by Linda Hayes | April 01, 2016

When planners can mix a day of meetings at a high-tech conference center with late-afternoon excursions to wineries or craft breweries, they’re promising attendees an appealing balance of work and pleasure. This aspect of programming is standard practice in the Northwest.

In the big cities of Seattle and Portland, hospitality and meeting sites set high professional standards, but more remote venues throughout both Washington and Oregon are just as prepared to meet the needs of visiting groups. Stunning scenery, trendy and traditional recreational options, and restaurants that proudly utilize local ingredients all serve as auxiliary support when it comes to creating a memorable agenda.

Seattle & Northwest Washington: Functions With Finesse

A gem of a city, Seattle draws association groups with a stunning location on Puget Sound, iconic attractions and well-regarded meeting venues staffed by experienced industry veterans dedicated to seamless events. “Seattle is a top-tier destination for meeting planners because of the broad range of amenities the city offers,” said Rob Hampton, Visit Seattle’s senior vice-president of convention sales and services. “With new and expanded hotel properties, brand-new meeting space facilities in the pipeline and continuously expanding airlift, Seattle has never been a greater meetings city.”

Brittany Lehnhart, senior manager of events at the nonprofit organization Net Impact, which held its 2015 Net Impact Conference in the city, agrees. “Seattle is such a fantastic city for a meeting!” she said. “The staff at the Washington State Convention Center was wonderful to work with, and the facilities were top-notch. The close proximity between the convention center, hotels and tourist attractions like Pike Place Market make it worthwhile for meeting attendees to make a weekend of it.”

Kristin Shassetz of the National Conference of State Legislatures was equally effusive. Her group’s 2015 Legislative Summit was “a huge success,” she said. “Attendance was up, and our attendees loved Seattle.” Shassetz said they enjoyed being able to walk from the Washington State Convention Center to restaurants and the Seattle sights.

A pair of dedicated conference facilities serve groups: the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, with 100,000 square feet of space, and less than two miles away, the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC), with 414,722 square feet of space. The latter is also connected via sky bridge to a stand-alone, 71,000-square-foot facility called The Conference Center, which is silver LEED–certified. Nearby, a new conference venue called the Coterie Worklounge opened last fall with space for up to 40 as well as a café and a bar.

The famous Pike Place Market is expanding for the first time in 40 years. A 30,000-square-foot terrace and plaza called MarketFront is under construction and is expected to debut next year. In addition to art installations and 47 new stalls, plans include a new brewery and eateries, a 300-space parking garage and a new Neighborhood Center.

The market currently offers a half-dozen spaces for groups, one of which is the Atrium Kitchen, a 600-square-foot industrial kitchen perfect for cooking classes, demonstrations and tastings for up to 100 people. At the nearby Inn at the Market, a 1,400-square foot space called Beecher’s Loft is located above the market and has its own private entrance. It’s a unique choice for executive functions, with a dining table for up to 14 people and floor-to-ceiling windows.

There’s significant hotel news in Seattle as well. A $400 million, 45-story project billed as the largest hotel project in the Northwest is being built by developer R.C. Hedreen two blocks north of the WSCC. Scheduled to open in 2018, plans include 1,264 guest rooms and approximately 105,000 square feet of meeting space on five floors. A hotel operator has yet to be selected. Also of note is a $25 million renovation of the historic Fairmont Olympic Hotel that is expected to be completed by July.

Attendees visiting the city will likely be interested in attractions such as the Space Needle, the adjacent Chihuly Garden & Glass and the Museum of History & Industry, all of which offer event space. Other choices include the Experience Music Project Museum, whose Sky Church venue can host up to 700.

South of downtown, in the Georgetown neighborhood, Charles Smith Wines Jet City opened last summer overlooking the runways of Boeing Field. Its tasting rooms offer more than 32,000 square feet of event space in what was a former Dr Pepper bottling plant. A few miles south is the Museum of Flight, where the new, $31 million Aviation Pavilion is nearing completion. The 140,000-square-foot structure will be connected to the museum via a covered structure and will house more than 20 commercial and military airplanes.

Seattle Southside, a destination marketing organization that promotes the communities surrounding the international airport, offers various services for groups headed to the area including concierge-style itinerary planning and assistance navigating the area’s hotels (home to 9,000 guest rooms) and meeting space (some 850,000 square feet). Groups that have held meetings in the area recently include the National Association of Rocketry, the Kingdom Congressional International Alliance, the American Heart Association, the National Center for Housing Management and the Coalition for Cannabis Standards & Ethics.

Developments in and around SeaTac include a renovation of public spaces at the Embassy Suites by Hilton/Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A Hyatt Place is scheduled to open at SeaTac later this year with 150 guest rooms, a pool, fitness room and more than 2,500 square feet of meeting space. Just south of the airport, the new Angel Lake light-rail station is scheduled to open this fall with a 1,050-car parking garage.

In Tukwila, the new Home2 Suites by Hilton/Seattle Airport has 139 guest rooms, an indoor heated saline pool, an outdoor patio with barbecue grills and meeting space for up to 55. A 19-story hotel and residential complex called Washington Place is under construction and expected to open in spring 2017 with 189 guest rooms, 6,000 square feet of meeting space and a 90-seat restaurant. Also in town is the Westfield Southcenter Mall, where a new entertainment venue called Round 1 opened last summer with bowling, private karaoke rooms, billiards and an arcade.

Farther south, in Des Moines, the 225-room Four Points by Sheraton/Seattle Airport South opened in February with four meeting spaces, including a ballroom for up to 480 people. At Des Moines Beach Park, a historic auditorium has been renovated and can accommodate up to 525 people. The park is also home to an updated dining hall and another half-dozen smaller spaces.

North of Seattle, in Lynnwood, the Lynnwood Convention Center offers 34,000 square feet of space, and a nearby Hilton Garden Inn is in the works. One of the town’s largest meeting hotels, the Embassy Suites by Hilton/Seattle-North Lynnwood, is undergoing a renovation scheduled to wrap up in May.

Up in Tulalip, a $15 million guest-room renovation of the Tulalip Resort Casino began earlier this year. The project will be done in phases and is expected to be fully completed next spring.

In Bellevue, the Meydenbauer Center recently completed a $12.5 million renovation that included the Center Hall Lobby, 410-seat theater and fourth-floor meeting rooms.

And just south of the international border, in Blaine, the Semiahmoo Resort, Golf & Spa has recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, which included an update of its 35,000 square feet of meeting space. The Canadian Bar Association, the Washington State Department of Health and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians all held events at the resort last year.

Tacoma: continued Growth

South of Seattle, in Tacoma, groups will discover a number of unique facilities that pair interesting local attractions with meeting space. Favorite venues include LeMay-America’s Car Museum, available for private functions of up to 2,500; the Museum of Glass, with colorful indoor space for up to 500 and three additional outdoor plazas; and the nearby Tacoma Art Museum, also with space for up to 500.

Larger venues include the Tacoma Dome, which can seat up to 23,000, and the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, with more than 119,000 square feet of space. A proposed 300-room hotel with meeting space is expected to break ground next to the convention center late this year, while two other hotels that plan to offer meeting space are on the horizon: the McMenamins Elks Lodge, on track to open in fall 2017, and the 180-room Silver Cloud Inn at Point Ruston, currently scheduled to open in 2018.

Joanie Pop, president of Event Dynamics, Inc., speaks highly of Tacoma as a meeting destination. “As a third-party conference planner, I’ve planned conferences throughout the U.S., and I find Tacoma to be one of the best experiences, hands down,” she said. “The reason is, in part, due to the knowledge of the industry personnel, their honesty and follow-through, as well as the collaboration of the hotels with the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.”  

The Cascades & Southern Washington: All in Good Taste

Wenatchee, the “Apple Capital of the World,” affords many possibilities to visiting groups. Planners can pick from meeting venues that include the 50,000-square-foot Wenatchee Convention Center, which benefited from a significant remodel last year; the neighboring Coast/Wenatchee Center; and the 4,300-seat Town Toyota Center, with smaller meeting rooms for up to 100 people. The Rocky Reach Visitor Center, home to the eponymous dam, is also a favorite attraction—some 650 groups visited last year; attendees can enjoy its Museum of the Columbia, tours of the Lake Chelan powerhouse, a geocaching scavenger hunt and shelters that can be used for events.

A little more than 100 miles to the south, Yakima is a destination that prides itself on outdoor activities, wineries—there are more than 80 in the Yakima Valley—and craft breweries. One of the newer faces in town is Tieton Cider Works, which opened in late 2014 with conference space. Large groups can gather at the 74,000-square-foot Yakima Convention Center, and more than 850 guest rooms are within walking distance.

The Tri-Cities area is wine country as well. In Richland, wineries that welcome private functions include the John Bookwalter Winery, Tagaris Winery and the Barnard Griffin Winery. And on the Washington State University/Tri-Cities campus, the new Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center offers tours for up to 30 and event space for up to 164.

In nearby Kennewick, major venues for conventions and trade shows are the Three Rivers Convention Center, with 75,000 square feet of space, and the adjacent Toyota Center, which can seat up to 6,000 or accommodate as many as 200 booths. New hotels with meeting space include the 80-room Hampton Inn Kennewick at Southridge, which has meeting space for up to 30, and the 116-room SpringHill Suites/Kennewick-Tri-Cities, which is attached to the convention center but offers its own event space for up to 150. Or planners can look to the Red Lion/Kennewick-Columbia Center, which recently renovated its lobby and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

Spokane: Renewed & Reviewed

Spokane may be Washington’s second-largest city, but thanks to recent growth, many planners consider it a first-rate destination for events. The Spokane Convention Center was expanded last year and now offers 500,000 square feet of space; features include three ballrooms, 40 meeting rooms and a 120,000-square-foot exhibit hall. Just outside, the 100-acre Riverfront Park is scheduled to begin redevelopment this year. And the Davenport Grand, now a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel, opened downtown last summer with 716 guest rooms and 64,173 square feet of meeting space. It has since been awarded silver LEED certification.

In addition to dozens of restaurants, shops and entertainment spaces within walking distance of the convention center, attendees can explore the city via the 37.5-mile Centennial Trail, whose central section runs through Riverfront Park. A trip to the Cork District, home to 15 wineries and tasting rooms, is another fun option.

Southwestern Washington: Promising Pursuits

Situated just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, scenic and revitalized Vancouver offers all the amenities of a large metropolitan city with the charm and hospitality of a small urban town. A day might begin with meetings, incorporate a windsurfing challenge and end with a visit to one of a dozen local breweries.

Last fall, the LEED-certified Hilton/Vancouver completed a $5 million renovation of its guest rooms, meeting space and lobby. The neighboring, historic Esther Short Park has five acres of space that can be used for events. And about two miles east, the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site has several spaces that can be used for groups of up to 300 people. These include a bandstand, the Great Meadow and the Pearson Air Museum.

Many environmental groups enjoy meeting in Vancouver. The Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission both recently organized functions at the Heathman Lodge, while the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board hosted a sold-out conference at the Hilton with more than 700 attendees last spring.

Susan Zemek, communications manager of the Washington State Recreation & Conservation Office, said the city was a great place for the event. She appreciated the spacious convention facilities and attentive staff at the Hilton and the proximity to restaurants and other Vancouver venues for after-hours activities.

Waterfront Vancouver, a 21-block, $1.3 billion mixed-use development, continues to move forward. Construction of two restaurants is expected to begin this summer, one with a promenade and outdoor seating.

To the north, in Ridgefield, events can be held at the Sunlight Supply Amphitheater and the 170-acre Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, which offers 97,200 square feet of meeting space.

Greater Portland: Paving the Way

The eco-friendly infrastructure of Portland makes it an especially easy place to plan green meetings. A great place to start is the platinum LEED–certified Oregon Convention Center, whose 1 million square feet of space includes 30,000 square feet of landscaped outdoor areas, 255,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space and two ballrooms. A 600-room Hyatt Regency Hotel across the street is planned for 2018.

Up the street is the Rose Quarter, a 30-acre campus with a half-dozen venues; larger ones include the 20,000-seat Moda Center, the 12,000-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall and an outdoor plaza that can accommodate up to 5,000. North of downtown, the Portland Expo Center has 330,000 square feet of expo space and 7,500 square feet of meeting space. It is scheduled to host upcoming events of the Gold Prospectors Association of America and Food Services of America.

Less traditional venues are also found dotted about the city. The year-old Revolution Hall, located within the former Washington High School Building in southeast Portland, has an 850-seat performing arts space and a rooftop deck for private events. The Oregon Museum of Science & Industry has a dozen event spaces or the museum can be rented in its entirety for up to 2,500. Group functions of up to 499 can be chartered with Portland Spirit River Cruises, whose vessels ply the Columbia and Willamette rivers. And reinforcing Portland’s nickname, “Brew City,” planners can pick from 40 craft breweries within the city limits; alternately, a guided pub crawl can make for a fun evening.

Kylie Nero, manager of corporate services for the Craft Brew Alliance, recently booked space for a Brewers Association meeting at the downtown Hotel Vintage, a Kimpton property that underwent a $10 million renovation last year. “The Vintage’s remodel has made the hotel especially attractive,” she said. “They have introduced multiple new customizable spaces, soft-seating options galore and transformative space.”

Oregon’s major wine region, the Willamette Valley, is also popular with visiting attendees. It is home to some 500 vineyards. Two notable event venues include the Wellspring Conference Center in Woodburn, with event space for up to 350 people, and the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton, with a spa, a restaurant and an amphitheater that can seat up to 3,000 people. 

Forty-five miles east of Portland, in Stevenson, the Skamania Lodge has refreshed its guest rooms and updated the technology in its conference center.

Central & Southern Oregon: Action Packed

Multifaceted Bend meets the mark with active groups and offers cultural and convivial sides, too. The newly renamed Riverhouse on the Deschutes (formerly the Riverhouse Hotel & Convention Center) is wrapping up an extensive, $10 million renovation this month. New features include upgraded technology within its 30,000-square-foot convention center and all guest rooms, and a restaurant and lounge with retractable walls that open to a heated outside deck.

Southwest of downtown, the Tetherow Resort is also making improvements. A new, 4,000-square-foot Event Pavilion for up to 350 people, a pool and an activity center are scheduled to open this summer. Its championship golf course is also being enhanced.

North of town, the Pronghorn Resort recently introduced the 635-square-foot Fireside Room, one of eight event spaces at the property and part of its 55,000-square-foot Clubhouse.

Just 45 miles south of Portland, the state capital of Salem beckons with wineries, galleries and culturally interesting meeting spots. Organizations that have brought events to town in recent years include the United Methodist Church and U.S. Quidditch, which held its Northwest Regional Championships here in February with 10 teams.

Notable venues include the recently refreshed, 30,000-square-foot Salem Convention Center, and the Oregon State Fair & Exposition Center, featuring 200,000 square feet of exhibit space and an 8,800-seat amphitheater. Near the Salem Municipal Airport, the platinum LEED–certified Painters Hall is part of the sustainable Pringle Creek community; it offers small light- and art-filled space for a variety of events. West of downtown, at Chemeketa Community College, the Northwest Wine Studies Center offers meeting space for up to 250 people.

Southeast of Salem, near Sublimity, the Silver Falls Lodge & Conference Center is located within Oregon’s largest state park. The property recently underwent a renovation that added Wi-Fi capabilities to all meeting spaces (indoors and out) and updated guest rooms, the kitchen and public spaces.

The Terrific Pacific Northwest

With eco-friendly sensibilities, sprawling wine-growing regions, extensive cultural and culinary options and sophisticated, high-tech meeting venues, the Pacific Northwest is an irresistible contender for group meetings. Planners who want their attendees’ attention will have it from the start.