Coastal South

Meetings In Georgia And South Carolina

Georgia and South Carolina already offer a number of popularattractions, but these two states are also constantly finding new ways to delight guests with their Southern hospitality. Visiting association groups can reap the benefits of everything from convention centers with the latest in technology to world-class golf resorts.

Getting members excited about a meeting is easy in these states, with beachfront and urban settings combining with all the modern-day amenities a meeting planner could desire.

Greater Atlanta: Meet Sweet

Everyone knows that Atlanta is a constant hive of activity, which includes $1.5 billion in new development. With creative cultural options, the city is a popular choice with association planners and attendees alike. Groups that have recently booked an event in town include the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, which holds its trade show and conference in Atlanta every four years.

Groups can hold events at the World of Coca-Cola. The downtown attraction has indoor event space for up to 1,500 and additional outdoor space on its 160,000-square-foot lawn. Within walking distance is the Centennial Olympic Park, which welcomes gatherings of all sizes; the 42,000-square-foot National Center for Civil & Human Rights, which opened in June with function space for up to 1,000 people; and the College Football Hall of Fame, scheduled to open this month with 50,000 square feet of special-event space. Other attractions in this area include the Georgia Aquarium, which can accommodate up to 5,000 people, and the CNN Center, which has meeting space for up to 400 guests.

The focal point for many groups is the 3.9 million-square-foot Georgia World Congress Center. In March, the facility welcomed the Material Handling Institute’s MODEX, which attracted some 24,000 attendees, according to the organization’s senior vice-president of exhibitions, Tom Carbott. He credited the “venue, people and professional support at the GWCC and the CVB” for making Atlanta a great host city.

In development on the GWCC campus is what will be the NFL Falcon’s new stadium, expected to open in 2017. The stadium began construction in May south of the current Georgia Dome, which offers 102,000 square feet of space.

On the hotel scene, the Hyatt/Atlanta Perimeter at Villa Christina opened in May. It is attached to Villa Christina, a longtime venue with a 3,000-square-foot ballroom. The Aloft/Atlanta Downtown (formerly a Days Inn) also opened this spring following a $25 million renovation. At the Hyatt Regency/Atlanta, the rooftop Polaris restaurant reopened this summer following an extensive redesign, and the Westin Peachtree Plaza recently completed a $70 million renovation. Two new downtown properties are also in the works: a Hyatt House and a Homewood Suites by Hilton.

In midtown’s Armour Circle Industrial Park, the SweetWater Brewing Company recently introduced two event spaces. Farther north, in Buckhead, the Atlanta Marriott Buckhead Hotel & Conference Center has renovated, IACC-certified function space.

Other venues include the Cobb Galleria Centre in northwest Atlanta, which has a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and is connected to the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel & Convention Center. Just a few blocks away, the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre has a 2,750-seat theater and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom. A new stadium for Major League Baseball’s Braves is also planned for the area and is expected to open as a multi-use facility in 2017 with restaurants, shopping and a hotel. Less than 10 miles away, in Marietta, is the newly renovated Radisson/Atlanta Northwest.

About 30 miles north of Atlanta, in Alpharetta, venues include the 12,000-seat Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park and the 13,000-square-foot Metropolitan Club. A new addition is Avalon, a mixed-use development with entertainment and dining as well as a 300-room hotel that’s scheduled to open at the end of October. Fifteen miles east, in Duluth, the Gwinnett Center offers groups a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

South of Atlanta, College Park is home to the 400,000-square-foot Georgia International Convention Center. It recently hosted events of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, Georgia Parent Teacher Association and Southern Nursery Association. Farther south, in Peachtree City, is the Dolce/Atlanta-Peachtree. For rustic retreats, Historic Banning Mills in the town of Banning offers overnight accommodations and seven spaces for meetings.

Northern Georgia: Unique Sites to Discover

Athens, northeast of Atlanta, is a college town with plenty of quirky sites worth exploring. In addition to its love of nature and love of his hometown team—the University of Georgia Bulldogs—Athens extends a warm welcome to groups in town. Last year, the downtown Classic Center wrapped up a multimillion-dollar expansion project. Its newer features include the 56,000-square-foot Grand Hall and an 8,000-square-foot atrium. The adjacent Hilton Garden Inn offers additional small-meeting space. And a new Hyatt Place is expected to begin construction next door this summer with a projected opening of 2015.

Other popular sites include the Georgia Museum of Art, with space for up to 350; the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which welcomes up to 300 people for group functions; and the University of Georgia Performing Arts Center. About 45 miles south, near Greensboro, the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, on Lake Oconee has 99 holes of championship golf.

In Cartersville, about 45 miles northwest of Atlanta, the 44,000-square-foot Clarence Brown Conference Center is LEED-certified and surrounded by 2,000 hotel rooms. Another 30 miles to the northwest, Rome is home to the 34,300-square-foot Forum Civic Center.

The Calhoun Convention Center in Calhoun offers flexible meeting for up to 299; the GEM Theatre has seating for up to 457; and the Harris Arts Center can accommodate up to 200. Also in Calhoun, a new Fairfield Inn & Suites opened in July. In Dalton, 20 miles north, options for meetings include the 40,500-square-foot Northwest Georgia Trade & Convention Center and Dalton State College’s 25,000-square-foot James E. Brown Center.

Augusta, Macon & Valdosta: Community Spirit

To golfers, Augusta is a mecca thanks to the annual Masters Tournament. Attendees can play at more than a dozen courses in the area. Augusta also offers choices for events, including the 100,000-square-foot Augusta Convention Center (formerly called Trade, Exhibit & Event Center), connected to the Augusta Marriott; the James Brown Arena, with 23,000 square feet of space; and the 10,000-square-foot Bell Auditorium.

The central city of Macon is not only conveniently located but also offers a surprising variety of event venues. These two factors have helped attract all kinds of association groups recently, including the Georgia Science Teachers Association, the Georgia Future Farmers of America and the American Society for Engineering Education.

The hub for trade shows and conventions is the Macon Centreplex, which offers more than 140,000 square feet of space. Its venues include the 2,688-seat Macon City Auditorium, the 9,252-seat Macon Auditorium and a connected convention center with more than 102,000 square feet of space. Other notable sites include the Anderson Conference Center, with 22,033 square feet of space for up to 850 people, and Middle Georgia State College in Cochran, which offers more than 10,000 square feet of space.

“For our 86th Georgia FFA Convention we primarily used the Centreplex and the Marriott/City Center,” said Ben Lastly, executive secretary of the Georgia FFA. “What makes Macon a great place is the fact that it lies in the middle of the state. It’s easy for all of our chapters, regardless of where they are coming from, to get to Macon.”

The group also used its visit to get closer to the local community: “We do have FFA members who volunteer for community service activities throughout the city,” said Lastly. “For example, this year we had 25 members who volunteered at the Children’s Hospital; we had 40 students go to the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank to volunteer; and we had more than 300 members who volunteered to work on four home renovation projects through the Rebuilding Macon program.”

More than 950 attendees came to town for the 2014 Georgia Science Teachers Association Annual Conference, also held at the Centreplex and Marriott. “We utilized lodging and meeting rooms in the hotel, and meeting, registration and exhibit space in the convention center,” said Jeremy Peacock, the group’s president-elect. “We had a small number of off-site field trips, and we also hired the local trolley-style bus service to shuttle participants to downtown Macon for greater lunch and dinner options.”

Peacock continued, “Having the hotel attached to the conference center is also a big convenience. We have also held our recent board meetings at the same hotel, and we will be returning to Macon for our 2015 conference.”

About 150 miles south is Valdosta. When they’re not busy having fun hitting the links (or, for families, Wild Adventures Theme Park), event attendees gather at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center, which has 47,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space. There’s additional space at the Holiday Inn Valdosta Conference Center.

Greater Savannah & Coastal Points North: Signature Charms

The city of Savannah charms visitors with antebellum architecture, Civil War landmarks, and more recently, an emerging foodie scene and new hotels with event space. May saw the opening of two properties in the downtown historic district: Brice, a Kimpton Hotel, with a farm-to-table restaurant, and the Cotton Sail Hotel, with a banquet facility for up to 100 people and Top Deck, a rooftop bar and restaurant. Also relatively new is the Embassy Suites/Savannah, which opened in late December.

The biggest facility in town for groups, though, is the 330,000-square-foot International Trade & Convention Center. Smaller venues include the Savannah Civic Center, with 25,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 2,500-seat theater; the Coastal Georgia Center, with multiple meeting rooms and a 370-seat auditorium; and the Armstrong Center, with event space for up to 500. Brockington Hall, a historic Italianate villa, is a popular site for gatherings, with 4,000 square feet of space.

South of Savannah, on Jekyll Island, the seafront 128,000-square-foot Jekyll Island Convention Center can host nearly 6,500 attendees, and at the end of this year, the $41 million Westin Jekyll Island Resort is set to open next to the convention center.

Just to the north is St. Simons Island, which has the King & Prince Beach & Golf Resort. On nearby Sea Island, 17,000 square feet of event space awaits groups at the Cloister at Sea Island. And closest of all these islands to Savannah is Tybee Island, which features the Tybee Island Light Station & Museum with space for up to 400 people, and the 8,540-square-foot Tybee Pier & Pavilion.

Many groups visiting the area opt to head to South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island. Organizations that recently held their events here include Destination Marketing Association International, the Gypsum Association and the Insulated Cable Engineers Association.

Big changes are afoot in Hilton Head thanks to more than $200 million in recent investments. At the Sea Pines Resort, the Sea Pines Beach Club is opening in phases this summer, and its Inn at Harbour Town boasts a new pool. The award-winning resort is also developing a 26,000-square-foot clubhouse, expected to open next year with a 2,200-square-foot banquet room.

In other hotel news, the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort is currently undergoing a $17 million renovation, and both the Sonesta Resort and the Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa recently wrapped up $30 million renovations. In September, a $15 million renovation is scheduled to begin at the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa. And more than $100 million is being spent on expanding the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a property now run by Montage Hotels & Resorts in nearby Bluffton. Plans include the construction of 150 guest rooms as well as additional event space.

Greater Charleston: Looking Back

South Carolina’s oldest city, Charleston, has all the gorgeous preserved historic houses and museums you’d expect. The Charleston Area Convention Center Campus in North Charleston is the biggest venue for meetings, with features that include a 150,000-square-foot convention center. Unique attractions that can double as event sites include Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark with more than 7,000 square feet of gathering space, and the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier in Mount Pleasant that can host up to 1,500 people.

Over on coastal Kiawah Island, 37,000 square feet of event space await groups at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. And the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms wasrecently renovated.

Myrtle Beach: Right on the Sand

“What I love about Myrtle Beach is that everything you need for a great meeting is within your reach,” said Amy Vega, meeting planner for the Carolinas Society for Healthcare Education & Training. “Our host hotel, the Holiday Inn/Oceanfront at Surfside Beach, was on the beach, so our attendees could step out during breaks and put their toes in the sand, then come right back in and join us. After hours, everything that our attendees were in the mood for was close by, whether they wanted to shop at the outlets, eat seafood, go out for cocktails and nightlife or any other fun outing, it was all within a walk or a short drive.”

Vega said that during its April conference, many attendees bring their families and stay through the following weekend. “They’re excited about being able to relax and enjoy some playtime with their spouses and kids as soon as the conference is over. We usually get plenty of sunshine and good weather, in addition to affordable room rates for our conference attendees,” she said.

For large conventions, the Myrtle Beach Convention Center has 250,000 square feet of space and is connected to a Sheraton Hotel. Other popular venues include the L.W. Paul Living History Farm in Conway, the Hopsewee Plantation in Georgetown, and farther south, in Murrells Inlet, Brookgreen Gardens.

Central & Northern South Carolina: Sun Shines on Meetings

Columbia is in the center of South Carolina, so you are one to one-and-a-half hours away from the mountains and the coast, which attracts attendees,” said Elise Malek, who managed tours and events for the American Nuclear Society’s PSA 2013: the International Topical Meeting on Probabilistic Safety Assessment & Analysis, held at the downtown Marriott. “This meeting was very successful for us—we had a good turnout from domestic and abroad.”

Malek said everyone loved the group reception held at the adjacent Columbia Museum of Art. “The location is great for hosting a meeting since everything is within walking distance from the hotel, and the weather is nice nine months out of the year,” she said.

Meeting venues include the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, the South Carolina State Fairgrounds and the Colonial Life Arena and Carolina Coliseum, both owned by the University of South Carolina. The EdVenture Children’s Museum has 92,000 square feet for functions, and the IT-oLogy facility has a 200-seat auditorium. About 75 miles east, in Darlington, the Darlington Raceway can seat up to 75,000 people.

In Rock Hill, 70 miles north of Columbia, the Hood Center offers 40,000 square feet of event space on the York Technical College campus, and Events at Manchester, which opened last year, has 7,000 square feet of space. The area’s Hilton Garden Inn recently reworked its amphitheater. For off-duty fun, groups head to Camp Canaan, where meetings can be held on the camp’s private island.

Spartanburg, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is known for its historic sites. The major venue is the Spartanburg Expo Center with 100,000 square feet of exhibit space. Other events take place at the Spartanburg Marriott, as well as at the Summit Pointe Conference & Event Center and the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. The University of South Carolina–Upstate also welcomes groups and their events. And for smaller gatherings, the Chapman Cultural Center includes a 500-seat theater and two conference rooms. In Greer, the BMW manufacturing offers groups a 28,000-square-foot visitor center and museum.

Recent groups to visit include the Spartanburg Chapter of the South Carolina Society of Medical Assistants, South Carolina Association of Family & Consumer Sciences, Home Builders Association of South Carolina, American Planning Association and Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “The Spartanburg Marriott is a convention center with all the amenities you’d expect or ever need. And the food is delicious—much better than typical banquet food! But the best asset is the friendly hotel staff; the service delivered by everyone was superb. All in all, it was a wonderful experience,” said Cindy Sarratt, who assisted in organizing the event.

In Greenville, $30 million has been spent on renovations at the Hyatt Regency. The local Marriott and Crowne Plaza have also recently been renovated.

The main meeting venue in town is the TD Convention Center, which has 280,000 square feet of exhibit space and 60,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. Groups also gather at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. Heritage Green, a campus of arts and cultural venues, is home to the Greenville County Museum of Art, welcoming groups with 90,000 square feet of space; the Greenville Little Theatre; and the Bob Jones Museum & Gallery. Fluor Field is a 5,700-seat baseball stadium, and its 500 Club seats groups of up to 200. Another option, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, has 15,000 seats and recently underwent a $63 million upgrade.

One-of-a-Kind Meetings

The charming individualism of each community in Georgia and South Carolina makes meetings in this region memorable. Against a backdrop of natural beauty, from sun-drenched seashores to verdant mountain peaks, groups are certain to fare well when it comes to professional endeavors.