The Northwest is looking greener than ever these days, and it's not because of the region's trademark evergreen forests. It's the color of money. Economic prosperity is financing a $1 billion revitalization in downtown Seattle, making the Emerald City, already a hip destination, even more exciting for insurance conferees and incentive qualifiers.
"There's so much here, and it just keeps getting better," says Scott Uselding, CMP, director of the Seattle-based Mutual Meetings & Incentives, which caters to insurance clients. "We find that for clients the Pacific Northwest is not so much of a been-there, done-that destination as are sun-and-fun locales. The Northwest gives incentive qualifiers a unique experience."
Among Seattle's biggest projects, construction began last summer at the downtown Washington State Convention and Trade Center to more than double exhibition space to 207,000 square feet. In East King County, a planned major expansion of the Meydenbauer Convention Center in Bellevue, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, will total nearly 40,000 square feet.
For after-session cultural pursuits in Seattle, the Seattle Symphony began its 95th season last September in its new home downtown, Benaroya Hall, which contains a 2,500-seat auditorium and a 540-seat recital hall. For big-screen thrills, a 400-seat IMAX theater opened last month at the Pacific Science Center.
The shop-till-you-drop crowd will be pleased to hear that downtown Seattle retail openings planned for autumn include a new Nordstrom flagship store to replace the old one; the Pacific Place indoor shopping mall; and, for when they drop, Gene Juarez Day Spa.
Meeting attendees are helping to fuel the economic good times by paying higher prices for accommodations. Average daily rates for hotel rooms in downtown Seattle totaled $115 during the first four months of this year, an 8.6 percent increase over the same period last year, according to Wolfgang Rood of Gordon/Rood Hospitality Consulting, which tracks ADR and occupancy rates throughout the Pacific Northwest. In Bellevue-Eastside the rise was even greater, an 11.6 percent increase to $103. Occupancy rates last year in downtown Seattle and Bellevue-Eastside were 76 percent and 78 percent, respectively, about the same as in 1996.
Despite the Northwest's continually thriving cultural and culinary scenes, nature and active outdoor pursuits remain dominant themes throughout the Northwest, whether it's hiking in the Cascade Mountains or in the Olympic Peninsula's Hoh River rain forest, salmon fishng off the Pacific coast, biking and kayaking in the San Juan Islands, or fly-fishing in Montana.
Hotel News * A $12 million project to remodel the public spaces in Doubletree Hotels' Northwest properties is scheduled for completion by year's end. In addition, Doubletree's "Ticket to Success" incentive program has been extended through 1998. It awards one free ticket on American, United, or Alaska airlines to meeting planners or travel agents who book 50 rooms at any participating Doubletree hotel; or two tickets for 100 rooms. Doubletree operates 15 hotels in Washington and seven in Oregon.
Montana * At Big Sky Ski & Summer Resort, owned by Boyne USA, the Huntley Lodge offers 200 slopeside rooms and groups have full access to the Yellowstone Conference Center's meeting facilities.
* The Holiday Inn Billings Plaza/Hotel & Trade Center in downtown Billings has has embarked on a $3 million renovation project. The hotel has 50,000 square feet of meeting space in 15 rooms, capable of serving groups of up to 2,500 people.
* The Billings Hotel and Convention Center, previously the Clarion Hotel of Billings, has renovated all of its guest rooms and its restaurant and lounge areas. The facility offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space in 17 rooms, accommodating up to 1,400 people.
* The Radisson Northern Hotel's 160 rooms will be completely redecorated, and its lobby will be redone to recapture a circa-1935 look. The historic hotel offers seven meeting and conference rooms.
* The 286-room Sheraton Billings Hotel recently completed a partial upgrade of its guest rooms. The hotel has 13 meeting rooms with a capacity of 1,200 people. The 23rd floor is home to the Skytop Room, with a panoramic view of five mountain ranges.
* The Doubletree Hotel Missoula/Edgewater has 171 guest rooms and suites, and offers meeting and banquet space.
Washington * A 450-room deluxe hotel, as yet unbranded, which will connect to the expanded Washington State Convention and Trade Center is under construction in downtown Seattle. Targeted for a New Year's Eve 2000 opening, the hotel is planned to have 41,000 square feet of meeting space.
* Construction is to begin this fall on the first in-terminal hotel at Sea-Tac International Airport. Starwood Hotels & Resorts will operate the 383-room property under its Westin brand name. Planned for an opening sometime in 2000, the property will feature business work spaces in all guest rooms and will have 15,000 square feet of meeting space. A pedestrian sky bridge will connect the hotel to the main terminal.
* Starwood is also building a 426-room hotel in downtown Seattle to become part of its new business brand--W. The deluxe W Hotel Seattle will handle small meetings in its 10,854 square feet of meeting space. It is expected to by the end of this year.
* Also in the Starwood portfolio, the Edmond Meany Hotel was restored to its original, art deco glory in July 1997. Located in north Seattle's University District, the $6 million project at the 1931 landmark also included the addition of a cafe and full-service restaurant.
* The Hotel Monaco opened last August in Seattle's central business district. The hotel has 189 rooms, of which 45 are suites, and 6,200 square feet of meeting space.
* The Madison Renaissance Hotel in downtown Seattle finished a $2.5 million remodeling of all 553 guest rooms last August. The hotel has 15 meeting rooms, including a 5,280-square-foot ballroom, totaling 16,364 square feet.
* A Holiday Inn Express opened last October in downtown Seattle nearly within the shadow of the Space Needle. The 194-room hotel has two meeting rooms that combine to create 1,150 square feet of space.
* A 184-room Silver Cloud Inn is expected to open in October by Lake Union
* in Seattle. The property will contain 1,500 square feet of meeting space.
* The Silver Cloud Inn located in the Overlake area of Redmond completed a $7 million renovation last February that added 84 rooms to the hotel's original 40.
* The property contains 1,500 square feet of meeting space.
* A Holiday Inn was upgraded to the Holiday Inn Select Seattle-Renton last August as a result of a $6.5 million renovation. Located five miles from Sea-Tac Airport and 13 miles from downtown Seattle, the property contains 226 rooms, including two concierge-level floors, and also offers groups 5,770 square feet of meeting space.
* A 531-room Westin Hotel is planned as a companion project to the expansion at the Meydenbauer Convention Center in Bellevue.
* Salish Lodge completed a $1.2 million remodeling last April to all 91 guest rooms and ballroom. Overlooking Snoqualmie Falls, 25 minutes east of Bellevue, the lodge contains 6,000 square feet of function space.
* The 48-room Hotel Lusso opened in Spokane last January. The property was created from two historic buildings and a popular restaurant with the help of $5 million in improvements.
Getting There Washington Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, about 15 miles south of both Seattle and Bellevue, is served by a dozen major air carriers flying more than 1,000 flights daily. Drive time to either city is about 20 minutes. Shuttles to downtown hotels cost $15 to $20; taxis cost $20 to $30.
How's the Weather? Although visitors to the Pacific Northwest should be prepared for rain any time of year, the reports of rain are greatly exaggerated. Rainfall averages about 35 inches annually west of the coastal mountains. The rains typically begin in earnest around November and taper off toward the end of May, with generally sunny and dry summers through October. Typical of the coastal Northwest, average Seattle temperatures are as follow: summer, 54 to 72 degrees; winter, 38 to 47; spring, 45 to 60; fall, 64 to 70. The high season is May through October; off-season, after Thanksgiving to mid-March; shoulder-season, November until Thanksgiving, and mid-March through April.
Montana's climate is influenced by Pacific wind patterns and the shelter of the Rockies. In this mountain environment, expect highs of about 62 degrees Fahrenheit in spring, an average of 83 degrees during daytime in summer (though nighttime temperatures can dip into the 50s), 70-degree highs in fall, and average winter daytime temperatures of 23 to 42 degrees.
Venue Menu Washington Seattle's new maritime museum, Odyssey, which opened this summer at Bell Street Pier, is available for evening events, including sit-down dinners for 50 people and receptions for up to 1,000 people. The museum features more than 40 exhibits and dioramas focusing on the maritime life of Puget Sound.
The ultimate Seattle icon, the Space Needle, is available for private events on its 10th-floor Skyline Level. Three banquet rooms accommodate dinner parties for 20 or receptions for up to 350.
Other venues for off-site events around Seattle and Bellevue-Eastside include Tillicum Village, a Native American settlement on Blake Island in Puget Sound; the Columbia Winery or Chateau Ste. Michelle winery in Woodinville, combined with an excursion train ride; or the Woodmark Hotel or Yarrow Bay Grill for lakeside events in Kirkland, a quaint town known as the Sausalito of the Northwest.
Tax and Money Matters In King County, which includes both Seattle and Bellevue-Eastside, there's an 8.6 percent state sales tax and 7 percent bed tax.
There's no sales tax in Oregon, but in Portland the bed tax is 9 percent