by Linda Hayes | April 01, 2017

Always on the leading edge, the Pacific Northwest never ceases to capture the attention of attendees. Unique activities and a forward-thinking outlook help inspire creativity, while planners will be encouraged by the plentitude of meeting venues and practices.

From the city sensibilities of Seattle and Portland to the natural proclivities of nearby agricultural communities to regions that home in on their best features, both Washington and Oregon up the standard of every agenda.

Greater Seattle: Inspirational Influence

Stunning Seattle lures groups seeking inspirational settings for professional undertakings with the iconic Space Needle and a breathtaking location along the edge of Puget Sound. And with ongoing efforts to take conference and meeting facilities to new heights, planners can count on the attention of local convention and visitors bureaus. The Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) features 414,722 square feet of space and sky-bridge connection to a stand-alone, 71,000-square-foot, LEED-certified facility called The Conference Center. The WSCC continues to move forward on a proposed $1.6 billion expansion that aims to begin construction this summer and wrap up in 2020 when it will offer more than double its current event space. Less than two miles away is the Bell Harbor International Conference Center.

Laura Rangel, national conferences and events manager for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, credited the WSCC staff in large part for the success of the group’s 2016 National Conference. “Forty-five percent of our membership is on the East Coast, so you can imagine the concern in taking a risk on Seattle when deciding on our national conference,” she said. “But it ended up being our highest-attended conference to date. We know that choosing Seattle played a big part, and the professionalism, flexibility and experience of the convention center staff made the planning process less stressful.”

Another group that enjoyed a successful meeting at the Washington State Convention Center recently was the American Meteorological Society. “We had record-breaking numbers, with just over 4,300 for our main conference,” said Claudia Gorski, the group’s director of meetings. That figure was 700 more people than anticipated. “We were thankful to be able to expand into the Conference Center for our sessions, since 600 additional talks were scheduled as either an oral or poster presentation.”

One of the city’s most-popular waterfront attractions is the historic Pike Place Market, which is scheduled to open its new, 75-acre MarketFront on June 29. The expanded area will feature a 30,000-square-foot public terrace and plaza, panoramic views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, new vendors and additional parking.

Small groups can enjoy classes that combine guided market tours with a cooking lesson; two local operators are Eat Seattle and Diane’s Market Kitchen. Eat Seattle utilizes the market’s Atrium Kitchen, which regularly hosts culinary demonstrations and tastings for up to 80 people. Also available for group events at Pike Place are Beecher’s Loft and the adjacent Inn at the Market.

The number of unique shopping, dining and lodging options in the city is ever-increasing and “showing no signs of slowing down,” said Rob Hampton, senior vice-president of convention sales and services for Visit Seattle. This is particularly true of hotel developments. Near Pike Place Market, the Thompson/Seattle opened last year and the nearby Hotel Clare is scheduled to open in 2018 with 208 guest rooms.

In downtown’s burgeoning Denny Triangle neighborhood, the $400 million Hyatt Regency/Seattle is expected to open in mid-2018 within walking distance of the WSCC with 1,264 guest rooms and more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Also going up nearby is a 302-room Residence Inn by Marriott, scheduled to open this fall with a 7,000-square-foot conference center. The 151-room Hotel Theodore (formerly known as the Roosevelt Hotel) is expected to reopen this summer. It is just a block from the WSCC.

Marriott has chosen the South Union neighborhood as the location of the city’s first Moxy Hotel, expected to open late this year with 147 guest rooms. It will be convenient to the expanding Center for Wooden Boats, whose 9,200-square-foot Wagner Education is under construction and will host future group events.

About a half-mile south of the WSCC, the 189-room SLS/Seattle is set to make its debut this summer within the new Mark Tower with nearly 28,000 square feet of conference space. Another mile south, near CenturyLink Field, the 282-room Embassy Suites by Hilton/Seattle-Downtown Pioneer Square is scheduled to open early next year as part of the mixed-use Stadium Place. Plans include event space for up to 480.

In other hotel news, two downtown meeting hotels completed significant improvements last summer: the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, which benefited from a $25 million renovation of its guest rooms and corridors, and the W/Seattle, whose $18 million redesign transformed all guest rooms and suites, its signature Living Room, the Trace restaurant and its meeting spaces.

Seattle never lacks for entertainment value and many of its attractions offer space for events and activities. First-time attendees visiting the city will likely be interested in seeing the Space Needle, the adjacent Chihuly Garden & Glass and the Museum of History & Industry, all of which welcome group gatherings. Last summer, the historic Smith Tower in Pioneer Square opened new, interactive tours and exhibits, a curated general store and a renovated top-floor observatory with a 1920s-themed café and bar. And August saw the debut of Wings Over Washington, a multi-sensory flying ride, at Pier 57. The nearby Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Asian Art Museum both have upcoming redevelopments planned; the aquarium currently offers event spaces for up to 800 and the art museum closed in February but is expected to reopen in 2019.

The Seattle Streetcar is an easy and affordable way to transport attendees. There’s also the Link, an expanding light-rail train service that can whisk travelers to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), which will benefit from $1.9 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next few years. Eight miles north of the airport, the Museum of Flight’s new 140,000-square-foot Aviation Pavilion opened to the public last summer.

Seattle Southside, which promotes the communities surrounding Sea-Tac, offers various services for groups headed to the area. Planners can benefit from its concierge-style itinerary planning and assistance navigating the area’s hotels (home to 9,000 guest rooms) and some 850,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association has held successful meetings in the Southside area for decades. “We have been a repeat customer at the Seattle Marriott in Sea-Tac for 30-plus years,” said Carrie Heinrich, its membership services coordinator. “We are returning customers due to the first-rate customer service provided from the staff.”

Area developments include the new Angle Lake light-rail station, which is located just south of the airport and connects riders downtown in about 40 minutes. Nearby, what was formerly the Super 8/Seattle is now the Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, and two hotels are in the works: a 152-room Hilton Garden Inn and a 170-room Residence Inn by Marriott, both scheduled to open late this year or early next year.

The 347-room Hyatt Regency/Lake Washington at Seattle’s Seaport in Renton is on track to open in June near Sea-Tac Airport. Features will include 43,000 square feet of conference space, an indoor pool and spa and exercise facilities. Just west, in Tukwila, the new, multimillion-dollar Washington Place is a 19-story hotel and apartment complex with 189 hotel guest rooms, 6,000 square feet of meeting space and a rooftop garden. A 92-room Holiday Inn Express is also in development, and the Homewood Suites by Hilton/Seattle-Tacoma Airport-Tukwila is newly renovated.

Five miles east of Seattle, Bellevue attracts groups with both meeting venues and recreational activities. One of its hubs is the 21-acre Downtown Park, which is undergoing an expansion and improvement project that is scheduled for completion in June; one of its new features is a public plaza. The 53-acre Bellevue Botanical Garden welcomes group tours or attendees can head southeast to Newcastle where the Golf Club at Newcastle can accommodate tournaments and has a clubhouse for events of up to 600. Other options include the Hyatt Regency/Bellevue, with a recently updated auditorium and boardroom; the 245-room W/Bellevue, scheduled to open in June with space for up to 492; and the Meydenbauer Convention Center, which can host up to 3,600.

North of Seattle, Snohomish County is a picturesque destination, nestled between Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains. In Everett, the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center recently hosted an event of the Association of Washington Cities, while the Xfinity Arena welcomed the Washington Recreation & Park Association last year for its annual conference and trade show.

The downtown Delta/Seattle-Everett (formerly a Holiday Inn) is scheduled to open in June with 232 guest rooms and 11 function spaces. Other local choices include the Schack Art Center, with space for up to 387; Hidden Meadows in Snohomish, with indoor and outdoor space; and the historic Opera House in Marysville, which can host up to 245.

Farther north, the Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip is in the final stages of a year-long, $15 million renovation.

Tacoma & Olympia: Cultural & Capital Gains

South of Seattle, the port city of Tacoma is also a cultural one, filled with several notable attractions. These include LeMay-America’s Car Museum, the Museum of Glass and Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma Dome and the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.

The capital city of Olympia, 30 miles to the southwest, is also a popular destination for group events. It recently welcomed the Washington Health Care Association and Washington State University. Dana Colwell, conference manager for Washington State University’s Global Campus, once again chose Olympia for an upcoming meeting of more than 200 participants for a number of reasons. “Olympia is a beautiful hidden gem with several unique opportunities to hold creative meetings and events,” she said, noting several favorites: 222 Market, the Tugboat Annies restaurant, the Heritage Room & Suite and Pellegrino’s Event Center. “There are so many spaces in accessible locations that offer not only a great meeting space but an experience participants are sure to enjoy. And I encourage any planner to reach out to the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau. The bureau is a great resource to help bring event ideas to fruition.”

Attractions that double as meeting venues include the Olympic Flight Museum, the 1923 Lord Mansion’s Coach House and the Hands On Children’s Museum. The Washington Center for Performing Arts has five spaces. South Puget Sound Community College’s new campus in Lacey has flexible classroom space.

Central Washington: creating Active Agendas

To the east of the Cascades, several destinations will appeal to associations with active members. The top of the list for many is Wenatchee, where groups can bike, hike, ski or kayak together. Planners will also appreciate the abundance of meeting venues, including the recently remodeled, 50,000-square-foot Wenatchee Convention Center; the neighboring Coast/Wenatchee Center, with its own event space for up to 100; and the 4,300-seat Town Toyota Center.

About 70 miles southwest, the Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum offers meeting space for up to 550, including a new venue called the Barnyard that can host barbecues of up to 100. Customizable group activities are offered as well, including the Beer & Bike Tour, a trail ride ending with a local beer tasting.

In Yakima, groups can enjoy a taste of the terra with visits to any of the more than 120 wineries, as well as myriad craft breweries, cideries and distilleries. Getting down to business, a prime site is the Yakima Convention Center, which has indoor space for up to 3,300, an outdoor plaza and is within walking distance of more than 850 guest rooms. Construction on the new Yakima Central Plaza is expected to begin this year, and the space could open as early as 2018.

The Tri-Cities is another area that offers the perfect balance of wine country exploration and modern meeting venues. Richland, Kennewick and Pasco are home to more than 300 wineries and wine bars and host several annual wine-tasting events. Organizations that have recently enjoyed all the offerings of the Tri-Cities are the Public School Employees of Washington, the Washington State Hay Growers Association and the Pacific Northwest Vegetable Association.

In Richland, the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Washington State University Wine Science Center offers event space for up to 164, or planners can charter Water2Wine Cruises’ 96-foot yacht for receptions of up to 120 and executive meetings. The 120-room Home2 Suites by Hilton/Richland recently opened with a small boardroom, and the 82-room Lodge at Columbia Point is scheduled to open this month.

In January, the annual Washington-Oregon Potato Conference was held in nearby Kennewick at the three Rivers Convention Center, which offers 75,000 square feet of space. The adjacent Toyota Center can seat up to 7,200 people or accommodate as many as 160 booths. Just across the Columbia River, in Pasco, the 121-room Hampton Inn & Suites/Pasco-Tri-Cities opened last May with a 35-person boardroom.

Spokane: Great Green Gatherings

Spokane lives up to its tagline: “Near nature. Near perfect.” Planners can organize events that incorporate historic attractions, arts, culture and outdoor adventure, not to mention a silver LEED–certified convention center. Recently expanded, the Spokane Convention Center now offers more than 650,000 square feet of space. Just outside, 100-acre Riverfront Park is undergoing a significant, incremental renovation. Unique and historic meeting spaces include Chateau Rive in the Flour Mill, Roberts Mansion and Glover Mansion.

Wine aficionados will enjoy visiting tasting rooms, including newly opened Va Piano in the historic Davenport Hotel and Craftsmen Cellars in Kendall Yards. The Montvale Hotel is garnering attention thanks to a multimillion-dollar restoration; its event space (for up to 200) is located two doors down at the historic Odd Fellow’s Building, also made over. The Davenport Grand Hotel was awarded silver LEED certification last year. Groups that have held meetings in the area lately include the Public Lands Alliance, Executive Women International and the World Science Fiction Society.

Southwestern Washington: Building Boom

Revitalized Vancouver, situated just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, has hosted professional sporting events, trade shows and the conferences of many organizations including the American Emu Association, the Washington State Bar Association and the Washington State Podiatric Medical Association.

Meetings central is the LEED-certified Hilton/Vancouver. The neighboring Esther Short Park has five acres of space that can be used for events. Construction has begun on Waterfront Vancouver, a $1.5 billion project that is developing 32 acres along the river. Plans include a 120-room Hotel Indigo, restaurants, shops and a 7.3-acre park, the highlight of which is a 90-foot-long pier designed by renowned public artist Larry Kirkland. The first buildings are expected to open in spring 2018. At the adjacent Port of Vancouver, a smaller development is also in the works. Investors are looking to introduce residential units, shops and a new 160-room AC Marriott.

In Ridgefield, 10 miles north, the Sunlight Supply Amphitheater boasts a 6,000-square-foot stage and flexible seating for up to 15,000. The amphitheater is less than a mile from the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, a 170-acre campus with five facilities. The $510 million Ilani Casino Resort is expected to open this month on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe reservation. It will feature 15 restaurants, bars and shops, a 2,500-seat event space, banquet space for up to 1,000 and a 350-seat entertainment lounge that hosts free weekend concerts.

greater Portland: Environmentally Sound

Eco-friendly sensibilities and sustainable infrastructure make Portland an easy place to plan green meetings. This includes transportation options. Last year the United Methodist Church, the Columbia Empire Volleyball Association and the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology were just some of the groups that held events at the platinum LEED–certified Oregon Convention Center. Its more than 1 million square feet of space includes 30,000 square feet of outdoor areas, 255,000 square feet of exhibit space and two ballrooms.

The 600-room Hyatt Regency/Portland is expected to break ground across from the convention center this summer and open in late 2019. The Hilton Portland & Executive Tower is finishing a renovation of its guest rooms and lobby and added 6,500 square feet of new meeting space and a restaurant. When complete this spring, the property plans to rebrand itself as The Duniway after a famous Oregon women’s rights advocate. Provenance Hotels, new managers of the historic Heathman Hotel, plan to open a 205-room downtown hotel called Dossier this summer and the 151-room Woodlark in the spring of 2018.

The Rose Quarter is home to the 20,000-seat Moda Center, the 12,000-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall and an outdoor plaza for 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.

A number of new venues offer interesting options. The Pine Street Market, a chef-driven emporium with nine eateries, opened last spring in a historic downtown building. Just a mile south of the Oregon Convention Center is the new, sports-loving Century Bar, which can host up to 200 people. And closer to the Willamette River is Plaza Del Toro, a private event space and test kitchen.

Less than an hour from Portland is Oregon’s major wine region, the Willamette Valley. It is home to more than 500 wineries. A notable spot for gatherings is the Ponzi Vineyards Winery in Sherwood. It has a tasting room and covered terrace, as well as an expansive plaza. In Newberg, the Allison Inn & Spa offers 12,000 square feet of function space, outdoor terraces and Jory restaurant, which has a private dining option.

Central & Southern Oregon: Communing With Nature

Bend beckons with hiking, biking, golfing and skiing, along with all-terrain driving tours over lava rocks in Deschutes National Forest with Outriders Northwest. For those with a more cultural bent, art exhibits, art walks and craft festivals fit the bill, while a stop at the High Desert Museum, a new Smithsonian affiliate, affords a better understanding of local wildlife and history.

Following a $10 million renovation, Riverhouse on the Deschutes features upgraded technology within its 36,000-square-foot convention center, updated guest rooms and a new restaurant and lounge. The 106-suite SpringHill Suites/Bend is scheduled to open this month next to the Les Schwab Amphitheater with meeting space for up to 130.

North of town, at the Pronghorn Resort, the new Huntington Lodge is set to open this fall with 104 guest rooms. Within its 55,000-square-foot clubhouse, the new Fireside Room can seat up to 40 and has a private patio overlooking the golf course. To the northwest, in Sisters, the FivePine Lodge & Conference Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary with 12 new cabins that will open this summer, increasing its total to 36.

Fifteen miles south of Bend, the 3,000-acre resort community of Sunriver offers world-class golf, skiing and snowboarding, kayaking, fishing, rock climbing, biking and more—and more than 44,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The Oregon Geriatrics Society holds an annual conference in Sunriver. “Sunriver Resort has so much to offer for meetings,” said Mary Olhausen, its executive director. “The Sunriver staff goes above and beyond. They bring about a definite touch of magic and a very ‘can-do’ attitude for all your meeting needs.”

About 45 miles south of Portland, the state capital of Salem is a prolific agricultural area, known as much for blueberries, hazelnuts and Pinot Noir as its historic downtown. Notable venues for meetings include the recently refreshed, 30,000-square-foot Salem Convention Center and the 185-acre Oregon State Fair & Exposition Center, which features some 125,000 square feet of space in five buildings as well as an 8,900-seat amphitheater. The Northwest Wine Studies Center, run by Chemeketa Community College, has event space for up to 250.

In Silverton, to the east, the Oregon Garden Resort offers indoor meeting space for up to 600 people and outdoor space for up to 2,000. Near Sublimity, the Silver Falls Lodge & Conference Center has long been a favorite meeting destination, offering updated guest rooms, cabins, lodge and meeting spaces. And farther east, near Detroit, the 154-acre Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat & Conference Center features daily well-being programs. Organizations that have brought events to the area in recent years include the Latino Educational & Recreational Network, the American Truck Historical Society, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Bend Education Association.

A unique option for groups in eastern Oregon can be had at the Silvies Valley Ranch, a 140,000-acre operating ranch south of the town of Seneca that is set to open as a retreat in July. Amenities will include lodging, a small conference facility, two reversible 18-hole golf courses and exclusive outdoor experiences such as cattle roundups, goat herding, wagon rides and Indian cave tours.

Pursuing Perfection

With stunning scenery, stylish accommodations and high-tech amenities, it’s no wonder associations appreciate the Pacific Northwest. Vibrant cities set high standards while more remote destinations push active agendas that make the most of surrounding forests and rivers. No matter the choice, groups are sure to find inspiration beyond the boardroom.