by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | April 28, 2017

Cheryl-Anne SturkenThe newly transformed, $60 million, LEED-certified Monterey Conference Center, closed since last December, is on track to reopen this summer with 40,000 square feet of meeting space in this storied city on California's rugged central coast. As opening day approaches, anticipation is running high at neighboring hotels and throughout Monterey county. Over the last 18 months, properties have poured millions of dollars into renovations in a concerted strategy to be ready when the revamped facility debuts in August.

Monterey Conference CenterThe 379-room Portola Hotel & Spa, which is connected to the center via lobby access, recently completed a $10 million guest-room upgrade, while this week it wrapped up a $3.5 million lobby renovation and unveiled its new restaurant, Jacks Monterey. "We have always been a strong draw for groups, but I believe the new center is really going to shine a new light on Monterey," said Terrie D'Ayon Joyce, director of sales for the hotel.

On the opposite side of the center, and connected by skybridge to its second floor, the 341-room Monterey Marriott also was busy gussying up its public spaces. Last September, the hotel completed a $2.4 million revamp of its lobby, transforming it into a Great Room concept, and unveiled a new restaurant, Fin + Field.

The renovated center is enjoying an extremely healthy pre-opening booking phase and adding fresh luster to Monterey, once the center of the sardine-packing industry and immortalized by author John Steinbeck in his classic novel Cannery Row. Even hotels beyond walking distance are reacting with elaborate upgrades of their own. For example, the 60-room Sanctuary Beach Resort Monterey Bay is undergoing a $4 million renovation of its Saltwood Restaurant and adjacent meeting space, which is expected to open by year's end.

The biggest project, however, might well be the new Fairway One at The Lodge at Pebble Beach from Pebble Beach Resorts. Scheduled to open by the end of this summer, this new complex of 30 guest rooms in two three-story buildings and several stand-alone cottages will have direct access to an adjacent new 6,000-square foot meeting facility, at the center of which is a 2,500-square foot main room with direct views of the first fairway of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links.

"There is so much history in this building," said Nancy Williams, director of sales and events, city of Monterey, for the Monterey Conference Center, as she led me on a recent hard-hat tour. She noted that the first TED talks took place here in 1984 in a small, cramped theater called the Steinbeck Forum. But soon attendees will find a completely redesigned, high-tech building featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, a terrace on the top floor for entertaining, and touches like specially designed metal panels that will allow planners to brand the building for their gatherings. "The new reconfigured design will open up the space for groups to customize what they need for their events," said Williams. "It really is going to be spectacular."

One more thing to think about: City officials currently are in talks with several airlines regarding possible new routes to Monterey, which will make for some exciting new opportunities for groups considering this coastal gem for their next event.