The Pacific Northwest has long inspired a variety of innovators, from artists and writers to high-tech visionaries and aeronautic engineers. It's no surprise. Besides the dramatic natural beauty of the region--not to mention nature's proximity--an energy and openness here makes one believe that anything is possible. Perhaps it's this quality that keeps some of the best and brightest in the country flocking to the Northwest.

Lately, anything seems possible in Seattle and Portland, which are only three hours apart on Interstate 5. Both cities boast thoughtful growth, from expanded convention centers to airport and hotel improvements. In Idaho, the recently renovated Coeur d'Alene Resort reasserted that it is a key place to meet: The resort has been chosen as the site for the 2001 and 2002 U.S. Triathlon Championships, beating out heavy hitters like Lake Tahoe and Lake Placid. And for a real getaway, there's no beating the mountains of Montana for spectacular views and outdoor activities.

IDAHO Boise hotel news * The 272-room Grove Hotel, which connects to the 5,000-seat multipurpose Bank of America Centre, offers 36,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Statehouse Inn, located across from the convention center, has newly refurbished sixth-floor rooms and suites with wet bars, refrigerators, and signature robes.

important info Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau * (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 26,000 feet of meeting space, recently renovated 109 of its 337 rooms. The new guest quarters offer unobstructed views, private minibars and business amenities.

important info Coeur d'Alene Area Chamber of Commerce * 877-STAY-CDA

* Fax: (208) 667-9338

* www.coeurdalene.org

Total Hotel Tax: 2%

MONTANA hotel news * The Summit at Big Sky opened this summer at Big Sky Resort. Montana's largest tourism project, the luxury complex combines the convenience of a hotel with the amenities of a condominium. Flexible lock-offs allow many sleeping configurations among the 213 rooms. The property is next to Yellowstone Conference Center, which has 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Big EZ Lodge in Big Sky has opened an 18-hole course designed to USGA greens standards, with holes from 35 to 150 feet. The course can be played in 60 to 90 minutes. The boutique property, managed by Benchmark Hospitality, has 12 guest rooms, each with laptops and high-speed Internet access.

* Huntley Lodge at Big Sky Ski and Summer Resorts has been remodeled to include wet bars, coffeemakers, and refrigerators in its 182 rooms. Amenities include outdoor hot tubs, an outdoor pool, a lounge/restaurant, and a movie theater.

important info Travel Montana * (800) 548-3390; (406) 444-2654

* Fax: (406) 444-1800

Total Hotel Tax: 4%

OREGON Portland Metro Area The 500,000-square-foot Oregon Convention Center breaks ground in October on a $106 million, 250,000-square-foot expansion to allow the continually sold-out center to host two midsized conventions simultaneously. The project has a two-year timeline. Portland International Airport is nearing the end of a four-year expansion that includes improvements to ticketing and baggage claim areas and the addition of a MAX light rail station to connect the airport to downtown.

The Oregon Zoo has opened Phase II of its Great Northwest Exhibit, offering a Cascade-style lodge that houses a restaurant and divisible meeting space with banquet seating for 500. Portland's downtown Pioneer Place is undergoing a 155,000-square-foot expansion to provide space for Robert Redford's new Sundance Cinemas.

hotel news * The Westin Portland opened in August 1999, with 2,060 square feet of meeting space, 205 rooms, 16 Park Avenue suites and a two-bedroom penthouse suite.

* The boutique-style Paramount Hotel opened in December with 154 rooms and 1,500 square feet of meeting space.

* Scheduled to open in January, the Avalon Hotel and Spa, which is located on the Willamette River Greenway Trail, overlooking the Willamette River, will offer 1,600 square feet of meeting space as well as in-room high-speed Internet access.

* The Hilton Portland, which has 455 rooms and 30,000 square feet of meeting space, will open the 321-room Hilton Executive Tower in June 2002.

important info Portland Oregon Visitors Association * (800) 962-3700; (503) 275-9770

* Fax: (503) 275-9774

* www.pova.com

Total Hotel Tax: 9%

Central Oregon & Oregon Coast hotel news * In March, the Sunriver Resort, 10 miles south of Bend in Central Oregon, completed renovating the Homestead, formerly known as The Pavilion. This 8,200-square-foot meeting facility brings total banquet and meeting space to 32,000 square feet. The 209-room resort also offers 280 private homes and condos, and 33 new deluxe guest rooms

* Two hours southwest of Portland on the Oregon Coast, the Salishan Lodge has been renamed the Westin Salishan Lodge & Golf Resort. It offers 205 guest rooms, 14 meeting rooms for groups of up to 500, a business center, and an 18-hole Scottish links-style golf course.

* In Lincoln City, the Chinook Winds Casino boasts the largest convention center on the Oregon Coast, with 20,000 square feet.

important info Central Oregon Visitors Association * (800) 800-8334; (541) 389-8799

* Fax: (541) 385-9487

* www.covisitors.com

Lincoln City Visitor & Convention Bureau * (800) 452-2151; (541) 994-8378

* www.oregoncoast.org

Lane County Formerly the Lane County Convention Center, the recently renamed Lane Event and Sport Center in Eugene is undergoing a renovation and expansion to add 56,000 square feet of meeting space to its existing 100,000 square feet; the project will be completed in four years.

hotel news * Oregon's second-largest metro area is building four new hotels by early 2001, adding 310 rooms to more than 3,200 rooms metrowide. Among them are a Hawthorn Inn and Suites, a Residence Inn by Marriott, and a Hampton Inn.

important info Convention and Visitors Association of Lane County * (800) 547-5445; (541) 484-5307

* Fax: (541) 343-6335

* www.visitlanecounty.org

Total Hotel Tax: 9.5% in Eugene and Springfield (Oregon has no state sales tax. Nearby hotel tax rates are 7% on the coast in Florence, 9% in Cottage Grove, and 8% in other areas of Lane County.)

WASHINGTON Seattle The booming "Emerald City" is an exciting place to do business and enjoy leisure time. The Seattle Mariners' new natural-turf ballpark, Safeco Field, did more than wow the fans when it opened in summer 1999: It also brought the demolition of the Kingdome, which will be replaced by a new football stadium in 2002. The Stadium Exhibition Center also opened last year, with 325,000 gross square feet of meeting space, making it one of the largest venues for exhibits and trade shows in the Pacific Northwest. The Bell Street Pier Terminal, the city's first cruise ship terminal, debuted last summer with cruises to Alaska's Inside Passage. And major buzz surrounded the June opening of the Experience Music Project, billed as the first museum to host an interactive tribute to popular music.

The Washington State Convention & Trade Center is expanding, doubling its exhibition space to 300,000 square feet, within walking distance of 6,000 first-class hotel rooms. Due for completion by mid-2001, it includes the development of The Elliott, a 450-room luxury hotel with 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

hotel news * Located in downtown Seattle, within walking distance of the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, The Renaissance Madison Hotel has completed $1.7 million in renovations, including new color schemes throughout. Views of Elliott Bay, downtown, and Lake Union are enjoyed from all 553 guestrooms but best experienced in the hotel's 85 suites, including three grand suites and club room floors. The hotel features 18,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

* The 27-story, 426-room W Seattle Hotel opened in September with 10,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.

* In summer 2001, the Westin Sea-Tac Airport Hotel will debut; the 16-story, 384-room, in-terminal property will include 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

* A half hour south of Seattle in Tacoma, construction has begun on the $61 million, 92,000-square-foot Tacoma Convention Center, due for completion in 2003. The adjacent Sheraton Tacoma Hotel plans a major expansion of more than 220 rooms.

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

* Hotel hotline: (800) 535-7071

* Fax: (206) 461-5855

* www.seeseattle.org

Total Hotel Tax: 15.6% in Seattle

Tacoma-Pierce County CVB * (800) 272-2662; (253) 627-2836

* Fax: (253) 627-8783

* www.tourtacoma.org

Total Hotel Tax: 13.4%

East King County hotel news * Across Lake Washington from Seattle in The Eastside, the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue has broken ground on an expansion that will double its size to 60,000 square feet by spring 2002. The block surrounding the center is being privately developed to include a 550-room Marriott and a 300-room Ritz-Carlton.

* Willows Lodge, an 88-room boutique hotel, opened in September with 3,935 square feet of meeting space. The Northwest-style property is located in Woodinville, within walking distance of the Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Wineries plus the Red Hook Brewery and the Sammamish River Trail.

important info East King County Convention & Visitors Bureau * (800) 252-1926; (425) 455-1926

* Fax: (425) 450-5642

* www.eastkingcounty.org

Total Hotel Tax: 14.4% in Bellevue

Claudine Smith, corporate events specialist with Onyx Software in Bellevue, Wash., has watched her annual company meeting grow exponentially. Onyx, which started as a 100-person company, used to have two all-company meetings a year, but with delegates now flying in from Asia and Latin America, they've condensed their worldwide meeting to one weeklong gathering in Seattle. "Last year's annual meeting was 450 people; this year it will be more than 800," Smith says. In 1999, the location was the spectacular Bell Harbor Conference Center on the Seattle waterfront; this year it's the Westin Seattle, which the company also used in 1998.

Westin Seattle, the biggest hotel in the city, with 891 rooms and 38,000 square feet of meeting space, gave Onyx "hands-down the best offer as far as handling a group this size," explains Smith, noting the property's flexibility, number of rooms they could offer, and expertise in "figuring out what we needed."

Because of their great experience with Bell Harbor last year, however, the company's sales meeting will still be held there. "The sales staff can't imagine having their meeting anywhere else," Smith says of Bell Harbor's Bay Auditorium. "So we're busing them over to use that facility for a day and a half." She is quick to praise the conference center's scenic location, AV capabilities, translation centers, comfortable, tiered seating, and excellent menu--not to mention all-inclusive pricing. "They take care of everything," she says. "It's like going to a very high-end incentive property instead of a typical conference center."