The Northeast’s place in history often defines the region. It’s where early settlers flocked and the country’s earliest cities formed. While proud of its deep-seated roots in America’s past, the part bounds forward, drawing the attention of meeting planners. Located within a day’s drive of close to 40 percent of the country’s population, cities in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania prove that, while old, they can still offer something new.
Albany, New York
As the oldest chartered city in the United States, Albany has hosted meetings for more than 400 years. But the debut of the New York State Convention Center will rebrand Albany as a hot new destination for encounters. The state-of-the-art venue will have 60,000 square feet of exhibition space, two ballrooms, and more than 22,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
“For far too long, the capital of New York has been unable to fulfill the needs of organizations and businesses who want to meet here,” says Michele Vennard, president and CEO of the Albany County CVB. The convention center project recently was named a Capital Region Economic Development Council Transformational Project. It’s expected to create several jobs and bring more than $20 million in extra revenue to the city each year. “We are hopeful this designation will launch the project on a fast track towards construction and completion,” says Vennard. Land acquisition for the project is almost complete.
Until then, planners can take advantage of all the Empire State Plaza Convention Center offers, including a 26,000 sq. ft. Exhibit hall, or look into the Times Union Center with 51,000 square feet of flexible function space. The Hilton Garden Inn Albany Airport recently completed an extensive renovation, as did the Crowne Plaza Albany City Center, which has 384 refurbished hotel rooms and 22,000 square feet of meeting space.
Other venues for hosting off-site events include the Empire State Plaza, New York State Museum, and The Egg Center for the Performing Arts. Albany’s Times Union Center is a sports and entertainment facility that can host significant events. Managed by SMG, the facility has 17,500 seats and has been chosen as the SMG Building of the Year three times.
During warmer months, Albany Aqua Ducks and Trolleys provides a fun, narrated tour to learn about the host city. Tickets are good all day and allow passengers to get on and off at 20 trolley stops on the loop. It’s easy to take in some sights, such as the World War II destroyer escort U.S.S. Slater, Ten Broeck Mansion, and the Albany Institute of History and Art, where groups can also book meeting space and private tours of the exhibits.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Gaming and the Miss America pageant may have put Atlantic City on the map. Still, the city’s ability to continually reinvent itself to keep pace with visitors’ ever-changing expectations makes it attractive to convention planners.
“Atlantic City is a well-rounded destination resort that offers all the amenities you’d expect,” says Gary Musich, vice president of convention sales for the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority. “We have an abundance of clean beaches, water sports, shopping, golf, fine dining, and family attractions as well as a fascinating history…Meeting and convention facilities are second to none, and our Atlantic City hospitality will make everyone feel welcome.”
The convention district is 20 minutes from the Atlantic City International Airport. Amtrak has frequent service from Philadelphia and other major cities with a terminal adjacent to the 500,000-sq.-ft. Atlantic City Convention Center is one of the largest convention centers in the East. Visitors will discover Atlantic City is very compact, making it easy to explore with or without a vehicle. Many major resort hotels and attractions are within walking distance of the convention center, including Atlantic City Outlets and The Walk, a popular retail outlet shopping and dining district with more than 100 stores. A $15 million expansion project will add another 45,078 square feet of retail space this year.
Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City’s original convention venue, is located on the world-famous boardwalk, only four blocks from the convention center. This National Historic Landmark opened in 1929 and is the ideal venue for a reception or dinner.
The 502-room Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel, connected to the convention center by a sky bridge, recently opened the Gallery, an ocean-themed, 5,000 sq. ft. Event space featuring aquariums with a living coral reef. Another spectacular meeting space, One Atlantic, is a 10,000-sq.-ft. Venue on the top level of The Pier Shops at Caesars juts out over the water and offers wide-sweeping vistas of the ocean, beach, and world-famous boardwalk.
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is perhaps best known for Niagara Falls and buffalo chicken wings, an invention of the city’s landmark Anchor Bar. But the city stands poised to be a significant player in the convention game in the Northeast with the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center’s recent facelift. The $7 million upgrade to the facility updated its 64,400-sq.-ft. Exhibit hall and added a new main entrance and state-of-the-art electronic marquee. The 396-room Hyatt Regency Buffalo adjacent to the convention center also recently underwent significant renovations to its guest rooms, lobby,y and nearly 22,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.
Although Niagara Falls is always a big draw for convention-goers, so are the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Shea’s Performing Arts Center, both offering world-class performances. Repeat visitors to Buffalo can look forward to visiting unrivaled attractions such as the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex with its recently renovated Prairie-style design home, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, the latter two both with event space available to rent.
Planners wanting eco-friendly meeting options can find them in Buffalo, thanks to the city’s Buffalo Green Hospitality Initiative, also called the Green and Mean (It) program. Started in 2007, the program’s goal is to promote eco practices in Buffalo and the surrounding area’s hospitality businesses. Individual hotels and meeting facilities are responsible for maintaining specific standards to be considered for the program, including water conservation, composting, low-toxin cleaning supplies, reduced lighting usage, reusable centerpieces, and more. Ten hotels and the Buffalo Niagra Convention Center are part of the program.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center’s $787 million expansion this past spring gave the venue 62 percent more space, allowing it to host two significant conventions simultaneously. More than 1 million square feet of rentable space includes 528,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space and a 55,400 sq. ft. Ballroom.
The 1,408-room Philadelphia Marriott Downtown also underwent renovations recently to improve guest accommodations, public spaces, and its 92,000 square feet of meeting space. Its proximity to the convention center makes it a popular choice for groups. Joy Kirchner, director of conferences and events for AMR Management Services, recently organized a possibility for an organization at the hotel. “The Philadelphia Marriott Downtown was the perfect location to execute a tremendously successful and flawless conference with the staff eagerly attending to every detail,” she says. “Our great partnership with the Philadelphia CVB to bring this conference to the city continues as we look to the future to bring other clients’ conferences here.”
The Loews Philadelphia Hotel is a luxury property with 581 rooms and 42,000 square feet of meeting space for corporate events. The hotel is located in Philadelphia’s first skyscraper, the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building, marked by large, illuminated “PSFS” letters on the top. The property is a National Historic Landmark, but despite the building’s historic exterior, the property’s interior is contemporary.
Two newly opened attractions—the National Museum of American Jewish History and the President’s House, home to George Washington and the nation’s first White House—join Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the National Constitution Center as part of or near Independence National Historical Park, nicknamed “America’s Most Historic Square Mile.” The Avenue of the Arts, the entertainment and arts center of Philadelphia, provides planners with plenty of options to include theater, music, dining, and shopping on the agenda.
Pittsburgh raises the bar for going green with its architecturally striking David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The 1.5 million-sq.-ft. The facility, the world’s first LEED Gold convention center, is a natural fit for environmental groups and eco-minded planners. However, its convenient downtown location makes it the logical choice for anyone planning to meet in Steel City.
The recently opened Fairmont Pittsburgh follows suit as the first LEED Gold hotel in the Fairmont hotel group. Its 12,000 square feet of meeting space, including a grand ballroom and four meeting rooms equipped with the latest audiovisual technology, enables it to accommodate a range of events from corporate meetings to receptions and formal dinners.
The Senator John Heinz History Center, Pennsylvania’s largest history museum, is an inviting venue for small to mid-sized meetings. Located near the convention center, it’s also ideal for breakout sessions in the site’s smaller rooms and boardroom, which has impressive downtown Pittsburgh views. After-hours receptions and dinners can occur among historical artifacts in the Great Hall and exhibit spaces.