The Northwest is a region of awesome natural beauty, where snowcapped peaks and crystal lakes are but a stone's throw from urban centers, providing corporate groups with a plethora of post-meeting recreational opportunities. Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., just three hours apart on Interstate 5, are the Northwest's major cities, and each will unveil an expanded convention center in the early 21st century. New meeting hotels are opening in both cities. Seattle has taken development fever a step further: In July, it opened a new baseball stadium for the Seattle Mariners--at more than $500 million, it is the most expensive stadium project in U.S. history--and next May, passenger ships on the Alaska circuit will be chugging in and out of a new cruise terminal. And the convention centers in Seattle and neighboring Bellevue are both undergoing major expansions. Both projects involve new hotel development.

OREGON Portland hotel news * The Portland Marriott Downtown recently completed a $4.3 million renovation of all 503 guest rooms. The hotel also added the Columbia Room, seating 80.

* The $28 million Marriott City Center opened in August. The 260-room hotel has 3,900 square feet of meeting space.

* The Westin Portland opened in August. The 205-room property has 2,060 square feet of meeting space.

* The Paramount Hotel opens this month with 154 guest rooms and 1,500 square feet of meeting space.

* The Hilton Portland is planning to break ground on the 321-room Hilton Executive Tower in May 2000. Completion is expected two years later.

* Starwood Hotels & Resorts converted the Riverside Hotel to the Four Points Portland Downtown in July. The 140-room property has 756 square feet of meeting space.

important info Portland Oregon Visitors Assn. * (503) 275-9770; Fax (503) 275-9774

* www.pova.com

Total Hotel Tax: 9%

Seattle The Bell Street Pier Terminal, Seattle's first cruise ship terminal, is under construction and scheduled to open in May 2000. Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines will offer cruises to Alaska's Inside Passage.

Safeco Field, a natural-turf ballpark for the Seattle Mariners, opened in July next to the stadium it replaced, the Kingdome. The Kingdome, home also to football's Seattle Seahawks, will be demolished in January 2000; a new football stadium will open on the site in August 2002. Because the Kingdome was used as an exhibition center, a new facility--the Stadium Exhibition Center--is scheduled to open in November 2000. It will have 280,000 square feet of exhibit space.

hotel news * The expansion of downtown Seattle's Washington State Convention & Trade Center, due for completion in mid-2001, includes the development of a 450-room luxury hotel, The Elliott, above the new 100,000-square-foot exhibit area being added, and a new 40,000-square-foot home for the Seattle Museum of History and Industry. The Elliott will have more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Starwood Lodging Corp.'s 27-story, 426-room W Seattle Hotel opened in September with 10,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, including a 4,500-square-foot ballroom.

* A summer 2001 opening is planned for the Westin Sea-Tac Airport, a 16-story, 384-room, in-terminal hotel. It will have 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Courtyard by Marriott Seattle Downtown at Lake Union opened in May with 250 guest rooms and 2,000 square feet of meeting space.

* As part of a $4 million project completed this spring, the Radisson Hotel Seattle Airport took over the adjacent Quality Inn. The enlarged, renovated property now has 308 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet of meeting space.

Bellevue * Across Lake Washington in Bellevue, the Meydenbauer Center will break ground in spring 2000 on an expansion to double its size. As part of the project, the block surrounding the center will be privately developed; on tap are a 300-room Ritz-Carlton, a 550-room headquarters Marriott, and 265,000 square feet of enter- tainment and retail space. The Meydenbauer Center will have 60,000 square feet of exhibit space, 36,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, and 55,830 square feet of prefunction space by the spring of 2002. The hotels should open shortly thereafter.

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

* Fax: (206) 461-5855

* www.seeseattle.org

* Total Hotel Tax: 15.6%

East King County CVB * (425) 455-1926

* Fax: (425) 450-5642

* www.eastkingcounty.org

* Total Hotel Tax: 14.4% in Bellevue

"It had been years since we'd been in Seattle," says Miriam Hennosy, senior meetings manager for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, "and we received a lot of favorable feedback about the destination. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and shopping--and, of course, the Pike Place Market--in downtown, which is a good way for attendees to release their pent-up energy."

The association brought its winter national meeting to Seattle last December, with 1,800 people in all, including the state insurance commissioners, their staffs, and insurance company lobbyists and executives. Normally, the association holds its meeting in a hotel, but Hennosy couldn't find enough meeting space in a single hotel in downtown Seattle. So she turned instead to the state-owned Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

"The challenge for me was that the convention center had a lot of requirements dictated by the state, such as what personnel we could bring in," she says. "For instance, we had door monitors and had to hire them through the convention center at a rate higher than what we had budgeted. These hiring issues were not brought to my attention until we were in the final stages of the planning process."

Hennosy housed her attendees at the large Sheraton and Westin downtown, as well as at a number of other properties, including smaller boutique hotels. "There's a good variety of rooms downtown," she notes. "The caliber of Seattle is a notch above. I found the people we dealt with at the hotels and at other venues to be very professional and businesslike, and you don't run into that everywhere."