Meetings & Conventions: Play Stations - April
Head games: Airtight Garage, Metreon, San
Groups can dine, drink and shop at these all-in-one
By Martha Cooke
Getting a group from dinner to a show to the
requisite souvenir pit stop has never been easier. One-stop
shopping for off-site venues now is possible in many cities, in the
form of new retail, dining and entertainment districts. And more
are on the way.
These so-called “eatertainment” complexes let planners deliver
all the goods a destination has to offer. Many incorporate elements
of local culture or history into their design scheme, or capitalize
on local color.
“One of the key components to calling a place group-worthy is
how much time a person can spend there,” says Arlene Spiegel,
director of food and beverage practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers
in New York City. Ideally, there should be enough to hold
participants’ interest for two to three hours, she says.
Of course, part of that allotted time can be spent shopping.
Retail itself provides entertainment, says Malachy Kavanagh,
spokesperson for the New York City-based International Council of
Shopping Centers. “Consumers want this Disney-esque experience in
everything they do; being able to combine that with shopping is
seen as the wave of the future.” The Mills Corp., outlet mall giant
and developer of Nashville’s new Opry Mills complex, is an example
of a company that has “embraced the concept of retail as a
destination,” says Kavanagh.
There should be places to play, too, adds Spiegel. Sports-themed
chains such as Champs or Dave and Buster’s offer a mix of dining
and interactive entertainment that facilitates team-building and
low-key networking, she says. Where are they? Following is a sample
of new and upcoming entertainment, retail and dining districts.
Fax: (714) 956-6508
Opening: early 2001
Square footage: 300,000
Features: Similar to Disney’s Orlando project of
the same name, this complex will link Disneyland and the new
Disney’s California Adventure parks. It will offer more than
Mickey; Disney is stretching its net to include venues such as
Rainforest Cafe and House of Blues, as well as Disney brands such
as ESPN Zone and World of Disney. Dining choices will run the
ethnic gamut, with eateries offering Latin, Cajun and Italian
cuisines. A 12-screen movie theater with stadium-style seating also
is on the tenant roster.
Meeting facilities: Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen will
seat up to 250 for banquets; House of Blues will seat 400; an
adjacent entertainment hall will seat 1,000; Naples (pizzeria) will
seat up to 150 in the bar area or 225 in an upstairs dining room;
ESPN Zone will seat 900; Patina, an upscale Italian eatery, will
seat 275 in its main dining room; Rainforest Cafe will seat 550;
and Y Arriba, Y Arriba will seat 550.
Fax: (415) 369-6025
Opened: June 1999
Square footage: 350,000
Features: This Sony-owned complex offers high-tech
entertainment in an indoor, four-story facility. Retail outlets
cater to the wired, with a Sony Style electronics store and what is
billed as the world’s first Microsoft store, Microsoft SF.
Entertainment options include a 600-seat IMAX theater, along with
the 15-screen Sony Theatres Metreon. Other venues draw on Silicon
Valley wizardry; offerings range from a virtual reality game zone
called Airtight Garage to a 3-D presentation facility. Five
bistros, collectively called A Taste of San Francisco, offer
variations on California cuisine, including an Asian-style noodle
shop, a Japanese restaurant and a pasta-and-pizza café. In the
Night Kitchen is a theme restaurant with a moon-and-stars motif.
Jillian’s South of Market has a sports bar atmosphere, with
billiards, darts and big-screen TVs.
Meeting facilities: The movie theaters are
available for private showings or presentations; the largest seats
more than 500. Jillian’s hosts up to 550 for receptions; Airtight
Garage accommodates up to 675; A Taste of San Francisco can be
bought out for groups of up to 400.
Fax: (303) 260-6002
Opened: November 1998
Square footage: 350,000
Features: Denver has arrived. The 20-foot-high
letters spelling out the city’s name over this venue have become a
local landmark. This three-story complex is a hybrid of glassed-in
and open-air designs. The Pavilions spans two blocks by straddling
the street that runs through it; the second and third floors are
built above the open roadway. Eateries include a Wolfgang Puck
Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe and Magianno’s Little Italy. Virtual reality
theme eatery Café Odyssey offers high-tech decor and a choice of
settings for private events: Atlantis, Machu Picchu or Serengeti.
Also on-site is a 15-screen movie theater. Next door is the
1,225-room Adam’s Mark Denver.
Meeting facilities: Wolfgang Puck Cafe has two
meeting rooms that accommodate 55 each with breakout space for 150;
Magianno’s has a banquet room that accommodates groups of 12 to 600
for dinner; the second floor of Hard Rock Cafe seats up to 50; Café
Odyssey’s Atlantis Room seats 80, the Machu Picchu Room seats 150
and the Serengeti Room seats 180; buyouts for groups of up to 9,000
are accommodated by blocking off the street that runs through
Denver Pavilions and using the venue’s two open-air courtyards.
Universal Studios CityWalk
Fax: (407) 224-5954
Opened: March 1999
Square footage: 1.3 million
Features: Celebrity name-dropping is the watchword
at the Orlando branch of CityWalk (the concept premiered in
Universal’s Los Angeles park in 1993). Bob Marley A Tribute to
Freedom offers reggae and Jamaican cuisine, while Jimmy Buffet’s
Margaritaville has a tropical theme. Rounding out the “if it’s too
loud, you’re too old” contingent are the Motown Cafe; NASCAR Cafe;
Hard Rock Cafe Orlando; and its sister property, Hard Rock Live, a
live-performance venue. Other famous names include legendary New
Orleans pub Pat O’Brien’s and an Emeril’s restaurant. A number of
retail outlets offer brand merchandise from the various venues.
Specialty shops feature offbeat items ranging from cigars to
glow-in-the-dark jewelry and apparel.
Meeting facilities: Pat O’Brien’s seats up to
500; Motown Cafe seats up to 450; Bob Marley A Tribute to Freedom
seats up to 250; the CityWalk promenade accommodates up to about
5,000 for a private block party; more than 20,000 are accommodated
using the adjacent Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios
Florida areas of the park.
Fax: (813) 242-0364
Opening: August 2000
Square footage: 210,000
Features: In the heart of Tampa’s Ybor City, this
$45 million complex plays up its locale with Latin-themed dining
and entertainment. The focal point of the project will be the
renovated Centro Español, a 200,000-square-foot dining and retail
venue. Tu Tu Tango, a 7,000-square-foot eatery, will feature
tapas (Spanish appetizers) and flamenco dancers. Other
dining options will include a Mexican-themed margarita bar called
Adobe Gila’s and Tomatoes, an Italian restaurant. Most eateries
will have outdoor seating circling a central courtyard intended to
evoke both Latin and Cuban architecture. Entertainment venues will
include a cigar museum, 20-screen Muvico theater and Sega Game
Works, a game and video arcade designed by Steven Spielberg.
Meeting facilities: The outdoor courtyard will
hold up to 300 for receptions. Capacities of individual venues were
not finalized as of press time.
(800) 354-2657 (Columbus CVB)
Fax: (614) 222-6143
Opening: October 2000
Square footage: 200,000
Features: Constructed on the site of the former
Ohio State Penitentiary, this complex is intended to complement a
new hockey arena for the Columbus Blue Jackets, with an opening
timed to coincide with the hockey season. The Arena District will
link the Blue Jackets’ new home with the Greater Columbus
Convention Center and the city’s downtown area. The cobblestoned
Nationwide Boulevard will be the district’s main artery, lined with
retail and dining facilities. South of Nationwide Boulevard will be
a grass mall called Arena Park. The southern end of this three-acre
park will feature a series of terraces leading to the Scioto
Meeting facilities: The adjacent Nationwide
Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Blue Jackets, has 76
suites, a 10,000-square-foot restaurant and a bar area that
accommodates up to 350 for receptions. Expansion plans: Plans are
under way to develop the remaining area between the arena,
convention center and downtown with more retail and dining venues,
and perhaps a movie theater. The area west of the Arena District,
Pen West, is slated for private development.
(405) 232-2739 (Bricktown Brewery)
Fax: (405) 232-0531
Opened: in several stages, the most recent of
which was July 1999
Square footage: 1.6 million
Features: One block east of the Myriad Convention
Center, the city’s Bricktown district is the quintessential prairie
boomtown. Originally conceived as an entertainment district for the
adjacent 15,000-seat minor league baseball stadium, the $300
million project is an ever- expanding work-in-progress. Last
summer’s addition converted a mile-long stretch of road into a
canal and saw the opening of the Bricktown Art Gallery.
Meeting facilities: The Bricktown Brewery seats
up to 300 in its main dining room; private rooms accommodate 50 to
250 for receptions. Five excursion boats offer canal cruises for up
to 40 per vessel; banquets for up to 20 per vessel can be arranged.
The adjacent Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark has a bar that
holds up to 150 for receptions; its restaurant, Coach’s Chop House
and BBQ, seats 300. Expansion plans: Bricktown currently has plans
to add 120,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space by
spring 2001. Venues will include high-tech and virtual reality game
facilities, along with an 18-screen theater and a 3-D Imax theater.
Developers hope to double the number of restaurants, with a
projected total of 40. New restaurants in the works include the
Bourbon Street Cafe and Mickey Mantle’s Steak House.
Fax: (615) 514-1120
Opening: May 2000
Square footage: 1.2 million
Features: Built on the site of the former Opryland
Amusement Park, this joint venture between Gaylord Entertainment
Co. and the Mills Corp. is set to open its doors next month. The
$200 million indoor complex is within walking distance of the
Opryland Hotel Convention Center and the Grand Old Opry. Retailers
at Opry Mills will include Barnes and Noble, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor
World and Gibson Guitar Corp. Entertainment venues will include an
18-screen Regal Cinemas, 496-seat Imax theater and NASCAR Silicon
Motor Speedway, which will feature 7,000 square feet of a simulated
racing environment. Jillian’s, a 57,000-square-foot facility, will
comprise a Video Café and Bar, Hibachi Grill, pool tables and
bowling lanes. The 20,000-square-foot Alabama Grill will showcase
memorabilia and concert recordings from the band Alabama and other
country music artists. In addition to its store, Gibson will have a
Bluegrass Showcase featuring a museum of bluegrass history and a
Meeting facilities: NASCAR Silicon Motor
Speedway will accommodate receptions of up to 200; Rainforest Cafe
will seat 385; Jillian’s will accommodate up to 2,200. Regal
Cinemas will be available for private showings or
videoconferencing. The Gibson Bluegrass Showcase will accommodate
up to 450 for receptions.
Fax: (210) 223-5254
Opened: January 1999
Square footage: 250,000
Features: This former train station, less than
half a mile from the San Antonio Convention Center, was
reincarnated last year. The $52 million project includes the
restored station and a complex of retail, dining and entertainment
facilities in the St. Paul Square area. Restored to look as it did
in the 1920s, Sunset Station features a pink façade with
stained-glass windows and is connected to the downtown area by the
Riverwalk Trolley line. The original depot has been transformed
into the Sunset Saloon, which offers dancing, live music and
arcade-style games. Other nightlife options include Top 40, disco
and karaoke venues.
Meeting facilities: Sunset Station offers a
total of 10,000 square feet for group and private functions. The
Sunset Saloon hosts up to 500; the covered 12,000-square-foot Lone
Star Pavilion accommodates 1,000 for receptions or 600 for dinner
and dancing. The entire facility holds up to 10,000.
Expansion plans: Sunset Station’s Phase Two
expansion is under way. It will add five meeting and banquet rooms
seating 75 to 150 each and an open-air courtyard, accommodating a
total of 5,000; work is slated to be completed by the end of the
year. Several other restaurants, including a Ruth’s Chris steak
house, also are part of the expansion project.
GOOD GIMMICKS, BAD FOOD?
The recent high-profile decline of theme
restaurant chains such as Planet Hollywood might be explained,
paradoxically, by the concept of food as destination. Although
theme restaurants typically have been high on novelty, some have
focused on their aesthetic appeal at the expense of food
“The biggest complaint is that while the theme
might attract people, the food is not up to par,” according to
International Council of Shopping Centers spokesperson Malachy
Kavanagh, based in New York City. Nearly half of theme restaurant
revenue comes from branded merchandise, he adds, “so they’re not as
dependent on the food.”
But theme restaurants still are worthy
contenders for a group’s time and money. Venues such as Rainforest
Cafe, Kavanagh says, have raised the culinary bar for the
Patricia Dailey, editor in chief of Restaurants
and Institutions magazine, agrees that venues where the highlight
is the food, rather than celebrity owners or theatrics, are more
likely to win favor with groups.
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