Meeting Options for the Artsy Type

Are you the creative type? You are when you bring groups together in a city core where culture and creativity collide around the downtown landscape. Here are three sizzling meeting metros where the convention and events infrastructure is continually evolving.

“Everyone thinks of Texas as flat, dry and industrial, but San Antonio has a very soft feel with brick streets and rolling hills,” says Scott White, Executive Director of the San Antonio CVB. “We are not just brass and glass.”

He explains that when groups step one foot into San Antonio, they’re always amazed by the wealth of historic attractions, many made more accessible thanks to the recent River Walk extension.

“Just last year we opened a 1.3-mile extension of the San Antonio River Walk called the Museum Reach,” says White. “Now, visitors can walk from the convention center district up to the Southwest School of Art & Craft; the San Antonio Museum of Art; The Witte Museum, which highlights Texas history; and the historic Pearl Brewery, which has tons of fun stuff inside.”

Over 100 years old, the restored Pearl Brewery functions as a massive complex of retail outlets, dining establishments, residences, and one particularly exciting addition—The Culinary Institute of America, which opened Oct. 4.

“This is just the third CIA campus in the country. The school focuses on the growing trend in Latin cuisine and groups are able to take classes there.”

Also on the River Walk there’s an impressive new hotel transformation. In September, the 99-room Watermark Hotel & Spa was rebranded Mokara Hotel & Spa, the first in a new collection of Omni hotels. The property welcomes groups with 3,200 sf of meeting space, a 17,000-sf spa and a new dining concept titled Ostra, led by Chef John Brand whose Flavors of Texas menu is winning raves for its creative farm-to-fork cooking.

The River Walk is the cultural vein of the city and it’s continuing to grow. The next phase will link the city’s four Spanish missions and Brackenridge Park, all slated for completion in 2013.

“Our brand, ‘Deep in the Heart,’ showcases our authentic culture and commitment to preserving and protecting the history and culture of the destination,” says White. For a taste of San Antonio’s vibrant Mexican heritage, head over to Market Square, a large shopping district that’s home to Museo Alameda.

“Museo Alameda is a Smithsonian affiliate dedicated to Hispanic artists.” Adding that the venue has several spaces for groups to rent, he says, “One thing that sets us apart from many other destinations is that we really take pride in our history.”

As the nation’s first capital back in the 1760s, the City of Brotherly Love exudes culture and history.

“Back then, Philadelphia was truly the Athens of America,” says Jack Ferguson, incoming President of the Philadelphia CVB. “When people come to Philadelphia, they get their socks blown off by the historical and cultural aspects of the city.”

While groups are well versed in attractions such as the Liberty Bell Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there is a newbie on the horizon.

“In November, we are opening the National Museum of American Jewish History directly across from the Liberty Bell on Independence Mall,” Ferguson says. “The museum will look at the contributions the Jewish community has made in the US.”

In addition to cultural artifacts, the museum will also offer space for up to 600 delegates in its private function areas.

A few steps south of the new museum is the National Constitution Center, one of Ferguson’s favorites.

“A museum is usually a place that has four walls and art in it, but this center is a living and breathing testament to the constitution,” he says. “It teaches its visitors about democracy and what Philadelphia was like in the 1700s.”

And amid all of this, the Pennsylvania Convention Center is expanding, slated for completion in March.

“We are now expanding it by 62 percent,” says Ferguson. “When we are finished, we will have one million square feet of function space and will move from the 24th largest convention center in the country to the 14th largest.”

Want to parade your group straight down Las Vegas Boulevard? Done. Shock an audience with a surprise song by Bette Midler? Done. Cover the Luxor’s pyramid with wrapping paper inscribed with your company’s logo? Done and done.

“Virtually anything is possible in Las Vegas,” says Chris Meyer, CMP, VP of Sales for the Las Vegas CVA. “We are not a boring destination; we don’t close up shop at 9 pm…. And we’ve found that groups who come to Las Vegas increase their attendance by 13 percent.”

Contrary to popular belief and boatloads of bad press, the city is doing well considering the economy, suggests Meyer. Just look at the hotel developments and occupancy from Dec. 2009-10.

“Our destination never lost its luster,” he says. “In fact, many people have rediscovered Las Vegas during the recession. We are at 83 to 84 percent occupancy right now.”

New on the horizon is The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a $3.9 billion hotel on the Strip with 150,000 sf of meeting space, scheduled to open Dec. 15. That’s a nice followup to last year’s opening of CityCenter Las Vegas, comprising three new hotels, chic dining outlets and upscale shopping establishments.

“It has a fabulous location in the middle of the Strip between the Bellagio and CityCenter. When everyone else has been closing, we’ve been opening. Over the last two years, I’ve opened almost 13,000 hotel rooms. And with that, we’re bringing in major groups next year such as the World Travel & Tourism Council, PCMA and SITE. I like to say we’re hosting the world of travel in 2011.”

On top of those, there’s also the new IMEX America Show in October and the Incentive Research Foundation’s 18th Annual Incentive Invitational in April.

For a break from the action, Meyer recommends groups venture just six miles north of the Strip to Springs Preserve, a 160-acre attraction that sits on the original site of Las Vegas. Thousands of years ago, explorers were attracted to the area because of its natural springs. Today, the preserve offers a variety of attractions such as the Nevada State Museum and the LEED Platinum Desert Living Center.