travel, tourism, and meetings.
Those planning events in Atlanta will be glad to know that the Georgia Aquarium broke ground in October on a $13 million project that will expand the Oceans Ballroom. Tremendously popular for its views into the whale shark and beluga whale habitats, not to mention its fine catering by Wolfgang Puck, the ballroom has hosted more than 700 events in its first year of operations. A 7,000-square-foot expansion to the ballroom's pre-function space will create an elegant entryway. Meeting and conference space will also be expanded.
In September, the 218-room Crowne Plaza Atlanta-Marietta opened with 7,000 square feet of meeting space, including nine meeting rooms and a ballroom.
Atlanta's 467-room Sheraton Colony Square will be opened as a W Hotel in late 2007 after a $50 million makeover.
The Renaissance Atlanta Hotel Downtown is in the midst of an $8.5 million makeover that has redone all 503 rooms.
The 1,260-room Hyatt Regency Atlanta is undergoing a $30 million renovation of its guest rooms and meeting space. The ballrooms, the largest of which seats 3,000, will also get a facelift this year.
A 242-room Hilton Garden Inn is set to open near Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium in September.
Atlanta's largest hotel, the Marriott Marquis, is spending more than $100 million to remodel its 1,600-plus rooms and revamp all five of its restaurants.
The Atlanta Airport Marriott will complete an $18 million renovation of all 638 guest rooms in April. The College Park hotel is close to the Georgia International Convention Center and has 28,000 square feet of meeting space.
Callaway Gardens has added the Lodge and Spa, a 150-room, four-story hotel that offers a 13,000-square-foot spa and health club.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel Macon was reflagged the Ramada Plaza in November. The 16-story hotel has 298 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
On Sea Island, a private, five-mile-long resort island, the original main building at the Cloister at Sea Island has been completely rebuilt as part of a three-year, $350 million improvement program. It opened last April. The Beach Club and the Spa at Sea Island, a 60,000-square-foot wellness complex, opened this past fall. The resort is famous for its three challenging golf courses, which have also been renovated recently.
King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort on St. Simons Island has completed a massive redesign and turned 70 original rooms into 56 new guest lodgings, giving the resort a total of 188 rooms and suites. The resort has 10,000 square feet of function and meeting space.
In October, Cambria Suites Savannah broke ground on more than 100 suites and 1,000 square feet of meeting space.
Slated to open late this year in the planned 66-acre Prospect Park development in Alpharetta are several Southern-style mansions grouped around a central conservatory and gardens. Not an estate, these buildings will comprise the 144-room boutique Stanbury Hotel. The Stanbury will offer a spa, conference and banquet space, and a couple of restaurants.
Two blocks from the Charlotte Convention Center, a 175-room aloft hotel, Starwood's newest brand, is taking shape in EpiCentre, a $100 million retail, entertainment, and residential complex on the old convention center site. Nearby, a $60 million, 150-room Ritz-Carlton at Bank of America's headquarters will debut in 2008 with 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Blake Hotel, with 308 high-tech rooms and suites featuring wireless Internet, flat-screen TVs, and stereos with iPod docking stations, has opened in the former Adam's Mark Charlotte.
The 193-room Crowne Plaza-Charlotte, formerly the Best Western-Charlotte Uptown Hotel, will open this month after a renovation. It has 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
In Highlands in July, the Old Edwards Inn and Spa at Highlands unveiled its Executive Conference Center and event space just behind the Inn. The Center can accommodate groups up to 100 in five rooms of varying sizes.
A 122-room Courtyard by Marriott will be added to the BPR complex at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro. The five-story hotel with 122 rooms is scheduled to break ground this spring once the company is finished building a 128-suite Residence Inn by Marriott on an adjacent tract. The company is bullish on North Carolina's economy, especially with the addition of the FedEx air-cargo hub in 2009.
Greensboro's Howard Johnson hotel is being converted into a Doubletree near the Triad Airport. It is scheduled to open in March with more than 200 rooms, meeting space, and a full-service restaurant.
Other recent openings in Greensboro include the 81-room Fairfield Inn.
The Sanderling Resort on North Carolina's Outer Banks in May completed a $4 million makeover of its 88 guest rooms that brings them to the standard of its restaurant, The Left Bank, its Sanderling Spa, the racquet club, and other resort facilities.
To the west in Pinehurst, Pinehurst Resort has 54 holes of golf and 479 guest rooms. Late last year, the property began a three-year, $10 million upgrade, unveiling three new outdoor meeting venues in April and a new golf school in August.
The new Wilmington Convention Center is expected to open downtown on the riverfront in late 2008. It will include a 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, 10,000 square feet of breakout rooms, and an adjacent 250-room Marriott.
Across from the Charleston Area Convention Center, the 142-room Holiday Inn and Convention Center is North Charleston's newest hotel. It is adjacent to Center Point Shopping Center, two miles from the Charleston's airport.
The Sheraton Charleston will spend $4.5 million to renovate its 292 rooms and 18,000 square feet of meeting space.
Famous as the nation's golf capital (more than 117 top-notch courses) and for a mild, sunny climate year-round, Myrtle Beach is also home to the spacious Myrtle Beach Convention Center and headquarters hotel, located four blocks from the beaches. The 250,000-square-foot center features a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, an 18,000-square-foot grand ballroom that seats 1,500 people, and 20 meeting rooms. Next door is a 402-room Sheraton headquarters hotel with additional meeting space. The Sheraton provides complimentary shuttle service to the Myrtle Beach Airport and the convention center has 1,400 on-site parking spaces and back-up parking nearby.
Construction should be completed in January 2008 on a new conference center that will add approximately 12,500 square feet of meeting space at the Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort. Currently, the resort has 34,000 square feet of meeting space, including an 18,000-square-foot exhibition hall.
In Myrtle Beach's Kingston Plantation resort's latest $2 million renovation, all 255 suites of its oceanfront Embassy Suites Hotel have been upgraded.
The Landmark Resort, Myrtle Beach, has undergone a $1.2 million upgrade. It has 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
Myrtle Beach International Airport is in the midst of a $200 million expansion that will include a new commercial airline terminal complex. The new terminal will add 14 gates and accommodate wide-body 747s as well as commuter jets.
In Columbia, the 222-room Hilton at Park and Senate streets will open this summer. The hotel was designed to provide accommodations for meetings at adjacent Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau
(404) 521-6600; www.atlanta.net
Total Hotel Tax: 14%
Total Hotel Tax: 9%
Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
(800) 722-1994; www.visitcharlotte.org
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%
Greensboro Area CVB
(800) 344-2282; www.visitgreensboro.com
Total Hotel Tax: 9%
Greenville-Pitt County CVB
(800) 537-5564; www.visitgreenvillenc.com
Total Hotel Tax: 9%
Greater Raleigh CVB
(800) 849-8499; (919) 834-5900
Total Hotel Tax: 10% to 12%
Charleston Area CVB
(800) 868-8118; www.charlestoncvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 12%
Hilton Head Island VCB
Total Hotel Tax: 10%
Myrtle Beach Area Convention Bureau
Total Hotel Tax: 10%
Georgia and the Carolinas are “Right to Work” states, giving meetings staff and vendors more flexibility in the setup and operation of exhibits that can lead to savings on labor costs.
Metropolitan Atlanta's Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) recently established the Atlanta Tourist Loop, linking major hotels with the city's top attractions. The shuttles travel in a clockwise loop every 30 minutes, picking up passengers at specially marked stops. Shuttle cost is $1.75; downloadable maps and schedules are available at www.itsmarta.com.
In 2009, Atlanta Streetcar will provide a north/south link on Peachtree Street, the city's main thoroughfare. Streetcars will traverse the proposed 12-mile line and a downtown loop every six minutes — around Centennial Olympic Park, the World Congress Center, Philips Arena, the Georgia Aquarium, and Auburn Avenue — making it easy for visitors to move between the city's three main neighborhoods, including shopping and dining spots in Buckhead.
In Raleigh, visit the City Market area, a restored 19th-century warehouse district with fine craft shops, pottery shops, Native American artifacts, and a variety of restaurants.
Ten miles from downtown Charlotte, N.C., the $20 million U.S. National Whitewater Center opened in August. It has www.usnwc.orgoptions, a restaurant, and conference facilities. Along with mountain-biking and hiking trails, a climbing center, and a challenge course, the park's major feature is a multiple-channel, customized white-water river for rafting and canoe/kayak enthusiasts of all abilities. (703) 391-3900;
In Charleston, S.C., take a group into the world of Forrest Gump at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. for boiled shrimp, chili shrimp, fried shrimp, coconut shrimp, Cajun shrimp, shrimp po' boys, shrimp & grits, stuffed shrimp … you get the idea. Guests will also have choices such as bourbon mahi mahi, grilled salmon, Dixie-style ribs, burgers, and other traditional items. The restaurant at 99 South Market St. can accommodate as many as 250 people, and the theme atmosphere looks just like Bubba would have wanted it. (843) 723-5665; www.bubbagump.com
Looking for elegance? Check out the Mills House Hotel, in Charleston, where Gen. Robert E. Lee planned Civil War campaigns. The Signer's Ballroom and Planter's Suite offer traditional antebellum décor, and the Barbados Room and courtyard have the look and feel of a quintessential Charleston garden. The Mills House can accommodate groups from 25 to 400 guests, or will even cater their traditional Southern cuisine to other historical sites such as the Confederate Home, Magnolia Plantation, or Boone Hall Plantation. Adjacent Hibernian Hall offers an additional 6,000 square feet of function space. (843) 577-2400; www.millshouse.com
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C., features 50 guest cottages and cottage suites in Carolina Lowcountry style with big screened porches. It is an excellent property for buyouts when an important group wants privacy. Everything is on hand: an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, a waterfront restaurant, wine cellar, a spa, and a 30-acre private island for team and leadership development. Its River House has meeting space for up to 150 guests in a ballroom, smaller spaces for breakouts, and boardrooms that fit eight to 14 for think-tank sessions, problem solving, and executive teeth-gnashing. (843) 706-6500; www.palmettobluff.comFor more on U.S. destinations, click here.