Surprised by Columbus: An On-Site Report

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Downtown Columbus with the National Veterans Memorial and Museum and COSI in the forefront.

Sometimes a city surprises you, and Columbus did just that—with its smart and sophisticated downtown and vibrant culinary, art, music and fashion/retail scene.

Columbus rolled out the red carpet in January for 3,300 attendees at the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders convention at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, and I had a chance to explore the city first during a whirlwind weekend tour. Highlights included meeting local spokesperson and YouTube personality Coyote Peterson, trying momos for the first time at North Market, and touring and sampling the spirits, including an outstanding bourbon cream and stone fruit vodka, at Middle West Distillery. All of these are experiences your groups can have, too.

Hilton Columbus Downtown

A highlight on the hotel scene is the new Hilton Columbus Downtown tower. The combined towers—which sit across the street from each other and are connected by an overpass and also to the Greater Columbus Convention Center—now have 1,000 guest rooms, more than 75,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, a remarkable $2.5 million art collection including 199 pieces by Central Ohio artists, and four new food and beverage concepts. At one of them, FYR, Sebastian La Rocca’s Argentinian live fire restaurant, huge Tomahawk steaks were hung on the grill for an unforgettable meal finished off with flambéed pineapple upside down cake.

Steaks on the grill at FYR

Other brand-name properties walkable to the convention center include Hyatt, Sonesta, AC, Le Méridien, Renaissance and Graduate.

The local-first vibe here is stronger than in many other cities, with organized arts, retail and music associations who are ready to help meeting planners integrate their members into their events. Perhaps that’s a cocktail reception at one of the galleries in the Short North district—a vibrant area also lined with dozens of sophisticated restaurants and retailers—complete with catering and a local musician? (While you’re there, don’t miss Samson, a tastefully curated men’s emporium that blends items like upscale barware and grooming products with men’s clothing.) Or a teambuilding afternoon spent making candles Penn & Beech, with some of the most unusual scents I’ve seen (absinthe, bonsai, kelp!)? For PCMA, the marquis lighting on the 17 arches over Columbus’ High Street was changed to the association’s colors, and the businesses posted signs welcoming attendees—something the city is ready to do for your convention, too.

Middle West Distillery

A new addition is Junto, named after Benjamin Franklin’s famed Junto Club. With 198 rooms and suites, it promises to be one hot ticket when it opens in May in the emerging Peninsula neighborhood. The hotel will also be home to 6 different restaurants and hospitality spaces, some that will spill out into the surrounding area—a master-planned community that is home to the COSI science museum and National Veterans Memorial and Museum, as well as offices and residences situated along the river. A highlight will be the rooftop bar, the Brass Eye (named after one of the many terms for being drunk listed in Franklin’s Drinker’s Dictionary), with a two-sided outdoor fireplace and skyline views.

The city’s newest hotel, Junto, opens in May.

Be sure to reach out to the friendly team at Experience Columbus, who will be there to meet your every request with a friendly smile and then wrap it all up with a bow.

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.