by Melanie Wynne | June 01, 2016

As the election year heats up across America, all eyes are on the nation’s capital. Similarly, many associations effect important changes in policy while convening in the capital region, collectively known as the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia).

And while many planners gravitate toward historical sites in this well-preserved swath of the Mid-Atlantic, a bevy of new convention venues, hotels and attractions have strategically scheduled openings to coincide with the increased attention in the area, making it a great moment to take advantage of the excitement and draw members for a meeting.

Washington, D.C.: Where America Meets the World

A global center of power and diplomacy, Washington, D.C., can be counted on for its cosmopolitan nature. And as home to some of the nation’s biggest attractions and museums, it offers a well-oiled tourism infrastructure. The bottom line: Planners who do their research will find a setting perfectly suited for their group. The downtown Walter E. Washington Convention Center is the main meeting hub, hosting events as varied as national sports tournaments, the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting and the recent Nuclear Security Summit, which was attended by leaders from more than 50 countries. With a total of 2.3 million square feet of space—703,000 of which can be used for exhibits—the convention center offers 77 customizable meeting rooms and free Wi-Fi service in all public areas. Adjacent is the Mount Vernon Square Metro station and the largest hotel in the city, the silver LEED–certified Marriott Marquis/Washington, D.C., which opened in 2014.

Several venues strung between the convention center and the National Mall can also accommodate groups. Across from the convention center is the ornate Carnegie Library and roughly 10 blocks away is the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center. The Newseum and the National Air & Space Museum also offer meeting space.

Two blocks east of the White House is the National Press Club, which can host groups of up to 1,500. North of the White House, the J.W. Marriott Jr.–ASAE Conference Center offers 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

D.C. hotels offer more meeting choices. In April, Kimpton opened Mason & Rook near the 14th Street Corridor with 178 guest rooms and a ballroom for up to 110. Another spring debut was that of the Watergate Hotel, which reopened in May following a $125 million renovation that restored its mid-century modern roots.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has long been redeveloping the Federal Triangle’s historic Old Post Office into the Trump International Hotel, and it is scheduled to open in September 2016 with 263 rooms, a retail and dining complex and 39,000 square feet of meeting space. Also undergoing a transformation is the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, which is scheduled to reopen next spring with a new building design, refreshed décor and 21,000 square feet of function space spread across 13 rooms, including a ballroom that can accommodate up to 460.

Georgetown, beloved for its streets lined with late 18th- and early 19th-century townhouses, is also full of hotels ideal for gatherings. These include the Fairmont/Washington D.C.–Georgetown, the Westin/Georgetown and the Rosewood/Washington, D.C. (formerly a Capella property). An up-and-comer is the Kimpton/Glover Park, scheduled to open in June near Glover Archbold Park with 154 guest rooms and 1,860 square feet of meeting space.

In nearby Woodley Park, hotels that welcome groups include the Washington Marriott Wardman Park and the Omni Shoreham Hotel, which features refreshed function space. Also in the area is the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, where Bei Bei the panda cub made his public debut earlier this year.

The Southwest Waterfront is experiencing big changes—more than a billion dollar’s worth. At the center of developments is The Wharf on the Washington Channel section of the Potomac River, where 24 acres are being reimagined with a handful of new hotels, shops and restaurants. Plans include a dual-brand hotel complex with a 175-room Canopy by Hilton and a 238-room Hyatt House that will share 2,500 square feet of meeting space. Both are expected to open next fall. Also in the works is a 278-room InterContinental with 17,000 square feet of meeting space. Chartered cruises of the Potomac River also embark from this area.

In southeastern D.C., the Capitol Riverfront (referring to the Anacostia River) is undergoing its own transformation. A 450,000-square-foot, mixed-use project called F1RST is expected to debut early next year beside Nationals Park. Plans include a 170-room Marriott Residence Inn as well as shops and restaurants.

Farther upriver, RFK Stadium still welcomes events but its main tenant, the professional soccer team D.C. United, is preparing to leave for a new stadium in Buzzard Point by spring 2018. In April, city officials announced two new concepts for the stadium and its surrounding grounds—a ribbon of land as long as New York City’s High Line and as wide as Central Park—that would repurpose the area to include recreation services, parkland, community gardens, a water park and an urban farm.

Northern Virginia: An Amalgam of Amenities

Virginia holds tight to its genteel Southern roots, but it’s hard to categorize a state with so much modern diversity. The northern reaches of Virginia are home to various tech- and medical-industry headquarters, a modern art scene, celebrated wineries and historic sites.

Across the Potomac River from D.C. and close to Reagan National Airport, Arlington is best known for military attractions like Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial, but it’s also ideal for groups seeking peaceful proximity to downtown Washington. The small but ever-sprawling city comprises several “urban villages,” including Ballston and Crystal City, which have their own Metro stops.

In walkable Ballston, top venues include the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Conference Center, the Executive Conference Center at Liberty Center and the Virginia Tech Research Center. The neighborhood’s two largest hotels are the Westin Arlington Gateway, with space for functions of up to 970, and the Hilton/Arlington, with gathering space for up to 500.

Many of the shops and restaurants in Crystal City are underground, but city views can be found at high-rise hotels like the Hyatt Regency/Crystal City at Reagan National Airport, the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport and the renovated Westin/Crystal City.

The Silver Line of the Metro opened in summer 2014, connecting downtown D.C. with stops in Tysons Corner, Reston and other parts of Fairfax County; a second phase of development is expected to be complete in 2020 and offer an additional 11 miles of service and link downtown D.C. to Dulles International Airport. Fairfax County offers not only proximity to the airport but also affordability and a slew of hotel and venue options. According to Joe Condrill of the Overseas Brats, an organization for those associated with American schools based overseas, “Planning an event in Fairfax County is a breeze. We’ve had three major events in the area over a five-year period, as well as numerous regional events. We’re already planning another regional event in Fairfax County this September, and it’s not out of the question that one of our major events will return in the years to come.”

Booming Tysons Corner is home to one of America’s first major shopping malls, the upscale, enormous and still-growing Tysons Corner Center. Connected to the mall is the year-old Hyatt Regency as well as the Ritz-Carlton/Tysons Corner. Other popular choices include the Sheraton/Tysons and the Westin/Tysons Corner, which recently completed a $10 million renovation of its meeting space, guest rooms, lobby, restaurant and lounge.

A few minutes away, Vienna offers two notable off-site venues: Wolf Trap— the only national park dedicated to the performing arts—and the Atrium at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

In Reston, one of America’s first planned communities, popular meeting hotels include the Hyatt Regency/Reston and the Sheraton/Reston. Just west, in Herndon, is the LEED-certified Hyatt Regency/Dulles (formerly the Hyatt/Dulles) and the newly renovated Crowne Plaza/Dulles Airport. And in Sterling, the Dulles Executive Conference & Training Center has 10,000 square feet of space, offers full food and beverage service, and partners with five hotels.

South of the airport, in Chantilly, the 100,000-square-foot Dulles Expo & Conference Center boasts more than 1,200 free parking spaces and an on-site Holiday Inn. Just four miles north, the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center welcomes groups of up to 5,000. Another 20 miles to the west, in Middleburg, is the 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa.

Manassas prides itself on the preservation of its eponymous Civil War battle sites, but the small city is also home to a growing number of unique venues. The new 40,000-square-foot Autobahn Indoor Speedway features Italian-made go-karts that can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. The facility includes meeting space and can organize team-building activities for up to several hundred people. Expected to open this year is Uptown Alley at Manassas Mall, the place for bowling and billiards and designed with meeting space for up to 1,500 people. And KO Distilling opened in September with a 2,500-square-foot copper-and-oak event center that can host up to 88 and serves as a banquet hall and tasting room. For larger functions, the Hylton Performing Arts Center features 85,000 square feet of space.

The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a recognized wine country have put Loudoun County on the map for many travelers and association planners. In Leesburg, the National Conference Center completed a renovation in 2015 renovation that added outdoor patios, fire pits, a ropes/team challenge course and more to its 65-acre grounds. It also has a refreshed fitness center and lobby, and a private bar and reception area for up to 30 guests, as well as a 24-person chef’s table.

Also in Leesburg, the 476-acre Lansdowne Resort & Spa, a Destination Hotel recently unveiled new guest rooms as part of a larger renovation project. The resort also added a new ballroom that can accommodate up to 250 people.

Several Loudoun County wineries offer enticing meeting facilities, as well. In Leesburg, the Stone Tower Winery has an event center that overlooks the vineyards. In Purcellville, the 45-acre Sunset Hills Vineyard has more than 3,500 feet of indoor meeting space. Also in the area is the 85-acre Breaux Vineyards. For groups that prefer beer to wine, the LoCo Ale Trail made its debut last summer.

Located just five miles from downtown Washington, D.C., Alexandria’s charm, location on the Potomac River and number of hotels and attractions and activities make it a favorite with groups. Phi Chi Theta is just one organization that has scheduled an event in Alexandria. Its national meeting in August will be held at the Hilton Mark Center Hotel.

Saundra Finley, Phi Chi Theta’s executive director, said planning has been very smooth, noting that since that initial visit, she has continued to be pleasantly surprised by the service and attention she’s received from Visit Alexandria on behalf of her group. “They’ve arranged for a welcome letter from the mayor of Alexandria for us to read at our opening session, provided a list of vendors for our off-site events, arranged for passes to different venues, and are providing items for our attendee welcome bags.”

The convention and visitors bureau is increasing its efforts to attract medical meetings to the city. Such groups might be particularly interested in event venues like the renovated Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, United Way’s headquarters and tours inspired by “Mercy Street,” the PBS Civil War medical drama. In addition, all of Alexandria’s major meeting hotels now have planners who have received special training for Meeting Professional International’s Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate (HMCC).

The city’s hotels with meeting space range from the Hilton Mark Center, which offers a ballroom for up to 1,500 to the Hampton Inn/Old Town-King Street Metro, with a 25-person boardroom. The latter is a stop on the free trolley route that runs up and down main street and to the waterfront. And two local Kimpton properties have recently been renovated: Hotel Monaco and the Morrison House, now with 2,800 square feet of event space (including the new Watermark Ballroom for up to 80 guests).

An interactive entertainment venue called Escape Room Live opened last year with a format that has been likened to a real-life Clue board game that lasts about an hour. Afterwards, groups can hold parties within the rooms.

Other off-site venues and activities include the Mary M. Gates Learning Center, with 8,000 square feet of space, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center, which can host up to 350 people outdoors or up to 450 indoors for special events. Society Fair, a market and epicurean venue with an atrium, can be used for events of up to 75. The Port City Brewing Company offers tours, tastings and an indoor beer garden.

Not to be missed is the area’s most popular attraction: Mount Vernon. President George Washington’s 500-acre estate along the Potomac welcomes groups with two meeting facilities—the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center and the Robert H. & Clarice Smith Auditorium. In addition, the mansion’s lawn can be used for outdoor functions of up to 1,200 people.

Just a few miles south of Alexandria, in Triangle, the National Museum of the Marine Corps can host events of up to 650. Construction is currently underway on a 126,000-square-foot addition that will include updated exhibits that span history from post-Vietnam to the present. The new galleries are expected to open in 2018.

Maryland: Land of Opportunities

Maryland is one of the smallest states in America, but with its 6 million residents and a geographic span that stretches from D.C.’s Capital Beltway (the interstate that encircles the city) to the coastlines of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, it offers associations a lot of options.

The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, 11 miles south of Washington, D.C., in National Harbor, is one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest convention resorts, with nearly 2,000 guest rooms and more than 500,000 square feet of function space after a recent $20 million expansion added outdoor event space. And in July 2017, a 23,000-square-foot, freestanding ballroom building is set to open on the banks of the Potomac with 16,000 square feet of meeting space, two terraces and spectacular views of the river and Old Town Alexandria.

For the last two years, the Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) has held its Technology Conference & Expo at the Gaylord and will continue to host it there through 2018. “Our members have really embraced National Harbor as a destination, rather than just another conference in downtown D.C.,” said Ally Jenkins, the ASAE’s senior manager of conferences. Jenkins cited the walkability and a pleasing array of dining and shopping options as some of her group’s favorite aspects of the area.

Of course, the Gaylord isn’t the only show in town. The year-old AC/Washington D.C. at National Harbor offers 3,700 square feet of its own meeting space, and the 23-acre MGM Resort is scheduled to open by the year’s end with 308 guest rooms and some 27,000 square feet of meeting space. A new off-site option is Urban Pirates, an interactive sailing adventure for up to 60 people.

Fifteen miles north, in Hyattsville, the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center offers a new 250-seat conference dining room and a ballroom, both added in 2015. Located adjacent to the University of Maryland’s University College, the Marriott was the nation’s first LEED-certified hotel. In their free time, attendees can check out the burgeoning Gateway Arts District.

From D.C., it’s just a 20-minute Metro ride north to Silver Spring, where the newly renovated Ellsworth Place (formerly known as City Place) mall is drawing crowds. Other options include the Fillmore concert venue, the AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center and the Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza

In nearby Chevy Chase, groups can meet at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center or the 40-acre Woodend Nature Sanctuary & Mansion can host meetings of up to 70 indoors and up to 150 in tented outdoor settings. In neighboring Bethesda, hotels with meeting space include the Bethesda Marriott and the Hyatt Regency/Bethesda.

At North Bethesda’s flourishing Pike & Rose neighborhood, a 177-room Canopy by Hilton Hotel is expected to open in late 2017. Current hotels that cater to groups include the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. Five miles west, in the suburb of Potomac, is the Bolger Conference Center.

In the Montgomery County seat of Rockville, the Crowne Plaza/Rockville is now a Radisson. The Universities at Shady Grove offers more than 300,000 square feet of event space, including a 305-seat auditorium, an 8,700-square-foot ballroom and breakout rooms.

Gaithersburg is the place to be for events that focus on agriculture or the outdoors. Venues include the Montgomery County Agricultural Center, which offers 34,362 square feet of space, and Smokey Glen Farm, home to five event sites. Area lodging options include a LEED-certified Hampton Inn & Suites with a 600-square-foot boardroom. Farther north, in Clarksburg, Clarksburg Premium Outlets is scheduled to open this fall with 100 stores.

One hour east of Washington, D.C., is Annapolis, Maryland’s capital city, set on the Chesapeake Bay, steeped in naval history and buzzing with revitalization. Newer venues include the 18th-century James Brice House, which opened for public tours and events last year for the first time in its nearly 250-year history. And at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Akerson Tower club level opened last year with conference and special-event space for up to 200.

There are several large meeting hotels downtown, including the Loews/Annapolis and the Crowne Plaza/Annapolis. Other options in the area include the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton, a Westin and the historic Governor Calvert House. Home to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis is an ideal place for groups to set sail. Charter options include Annapolis Sailing Cruises’ two sleek wooden schooners, as well as a flotilla’s worth of yachts offered by Annapolis Tours by Watermark. Small groups might be also be interested in booking a flight with Monumental Helicopters.

Several venues outside of downtown welcome events with unique settings. To the northwest, in Crownsville, the Hidden View Farm Manor House & Gardens now welcomes association and corporate events of up to 300. Just southwest of town, in Edgewater, up to 240 can gather at the Historic London Town & Gardens. Meanwhile, 15 miles east of Annapolis, in Stevensville, the new Inn at Chesapeake Bay Beach Club offers 54 guest rooms, a restaurant and a banquet space for up to 120 people.

From Annapolis, it’s just 30 miles north to the largest city in Maryland—Baltimore. To better showcase the harborside city’s attractions to attendees, Visit Baltimore offers the Signature Experiential Program, which includes 14 behind-the-scenes tours that delve into significant local history and culture.

Event venues in town include the year-old, $400 million Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, which has a half-dozen event spaces, the largest of which is a ballroom for up to 500. Other notable Inner Harbor sites include the Maryland Science Center and the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museums.

Laura Rangel, senior coordinator of national meetings and events for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, felt that planning her group’s 2015 gathering in Baltimore was the best decision her organization could have made. “Not only did we have our largest conference to date because of Baltimore’s ideal location,” Rangel said, “but we also had a whole city behind us as partners. The Visit Baltimore staff ensured that we were taken care of long before our attendees arrived. Five months later, our members are still talking about how much they loved Baltimore.”

The 1.2 million-square-foot Baltimore Convention Center is the city’s go-to venue, conveniently connected to both a Hilton and a Hyatt Regency, each with additional event space. And sports fans are in luck in Baltimore, as most of the area’s stadiums and athletic attractions welcome events and tours. Venues include the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum and M&T Bank Stadium. The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame & Museum is relocating to the suburb of Sparks, just 20 miles north, where its new 12-acre, $13 million facility is scheduled to open in September with a 45,000-square-foot main building.

Other notable venues for events include the 19th-century George Peabody Library, which can host up to 400. Nearby, the new, 15,000-square-foot Mount Vernon Marketplace opened in October as a foodie hub with 12 vendors and a stage. It welcomes special events. South of the city, near Baltimore Washington International Airport (which is undergoing concourse renovations), is the updated Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights. The venue recently hosted events of the Maryland Society of Surveyors as well the Episcopal Church Executive Council, the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee and the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

The Baltimore area’s hotel scene continues to evolve with renovations and expansion projects. The Hyatt Regency/Baltimore completed a lobby and guest-room renovation recently, and the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court completed a $10 million improvement and expansion project last summer and now offers 203 guest rooms. Two year-old properties have drawn good reviews since their openings: Hotel Ivy, a Relais & Châteaux property in Midtown with event space for up to 60 people, and the downtown Hotel Indigo/Baltimore, with 4,000 square feet of meeting space. Also downtown is the 130-room Hotel RL Baltimore, which opened last August within the historic Keyser Building. The property features an open pavilion-style lobby, programming reminiscent of TED Talks and a large central bar. In other hotels news, the Wyndham/Baltimore–Mount Vernon recently became a Joie de Vivre property and is scheduled to close for at least six months of renovations beginning in July.

Two notable projects are reshaping the waterfront. Recreation Pier at Fell’s Point, originally built in 1914, is undergoing a transformation that will turn it into a 128-room hotel managed by Montage. It is expected to open in late 2017 with an outdoor pool, a bar at the end of the pier and a ballroom. And just to the west, a 27-acre development called Harbor Point is in the works with 9.5 miles of planned park space and a bayside promenade.

Farther afield, in the horse country of Hunt Valley, the Hunt Valley Inn is now a Wyndham property following a $15 million redesign that was completed last year. It offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 1,200 people and has a new event lawn. And an hour’s drive northeast of Baltimore, in the city of North East, two venues have space for up to 299 guests: the North East Fire Company’s Upper Chesapeake Ballroom, which offers catering provided by the regionally famous Woody’s Crab House, and the 163-acre Elk Manor Winery, which overlooks Chesapeake Bay.

In Howard County, west of Baltimore, popular meetings destinations include Ellicott City, where a well-preserved main street celebrates its 18th-century history and the Turf Valley Resort & Spa offers 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

In Columbia, home to Maryland’s largest shopping-mall complex, the Sheraton/Columbia Town Center offers 16,000 square feet of function space and the DoubleTree by Hilton/Columbia provides 14,000 square feet of event space.

Across the bay from Baltimore, the largest metropolitan area on the Chesapeake Bay Peninsula is Salisbury, home to a handful of hotels suitable for smaller groups; these include a Courtyard, La Quinta Inn & Suites and the Hampton Inn/Salisbury-Fruitland. For larger gatherings, the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center offers 47,000 square feet of function space, and Salisbury University has 5,000 square feet of space for events. Other local choices include the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, which can host up to 100 people, or the 6,500-seat Perdue Stadium, a minor league ballpark that invites groups of 30 or more to enjoy a game and buffet meal at its diamond-side dining area.

Ten miles south, in Eden, the Bordeleau Vineyards & Winery is located on the shores of Wicomico Creek, which regularly attracts bald eagles and other Eastern Shore wildlife. The venue welcomes special events of up to 200.

Groups that don’t want to choose between a bayfront or oceanfront setting don’t have to in Ocean City, ideally located between the Isle of Wight Bay and the Atlantic. Facing the bay, the Roland E. Powell Convention Center offers 182,200 square feet of exhibit and meeting space, while the nearby, all-suite Princess Royale Family Resort & Condominiums faces the ocean and has a full-service spa, an indoor pool and 17 event rooms for functions of up to 750.

On the city’s bustling boardwalk, the Grand Hotel & Spa offers ocean views from almost all of its 251 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 299 people. Planners should note that high season in this popular beach resort area runs from late April to early October.

In Hagerstown, the largest city in western Maryland, groups can convene at the Hager Hall Conference & Event Center, which has 17,000 square feet of event space and is connected to a Clarion Hotel with its own meeting space. Attendees can fly into Hagerstown Regional Airport, which sees daily service from Pittsburgh and Washington Dulles international airports on Sun Air Express.

Shape a Powerful Agenda

Few destinations continue to be as influential as Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland, where general assemblies are a regular occurrence and delegates can personally affect change that will influence generations to come. The region prides itself on both preservation and innovation, making it just the place for meetings of associations that aim to take thoughtful stock of their history in order to move decisively forward.