The outlook for meetings in Georgia and the Carolinas is strong, with the new Raleigh (N.C.) Convention Center and Marriott Hotel, a new Gateway Center Marriott beside the Georgia International Convention Center, the new Carolina Hall at Pinehurst (N.C.), and a remarkable 2,694 new hotel rooms planned for metro Columbia, S.C., over the next 18 months — increasing that city's stock by 26 percent.
Convention-quality Atlanta hotels expected to open in 2009 include the St. Regis Buckhead, the W Atlanta-Midtown, and the Palomar in Midtown. Passage of a tax allocation district for the area around Centennial Olympic Park has also cleared the way for a new Hard Rock Hotel.
There was one big setback in 2008 when a tornado hit the Georgia World Congress Center March 14. But the GWCC has been repaired and is open for business.
Big plans laid in 2007 for Jekyll Island Resort on the Georgia coast, which included a new convention center, convention hotel, and upscale condos, have been scaled back. Instead of 1,100 new hotel units, the new plan calls for 350 rooms in mid-priced and economy hotels and retail space.
Valdosta, the point halfway between Atlanta and Orlando, doesn't have the huge facilities those convention behemoths have, but does nicely with the James H. Rainwater Conference Center. The city's latest convention space has 11,000 square feet of exhibit space, conference rooms, seven breakouts, and two boardrooms. Another reason to highlight Valdosta on the conference map: The Wild Adventures Theme Park, which used to be farmland, is now home to more than 100 rides and more than 500 wild animals.
The rains finally brought hope to drought-stricken Georgia, and officials at Lake Lanier Islands Resort report the slowdown in the economy has not stopped the $20 million renovation of what is now called Legacy Lodge.
North Carolina's new 500,000-square-foot Raleigh Convention Center opened in August, along with the 400-room Marriott City Center. These venues are central to a dining and entertainment district along Fayetteville Street, part of a $1 billion renewal of Raleigh's city center. Twenty minutes down the road, Raleigh-Durham International Airport opened Terminal 2 in October, with a capacity of 11 million passengers a year.
The Charlotte, N.C., meetings scene is expected to benefit when the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens in the first quarter of 2010 next to the convention center. The $157 million project will include a ballroom that can serve as a second convention event space, a plaza, a 250-seat theater, restaurants, and retail stores. Looking ahead, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority is considering a 10-year, $33 million plan to upgrade the convention center and two other large meeting venues.
South Carolina offers the midsize cities of Charleston and Columbia as well as farms and plantations. Many groups head for the shore, where Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach have been ramping up their facilities and attractions. Last September, Myrtle Beach's Hard Rock Park closed for the season but anticipates reopening this spring, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy notwithstanding. It has been a tough year for theme parks, but almost all the 100 golf courses in Myrtle Beach are managing to keep the welcome mat out.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts opened the W Atlanta-Buckhead. The 291-room property was formerly the Crowne Plaza Buckhead and has 7,000 square feet of meeting space.
Slated to open in spring 2010, Loews Atlanta Hotel at 12th and Midtown will feature 414 guest rooms, 24,000 square feet of meeting space, a restaurant, and a fitness center and spa surrounded by more than 60,000 square feet of retail space.
A recent addition to the Renaissance Waverly Hotel is Medici, a Tuscan-style fine dining emporium and its companion, Tosca Blu bar. The 521-room Renaissance Waverly is attached to the Cobb Galleria Convention Center in Northwest Atlanta and has more than 60,000 square feet of meeting space.
A new 238-room Crowne Plaza hotel will open at Peachtree Road and Peachtree Avenue in March 2010. As well as a restaurant, spa, and retail space, the Atlanta hotel will have 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group announced in November that it will manage a new luxury hotel and branded residences, to be open by 2011 on Peachtree Street in Atlanta's arts district. The hotel will have four restaurants and lounges, meeting space, 198 guest rooms, and a spa.
The 40-acre campus of the Dolce Atlanta-Peachtree Conference Center in the suburb of Peachtree offers 233 guest rooms and 54,000 square feet of meeting space (certified by the International Association of Conference Centers.
Atlanta Marriott Marquis recently completed a $138 million overhaul, adding 46,000 square feet of meeting space for a total of 160,000 square feet. The renovation upgraded all 1,663 guest rooms and added five restaurants and lounges, a spa, a health club, and a swimming pool.
During summer 2008, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta renovated its guest rooms, ballrooms, and exhibit space to the tune of more than $15 million. A pedestrian bridge connecting the Hyatt and the Marriott Marquis is being installed.
A 159-room Courtyard by Marriott opened in April 2008 with convenient access to the Georgia Aquarium and the Georgia Dome. The Courtyard Atlanta Vinings has 2,045 square feet of meeting space, accommodating up to 175 people.
A 142-room Hotel Indigo opens in College Park, near the Atlanta airport, this summer. The hotel will have a restaurant, a business center, an outdoor pool, and meeting space. It will be a block from the College Park MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) station and will be the closest hotel to the Atlanta airport and the Georgia International Convention Center.
The city of College Park held a groundbreaking in October for a 403-room Marriott and 147-room SpringHill Suites that will anchor Gateway Center at the Georgia International Convention Center. The Marriott hotel will include 20,000 square feet of meeting space and is expected to open in August 2010. The SpringHill Suites should open in February 2010.
The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort on St. Simons Island was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The resort offers 197 guest rooms as well as 10,000 square feet of oceanfront meeting, conference, and function space.
Construction began in May on Macon's 220-room Marriott Convention Center Hotel. A $2 million renovation to the Macon Centerplex is also in progress and set to open this fall.
The Promenade Historic District Hotel (formerly Best Western Savannah) held its official grand opening event in April. The end result of a $3.1 million restoration is 89 hotel rooms with all the amenities.
Hotel Indigo Athens began construction in August and expects to open with 130 guest rooms by fall 2009. The hotel will have an outdoor garden lounge and terrace and an art gallery, as well as a music venue adjacent to the hotel.
Set to open this summer, Hilton Asheville will feature solar water heating that will provide the 165-room hotel with more than 2,000 gallons of hot water a day.
The Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville is scheduled to open its Tudor-inspired doors in March, with 104 guest rooms and suites and 5,569 square feet of event space, including the 2,200-square-foot Kessler Ballroom.
Starwood will open the 159-room Four Points by Sheraton Durham Downtown in April 2010 with 1,500 square feet of conference space, a restaurant, an outdoor pool, and a business center.
The Ballantyne Resort in Charlotte reopened its golf club in September and will have a new outdoor pool open this spring. It has 214 guest rooms and a 35-room group retreat lodge. Meeting space can accommodate up to 500 people.
In July, Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel completed remodeling all 275 two-room suites and added new carpeting in 19,500 square feet of meeting space.
East of Raleigh in Rocky Mount, the 166-room Doubletree Rocky Mount opened adjacent to the Gateway Convention Center in August. The complex has more than 10,000 square feet of combined meeting and banquet space.
Pinehurst Resort's new 14,000-square-foot Carolina Hall opened in December, along with the adjacent outdoor Carolina Terrace. The resort features eight golf courses, 479 rooms and suites, and 58,000 square feet of indoor meeting space. Pinehurst last year became a member of Associated Luxury Hotels International.
Marriott opened the TownePlace Suites Jacksonville (N.C.) in April. The 86-suite facility is 15 miles from the Jacksonville Airport.
Kingston Shores, a 385- room sister property to Kingston Plantation in Myrtle Beach, has opened its new Hilton Conference Center with 14,400 square feet of space that can be divided into nine sections, accommodating groups of up to 2,000. Total event space is 45,000 square feet.
Oceana Resorts' Best Western Carolinian Beach Resort opened on Myrtle Beach in summer 2008 with 233 remodeled guest rooms. The resort is four blocks from the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
Sea Mist Oceanfront Resort in Myrtle Beach has 800 units that range from hotel rooms to condominiums, bungalows, and group houses. A free-standing convention center with 17,000 square feet of meeting space holds nine meeting rooms and is well removed from a lively, heated waterpark with a 670-foot-long “easygoing river,” a three-story slide, and a rain-tree shaped like a mushroom. This month, the resort will reopen Three Steps Down Grille & Tavern for fine dining.
Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel opened in July in the financial district. The 135-room property, in a former bank in the 1913 Palmetto Building, retains the vault as a martini lounge. It has 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
The new aloft Charleston Airport & Convention Center opened in July with 136 rooms, just a few minutes from the airport and downtown Charleston. Tactic, its boardroom, can seat 12.
Charleston Southern University has opened Wingate by Wyndham with 97 rooms and suites and 2,000 square feet of meeting space. The Wingate also has a fitness center, a spa, and a pool.
The Charleston Marriott at 170 Lockwood Boulevard on the Ashley River has 341 rooms and nine meeting rooms with 14,864 square feet of meeting space. The Marriott's main claim to fame is Saffire: Charleston's Oven, a restaurant with an inventive — and reasonably priced — menu.
As early as November, attendees flying into Atlanta Hartsfield will be able to take the Automated People Mover — free of charge — to the nearby Georgia International Convention Center and two new hotels.
Charleston, S.C.'s high seasons are spring and fall, but summer is the peak season for Hilton Head Island.
Metro Atlanta is considered a safe city for walking and using MARTA public transit at all hours. The exception is the immediate area around the Georgia Dome known as Vine City or “the Bluff.”
A grand renovation has restored the 1930s yacht Innisfail, which in her day hosted world leaders and U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton. She is now berthed in Charleston, S.C., and is available for groups of up to 60 guests. (843) 766-7013, www.yachtinnisfail.com
Just south of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the North Carolina Arboretum has seven meeting rooms that accommodate up to 200 people in the auditorium or smaller groups in the classrooms and library. In a beautiful natural setting, these may be some of the most reasonably priced meeting spaces around Asheville. (828) 665-2492, firstname.lastname@example.org
Belford's Wholesale Food Co., centered in the City Market, was part of the heart of 1900s Savannah. Pictures of those early days remain on the walls of Belford's restaurant at 315 W. Saint Julian St. in the historic district. Have a taste of Savannah in the crab offerings and fried green tomatoes or splurge on the house special, Cajun lobster ravioli. Belford's can host up to 150 people and offers both buffet and seated service for groups and parties. (912) 233-2626. www.belfordssavannah.com
Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau
Brunswick and the Golden Isles CVB
Savannah Area CVB
Valdosta-Lowndes County Conference Center & Tourism Authority
Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
Greater Raleigh CVB
Greensboro Area CVB
Greenville-Pitt County CVB
Charleston Area CVB
Hilton Head Island/Bluffton VCB
Myrtle Beach Area Convention Bureau