The big news in Florida is downtown. Cities are booming with new entertainment, restaurants, and shopping, while construction near the convention centers is at an all-time high.

In Orlando, a $1.1 billion downtown sports-and-arts venue plan was recently approved by city and county leaders. It includes a $480 million special-events center that will serve as home to the NBA's Orlando Magic and a $425 million performing arts center. Both are slated for completion in 2010.

On Orlando's International Drive, Pointe Orlando, a shopping and dining complex just one block from the Orange County Convention Center, is in the final stages of an extensive redevelopment project.

In downtown Tampa, three new museums — Tampa Bay History Center, Tampa Museum of Art, and Children's Museum of Tampa — are slated to open by 2009. In addition, TECO Line Streetcar System has been extended with a new stop at the Hyatt Regency Tampa in downtown.

Miami saw the debut last year of a performing arts center as well as the expansion of the Miami Seaquarium.

The historic Clematis District in West Palm Beach is becoming an evening entertainment haven for groups, with the introduction of more than 20 new restaurants this year. The long-awaited convention center hotel is on its way with the approval of a $100 million-plus plan to build an upscale, 400-room, 25-story hotel to open in 2010. The property will be connected via walkway to the convention center.

In Panama City on the Gulf of Mexico, a new international airport with a 100,000-square-foot terminal is in the planning stages, expected to open by early 2010.

Florida Meetings Planner's Guide/Facilities Update

The West Coast

Scheduled to open in 2009 in downtown St. Petersburg, the $100 million, 28-story Grand Bohemian Hotel & Residences will feature 260 guest rooms, 16,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, an art gallery, and a fine dining restaurant.

The 323-room InterContinental Tampa opened in August in the Westshore district with 21,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, a fitness center, and a full-service concierge program, as well as rooftop pool with spectacular views of the bay and city, and dining at Shula's Steak House.

Slated for completion by January is a comprehensive refurbishment at the 521-room Hyatt Regency Tampa that will include guest rooms, corridors, lobby, and the 30,000 square feet of meeting space at the downtown.

The recently opened 253-room Sandpearl Resort is the first new beachfront resort in the Clearwater area in 25 years. It features 25,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, including a 5,000-square-foot ballroom, a spa, two restaurants, and a 6,700-square-foot event lawn.

The 218-unit Longboat Key Club & Resort in Sarasota has recently completed a $6.5 million renovation this summer that included new guest room amenities such as 42-inch plasma TVs and Bose sound systems.

Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa, an 85-acre complex set on a peninsula overlooking Sanibel and Captiva Islands near Fort Myers, has 45,000 square feet of meeting space and 400 guest rooms, 66 suites, and 53 condominiums.

The 227-room Crowne Plaza Hotel at Bell Tower, in Fort Myers, with 12,000 square feet of meeting space, recently completed a $6 million renovation.

Scheduled to open in February, the Naples Bay Resort is part of a mixed-use development in downtown Naples near the 5th Avenue shopping district. A member of the Benchmark Hospitality International portfolio, Naples Bay will feature 85 hotel rooms, 108 two- and three-bedroom cottages, 3,150 square feet of meeting space, a spa and a fitness center, and a yacht club. All accommodations offer private sun decks, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, Bose music systems, and high-speed WiFi.

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples has opened The Beach House. The 3,000-square-foot, $4.5 million facility can host 120 people for a sit-down dinner or 150 for cocktail receptions on either of its two floors. It features a full-service kitchen and a granite bar looking out over the Gulf of Mexico.

Central Florida

Scheduled to debut late summer 2009, the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando Hotel is an 18-story hotel that will sit on 26.4 acres south of the Orange County Convention Center, to which it will be connected. The Hilton will have 52 suites, a 15,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, several restaurants and bars, and 130,000 square feet of meeting space.

A 1,000-room Hilton hotel and a 500-room Waldorf=Astoria hotel are expected to open in summer 2009 at Bonnet Creek next to the Walt Disney World Resort. The development will encompass 145,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 400-room Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Hotel and Spa Bonnet Creek Resort will debut in early 2009. Adjacent to the Walt Disney World Resort, its conference space will accommodate up to 300 attendees. Also on site: an 18-hole Rees Jones-designed golf course and a 25,000-square-foot spa and fitness center.

Near Downtown Disney, the 626-room Regal Sun Resort, formerly the Grosvenor Resort, completed a $25 million renovation in September.

The 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando recently completed an $8.5 million room renovation program.

Ginn Reunion Resort in Kissimmee opened Reunion Grande, a new 11-story, luxury condo-hotel in the 2,300-acre resort community, earlier this year. The hotel has 82 one- and two-bedroom suites of up to 2,400 square feet and 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 444-room Holiday Inn Main Gate East in Kissimmee completed a $10 million renovation in September. It has more than 4,000 square feet of meeting space.

In Kissimmee, the 922-room Orlando Sun Resort and Convention Center by Lexington, formerly the Hyatt Orlando, recently opened with meeting space including a 13,550-square-foot ballroom, a 20,000-square-foot exhibit hall, and 22 meeting rooms.

South Florida & the Keys

The 156-room Crowne Plaza Miami Kendall, with 5,000 square feet of meeting space, opened this past summer.

The 349-room Eden Roc Renaissance Beach Resort and Spa in Miami Beach is undergoing a renovation that will also add some new meeting venues: an 11,500-square-foot pillarless banquet room; an open-air event space that can be tented; and a rooftop garden area for private functions and gatherings. Phase 1 of the project just debuted; Phase II will open in late 2008.

PURE, the popular nightclub on the Las Vegas Strip, is coming to Miami Beach as part of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach's renovation. The Fontainebleau is undergoing a $1 billion expansion/renovation that is scheduled for completion in mid-2008.

The oceanfront, 17-story Regent Bal Harbour, in the upscale Bal Harbour Village, is slated to open in January with 124 guest rooms, a private beach, a 10,000-square-foot spa, and a 3,700 square-foot conference center.

The 373-room Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort opened earlier this year.

The 166-room, $240 million St. Regis Resort, Fort Lauderdale opened in May on Fort Lauderdale Beach with 24,000 square feet of meeting space.

Scheduled for completion late 2008 are two new Donald Trump condo hotel developments. Construction has begun on Trump International Hotel & Tower Fort Lauderdale, a 24-story building with 301 suites. The Trump Las Olas Beach Resort will have 95 units.

The 250-room Sole on the Ocean in Sunny Isles Beach, with 5,000 square feet of meeting space, opened in October.

The new 501-room Hyatt Regency Bonaventure Conference Center & Spa in Weston (formerly the Bonaventure Resort & Conference Center) has put the finishing touches on a $100 million renovation featuring a conference center with 100,000 square feet of meeting space.

Opened in October, the new, four-story, 222-room Beachside Resort & Conference Center in Key West features 6,000 square feet of meeting space.

Northern Florida

Opened this year at the 508-unit Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach is a clubhouse overlooking The Players Stadium Course. It has an 11,000-square-foot event lawn, a 1,300-square-foot terrace, and 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 190-room OneOcean Resort in Atlantic Beach, formerly the Sea Turtle Inn, is undergoing a refurbishment set for completion in January.

Construction is under way on 250 new oceanfront hotel rooms and 23,000 square feet of additional conference space at Amelia Island Plantation in northeast Florida. The resort will have a total of 360 oceanfront hotel rooms when the addition opens in April 2008.

The new Carillon Beach Resort & Spa on the Emerald Coast includes the 70-unit Carillon Beach Inn. It is in the walkable village of Carillon Beach, which has meeting space for small groups.

Trip Tips!

  • The Miami Dragon Boat Club offers a cultural teambuilding experience through the 2,000-year-old sport of dragon boat racing for groups of 20 to 200.

  • Some of Florida's best private golf courses are accessible to guests and groups that stay there. Properties with meeting space and play privileges include the Ginn Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast (new Tom Fazio-designed The Conservatory); Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando (Bay Hill); and Watercolor Inn near Panama City Beach (Greg Norman's Shark's Tooth and Tom Fazio's Camp Creek Golf Club).

Ask the CVB

Visit Florida
(850) 488-5607

Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 544-0415

Florida Keys & Key West CVB
(800) Ask-keys

Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB
(954) 765-4466

Kissimmee CVB
(407) 847-5000

Greater Miami CVB
(305) 539-3000,
(800) 933-8448

Orlando/Orange County CVB
(407) 363-5872

Palm Beach County CVB
(561) 233-3000

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area CVB
(877) 352-3224
(727) 464-7200

Beaches of South Walton
(800) 822-6877

Tampa Bay & Company
(813) 223-1111

Special Venues

Aquasino, Miami's only luxury gaming yacht, accommodates up to 500 passengers with 228 square feet of space. Rooms on all three decks suit a variety of meetings, all with a view of the Miami skyline. Gaming options include blackjack, poker, baccarat, and more.

Sailing from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is the new Grand I Sea Ray, a 52-foot yacht with full onboard catering. The vessel, cruising the waters of Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake in the Magic Kingdom area, can be booked for excursions for up to 18 passengers.

In Kissimmee, the Osceola Heritage Park has the 11,000-seat indoor Silver Spurs Arena for large-scale entertainment events and the 89,500-square-foot Exhibition Building that can accommodate trade shows, banquets, seminars, and other events.

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa can accommodate 3,000 guests for a reception in its exhibit spaces. A multilevel outdoor pavilion with a stage offers prime views of the waterfront.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, on a 66-acre site on Sarasota Bay, includes a waterfront mansion, circus museum, art museum, and the 250-seat Asolo Theater, which is available for events. The complex has six rooms that can accommodate receptions for 2,500 and banquets for up to 1,000.

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