December 03, 2003

A long-awaited convention center hotel opens tomorrow. The $285 million Hilton Americas-Houston, the city's largest property, has 1,200 rooms and 91,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, again Houston's largest. The hotel is connected by skybridge to the expanded George R. Brown Convention Center, which is just about completed. The center now offers 853,000 square feet of exhibit space, almost double its old space. Also opening downtown soon are the 201-room Inn at the Ballpark (Jan. 1), with 3,700 square feet of meeting space, and the 135-room Hotel Icon (Dec. 29), with meeting space for up to 350, including a 2,363-square-foot ballroom. The Icon's restaurant, Bank by Jean-Georges, will supply catering services for in-house events.

New York City's 144-room Regent Wall Street, opened in 1999, will close Jan. 16. Regarding future plans for the building, a spokesperson for the owners said, "We are absolutely committed to seeing that any new use maintains the dignity and beauty of this structure."

A new convention center opened in Dubuque, Iowa, in late November. The Grand River Center features a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and 12,000 square feet of meeting space. Connected to the facility is the 193-room Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark; nearby are more than 300 additional full-service hotel rooms.

The $211 million, one-million-square-foot DeVos Place convention center opens today in Grand Rapids, Mich., and its first event is scheduled to begin tomorrow. The center features a 160,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 28,000-square-foot reception area and 35,000 square feet of meeting space. Also available are a 2,446-seat theater and the adjacent 700-room Amway Grand Plaza hotel. A 40,000-square-foot ballroom will be finished in early 2005.

A 19,250-square-foot convention center was inaugurated last week at the Melia Azul Ixtapa, near the town of Zihuatanejo, on Mexico's Pacific coast. The center has 15 meeting rooms, a business center and an executive lounge. As part of the same $22 million expansion, a new tower has been built, bringing the number of rooms at the property to 410.

The 183-room Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay opened Nov. 24 in the Out Islands of the Bahamas. The resort offers a Greg Norman-designed 18-hole golf course, a marina (coming next year) and a 14,500-square-foot spa with a 16,000-square-foot enclosed outdoor garden featuring outdoor treatment rooms. A 5,500-square-foot ballroom highlights the 13,000 square feet of indoor meeting space.

Mark Schutte has been named executive director of the new Northern Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, which will open in 2004. The bureau was created to promote accommodations and attractions in the northern suburbs of the city, which Schutte and other members felt had been neglected by the Greater Cincinnati CVB. However, he said, "We don't look at the CVB as a replacement for [the GCCVB]. We're not competing with them; we're a complement to them."

Travelweb has agreed to provide access to its 12,000-hotel inventory to eMeetingsOnline, a company specializing in housing, registration and meeting management. According to Travelweb, whose owners include Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, InterContinental and Starwood, the new partnership will give meeting planners access to direct hotel confirmations and last-minute room availability. An official with eMeetingsOnline said this feature will help planners locate accommodations once the meeting block's cutoff date has passed.

Jacksonville, Fla., was ranked as the most affordable U.S. meeting location in a recent survey by GetThere, a provider of online travel reservation systems. Columbus, Ohio, came in second, followed by Raleigh, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Nashville. Sixth on the list was Indianapolis, followed by Greensboro, N.C.; Norfolk, Va.; Milwaukee; and Harrisburg, Pa. To conduct the survey, GetThere planned a hypothetical four-day meeting of 100 attendees from around the country. The study ranked the nation's top 10 cities based on the total cost of transportation, accommodations, meeting rooms, audiovisual services, and food and beverage.