History, yes—Virginia and West Virginia have it in spades—but these two states also feature a dazzling array of beaches, mountains, lakes and rivers that add the joy of outdoor recreation to any association group gathering in the area.
There’s an outdoor excursion that enhances any agenda, from wine-tasting amid the vineyards to mountain biking in the Appalachian foothills and from riding a Segway through the streets of Richmond to navigating white-water rapids in a raft. The choices for planners are limitless. In tandem with the outdoor options, the region’s hotels and convention facilities provide the best in hospitality and polished service. All of which adds up to meetings that make the most of a destination, both indoors and out.
Greater Richmond & Fredericksburg: surrounded by History
When the Virginia Motorcoach Association, the Motorcoach Association of South Carolina and the North Carolina Motorcoach Association were looking for a destination to host their three-state regional meeting in July, Richmond was the winning choice.
“The delegates loved it!” said Linda Morris, executive director of the Virginia Motorcoach Association. “The city has wonderful attractions for group travel and the Visit Richmond staff was great.” The groups went on outdoor excursions such as a Segway tour through downtown, golf at the Royal New Kent Golf Course in Providence Forge and a dinner show at the historic Swift Creek Mill Theatre in nearby South Chesterfield. For business and accommodations, the associations used the downtown Richmond Marriott and the Hilton Garden Inn/Richmond Downtown, which is undergoing renovations and is slated to be rebranded as a Hilton in August.
Last year the city also welcomed the National Genealogical Society, the Home Educators Association of Virginia and the National Beta Club, which all held their events at the 700,000-square-foot Greater Richmond Convention Center. Center features include 178,159 square feet of exhibit space, 32 meeting rooms, a 258-seat lecture hall and a 30,550-square-foot ballroom. Other sizable venues for events include the 72,000-square-foot Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center, which can seat up to 6,000; the 12,500-seat Richmond Coliseum, with 50,000 square feet of exhibit space; and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center, which offers 43,000 square feet of space.
Attractions that double as event locales include the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with space for up to 1,500; the Science Museum of Virginia, which can host up to 600; and the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center, which offers a three-tier amphitheater. A few miles north, the Virginia State Fairgrounds are home to the Richmond Raceway Complex, which has 128,000 square feet of space. And in the suburb of Henrico, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden can host events for up to 325.
The hotel scene is ever-evolving, offering more choices for groups. In December, the dual-branded Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn/Downtown Richmond opened in the historic Shockoe Slip; they offer 135 and 75 guest rooms, respectively, and shared meeting space for up to 100. In other hotel news, another dual-branded property is expected to open downtown this fall: the 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites and 100-room Homewood Suites are expected to offer a rooftop cocktail lounge, a restaurant and 7,000 square feet of meeting space. West of town, the DoubleTree by Hilton/Richmond-Midlothian has been renovated.
Sixty miles north of Richmond is Fredericksburg, a city steeped in history and visited by such luminaries as Captain John Smith and Ulysses S. Grant. Much more recently, the city welcomed the Virginia Association of Assessing Officers. In 2015, the group will have held an event at the University of Mary Washington for the third time. “And we have every intention of meeting at the university in 2016 and beyond,” said Jason Hughes, senior property appraisal consultant for the Virginia Department of Taxation, which organizes the association’s Advanced Assessors School.
In their free time, groups can tour the nearby historic battlefields, wineries and other area attractions. And for those who fly in, Dulles, Reagan and Richmond international airports are all within an hour’s drive, Hughes said. Also on campus is the year-old Hyatt Place, which offers indoor-outdoor event space.
The largest dedicated event venue in the city is the 110,000-square-foot Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center, which is located next to three meeting hotels: the Hampton Inn & Suites Fredericksburg at Celebrate Virginia, a Hilton Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites. Alternately, groups might consider the Fredericksburg Hospitality House, a larger event venue. In the downtown Historic District is the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center; of its three event facilities, the largest is Historic Market Square, which can host up to 500. Down the street is the 1824 Kenmore Inn, which has six meeting spaces.
Hampton Roads: Waterfront Thrills
Fresh air and sandy beaches invigorate attendees who meet in Virginia Beach, Virginia’s largest city. The surfside metropolis attracts so many organizations that its convention and visitors bureau offers exploratory tours with groups in mind to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge or False Cape State Park. The Virginia Aquarium (which offers event space for up to 1,200) offers a new Adventure Park. Also new is the iFly Virginia Beach indoor skydiving complex, which opened earlier this year.
Virginia Beach meetings facilities are equally big-picture. The 516,000-square-foot, gold LEED–certified Virginia Beach Convention Center includes 150,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 35,000-square-foot ballroom. Other venues include the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, which can accommodate up to 350; the Virginia Beach Tennis & Country Club; and the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, with event spaces including a 1,300-seat theater and an 18,000-square-foot plaza.
Citywide, some 10,000 guest rooms are part of hotels that open onto the beach. One of the larger properties, the landmark Cavalier Hotel, has closed to undergo a $260 million renovation and is scheduled to reopen in 2016 as a Marriott property. New to the city is the Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront, which offers 167 guest rooms and meeting space for more than 280 people.
Fifteen miles to the east, the Norfolk waterfront is a magnet for association gatherings. Groups can tour the Battleship Wisconsin or sail on the American Rover tall ship, which can be chartered for up to 150 people. Adjacent, the 80,000-square-foot Half Moone Cruise & Celebration has 23 meeting rooms. Other choices include the Sheraton/Norfolk Waterside; the Norfolk Waterside Marriott; and the 11,856-seat Harbor Park, with event space for up to 350. And in nearby Portsmouth is the Renaissance/Portsmouth-Norfolk Waterfront.
Continuing up the coast, Hampton is home to the 344,000-square-foot Hampton Roads Convention Center and the Hampton Coliseum, which can seat up to 13,800. Smaller sites range from the Virginia Air & Space Center, with space for up to 2,000, to the Hampton University Museum, which can host up to 275.
In Newport News, the Marriott at the City Center at Oyster Point just completed a renovation. The go-to for board meetings of up to 40 is the Courtyard/Newport News Airport, according to General Manager Elizabeth Parker. “CEOs, CFOs, NFL and MLB executives use our meeting room, and we’re pretty proud of that,” she said. Elsewhere in town, the Mariners’ Museum & Park offers spaces for groups of up to 500. The Virginia Living Museum hosts events of up to 100, and the Peninsula Fine Arts Center has several meeting spaces. Recent association gatherings have included those of the Virginia Assisted Living Association and the Virginia Chapter of the Association for the Improvement of Minorities.
In Williamsburg, 30 miles to the northwest, the Kingsmill Resort has a 16,000-square-foot conference center, and one of its newest features is literally for meetings on the go: two vintage rail cars can host groups of up to 40. Farther north, in Irvington, the riverside Tides Inn can host groups of up to 400.
The Blue Ridge Mountains: Hitting the High Points
Outdoor adventure is at every turn in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. One way to enjoy it all is by meeting in Roanoke, gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway, as the Virginia Association of Soil & Water and the Virginia State Reading Association can attest.
“Meeting in Roanoke is always the high point of our year,” said Kendall Tyree, executive director of the Virginia Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts, whose group has met every other year in Roanoke for 15 years. “The members love it. There’s always so much going on in December, and it’s such a beautiful destination,” she said. One of the group’s forays is a visit to the surrounding wine country, usually Virginia Mountain Vineyards in Fincastle, which is 30 miles north of Roanoke and offers tented event space for up to 200.
At the $100 million, 22-acre, downtown Bridges development, a concert and event space for up to 8,000 is expected to open in May. Nearby, the Elmwood Park has a new amphitheater with 58,000 square feet of space.
In hotel news, a Hampton Inn & Suites is expected to open downtown in September next to the Historic City Market; plans include 127 guest rooms and 1,500 square feet of event space. In November, a 117-room Hilton Garden Inn opened near Tanglewood Mall with 2,500 square feet of event space, and the Holiday Inn Express/Civic Center added a business center. The Hyatt Place/Roanoke Airport-Valley View Mall was also recently renovated.
The Berglund Center, Roanoke’s largest event complex, has a 14,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 10,500-seat coliseum, a 2,151-seat theater and a 46,000-square-foot event center. Another option is the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Center in the Square has event spaces, the largest of which is a 500-person atrium surrounded by an aquarium. The center is also home to the History Museum of Western Virginia and the Science Museum of Western Virginia, both of which have event space.
Southeast of town, the reopened Explore Park offers 1,100 acres of rolling hills as well as meeting sites, such as the Arthur Taubman Center for groups of up to 200; the Mountain Union Church, which can host up to 99; and the Parkway Visitors Center, suitable for up to 118. Or head another 30 miles farther to Smith Mountain Lake, where the Mariners Landing Resort Community & Conference Center in Huddleston has 34,000 square feet of event space. Another 50 miles south, in Danville, the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research offers a 20,000-square-foot conference center.
To the southwest of Roanoke, in Bent Mountain, AmRhein’s Wine Cellars has event space for up to 150. Farther south, in Rocky Mount, the Harvester Performance Center offers space for up to 700. Just 12 miles west of Roanoke, in Salem, the new Baymont Inn & Suites has been renovated, and the 40,000-square-foot Salem Civic Center is ideal for events of up to 6,000. And north of Roanoke, the historic Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs was recently renovated.
In Charlottesville, 100 miles to the east of Hot Springs, the Boar’s Head Inn offers private wine tours, the University of Virginia/Charlottesville’s John Paul Jones Arena offers 27,000 square feet of space, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello offers four event spaces. For an afternoon in the countryside, several wineries have event space including Trump Winery, with space for up to 200; King Family Vineyards in Crozet, which can also welcome up to 200; and Pippin Hill Farm in North Garden, which can host up to 250 people.
In Blacksburg, on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University campus, the Inn at Virginia Tech & Skelton Conference Center has a conference center for up to 700, or groups can meet at the 147,000-square-foot Center for the Arts. In Pembroke, 20 miles to the northwest, the Mountain Lake Lodge has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation.
About 110 miles southwest of Blacksburg, Abingdon has been welcoming visitors for more than two centuries. The Martha Washington Inn & Spa has event space for up to 200. Also in town is the Heartwood Artisan Center, where up to 240 can gather; the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, with space for up to 1,200; and the Abingdon Senior Center & Virginia Ballroom, which can host up to 300. A new attraction is the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which opened last summer in Bristol.
West Virginia: Gracious Hospitality
In White Sulphur Springs, the Greenbrier Resort tops the A-list of meeting destinations in West Virginia. The resort has perfected the art of hospitality, hosting the rich and powerful from around the world since 1778.
Ten miles west, in Lewisburg, the State Fair Event Center has 40,000 square feet of space, the Greenbrier Valley Visitors Center has space for up to 300, and the Quality Inn is located near the Greenbrier Valley Airport. Beckley, 50 miles to the west, is home to the 12,000-square-foot Tamarack Conference Center.
Charleston, the state capital and largest city, offers event venues including the 131,000-square-foot Civic Center, which hosts state and regional functions year-round. Notable spaces within the center include the 13,500-seat Coliseum and the 3,483-seat Municipal Auditorium. Two blocks away, the Charleston Marriott Town Center offers a Grand Ballroom for up to 700. West of Charleston is Huntington, home to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, which has more than 28,000 square feet of meeting space.
Clarksburg is the commercial hub of north-central West Virginia with an illustrious history. Downtown’s Jackson Square makes a charming venue for open-air dinners and receptions of up to 500. Another choice is the Village Square Conference Center, with a ballroom for up to 300 and two smaller event rooms. And the city is looking to up the ante on its meetings infrastructure with the addition of a 160-room hotel and conference center as part of its Central Business District revitalization program. Top meeting hotels include the Hilton Garden Inn and the Days Inn & Suites in nearby Bridgeport; both have space for small to mid-sized groups. Larger events can be held in Morgantown, 35 miles away, at West Virginia University, which welcomes groups with 26 on-campus venues.
As You Like It
Association planners who regularly organize functions in Virginia and West Virginia know that these states offer several essential elements to a well-attended meeting: professional venues, exceptional hotels, exciting attractions and scenic settings. It’s no surprise, then, that once a group has held an event here, they’re bound to return.