Since the time of the American Revolution, Pennsylvania,New Jersey and Delaware have been fertile places for new ideas. Throughout these states, destinations were put on the map when the status quo was challenged or an industry’s (or individual’s) creativity and hard work came to fruition.
For visiting groups, that atmosphere still prevails, with event venues that fit the spirit of possibility. Be it a historic hotel, a stadium or modern architectural landmarks, the iconic structures of these states are proof to association meeting planners and attendees that goals can be achieved when groups come together for the common good.
Pittsburgh & Western Pennsylvania: A Bright Future
With three rivers running through it, tree-lined trails and a steely skyline that rivals any American city, Pittsburgh has been reinvented and repositioned as a green, hip and exciting destination.
One of its standout achievements is the 1.5 million-square-foot David L. Lawrence Convention Center, boasting the world’s first platinum LEED–certified convention center. Its bright facilities include 236,900 square feet of space, 51 meeting rooms, two lecture halls, a 31,610-square-foot ballroom and terraces with river and skyline views. Americans for the Arts, the American Association of Professional Landmen and the American Association of Immunology are just a few of the organizations that have recently met at the downtown convention center within the past year.
The city continues to expand its green-design efforts—it’s home to more than 30 certified green venues including the 460-acre Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, formerly an abandoned mining area, which is scheduled to open August 1. Its spaces include a restored 1870s barn, a gazebo and a dogwood meadow. In addition, groups can enjoy guided bird-watching tours or miles of trails (including an ADA-accessible loop).
At the LEED-certified Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, built in 1893 and one of the nation’s oldest Victorian greenhouses, event spaces include the 12,000-square-foot Tropical Forest Conservatory, designed with waterfalls and a treetop lookout. Earlier this year the Phipps was awarded Net Zero Energy Building Certification by the International Living Future Institute, which encourages sustainability.
Pittsburgh’s avid cultural scene supports numerous classic venues. The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, a complex that consists of the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Science Center and Carnegie Music Hall, has a range of performance and reception spaces. The Frick Art & Historical Center, which boasts works by Renaissance masters, can host events of up to 250; the 2,661-seat Heinz Hall, home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, welcomes group events; and the seven-story Andy Warhol Museum can host events of up to 300. The Mattress Factory, a museum of contemporary art, has space for up to 150 people.
Big and bold events are a shoo-in at the 65,050-seat Heinz Field, home of the NFL’s Steelers, which can set up gatherings in a variety of spaces, from the intimate press box to the expansive Great Hall. Pittsburgh’s other large sports venues include the 38,362-seat PNC Park, where the Pirates take to bat, and the Consol Energy Center, which can seat up to 20,000 and hosts the National Hockey League’s Penguins. For gaming of a different sort, the Rivers Casino has a new 10,000-square-foot banquet hall with spectacular city views.
Unique sites include Engine House 25, a historic choice two miles from downtown that offers two floors of event space, a wine cellar and a museum. And the National Aviary, featuring more than 600 species, can host up to 150 people beneath its glass-domed atrium and up to 450 amid tented rose garden space.
Several historic downtown buildings are being transformed to accommodate new hotels and generate more business around the city. Later this year, a 247-room Hotel Monaco is expected to open in the Beaux Arts–style James Reed Building with 9,000 square feet of event space and a restaurant; the Henry W. Oliver Building is making way for a 228-room Embassy Suites, scheduled to open early 2015 with a pool and conference facilities; and what was formerly the Federal Reserve Bank is being converted into a Drury Inn & Suites, expected to open next year with 180 rooms. Also under construction and expected to open next year is a 150-room Homewood Suites in the Strip District, located on the edge of downtown, and a 198-room Hilton Garden Inn at the LEED-certified Gardens at Market Square, a $110 million mixed-use development.
A few miles east of downtown, in up-and-coming East Liberty, the East Liberty YMCA is being turned into the 63-room Ace Hotel, expected to open in the spring of 2015 after a $23 million renovation. In Green Tree, southwest of downtown, the DoubleTree by Hilton/Pittsburgh–Green Tree reopened in late 2013 after a $20 million renovation. Farther west, the LEED-certified Homewood Suites/Pittsburgh Airport in Moon Township opened in May with meeting space for up to 110 people.
Fifteen miles east of Pittsburgh, in Monroeville, the Monroeville Convention Center has more than 100,000 square feet of event space and is supported by 1,300 nearby hotel rooms. About 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, in Washington, the Meadows Racetrack & Casino has event space for up to 3,000. Next year, the 155-room Hyatt Place/Pittsburgh South is scheduled to open with 1,800 square feet of event space. About 65 miles southeast of the city, in Mill Run, groups of up to 125 people can meet at Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 house. In nearby Seven Springs, the Seven Springs Mountain Resort offers extensive green initiatives and space for up to 900 people.
Erie, located in the northwest corner of the state on the shores of Lake Erie, has three notable convention choices: the Bayfront Convention Center, with 120,000 square feet of space; the Avalon Hotel & Conference Center, with 36,000 square feet of event space; and the Ambassador Banquet & Conference Center, which has 21,000 square feet of space and is located next to a Hilton Garden Inn and the Courtyard/Erie, each of which offers additional function space.
For fresh air, Presque Isle State Park is home to beaches and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, which offers an observation tower and classroom space. Groups that have met in Erie include the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association and the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania.
greater Philadelphia: New Ways to Meet
Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States, continues to inspire groups with its revolutionary spirit. Top attractions are the Liberty Bell; Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed; and Franklin Court, Benjamin Franklin’s home. Letters hand-stamped with Franklin’s original postmark at the Franklin Court post office make wonderful mementos.
But the future is here, too, and a surge of development is revolutionizing how and where associations meet. The six-block, high-tech Pennsylvania Convention Center boasts 1 million square feet of usable space including 528,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 55,400-square-foot ballroom and 79 meeting rooms. Expanded in 2011 and with a new management team in place in 2013, it welcomes more than 250 events each year.
According to the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2014 has been one of its busiest for conventions in more than five years. In January alone, it hosted four citywide conventions: those of the American Economic Association, U.S. Lacrosse, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and the American Library Association. Organizations that plan to meet in the city in upcoming months include the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Academy of Neurology, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Society of Nephrology and the American Society for Cell Biology.
Ongoing projects downtown include Dilworth Plaza, on the west side of City Hall, which is undergoing a $70 million renovation. It is expected to debut in September as a 120,000-square-foot green space that can accommodate events as large as 4,500. Beneath the plaza, an improved high-speed rail link will connect visitors with Amtrak stations as well as Philadelphia International Airport.
Philadelphia’s hotels are adding to the construction boom. “The hotel landscape is attracting national attention for all the right reasons,” said Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Over the next few years we expect Philadelphia’s reputation as a modern renaissance city and smart choice for visitors to take root even further.”
Among the properties expected to open within the next year or two is a Four Seasons atop the 59-story Comcast Innovation & Technology Center with approximately 200 guest rooms; a 151-room SLS International Hotel across from the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts; and a 199-room Kimpton Hotel within the historic Family Court building, which is expected to feature 37 original interior murals, 14,000 square feet of event space, a spa, a restaurant and a bar. Also on the drawing board is a combined W Hotel and Element by Westin project, with some 680 total guest rooms and 41,000 square feet of meeting space.
Two properties on Rittenhouse Square, one of the city’s earliest public spaces, have undergone updates: the Rittenhouse Hotel will offer a new spa and hair salon as part of a $10 million revitalization and the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, formerly the Warwick Hotel, has a new business-class floor. The Sheraton/Philadelphia Downtown is updating its meeting space, the Loews/Philadelphia has newly renovated guest rooms and the Westin/Philadelphia added 1,200 square feet of new meeting space. The Wyndham/Philadelphia Historic District recently refreshed its guest rooms and also added a private dining room.
Music lovers will enjoy events at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, home to the cello-shaped, 2,500-seat Verizon Hall, the 650-seat Perelman Theater and another half-dozen meeting areas for groups with as many as 1,600. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University welcomes groups of up to 1,400, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art can host up to 4,000. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is home to the Mütter Museum, which offers venues for groups of up to 400. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology has a dozen venues for events as large as 600, including the Lower Egyptian Gallery, where guests can dine beside a 12-ton sphinx. The National Museum of American Jewish History has 20,000 square feet of event space with views of Independence Mall.
Another venue with a view is Top of the Tower, which occupies the 50th and 51st floors of a building in Logan Square and has four event spaces. Groups can meet at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which offers a 13,500 square-foot conference center. Across the Schuylkill River, the historic Amtrak 30th Street Station has space for up to 1,000 people.
For sports outings and private events, Lincoln Financial Field, which hosts the NFL’s Eagles in its 67,594-seat stadium, welcomes functions in its 45,000-square-foot SCA Club Lounge. Another option is Citizens Bank Park, which is home to Major League Baseball’s Phillies and can seat up to 43,500 people.
Bucks County, north of the city, has nine wineries, many with event space. The New Hope Winery in New Hope has a ballroom that can host up to 175, and the Crossing Vineyards & Winery in Newtown has five event spaces, the largest of which can host up to 200 guests.
Other venues include the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, with a 2,500-square-foot event space and the Edgar N. Putman Event Pavilion, with seating for up to 300. Nearby, the Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle offers event space for up to 200. Twenty miles southeast, in Bensalem, events can be arranged in private historic buildings: the Pen Ryn Mansion & Belle Voir Manor on the Delaware River.
Thirteen miles north of Philadelphia, in Lafayette Hill, the ACE Conference Center has been renovated. In nearby Fort Washington, the Fort Washington Expo Center has a 20,000-square-foot conference center and more than 250,000 square feet of exhibition space. In Blue Bell, the 10-acre Normandy Farm has a 113-room hotel and 22,000 square feet of event space.
The winter of 1777–1778 was a tough one for George Washington, whose troops were holed up in Valley Forge. But they emerged to win the day, and their victory is commemorated at Valley Forge National Historic Park in King of Prussia. The Valley Forge Convention Center, with 54,000 square feet of space, is located within the Valley Forge Casino Resort and attached to the 326-room Radisson/Valley Forge. Together, the facilities offer more than 100,000 square feet of event space. Another option is the year-old Sheraton/Valley Forge. Just north, in Oaks, the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center has 240,000 square feet of space and is in the same complex as the recently opened Hilton Garden Inn/Valley Forge–Oaks. In Kulpsville, the new Courtyard/Philadelphia-Lansdale is set to open this summer.
West of King of Prussia, in Malvern, the Conference Center at Penn State/Great Valley has a 300-seat auditorium and 30 meeting rooms, and the Desmond Hotel & Great Valley Conference Center has 26,000 square feet of event space. In nearby West Chester, West Chester University has meeting space for groups of up to 500 as well as a 1,200-seat concert hall. Groups that have gathered for meetings in the area recently include the American Equestrian Trade Association and the Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers.
Lancaster & Reading: Fruitful Opportunities
History pairs with good taste in Lancaster, home to the Lancaster Central Market at Penn Square, where folks have picked up fresh produce since the 1730s. The Lancaster County Convention Center and adjoining Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square together offer more than 90,000 square feet of event space. Within the convention center, the three-story William Montgomery House recently opened up meeting space and can accommodate up to 50 people per floor.
Other properties include the Eden Resort & Suites, the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton, the Cork Factory Hotel and the Heritage Hotel. West of town, the new Spooky Nook Sports complex, home to the U.S. field hockey team, has more than 700,000 square feet of space.
Many of the Lancaster area’s attractions have added new offerings. These include a new in-house kitchen at the downtown Ware Center and the new Taste Lab at the Turkey Hill Experience, an attraction within a vintage silk mill in Columbia where attendees can make ice cream. Historic locomotives and railroad cars make a stunning backdrop for events at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. And for cultural insight, Amish Experience in Bird-in-Hand offers tours for up to 14 people.
Thirty miles northeast, in Reading, the 8,800-seat Santander Arena has 25,200 square feet of space and is home to the Reading Eagle Theater, which can seat up to 4,500. And the Santander Performing Arts Center has three ballrooms and a renovated lobby. Also downtown is GoggleWorks, a center for arts, with event space for up to 200 people.
Northeast of Reading, in Kutztown, Kutztown University has auditoriums for up to 825 and conference rooms for up to 300. Ten miles west of Reading, near Wernersville, the South Mountain YMCA Camps provides accommodations for up to 336 and meeting spaces.
The Poconos & Allentown: Town & Country Retreats
In 1902, in Pocono Manor, the Inn at Pocono Manor opened. Today it is one of Pennsylvania’s longest continually operated properties. Last year’s renovation included new windows and updates to its meeting space. Nearby, in Long Pond, the Pocono Raceway can host groups as large as 350. Adjacent is the Village at Pocono, with a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse. For larger events, the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre has 8,000 permanent seats as well as small private suites.
In Allentown, five local colleges provide event spaces for up to 6,500. The William T. Harris Agricultural Hall at the Allentown Fairgrounds has 40,000 square feet of space for events of up to 3,000. For smaller groups, the historic 1,200-seat Miller Symphony Hall is a great fit. Northwest of town, in Schnecksville, the Lehigh Valley Zoo has an amphitheater for up to 125 and four other event areas.
To the east, in Bethlehem, Lehigh University offers the 6,000-seat Stabler Arena, the 62,000-square-foot Rauch Fieldhouse and the Zoellner Arts Center, which has three theaters, the largest of which has 1,014 seats. Off campus, the 65,000-square-foot ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks makes for a unique venue.
Central Pennsylvania: A Sweet Deal
Harrisburg, the state capital, attracts associations with a variety of meeting spaces. Groups that have recently visited include the Pennsylvania Aggregates & Concrete Association, the National Speleological Society, the Pennsylvania Press Club and the Keystone Trails Association. One of the largest sites is the 24-acre Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Exposition Hall, which has nearly 1 million square feet of indoor space. The largest of its three arenas can accommodate up to 7,000 people. The Pennsylvania Farm Show is held there each January, and in February, the National Rifle Association hosted its Great American Outdoor Show at the complex.
The National Civil War Museum has a variety of venues for up to 300, and the Radisson/Harrisburg is “50 years new” following an extensive renovation. In nearby Mechanicsburg, at Strock’s Farm, the historic and restored Catering Barn recently opened with 2,000 square feet of space, and a TownePlace Suites by Marriott is expected to open this fall.
Hershey, famous for its chocolate, is 13 miles east of Harrisburg. The Hershey Lodge offers chocolate-themed guest rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Off-site venues include the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, with 71,000 square feet of space. To the northeast, in Grantville, the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course is a major attraction, and the Holiday Inn/Harrisburg has 20,000 square feet of event space.
To the west of Harrisburg, in Carlisle, the 121-acre Linwood Estate offers picturesque sites for up to 500. Other options include the U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center, with 7,000 square feet of space, and the Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School, which welcomes groups for events. Twenty miles west, in Shippensburg, a 110-room Courtyard by Marriott is under construction next to the 12,000-square-foot Conference Center at Shippensburg University and is expected to open in mid-2015.
Team spirit attracts those to State College, home to Pennsylvania State University. The Nittany Lions’ 107,282-seat Beaver Stadium and the 16,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center welcome group events as do two university-run properties: the Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. Other choices include the Ramada Conference & Golf Hotel and the renovated Toftrees Golf Resort & Conference Center.
If team building is on the agenda, the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Petersburg offers customized leadership programs. And at Penn’s Cave in Centre Hall, guests can go rock climbing, gemstone panning or take a wildlife tour.
Southern New Jersey: Meetings by the Shore
Everything’s coming up roses for groups meeting in the Garden State. On the coast, in Atlantic City, new convention space, reinvented hotels and business incentives are garnering applause. In March, summer camp professionals met at the Atlantic City Convention Center during the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey’s Tri-State Camp Conference.
More than 3,000 delegates and 250 exhibitors took advantage of the convention center’s 500,000 square feet of contiguous space. Samara Feinberg, the Tri-State Camp Conference meeting director, said the center was ideal for the multi-day gathering. The abundance and variety of local restaurants and entertainment was perfect for her high-energy delegates, she said. Other groups that have met in the city recently include Promotional Products Association International and the National Association of Elevator Contractors.
Other large venues include the House of Blues, which can host events of up to 3,800; One Atlantic, a 10,000-square-foot event space that extends 100 yards out over the Atlantic Ocean; and the Atlantic City Aquarium, which has meeting space for up to 100. Boardwalk Hall, the former home of the Miss America Pageant, has seating for up to 14,000 in its main arena and can host up to 2,500 in its Adrian Phillips Ballroom.
There’s more incentive than ever to convene in Atlantic City. The Atlantic City Convention Center, in partnership with the Atlantic City Alliance, has created a $1 million subsidy program geared toward group business.
Priority is given to first-time events that book the center during non-summer, mid-week times, and groups must generate at least 500 room nights at an Atlantic City property to qualify.
At casino hotels, meeting and entertainment choices are expanding. Harrah’s Resort/Atlantic City is building a $125 million, 250,000-square-foot conference center. And at the Tropicana Casino & Resort, plans are in the works for a fitness center, retail space and a sound-and-light show. Non-casino properties are also on the upswing. This summer, the former Ascot Motel is set to open as the new TRYP by Wyndham, and the newly renovated Claridge Hotel offers high-end amenities such as entertainment in a 600-seat showroom.
For a cultural break, groups can visit the new Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton College, which has 16,000 square feet of retail space and event space.
To the south, the popular resort spot of Wildwood houses the 260,000-square-foot Wildwoods Convention Center, which features a ballroom and oceanfront deck. A few miles south, in Cape May, the landmark Congress Hall has a ballroom for up to 275 guests.
Northern & Central New Jersey: Primed to Please
Bordered by the Hudson and Hackensack rivers, the Meadowlands pleases nature lovers and city goers. The Meadowlands Complex in East Rutherford wows with sports and entertainment, framed by the New York City skyline.
MetLife Stadium, host of the 2014 Super Bowl, is the region’s major event facility. Stadium sites range from the 10,700-square-foot Commissioners Club to the 82,566-seat field. Next door, the Meadowlands Racetrack can host up to 40,000 and nearby, the Izod Center can host more than 20,000. Less than a mile away, the new Hilton/Meadowlands offers a 4,100-square-foot, IACC-certified conference center.
In Secaucus, the Meadowlands Exposition Center can host up to 5,000. Farther south, in Jersey City, groups of up to 1,000 can gather on the lawn of the Chalsty Center and indoors, the center has more than 20,000 square feet of event space. The Chalsty Center is part of the Liberty Science Center, whose nine meeting venues also include the 400-seat IMAX Dome Theater.
Just to the west, Newark has been welcoming guests since opening its first hotel in 1670, and this decade may be one of the city’s busiest. New hotels are in the works, including the Hotel Indigo/Newark Downtown, set to open October 31 with 106 rooms; the TRYP by Wyndham scheduled to open in 2015; and the 94-room Carvi/Newark, to open in the Ironbound District.
Newark’s largest convention facility is the downtown Prudential Center, home to the NHL’s Devils. It can seat up to 18,500 and offers views of Manhattan.
Princeton is best known as home to the Ivy League university of the same name, but in 1783, the city was the capital of the United States, from which the founding fathers ran the government. Today, associations can run their meetings from many facilities, including the New Jersey Hospital Association Conference & Event Center and the Chauncey Hotel & Conference Center.
Premier meeting hotels include the Hyatt Regency/Princeton, which recently completed a $20 million makeover. In nearby Plainsboro, the recently renovated Crowne Plaza/Princeton offers a 360-seat amphitheater.
Twelve miles southwest of town, in Ewing, the College of New Jersey can host functions of up to 800 in its theater, up to 300 in the concert hall and up to 100 in its auditorium. At nearby Rider University in Lawrenceville, planners can organize events of up to 300 guests.
Sporty groups often head to the Garden State’s capital, Trenton, where the Trenton Thunder play at Arm & Hammer Park. The ballpark seats 8,300 or groups of up to 100 can use its Yankee Club & Conference Center. About 50 miles to the east, in Oceanport, Monmouth Park has space for groups of up to 100 overlooking the racecourse.
Farther south, in Camden, on the Delaware River waterfront across from Philadelphia, the Battleship New Jersey can host events for up to 3,000 people.
Delaware: Delighted to Meet You
The Swedes were first attracted to the Wilmington area in 1639, followed by the British in 1664. Nowadays, delegates from throughout the Eastern Seaboard can enjoy the scenic riverfront and meeting opportunities. Associations that have met recently in the city include the Northeast Association of Occupational Health Nurses, the Escort Carrier Sailors & Airmen Association and the Fan Association of North America.
The Chase Center boasts the state’s largest convention facility, offering 87,000 square feet of space. Attached is the LEED-certified Westin/Wilmington, accessible from Interstate 95 and less than one mile from the Amtrak train station. Additional downtown hotels include the Hotel du Pont and the DoubleTree by Hilton/Downtown Wilmington–Legal District in North Wilmington.
History-oriented groups will enjoy two former DuPont properties with meeting space: the 234-acre Hagley Museum & Library and the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, which can host groups of up to 200 and 400, respectively. The recently renovated Wilmington Public Library now has seven conference rooms for up to 200. The World Cafe Live at the Queen is a popular contemporary venue, with a 400-seat auditorium and a room for up to 100. And outdoorsy groups of up to 80 can meet at the DuPont Environmental Education Center at the 212-acre Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge. The four-story, glass-enclosed facility features panoramic views of the Christina River and the Wilmington skyline.
Other venues include the Buena Vista Conference Center in New Castle, which welcomes gatherings of up to 300, and the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. In Harrington, the Delaware State Fairgrounds is home to the 15,000-square-foot Dover Building, a 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall and the 80,500-square-foot Quillen Arena. In Lewes, Nassau Valley Vineyards has six venues, the largest of which can host up to 450. In Newark, the Clayton Hall Conference Center has a 500-seat auditorium, 7,700 square feet of exhibit space and 22 meeting rooms.
Improving on the Past
Throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, destinations are advancing and modernizing, but they haven’t forgotten their roots as historic attractions—still a draw in much of this region. To meet in any of these states is an example of how the past can help to serve an association’s future.