Slowly but steadily, meetings, conventions, and incentive events are returning to the Mid-South cities damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Nowhere is the improvement in business conditions more apparent than in the city that exemplifies the recovery: New Orleans.

“Since the resurgence of our convention business in 2006,” says Kelly Schulz, vice president of communications and publications, New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, “we have proven time and time again that New Orleans is a viable and safe place to bring meetings. In addition to our longtime citywide association clients, corporate America is discovering New Orleans. Maritz Travel, Walt Disney Co., Whirlpool, Coca-Cola, Konica Minolta, Sherwin-Williams, and many others have been drawn to New Orleans for the wealth of community-service opportunities.”

In Point Clear, Ala., where the Mobile Bay Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa took a direct hit from the flood surge caused by Katrina, the facility is back to its full glory, thanks to an army of construction workers, landscapers, and resort employees. It completely reopened on November 1, 2006.

The Mid-South/Facilities Update

Alabama

  • In 2005, the 30-year-old Montgomery Civic Center began a $29 million transformation that will result in 70,000 square feet of exhibit space and add a 1,800-seat performing arts center. The center will be reflagged the Montgomery Convention Center. Last September, ground was broken for the adjacent $150 million, 12-story, 347-room Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center that will include a 14,000-square-foot ballroom and meeting space. The convention center and hotel are slated to open in winter 2008.

  • The Resort Collection on Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Mobile Bay opened its seventh property, Battle House Hotel, in May. An eighth hotel reopens in February 2008. Meanwhile, Riverview Plaza Hotel is undergoing a $32 million renovation that is scheduled to be complete this fall. Both the Battle House Hotel and Riverview Plaza Hotel will officially become Renaissance hotels after renovations are complete. The total cost of the Battle House projects is estimated at $220 million.

  • In Auburn/Opelika, the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel and Conference Center at Grand National completed a $2 million renovation in January. The hotel has 114 rooms and 15 suites, as well as 13 meeting rooms with a total of 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail opened in August 2005 with 259 guest rooms, 11 suites, and 20,000 square feet of function space.

  • Birmingham's historic Tutwiler Hotel finished a complete overhaul in April. The renovation brought 162 refurbished rooms, including 68 suites, to downtown. The hotel is now affiliated with the Hampton Inn and Suites.

  • A 200-room luxury hotel is planned at the $70 million development at the site of the former Federal Reserve Building in Birmingham. The Lexington Collection Hotel will occupy the top eight floors of the 18-story office tower. The building, likely to be fully operational by 2009, will meet the U.S. Green Building Council's standards.

  • The Pickwick Hotel, one of Birmingham's historic lodging properties, was recently renovated. The 63-room boutique hotel has been renamed The Hotel Highland@Five Points South. It reopened in April.

Kentucky

  • The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center provides events, educational programs, and art exhibitions in Covington, 10 blocks south of the Ohio River and downtown Cincinnati. With five art galleries, a newly renovated turn-of-the-century theater, and an education center, the Carnegie is the largest arts venue in Northern Kentucky.

  • Marriott's Griffin Gate Resort in Lexington opened the first full-service hotel spa in the city in May. The resort's meeting space has been increased to 21,000 square feet.

  • The Hyatt Regency in downtown Lexington changed hands and will begin a $16 million renovation during the fourth quarter of 2007, due for completion by 2009. The hotel will maintain normal operations during the project.

  • The $465 million Museum Plaza will add to Louisville's skyline, standing 62 stories along the Ohio River with 270,000 square feet of offices on 13 floors, a 250-room Westin Hotel, a ballroom, fitness center, spa, restaurant and bar/lounge, a 140,000-square-foot plaza, 20,000 square feet of restaurants and shops, 36,500 square feet of studios for the University of Louisville fine arts program, plus an 800-space parking garage. Ground will be broken September 27, with anticipated completion in 2010.

Louisiana

  • The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport recently welcomed ExpressJet Airlines to New Orleans. In December 2006, the airport launched a campaign to clean and improve the environment at the facility.

  • With $60 million in renovations completed, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans is sporting a brand-new look and level of comfort. Renovations include new flooring and furnishings on all three levels. Morial offers a 4,000-seat auditorium, 12 exhibit halls, and 140 meeting rooms.

  • New hotel developments abound in New Orleans, including a new Hilton St. Charles Hotel, which began accepting reservations May 1. All major hotels in New Orleans are open, with the Hyatt Hotel reopening in April 2008.

  • The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans reopened in December after a 15-month, $100 million renovation and restoration. The spa was expanded to 25,000 square feet.

  • Iberville Suites Hotel reopened in March with 230 rooms. The hotel is part of The Ritz-Carlton Hotels of New Orleans complex.

  • Astor Crowne Plaza, at the gateway to New Orleans' French Quarter, unveiled several renovations last October, including 3,500 square feet of new meeting space. The hotel has 30,000 square feet of function space.

  • The Heidelberg Hotel and Capitol House in downtown Baton Rouge reopened last August as the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center. The historic hotel, which was constructed in 1927, has also added a spa, Atelier Rouge.

  • The 313-room Hilton Shreveport Hotel, which opened June 6, adjoins the new 350,000-square-foot Shreveport Convention Center.

Tennessee

  • The expanded 185,000-square-foot Chattanooga Convention Center boasts 100,800 square feet of exhibit space, 21 breakout rooms, six multipurpose ballrooms, seating capacity for 8,500 people, and 40,000 square feet of pre-function space.

  • In September, Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville completed conversion of an exhibit hall to 18 flexible meeting rooms, a 6,033 square feet ballroom, and a pre-function area.

  • A West End Nashville office building is being converted by InterContinental Hotels Group to a Hotel Indigo. It will open this fall with 139 guest rooms.

  • A 285-room InterContinental hotel will occupy the entire block of 1600 West End Avenue in Nashville. It will have nearly 18,000 square feet of meeting space and a 10,750-square-foot ballroom. The date for completion is set for late 2008.

  • Hotel Palomar will be built in the bottom of Nashville's Signature Tower. The 200-room hotel will include a spa, fitness center, meeting facilities, and a restaurant. It is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

  • The 296-suite Embassy Suites Nashville Airport is nearing completion of a $702 million renovation. The hotel features more than 14,000 square feet of meeting space including 10 meeting rooms.

Trip Tips!

  • Baton Rouge boasts a semitropical climate with an average annual temperature of 68 degrees, making Louisiana's capital city ideal for outdoor meetings and activities.

  • Intel Corp. listed Baton Rouge No. 19 on its list of “Most Unwired Cities,“ ranking it among the most Wi-Fi-friendly cities in the nation. All of downtown Baton Rouge is wireless Internet-ready.

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most visited national park. The park's primary visitor center, Sugarlands, is about 20 minutes from Pigeon Forge.

  • It can really heat up in the South during June through August, so keep plenty of bottled water on hand for your attendees.

Ask the CVB

Alabama

Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 458-8085
www.thediversecity.org
Total Hotel Tax: 12%

Huntsville/Madison County CVB
(800) SPACE 4U
www.huntsville.org
Total Hotel Tax: 14%

Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce/ CVB
(800) 240-9452
www.visitingmontgomery.com
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%

Kentucky

Lexington CVB
(859) 233-1221
www.visitlex.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13.42%

Northern Kentucky CVB
(859) 261-4677
www.nkycvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11.24%

Louisiana

Baton Rouge Area CVB
(800) LA ROUGE
www.visitbatonrouge.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13%

New Orleans Metropolitan CVB
(504) 566-5011
www.neworleanscvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13%

Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau
(800) 551-8682
www.shreveport-bossier.com
Shreveport Sales Tax: 8.6%
Bossier City Sales Tax: 9%
Hotel Tax: 4.5%

Mississippi

Jackson CVB
(800) 354-7695
www.visitjackson.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11%

Tunica CVB
(800) 4-TUNICA
www.tunicamiss.com
Tax: 10% room tax

Tennessee

Chattanooga Area CVB
(800) 322-3344
www.chattanoogafun.com
Total Hotel Tax: 17.25%

Gatlinburg Department of Tourism and Convention Center
800) 343-1475
www.gatlinburg-tennessee.com
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%

Memphis CVB
(901) 543-5300
www.memphistravel.com
Total Hotel Tax: 15.95%

Nashville CVB
(800) 657-6910
www.visitmusiccity.com
Total Hotel Tax: 14.25%

Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism
(865) 453-8574
www.mypigeonforge.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11.75%

West Virginia

Charleston CVB
(800) 733-5469
www.charlestonwv.com
Total Hotel Tax: 12%

Special Venues

  • The Shaw Center for the Arts, which opened in 2005 in downtown Baton Rouge, has quickly become one of Baton Rouge's most exciting attractions and meeting venues. The LSU Museum of Art, located on the fifth floor, is an exceptional venue for meetings or events, with 14 galleries, 16-foot ceilings, and stunning lighting. The 13,000-square-foot gallery can host as many as 400 people. Also available at the museum are smaller galleries and a conference room. www.shawcenter.org

  • The Louisiana State Museum?Baton Rouge is a 69,000-square-foot facility across from the intricate gardens of Louisiana's State Capitol. The museum offers more than 10,000 square feet of indoor and covered outdoor space, which can accommodate up to 750 people for special events. http://lsm.crt.state.la.us

  • The Tennessee Aquarium Auditorium seats 180 comfortably for meetings. Capacity for the aquarium is approximately 500 for receptions and 200 for sit-down dinners. Enjoy your evening in the company of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. The IMAX Center offers attendees the opportunity to privately view the currently showing films. Receptions for up to 375 and sit-down dinners for up to 150 can be enjoyed in the Great Hall or Garden. The boardroom is available for meetings of up to 25 and receptions of up to 40. www.TennesseeAquarium.com