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 opened earlier this year. 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 has also polished its downtown streets and buildings for a complete revitalization of the entire downtown area.

Facilities Update

The District

  • Maryland

    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.

  • Pennsylvania

    The Connecticut Avenue Collection of the Hilton Washington, Marriott Wardman Park, and the Omni Shoreham are partnering to provide midsized 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.

  • Virginia

    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, and meeting rooms range from boardroom size to a grand ballroom for events of 10 to 1,600 people.

  • Trip Tips

    The 1,119-room Hilton Washington hotel is undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation in discrete stages and presents some unique opportunities this summer in the nation's capitol, where rooms are sometimes hard to come by. The Olympic-size pool is closed for the 2009 season and reopens in 2010. But, whenever your group goes, the 110,000 square feet of elegant meeting and event rooms near the Washington Convention Center offers plenty of room for almost any size gathering.

Ask the CVB

Pennsylvania

  • 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.

  • Baltimore is in line to add 300 medium-price rooms a block from the Inner Harbor when a Hyatt Place and a Summerfield Suites come to town.

  • 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.

  • Washington, D.C.

    Starwood Hotels has announced plans for a 92-room Four Points by Sheraton hotel with meeting rooms and a penthouse ballroom just a block from Philadelphia's convention center.

  • Maryland

    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, has undergone a $10 million renovation and transition to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Reading. Meeting space accomodates up to 50 attendees.

  • 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.

  • Virginia

    Hilton Pittsburgh 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 $203 million Virginia Beach Convention Center, completed two years ago, has more than 500,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and is the largest meeting facility in the Hampton Roads region. Exhibit space includes a 150,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall.

  • 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.

  • Special Venues

    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.

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  • 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 recently completed a $3.5 million guest room, lounge, and public space renovation. Twenty-three meeting rooms provide 24,355 square feet of event space, including a 70-seat 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 as well as a new lounge and fitness center take top honors in the public space.

  • In time for the inauguration in January, Starwood Hotels & Resorts opened the 136-room Aloft Dulles Airport North. The hotel has a boardroom and an adjacent conference center operated by PM Hospitality Services.

Trip Tips

  • 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 midsize groups booking meetings within an 18-month window.

Ask the CVB

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 225-5745, (215) 636-3304
www.philadelphiausa.travel

Visit Pittsburgh
(800) 359-0758, (412) 281-7711
www.visitpittsburgh.com

Valley Forge CVB
(800) 441-3549, ext 7990
www.valleyforge.org

Lehigh Valley CVB
(800) 747-0561
www.lehighvalleypa.org

Pennsylvania Dutch CVB (Lancaster County)
(800) PA-Dutch
www.padutchcountry.com

Washington, D.C.

Destination DC
(202) 789-7000
www.washington.org

Maryland

Annapolis and Anne Arundel County CVB
(410) 222-7000
www.visit-annapolis.org

Baltimore Area CVA
(800) 343-3468, (410) 659-7300
www.baltimore.org

Prince George's County CVB
(888) 925-8300, (301) 925-8300
www.visitprincegeorges.com

Virginia

Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association
(800) 388-9119, (703) 838-4200
www.FunSide.com

Arlington Convention and Visitors Service
(800) 296-7996, (703) 228-0888
www.arlingtonvirginiausa.com

Roanoke Valley CVB
(540) 342-6025
www.visitroanokeva.com/

Virginia Beach CVB
(800) 700-7702
www.vbfun.com

Special Venues

  • Party near 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 director@wheatland.org

  • The Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach was dedicated in November 2007 and offers particularly dazzling space for medical gatherings. Your group can rent not only the acoustically correct 1,300-seat performance hall, but also a 125-seat studio theater for smaller presentations. Multiple classrooms and the Wood Founders Room offer plenty of space for breakouts and banquets. (757) 385-2536, www.sandlercenter.org

  • 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