Religious leaders in Jacksonville, Fla., are promoting downtown Jacksonville as a must-see portion of the attendee experience for the city's.
Jacksonville, and downtown in particular, is known for its grand, century-old churches, said Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision, a downtown improvement organization.
Churches draw roughly 800,000 people a year to the core of the city just for worship services, she said. Historic congregations like First Baptist Church, St. John's Episcopal Cathedral, and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church also put Jacksonville on religious maps. "Jacksonville has strong religious roots and [downtown is] a great place to show off the churches and show off the religious community," Lorince said.
Jacksonville has succeeded recently in landing its share of religious meetings, according to an article in The Florida Times-Union. Visit Jacksonville has booked 100 religious conferences in the past five years, attracting 137,000 visitors who spent an estimated $27.5 million, said Lyndsay Rossman of Visit Jacksonville.
Using its very impressive Web site, First Baptist Church promotes downtown restaurants and hotels to those who attend its annual Pastors' Conference, said Trey Brunson, the event organizer.
Events at the conference, which drew 1,300 people this year, were scheduled to dovetail with lunch and dinner times so attendees could walk from the church to local restaurants. "We try to encourage our people to be in the downtown," Brunson said.
Even religious groups that hold their events in other parts of the city encourage out-of-towners to spend some of their time and money downtown.
The Rev. Michael Edwards Sr., pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Institutional Church, urged a recent meeting of the National Baptist Convention USA "to see the area, but be sure to get downtown, because you don't get a sense of the city until you see its downtown."
Of all the city's convention business, religious organizations are among the most dependable and profitable, said Casper Van Eldik Thieme, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. The segment accounts for a reliable 15 percent of the hotel's convention traffic.