Convention Center News

Puerto Rico has taken the first steps toward a major new convention center. Early this year a steering committee was established to guide the development of a major facility as part of the island's $1.2 million waterfront project, El Triangulo Dorado. Headed by Jorge Pesquera, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, the committee will select a consulting firm and create subcommittees to deal with financing, convention center management, architecture, and numerous other issues; assemble a meeting planner advisory board; and select entities for ownership and development. The committee hopes to see a convention center groundbreaking within three years.

Atlantic City, NJ has set May 1 to 3 as the official grand opening dates for its new Atlantic City Convention Center. The center will offer 500,000 square feet of contiguous meeting space, 45 meeting rooms, and a walkway to a new 500-room hotel managed by Doubletree.

One block east of the recently expanded Sacramento (CA) Convention Center, the city's historic 4,000-seat Memorial Auditorium reopened late last year. Almost $11 million was spent to refurbish the elegant 1927 facility.

New and Improved By January 1999, Savannah , GA will boast a major new meetings complex. On Hutchinson Island, across the Savannah River from the city's historic district, the 401-room Westin Savannah Harbor Resort is scheduled to break ground this April shortly after construction begins on the Georgia International Maritime Trade Center. The resort will offer 18 holes of golf, a spa, and meeting space, while the trade center next door will have a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, and 22 meeting rooms.

The Boca Raton (FL) Resort & Club recently broke ground on a two-year, $40 million construction project that will add major meeting space to this 963-room resort. To be called the Mizner Center, the new meeting and convention facility will include 34 meeting rooms and the potential to host groups of up to 1,800 persons.

Wichita, KS, will see its first new hotel in 20 years when the 17-story Hyatt Regency Wichita opens this summer. The 300-room property will offer 12,500 square feet of meeting space and connect directly to the Century II Convention Center.

Atlantic/Caribbean Beat On Anguilla in the British West Indies, the 100-room Sonesta Beach Resort opened its new conference center in February. The 1,750-square-foot facility can host groups of up to 70 persons.

There's a haunting sense of place in South Africa that is entirely different from the West, but a modern and smooth-running tourism infrastructure. During a recent visit, I encountered a pride of lions during a nighttime safari, met a legendary tribal queen, and visited a bar inside a baobab tree. This is a destination that can motivate top achievers, and it's more accessible than ever before. South African Airways (SAA) recently added an additional nonstop flight from New York to Johannesburg, for a total of six flights weekly. There are also three SAA flights weekly from Miami to Capetown.

Small groups can take over luxury game preserves like the 11-room Ulusaba Rock Lodge, located near Kruger National Park in the northeast corner of the country. The lodge's exterior is carved from natural rockface 800 feet above the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, with panoramic views of the bush. Spacious guest rooms are furnished with local wood, tile, and African-print fabrics. But winners won't be spending much time in their rooms. At Ulusaba, the bush is alive with elephants, cheetahs, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and much more. Management's goal is to provide every group with a wildlife experience that can range from dawn safaris in the lodge's comfortable, four-wheel-drive vehicles to a full-day walking safari and sleep-out under the stars. Skilled guides not only track the wildlife, but explain the flora and fauna of the bush.

Roughly a four-hour drive southwest of Ulusaba is the Northern Transvaal-lush, mountainous country that resembles Northern California. The 45-room Coach House is a five-star property near the town of Tzaneen where groups can kick back a bit after a safari experience. Located on top of a hill and surrounded by macadamia and pecan nut forests, the property has sweeping views of the northern Drakensberg Mountains. Elegant guest rooms have fireplaces and plush seating areas. There's a conference room for groups of up to 45, and a wine cellar that can accommodate 30 for a private cocktail party. One possible off-site recreational option is a day-trip to a nearby tea plantation. The hotel can also help to arrange an audience with the Modjadji Rain Queen, hereditary ruler of the Lovedu people.

A visit to Capetown adds some cosmopolitan flair to the South African experience. Golfers in the group will enjoy getting out on the Gary Player-designed course at the Erinvale Estate Hotel. Like Ulusaba and the Coach House, Erinvale belongs to an elite group of luxury properties under the marketing banner of Insignia Resorts. The hotel is housed in a renovated manor house and stables, with whitewashed walls and thatched roofs that preserve the feel of a country estate. There's also a modern conference center with flexible meeting space that can accommodate up to 120 persons theater-style.

Nearby, the lovely waterfront city of Capetown offers great shopping, enhanced by the strong U.S. dollar. Oenophiles shouldn't miss an excursion to the bucolic Cape wine country to sample outstanding South African vintages.