The hospitality industry continues to change for the better in the powerhouse Mid-Atlantic region. The continued care of and investment in meeting facilities and attractions will delight attendees and tourists, keeping this area’s hotels, venues and off-site options—some of which are historic landmarks—fun and fresh.
The nation’s capital still draws some of the brightest minds in various fields of innovation, many of whom are tapped to speak at events. The must-see historic sites are all still here, of course, but if your group is seeking a host city with its eye firmly on the future, numerous destinations in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland fit that bill.
Washington, D.C.: Ever Evolving
The capital needs little introduction—it’s known worldwide as a major seat of power, and as such, Washington, D.C., is one of the most in-demand meeting destinations in the country. Recent and future events have been booked by the American College of Cardiology, Awesome Con, the Credit Union National Association, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Pediatric Academic Societies, to name just a few.
One of the city’s most iconic attractions, the Washington Monument, reopened in May after a multi-year restoration following earthquake damage in 2011. May also saw the opening of a downtown business hub. The Marriott Marquis/Washington, D.C., located adjacent to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, features event space, including a ballroom for up to 3,000. The 2.3 million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.
Other popular venues downtown include the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, with more than 65,000 square feet of meeting space, and the Library of Congress, which can host events of up to 1,000. The J.W. Marriott, Jr.–ASAE Conference Center has 5,000 square feet of meeting space, and on the National Mall, the American Pharmacists Association’s Headquarters Building can host groups of up to 600 people.
There are a myriad of unique venues in the capital, too. Larger options include the 250,000-square-foot Newseum, which can host events of up to 3,500; the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum, with 162,000 square feet of function space; the National Building Museum, with 28,000 square feet of meeting space; and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which can accommodate up to 3,000. The historic Union Station has three rooms for events, the largest of which can accommodate up to 4,000, and a few blocks away is the recently renovated Kimpton’s Hotel George.
The International Spy Museum can host up to 200 but will be able to accommodate even grander events after its relocation to the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square. Construction is expected to begin in 2015. The Carnegie Library, a historic site, welcomes groups with a 150-seat theater and an extensive outdoor plaza. An art museum called the Phillips Collection is packed with Picassos, Renoirs and Rothkos, among others, and can host up to 500 for artful receptions. For varied views of the city, your group can cruise the Potomac. Entertainment Cruises has five ships and can set sail with as many as 600 passengers for receptions or up to 500 for banquets.
In Georgetown, just to the northwest, the Fairmont/Washington, D.C.–Georgetown was renovated last year. In nearby Woodley Park, the Washington Marriott Wardman Park can host up to 1,800, and the Omni Shoreham Hotel offers recently refreshed meeting and banquet space, including a 2,300-seat theater.
Northern Virginia: New Face of Old Dominion
Across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., Arlington frequently welcomes visiting groups from across the nation—and the world—thanks to its location just minutes from the capital. The land has a long and complex history (it changed hands several times in the 19th century), and today the city and county maintain plenty of landmarks, which makes the city a thoroughly modern host for meetings of all sizes.
In the central Ballston neighborhood, top venues include the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Conference Center, with space for up to 550; the nearby Executive Conference Center at Liberty Center, with more than 9,000 square feet of space; and the Virginia Tech Research Center, with 5,000 square feet of space. Closer to the riverfront, the Artisphere complex boasts a 4,000-square-foot ballroom as well as several indoor-outdoor spaces. The Westin/Crystal City recently closed to undergo a $16 million renovation and is expected to reopen in late August.
West of Arlington, in Fairfax County, recent events have been held by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, the International Association of Dive Rescue Specialists and the Overseas Brats (an organization for past students and associates of American overseas schools), which has recently held three events in Reston at the Hyatt Regency/Reston and the Sheraton/Reston. Joe Condrill, the group’s president, credits the “creativity and flexibility of the hotels to accommodate our event” and “the effort by the Visit Fairfax staff to actually sit down and get to know who we were and our needs” for its return visits. “This is D.C. for us—without our having to pay the D.C. hotel pricing,” he said.
Another group that recently convened in town was the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation. For the last three years, it has held its International Conference on Medical Device Standards & Regulation (as well as other events, such as the recent Summit on Healthcare Technology in Nonclinical Settings) at the Hyatt/Dulles, which recently completed a $3.2 million renovation in celebration of its 25th anniversary, in Herndon. “We like Fairfax because it’s much more affordable than hotels in downtown Washington, D.C.,” said Ed Leonardo, the group’s event planner. “Also, we like the proximity to Dulles International Airport.” Specifically, the Hyatt’s conference center space appeals to Leonardo for several reasons: “The chairs are all ergonomic, the all-wood tables are much nicer than typical hotel tables and the audiovisual projectors and screens are built into the facility. And the staff at the hotel is excellent.”
Just south of Dulles Airport is Chantilly, home to the 100,000-square-foot Dulles Expo & Conference Center. Post-meeting, delegates can view the Space Shuttle Discovery and network at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. North of the airport, in Dulles, the Dulles Executive Conference & Training Center offers 10,000 square feet of space.
Farther east is Tysons Corner, home to the Tysons Corner Center, a mall with restaurants, a movie theater and more than 300 stores. Nearby, the renovated Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner and the Ritz-Carlton/Tysons Corner offer event space. In McLean, the Hilton/McLean–Tysons Corner has 27,000 square feet of meeting space, and the new Hyatt Regency at Tysons Corner is scheduled to open this year.
Just seven miles south of Washington, D.C., is Alexandria, which dates back to 1749 and attracts visitors with both historic attractions and modern meeting sites. Unique event venues in town include George Washington’s Mount Vernon—northern Virginia’s most-visited attraction—which is home to the 200-seat Robert H. & Clarice Smith Auditorium as well as smaller spaces, both indoors and outdoors.
Other venues in town include the Mary M. Gates Learning Center, with more than 8,000 square feet of space, including an outdoor terrace overlooking the Potomac, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center, which has after-hours event space for up to 850. Renovated meeting hotels include the Westin/Alexandria, the Hilton/Alexandria Old Town and the Embassy Suites/Alexandria Old Town. Organizations that have held meetings in the Alexandria area include the International Society for Patent Information and the Defense Strategies Institute.
Thirty miles west is the city of Manassas—famous for major Civil War battles—where groups can tour National Battlefield Park. A few miles south, the Hylton Performing Arts Center has 85,000 square feet of space. Farther west, in Haymarket, the Winery at La Grange is a historic building that can accommodate up to 150 guests.
To the north, in Middleburg, the Salamander Resort & Spa opened last year on 340 acres of farmland with team-building options that range from cooking lessons to an equestrian program. In Leesburg, the 110-acre National Conference Center can host groups of up to 1,800, and the recently renovated Lansdowne Resort includes a 126-seat amphitheater, a golf course, a spa and an aquatic complex.
Maryland:Historic with a twist
The land that we now know as Maryland has been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century that things really began to develop. Industry and business experienced a boom here, and today the state is well regarded for its world-class meeting options that attract groups from all over the country.
Many associations have found what they needed in Prince George’s County at the 300-acre National Harbor, an entertainment district on the shores of the Potomac River, just 11 miles south of D.C. It is home to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which has renovated space. One of National Harbor’s newest attractions is its pier’s Capital Wheel, where attendees can take in the sights from 180 feet above the waterfront.
About 40 miles farther south, in Prince Frederick, the Holiday Inn Solomons Conference Center & Marina has 20,000 square feet of meeting space; the Barn at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, overlooking the Patuxent River, has a 4,000-square-foot covered pavilion and several smaller event sites; and the Running Hare Vineyard welcomes groups of up to 250. And in the waterfront community of Solomons, the Calvert Marine Museum can host groups of up to 175 people.
North of D.C., two well-frequented destinations within the Capital Beltway (the interstate that circles the capital) are Chevy Chase and Silver Spring. In Chevy Chase, the National 4-H Youth Conference Center has 246 guest rooms and 44,000 square feet of meeting space, and in Silver Spring, a new DoubleTree by Hilton opened last year. It’s not far from the 2,000-seat Fillmore concert hall, which has 23,000 square feet of space, and the AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center, which has a public gallery with 5,000 square feet of space and a conference room for up to 100. Another option is the Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza, which can host groups of up to 725 people.
From Silver Spring, it’s a quick eight miles up to North Bethesda, where you’ll find function space at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. Five miles west, in the town of Potomac, the Bolger Conference Center has 83 acres of outdoor space. And in Rockville, VisArts Rockville has more than 3,000 square feet of event space and a catering kitchen. In addition, its art classes make for a fun and creative group activity. Or groups can meet at Glenview Mansion, a historic site that can host upward of 200 people.
Up to 5,000 can gather for team-building activities, barbecues and events at Smokey Glen Farm in Gaithersburg. Other options in town are the Montgomery County Agricultural Center, with 34,362 square feet of space, and 300 Shady Grove, a 32,000-square-foot bowling alley with a bar and VIP room. The newest lodging option is the LEED-certified Hampton Inn & Suites.
Just west, in Germantown, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites (formerly a Hampton Inn) is connected to the Highlands at Germantown Conference & Banquet Center. East of Gaithersburg, in Olney, the Olney Theatre Center can seat up to 400 people.
Changes are afoot in Annapolis, the state capital (located 30 miles east of D.C.), where the Loews Hotel has completed the final phase of a three-year renovation. Upgraded guest rooms and suites now offer free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and improved bathrooms. Earlier phases included an upgraded lobby and meeting space. Other notable sites include the O’Callaghan Annapolis Hotel, which recently began a multimillion-dollar renovation, and the Westin/Annapolis, which completed a 14-month, $5 million renovation in February that increased its meeting space.
Must-visit attractions in Annapolis include the U.S. Naval Academy, which has a museum, and the Annapolis Maritime Museum, which has 7,000 square feet of event space. In Edgewater, not far from downtown, up to 150 can gather at the Historic London Town & Gardens, a museum and park where the history (and horticulture) of colonial times are brought to life.
Baltimore, north of Annapolis, is another historic city with updated venues that are wowing visitors. A prime example is the Lord Baltimore Hotel, which dates back to 1928 and has been restored to its original magnificence—with plenty of modern touches, of course. The property features a rooftop event space and a gold Murano glass chandelier in its lobby that can’t help but make a grand first impression. And the Brookshire Suites has reopened following a relaunch by Modus Hotels, the group’s first property in Baltimore. The hotel has plenty of local flavor: Portraits of Baltimore-born musicians adorn the walls, local artist Michael Owen was commissioned to provide street-art works for the lobby and its bar serves locally brewed beers and regional wines.
Three Marriott properties were upgraded recently: The Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards received a $3.7 million renovation, the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront has an updated restaurant and the Marriott/BWI Airport underwent a $3.5 million transformation. The former Tremont Hotel became the Embassy Suites/Baltimore Inner Harbor last year; it is connected to the Grand Historic Venue, which has 45,000 square feet of event space. The Hyatt Regency/Baltimore began a renovation that is expected to be complete by late 2015.
The new $400 million Horseshoe Baltimore Casino is scheduled to open this fall on the south side of the city with event space for up to 800 people and several restaurants and lounges. And Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has been undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation of two concourses that is expected to be complete later this summer.
Many groups, including the American Telemedicine Association and the Islamic Circle of North America, hold events at the 1.2 million-square-foot Baltimore Convention Center, which is connected to a Hilton Hotel that has its own meeting space. Just blocks away, the National Aquarium has indoor-outdoor space for up to 3,000 people.
Baltimore’s sporting prowess is well known, and groups with sports fans can visit one of several beloved stadiums and sports attractions. The Sports Legends Museum is next to Major League Baseball’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Three blocks west is the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum, full of the star’s personal artifacts. M&T Bank Stadium, home to the NFL Ravens, is just south, and the Lacrosse Hall of Fame is a 10-minute drive north of the Inner Harbor.
There are dozens of destinations outside the city limits with dedicated event venues and meeting hotels. One such example is Linthicum Heights, just south, where the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute welcomes groups with guest rooms and function space.
Howard County, west of Baltimore, has recently hosted events of the Correctional Education Association, the Association of Former Internal Revenue Executives and the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has been holding its annual conference in the area for almost three decades (most recently at the Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City). “The area is a hidden treasure,” said Janna Bowman, the group’s event organizer. “It has the feel of a remote resort but is within minutes of every convenience you need and within an hour of all the nation’s capital has to offer.”
A group that recently visited is the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. In November, about 140 of its members headed to a regional conference at the Sheraton Columbia Towne Center Hotel in Columbia. “Attendees from the Mid-Atlantic area loved the central location and were impressed by the convenience to major highways,” said the foundation’s education and training manager Terri Pazornick.
In Frederick, 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the former Holiday Inn Express has been reflagged as a Country Inn & Suites following a $2 million renovation, and the Hampton Inn/Frederick is currently being upgraded. The Business Factory of Frederick has more than 9,000 square feet of event space, and the 155-acre ThorpeWood in the Catoctin Mountains near Thurmont offers a timber-frame lodge for up to 70 guests.
In western Maryland, in Hagerstown, the Hager Hall Conference & Event Center has 17,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to a Clarion Hotel, which also has meeting space. Civil War buffs can visit the Antietam National Battlefield, 10 miles south.
About 110 miles to the west is McHenry, where the Wisp Resort, which was founded as a ski resort, has been attracting outdoorsy types since 1955. The resort has undergone more than $4.5 million in renovations in the last few years and is in the midst of expanding its meeting space.
The Delmarva Peninsula is home to the state’s easternmost communities, many fronting either the Atlantic Ocean or Chesapeake Bay. Salisbury is a meeting destination in its own right, with a university, an airport and three meeting hotels ideal for small or mid-sized groups. The Wicomico Youth & Civic Center has two arenas (30,000 and 10,000 square feet, respectively), 10 meeting rooms and free parking.
From downtown Salisbury, you’re just half an hour from Chesapeake Bay and just 30 miles from the Atlantic coast, where you’ll find the appropriately named Ocean City. Its major meetings venue is the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, which recently underwent an expansion and now offers more than 180,000 square feet of space. From here, it’s an easy two miles to the city’s famous boardwalk and sandy beaches, where guests and their families can mingle with vacationers and soak up some sun.
Dynamic Destinations for Decision-Makers
Many associations still schedule important meetings within the confines of D.C.’s Beltway, maintaining a close distance to the nation’s power brokers. While Northern Virginia and Maryland also attract groups looking for proximity to those with pull, they are recognized on their own merits—as preferred areas for retreats and regional gatherings and as places where leadership and members can come to a consensus on the future direction of their associations.