There are still bright spots in these dark days — many of them on the Mid-Atlantic Coast. With a new administration in place, excitement is infusing Washington, D.C., and the inauguration, a huge four-day party, filled many D.C. and outlying hotels in January.
Walter E. Washington Convention Center will add 40,000 square feet of meeting space in a reconfiguration project to be completed by the end of this year. And the Washington Convention Center Authority has selected a team of underwriters to manage financing for the 1,167-room Washington Marriott Convention Center hotel, set to open in 2012.
Baltimore's proximity to the inauguration festivities gave it a boost, but Charm City is doing well on its own. There has been a surge in convention bookings over the last year and a half as the new convention center Hilton hotel opened to serve larger meetings and trade shows.
In Philadelphia, the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center is finally under way. This is a horizontal addition — all bookings can go on as planned. The center will end up with a total of a million square feet of usable space and the ability to handle two simultaneous trade shows or conventions at one time.
Ninety minutes away in Pennsylvania Dutch country, the new Lancaster County Convention Center and adjoining 300-room Marriott at Penn Square hotel should debut April 21. Together the buildings have 90,000 square feet of meeting space. The center incorporates a museum dedicated to Thaddeus Stevens and other leaders of the abolitionist movement. Lancaster is also polishing its downtown streets and buildings and will make the April opening coincide with the completion of a revitalization of the entire downtown.
ARCWheeler has unveiled plans to purchase, rehab, and add a 250-room Kimpton Monaco Hotel to the 80-year-old Boyd Theatre in downtown Philadelphia. The art deco theater can seat 2,500 but will also host smaller gatherings. A restaurant in the hotel and a cafe in the theater will keep attendees well fed.
Just a block from Philadelphia's convention center, Starwood Hotels has announced plans for a 92-room Four Points by Sheraton hotel with meeting rooms and a penthouse ballroom.
The 229-suite Embassy Suites Philadelphia/Valley Forge opened its doors in December 2008 following a $10 million transformation from Valley Forge Suites. The new hotel includes 5,000 square feet of meeting space just off Route 202 in the Chesterbrook business complex.
The former Sheraton Reading Hotel, Wyomissing, is undergoing a $10 million renovation and transition to the Crowne Plaza Reading, with the name change targeted for spring 2009.
Ask the CVB
The Pittsburgh Penguins and a developer will build a new 135-room hotel adjacent to the Penguins' new arena on Centre Avenue. Plans include a restaurant and barista bar set to open with the arena in 2010.
Hilton Pittsburgh, at 600 Commonwealth Place, is gutting, rebuilding, and refurnishing its 713 guest rooms to the tune of $30 million and adding a boardroom to its 10,000 square feet of meeting space. By December 2009, the hotel will also have a new restaurant, bar, and a Starbuck's.
The 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa is slated to open in spring 2010 in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The 168-room Middleburg resort will have a total of 13 meeting rooms. Some special touches: a 22-stall equestrian stable, a spa with treehouse treatment rooms at the edge of the woods, a billiard room, and a cooking studio overseen by Todd Gray, owner and chef of the Equinox Restaurant in the nation's capital.
The 1924 George Washington Hotel in downtown Winchester, closed since the mid-1970s, reopened in April 2008. The 90-room GW has 6,600 square feet of conference space, including the grand ballroom that accommodates 300 people. The hotel has luxury accoutrements such as heated towel bars and fireplaces.
Starwood Hotels opened the 250-room Westin Richmond in mid-December 2008 on Broad Street just off Interstate 64 at Reynolds Crossing. It has more than 10,000 square feet of function space, including ballrooms, meeting rooms, an executive boardroom, and a conference suite. The largest ballroom can accommodate up to 500 people.
A new 250-room Hilton Garden Inn across from the Greater Richmond Convention Center opened in February 2009. It has more than 7,900 square feet of function space, and is able to accommodate up to 550 people.
The 250-room Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Norfolk is doing a $3.5 million guest room, lounge, and public space renovation slated to be completed in March 2009. Twenty-three meeting rooms provide 24,355 square feet of event space, including a 70-seat case study amphitheater and two large ballrooms.
Hyatt Arlington in Rosslyn has added 13 guest rooms in a multimillion-dollar renovation, bringing the 317 guest rooms up to date and adding ergonomic workstations, free Internet access, safes, and refrigerators. A new restaurant called City House and a new lounge and fitness center take top honors in the public space.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts in early January opened 136-room Aloft Dulles North in time for the inauguration. The hotel has a boardroom and an adjacent conference center operated by PM Hospitality Services.
Hilton Hotels recently opened a dual-branded development in Silver Spring that has 149 Hampton rooms on the lower eight floors and 90 Homewood Suites above them. Located on Colesville Road, the hotels share a lobby, with separate check-in desks and dining areas for each brand. Guests of both hotels use the meeting rooms, business center, pool, and workout room.
The 332-room Willard InterContinental, with its prime location on the inaugural parade route, made sure its countenance was shiny for the event. An expanded lobby and a new Scotch bar within the Round Robin, with an impressive collection of single malt whiskies, were in place by January.
The Connecticut Avenue Collection of the Hilton Washington, Marriott Wardman Park, and the Omni Shoreham are partnering to provide mid-sized conventions more than 3,600 guest rooms, 200,000 square feet of meeting space, 124 meeting rooms, 180,000 square feet of exhibit space, and eight restaurants. For the right sized groups, the Collection will run free shuttles between the hotels and offer complimentary meeting space and welcome receptions.
The Georgetown University Hotel & Conference Center is around the corner from trendy stores and restaurants in the heart of Georgetown. It has 146 guest rooms with more than enough hard-wired and wireless gadgets to please a geek. Meeting rooms range from boardroom size to a grand ballroom for events of 10 to 1,600 people.
Sidebar #1: Trip Tips
Three years late and you-don't-want-to-know how many millions over budget, the Capitol Visitors Center opened in December 2008 as the new main entrance to the U.S. Capitol. There is no charge to tour the exhibits and watch the informational film.
Gaylord National Resort has a shuttle that runs every 20 minutes between the conference resort entrance and Ronald Reagan National Airport baggage claim. One-way is $18, round trip $32.
The Baltimore Convention Center is offering perks like a free day, discounts, and especially flexible terms to mid-size groups booking meetings within an 18-month window.
Get half-price, day-of-show tickets for D.C. theater seats at Signature Theatre, the Kennedy Center, Folger Theatre, and Imagination Stage online at ticketplace.org Tuesday through Saturday, from 12 midnight through 4 p.m.
Sidebar #2: Ask the CVB
Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 225-5745, (215) 636-3304
(800) 359-0758, (412) 281-7711
Valley Forge CVB
(800) 441-3549, ext 7990
Lehigh Valley CVB
Pennsylvania Dutch CVB (Lancaster County)
Annapolis and Anne Arundel County CVB
Baltimore Area CVA
(800) 343-3468, (410) 659-7300
Prince George's County CVB
(888) 925-8300, (301) 925-8300
Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association
(800) 388-9119, (703) 838-4200
Arlington Convention and Visitors Service
(800) 296-7996, (703) 228-0888
Roanoke Valley CVB
Virginia Beach CVB
Sidebar #3: Special Venues
Party next door to the U.S. President at Decatur House on Lafayette Square across from the White House. This elegant 1818 mansion offers the Decatur Carriage House, Courtyard, and Entertaining Parlors for group events of 10 to a reception of 450 guests. (202.842.0917, www.decaturhouse.org/rentals
In Pennsylvania, Wheatland, the Lancaster estate of President James Buchanan, is an outdoor venue of 4.25 acres of unique period gardens for an event in temperate weather. In addition to beds of flowers from the 1800s, there are plots of herbs and vegetables that appeared on estate tables during that period. (717) 392-8721, ext. 222, or e-mail email@example.com
In May 2008, Atlantic City's Tropicana Casino and Resort opened its Cuba attractions: The Havana Rooftop Slots and The Rumba Lounge, where the sights, scents, and sounds of Havana city streets prevail. Then in September, the resort doubled the Caribbean magic by opening Palm Cove premium slots. Off the Palm Walk in the South Tower, Tropicana brought the Temptations from Motown to start the action in its new Palm Cove high-limit slots parlor. Tropicana has 2,125 rooms and more than 122,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. (609) 344-2925, www.tropicana.net