by Barbara Beckley | June 01, 2017

Small in size, but large in power and prestige, Washington, D.C., and the area that surrounds it-which includes Northern Virginia and Maryland-make up the most coveted piece of meetings real estate in the Mid-Atlantic region.


From the huge convention center in the nation's capital to beachfront resorts in Ocean City, Maryland, and country club-like estates in Northern Virginia, associations are assured of the best in facilities, service and attendee satisfaction wherever they gather.

 Washington, D.C.: The Center of Attention

As a seat of U.S. leadership and the headquarters for numerous associations, the nation's capital is one of the country's most popular group destinations. So much so that the 2.3 million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center is famous for setting records. It holds the Guinness World Record for the largest sit-down dinner (16,206 in 2009), and in 2016 it shattered attendance records for the USA Science & Engineering Festival with more than 365,000 people.


A new administration isn't the only thing that's changed in Washington, D.C. A flurry of new and newly revamped hotels has improved the city infrastructure. In April, the 226-room Darcy Hotel opened within walking distance of Dupont Circle with event space for up to 200 people. Also near Dupont Circle are the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel, which has updated its meeting space and the Embassy Row Hotel, a Destination Hotel that now features a revamped rooftop pool area. Not to be outdone, the iconic Mayflower has updated its meeting rooms while still preserving architectural details like the 23-karat-gold gilding in the historic Grand Ballroom. Just four blocks west of the convention center, the Kimpton Donovan Hotel has also redesigned its meeting space. South of the convention center and closer to the Smithsonian Museums, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco/Washington, D.C. is also newly redesigned and can accommodate special events of up to 300.


In Georgetown, the Fairmont/Washington, D.C.-Georgetown completed a $27 million, property-wide renovation in January. The property updated guest rooms, converted its executive forum amphitheater into the new Kennedy Ballroom and landscaped its courtyard so it could host larger functions. The Washington Marriott Georgetown has added 8,300 square feet of new public space, including a 4,800-square-foot ballroom and two new meeting rooms.


One of D.C.'s hottest new destinations is The Wharf, a mile-long, mixed-use development along the Potomac River a short walk from the National Mall. The 278-room Intercontinental/Washington D.C. - The Wharf opened in May with more than 17,000 square feet of function space, and a 175-room Canopy by Hilton and a 237-room Hyatt House are expected to open as a dual-brand property in the coming months. Entertainment Cruises will soon be offering water taxi service and has three charter vessels on the Potomac, the largest of which can accommodate up to 600 passengers for receptions.

Maryland: Hitting All the Points

"A convenient location, authentic and diverse experiences and delicious local cuisine-especially steamed crabs." This is what makes Maryland a standout for groups, according to Wini Roche, executive director of the Maryland Tourism Coalition. "The state's small size is a bonus," she added, because it gives visitors "the ability to see and do a lot of things in a short period of time."


National Harbor, eight miles south of D.C., is a popular destination for groups. It's home to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which offers more than 500,000 square feet of function space. The Gaylord's newest offering is the 16,000-square-foot, waterfront RiverView Ballroom. Features of the space include floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing a panorama that takes in the Potomac River, Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Old Town Alexandria.


 The new MGM National Harbor resort,the capital region's first luxury gaming resort, opened in December with 308 guest rooms and suites, 50,000 square feet of meeting space, a 15,000-square-foot garden conservatory and a 125,000-square-foot casino. For additional fun, consider chartering the Urban Pirates' new 90-passenger pirate ship, which recently began sailing from National Harbor. It offers service April through October.


About 20 miles north, in College Park, the Hotel at The University of Maryland is set to open in July directly across from the university's main entrance. Features include 297 guest rooms and event space for up to 1,500. The Maryland Coalition of Tourism will be one of the first groups to meet within the new property. "With all its luxurious amenities and conference facilities, we believe it will be a significant draw to the area," said Roche.


Going west, the Ellsworth Place mall in Silver Spring is attracting delegates with shopping, dining and entertainment. The Fillmore, a concert venue adjacent to the mall, welcomes private events, as does the AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center. Also nearby is the Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza, with a Great Hall for up to 722 people and a 15,000-square-foot plaza. Accommodation choices include the renovated Sheraton/Silver Spring. 


Nearby Bethesda is reveling in big hotel news. First is the $37 million makeover of the landmark Hyatt Regency/Bethesda, which added more than 20,000 square feet of new function space, including a 2,400-square-foot rooftop venue unique with stunning views of D.C. The Bethesda Marriott has also been recently renovated. Second is the scheduled opening, in 2018, of the city's first full-service hotel in 30 years: the Westin/Bethesda. Plans include 222 guest rooms and 4,000 square feet of naturally lit meeting space.


In North Bethesda, the 177-room Canopy by Hilton/Washington, D.C.-Bethesda North to set to open this in the trendy Pike & Rose neighborhood later this year. It will feature 6,500 square feet of event space, including an outdoor terrace. To the west, in the suburb of Potomac, the Bolger Conference Center has more than 70,000 square feet of indoor function space, 83 acres of outdoor event space and overnight accommodations.


Rockville features the Hilton Washington, D.C./Rockville Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, with 315 newly refreshed guest rooms and an additional 10,000 square feet of event space, bringing its total to more than 35,000 square feet. For off-site functions, the Universities at Shady Grove has more than 300,000 square feet of space. Nearby Gaithersburg offers several large gathering choices, including the Montgomery County Agricultural Center and Smokey Glen Farm. Farther north, in Frederick, home to Camp David, the new Clarion Inn Frederick Event Center (formerly the Frederick Maryland Hotel & Conference Center) reopened earlier this year with 13,000 square feet of updated event space for up to 1,000 people.


An hour east of D.C. is Annapolis, Maryland's capital and home to the U.S. Naval Academy. The city is booming with new activities that include electric boats available from Annapolis Electric Boat Rentals. Historic venues include the 1908 Franklin House. And the grounds of Whitehall, built in 1764, are now available for tented events for up to 300 or open-air functions for up to 1,000. Organizations that have met there recently include the American Bankers Association, the National States Geographic Information Council and the International Economic Development Council.


Fifteen miles the east, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the Kent Manor Inn in Stevensville is under new ownership and being improved. It offers more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space.


Thirty miles north it's "Charm City," "Monument City" or the "Crab Cake Capital of the World," depending on which nickname you prefer for Baltimore, Maryland's largest city. It was called a "record-breaking city" for the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE). The group's annual meeting, held in Baltimore in late March, drew a record 3,500 nurse leaders and exhibitors, said Kourtney Sproat, its senior conference management specialist. "Attendees raved about the welcome reception at Oriole Park at Camden Yards," she said. "It was a true 'wow' moment!"


Tory Ondrla, conference supervisor for the Association of College & Research Libraries, was equally enamored with her group's recent Baltimore meeting. "Everyone had such a good time. We always look for a walkable city, and Baltimore is very walkable and also very attractive with its harborfront," she said. "We did not receive any negative comments about anything in Baltimore."


Ondrla chose the Roundhouse at the B&O Railroad Museum for a 2,000-person reception. "It was magical!" she said. She also used the 19th-century George Peabody Library-described by Ondrla as a "cathedral of books"-for a VIP reception with great success.


The centerpiece of downtown Baltimore has always been Inner Harbor. Ongoing redevelopment is making it more desirable than ever. Its newest hotel is the 128-room Sagamore Pendry, which opened in March in the historic Fell's Point neighborhood. The year-old Radisson/Baltimore-Inner Harbor offers space for groups as large as 1,500. The Radisson was formerly the north tower of the Baltimore Harbor Hotel, and plans call for the south tower to become a Crowne Plaza, possibly as early as 2018. And the new Delta/Baltimore-Inner Harbor, which opened early this year, has meeting space for up to 175.


Three miles south of the convention center, the new Sagamore Spirit Distillery is open for tours and tastings of its rye whiskey, and a restaurant is on tap to open later this year. The distillery, situated along the Patapsco River, it is part of the multibillion-dollar Port Covington mixed-use development.


Updated and upcoming properties in the southern suburbs include the renovated Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, with more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space, and in Hanover, a new resort-hotel called Live! is expected to open in early 2018 as part of the Maryland Live! Casino. Plans call for 310 guest rooms, a 1,500-seat event venue and restaurants. In late 2016, the Live! Lofts opened nearby, with 250 rooms and 3,400 square feet of event space. About 18 miles north of Baltimore, in Hunt Valley, the Delta/Baltimore-Hunt Valley (formerly the Hunt Valley Inn) is newly renovated.


For a full-on beach gathering, few destinations compare to Ocean City, home to a 10-mile beach and a three-mile boardwalk as well as 17 golf courses and the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, which offers 214,000 square feet of space and the Performing Arts Center. The new Aloft/Ocean City is expected to open in 2019.

 Northern Virginia: Southern Sophistication

Across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Arlington delights meeting-goers with a collection of "urban villages," the closest to the capital of which is Rosslyn. "Delegates can literally walk across the bridge to Georgetown," said Cara O'Donnell, public relations manager for Arlington Economic Development.


Rosslyn's allure is increasing, thanks to new developments like the highest public observation deck in the D.C. area, expected to open in 2018 as the crowning glory of CEB Tower. The lookout will afford 360-degree views of the D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia skylines. In hotel news, what was formerly the Hyatt/Arlington is now a Hyatt Centric. The Ballston neighborhood is home to creative venues including the Cooperative Plaza Conference Center, with space for up 750 people, and the LEED-certified Virginia Tech Research Center's Executive Briefing Center, which can accommodate up to 90.


To the west, Fairfax County is on the "A-list" of Sue Walton, an independent meeting planner. "Its location between both of D.C.'s airports, it's public transit, quaint villages and one-of-a-kind museums make it an association-pleaser," she said. In Herndon, the Crowne Plaza/Dulles Airport has expanded its meeting space.


In Leesburg, the newly revamped and rebranded National Conference Center is fresh off an 18-month transformation and welcomes groups with 917 guest rooms, more than 265,000 square feet of meeting space and a 900-seat dining room. In Tysons Corner, the Ritz-Carlton/Tysons Corner recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a multimillion-dollar redo. Also newly renovated is the Crowne Plaza/Tysons Corner-McLean, which will be reflagged as the DoubleTree by Hilton/McLean-Tysons in August.


The Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles in Chantilly has updated its function space. Chantilly is also home to the expanded Dulles Expo & Conference Center, which now offers 130,000 square feet of space, and the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which has gathering space for up to 5,000.


To the east, in Fairfax, the National Museum of the U.S. Army is expected to open on the grounds of Fort Belvoir in 2019. For larger functions, the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas features 85,000 square feet of space. Or for more of a country ambiance, the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg has event space for up to 450 people.


Visitors will also find exciting changes in Alexandria. The city's first waterfront hotel-the Hotel Indigo/Old Town Alexandria-opened in May with 120 guest rooms. Other new properties include the 241-room Alexandrian (formerly the Hotel Monaco and now an Autograph Collection hotel), with function space for up to 250, and the year-old Morrison House (also part of Marriott's Autograph Collection), with a ballroom for up to 100. Recently renovated hotels include the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center (Alexandria's largest meeting hotel), the Holiday Inn/Alexandria-Carlyle, the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites/Alexandria-Old Town and the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa.

 A Record-setting Region

Power-packed with gleaming new facilities and historic sites that thrill and inspire attendees, it's easy to see why planners know a meeting held in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia will attract record attendance.