by Carla Benini | December 01, 2003

When shopping for a convention center, what’s outside the facility’s doors can be just as critical as what’s inside. If the surrounding blocks are filled with shops, restaurants and attractions, the job of finding off-site venues, arranging leisure activities and even providing security is considerably easier.
    And, chances are, the attendance numbers will be more impressive if the place has strong appeal. In fact, M&C’s 2003 Meeting Attendee Survey, released in August, found that 31 percent of corporate meeting-goers and 55 percent of association meeting attendees say location influences their decision to attend.
    What sites will draw enthusiastic crowds? Following is a sampling of cities with convention centers in happening neighborhoods, complete with insider advice on where to eat, play, stroll and people-watch.

Miami Beach

In chichi Miami Beach, the town that made lavender blazers fashionable, new trends keep cropping up like summer oranges. Convention-goers in search of a burgeoning fad need not stray far from the Miami Beach Convention Center (
   The venue, with 500,000 square feet of exhibit space and 68 meeting rooms, has been part of the Miami Beach community since 1957. A bit north and west of the main South Beach drag of Ocean Drive, the facility doubled in size in 1990. A quick walk across the street puts visitors in the heart of one of Miami Beach’s hottest districts, Lincoln Road. Art galleries, small shops and cafés with tables that spill out onto the pedestrian walkway are what lure tourists and locals alike to this stroller’s paradise.
    The adventurous should check out a local joint, David’s Cafe (305-672-8707) on Meridian Avenue, for hearty, comforting Cuban cuisine. A popular breakfast spot, David’s also has a 24-hour cafeteria and a full-service restaurant. Convention-goers might want just a caffeine jolt (and we hear it’s quite a jolt), which can be ordered from an express window.
    Another favorite is the Van Dyke Cafe (, housed in a 1920s Greek Revival building designed by Miami developer Carl Fisher. Light salads, sandwiches and desserts are among the menu items along with free jazz at night but this prime real estate is really about being the perfect spot to people-watch.
    Free time away from the convention facility could be pleasantly spent at
the South Florida Art Center (, where 45 art studios are open to the public. As long as the artist is working, guests are welcome to walk in, interrupt, ask questions and yes, even buy something.

Cozy cobblestones:
The Old Market in Omaha, Neb.

Omaha, Neb.

While steaks and stock market wizard Warren Buffett are Omaha’s claims to fame, this Nebraska city has far more to offer than meat and millionaires. Like so many Midwest destinations, Omaha is rediscovering its past through downtown revitalization projects. The Old Market (, formerly a turn-of-the-century trading center for shipping along the Missouri River, has become a trade center once again. This time the trade is in art, espresso and produce along the nine square blocks of brick and cobblestone.
    Best of all, the new Qwest Center Omaha ( is just across the street. Omaha topped off the $290 million convention facility this past September. The riverfront venue offers 194,000 square feet of exhibit space and 16 meeting rooms, all within walking distance of a new anchor property, the 450-room Hilton Omaha, which debuts in the spring.
    More importantly, where can you get a good cup of coffee? Delice Bakery, on Howard Street near the intersection of South 12th Street, is a popular morning pit stop for lattes, espressos and an enticing selection of pastries. Also on Howard is the French Café (, perfect for a midday bite with an important client or dinner on
the boss.
    Parched from walking the trade show floor? Hit The Upstream ( for a cool brew inside a renovated firehouse. If shopping is on the agenda, the surrounding Old Market is dotted with antique shops, art galleries and small boutiques.