High-Tech Venues

State-of-the-art hotels and convention centers

"These days, a portion of the meetings market is looking for a different, technology-integrated experience," says Michael Carsch, general manager of the Sax Chicago. "When you add an exciting technology component to an environment where there's good service, good facilities and a place where people can conduct a good meeting, then you have something unique to offer."

The following properties not only have some of the most technologically advanced meeting spaces in the industry, they also employ technology outside of the meeting room for cutting-edge entertainment and comfort.

> Sax ChicagoIn the midst of all the bustle of North Dearborn Street in the Loop stands the 353-room Sax Chicago, which opened in 1998 but was thoroughly revamped in 2007. Planners who want to wow attendees need simply send them to the fourth floor, where upon exiting the elevators, they will come face-to-face with a fully programmable, 36-foot-long mounted video display curving along a semicircular wall -- the centerpiece of the hotel's lounge-like prefunction area known as The Hub. This space leads directly to most of the property's 14,000 square feet of meeting rooms, which are equipped either with retractable LCD projectors hidden in the ceiling or 50-inch plasma displays mounted on walls behind sliding partitions. Both options are geared for teleconferencing.

Among some neat options with a tech twist, the 991-square-foot Paris room and adjacent 409-square-foot London rooms can be rented separately or as a package; when one room seeks privacy, the flick of a switch causes the large window separating both to instantly (and totally) fog for complete seclusion. For team building or just play time, the hotel's Studio space has room for up to 24 guests to play Wii, Xbox or Playstation games on 42-inch monitors (the same size as the HD TVs in guest rooms), along with computer stations and music-docking devices.

> Fairmont San FranciscoThe Intersect Media Lounge at the Fairmont SFBuilt in 1907 as the city was still digging out from the notorious earthquake of the previous year, the 591-room Fairmont San Francisco has seen its share of history. It was here in 1945, for example, that delegates from 45 countries met to draft the charter for the new United Nations. Today, the hotel is a rich blend of old and new, having retained its original architectural flair while adding some key technological features that belie the close proximity of Silicon Valley.

Perhaps the most buzz-worthy addition to the property's meeting facilities is the Intersect Media Lounge, which debuted last August. Developed in partnership with the Danish technology company Bang & Olufson, it offers 2,700 square feet of high-tech function space for about 100 guests. Some highlights:

• The lounge proper can accommodate up to 60 people and offers a 30-inch Microsoft Surface table (think table-sized iPad), where delegates can browse the Internet and work on business materials or proposals using hand gestures to navigate the table's interface.

• A central "game room" accommodates up to 30 people and includes consoles where groups can team-build while playing Wii Golf or Rock Band. Also available here are two iMac desktops for keeping up with office matters.

• A dedicated screening room, sectioned off with soundproofed walls, holds up to 24 people and features a 60-inch projection screen with full surround-sound for events such as corporate presentations, movie viewings and interactive video game tournaments.

The Fairmont San Francisco has a total of 55,000 square feet of meeting space that can be customized with the help of the hotel's in-house audiovisual expert. Also available: a fully loaded business center, and high-speed wired and wireless Internet in all guest rooms and meeting space.

Green and Geared-up Centers

The Minneapolis centers solar roof

The following are among the latest convention centers seeking LEED certification for their innovative use of sustainable technology.

In February, the 466,500-square-foot Vancouver Convention Center became the first in the world to reach LEED platinum, the highest level of certification possible. The British Columbia venue features a treatment plant that filters and cleans wastewater to reuse it for irrigating its six-acre "living" roof. The system has successfully reduced potable water consumption by 72.6 percent.

In California, the Pasadena Convention Center received LEED gold certification last October, thanks largely to a new self-sustaining power plant that allows the entire 130,000-square-foot complex to remain off the city's electrical grid.

This past November, the 1.5 million-square-foot Minneapolis Convention Center flipped the switch on its 2,613 newly installed solar panels. The technology produces 750,000 kWh of renewable energy per year -- the amount of electricity capable of powering 85 homes -- which will be enough to offset 539 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. The convention center expects to achieve LEED certification in 2012.

The 107,000-square-foot Wilmington Convention Center in North Carolina debuted last month and plans to earn its LEED status via efforts such as creating a separate parking area for hybrid automobiles, installing air-quality meters and sensors to monitor and adjust carbon dioxide levels within rooms, and using sand-filtration systems that prevent water-runoff impurities from reaching the nearby Wilmington River.

> Hotel 1000, Seattle With tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo of America headquartered in or around Seattle, it's no surprise the city has spawned the ultra-modern, 120-room boutique Hotel 1000. The property's electronic offerings are among the most sophisticated to be found anywhere.

The hotel's 7,200 square feet of meeting space comes equipped with smart podiums featuring direct laptop connections enabling speakers to plug in their own laptops for seamless presentations. Crestron touch-screen podium controls allow presenters to easily control lighting, audio volume, curtains and media selections.

The 1,856-square-foot Great Room offers new projectors and drop-down projection screens, as does a 377-square-foot boardroom; the latter also comes equipped with built-in videoconferencing capabilities. Three other meeting spaces each sport 63-inch plasma screens.

When groups want to take a break, the property's Golf Club offers a golf simulator that uses infrared tracking systems to provide real-time ball paths based on velocity, spin and trajectory. The club can be set up for golf tournaments with virtual access to more than 50 notable courses, including Pebble Beach, Pinehurst and Valderrama.

To accommodate a growing need for a more robust Internet capacity, the hotel boosted its bandwidth from 5mbs to 100mbs in fall 2009. The upgrade is especially helpful to large tech companies that bring 40 to 50 computers to a meeting or conference, says general manager Denny Fitzgerald. "Now, if we have those companies connecting their computers in our meeting space both upstairs and downstairs, it won't slow down connection speeds for the leisure guests in their rooms or for our hotel computers," he notes.

The hotel also has outfitted a gathering area called Studio 1000 with a Microsoft Surface table featuring customized apps from IdentityMine, a Seattle-based interactive design agency. The virtual concierge app, for example, displays 100 points of interest in the downtown Seattle area in the form of a map with color-coded pushpins. Guests can choose an attraction and get printed directions and other useful information with the touch of a button. Adjacent to the lobby and just feet from the hotel's BOKA Bar and Restaurant, Studio 1000 can fit up to 40 guests around its circular fireplace and is available for full buyouts.

Guest rooms feature a full complement of modern tech offerings such as 40-inch HD televisions with surround-sound systems, audio player docks and complimentary Internet. For enhanced privacy, rooms are equipped with a silent doorbell system. When making the rounds for housekeeping or maintenance, hotel staff push a silent button that triggers an in-room infrared scanner. If movement is detected, the staff member will return when the room is vacant.

Hotel 1000 overlooks scenic Elliott Bay and is just steps from iconic local attractions such as the Pike Place Market and Safeco Field.  

> JW Marriott Marquis MiamiBasketball court at the JW Marriott Marquis MiamiJust 20 minutes away from the dazzling sun and sand of South Beach, the new (as of this past November) 313-room JW Marriott Marquis Miami offers an array of state-of-the-art meetings capabilities -- not to mention equally eyebrow-raising leisure options. (For a video with hightlights of M&C's recent site visit, go to mcmag.com/marriotthightech.)

Marriott International went all-out in designing this initial entry under the Marquis brand (a second, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, opens later this year). Perhaps most impressive is the property's 400-square-foot boardroom, featuring Marriott's GoThere Virtual Meetings program that uses AT&T and Cisco Telepresence. Combining high-definition video and real-time audio on three 65-inch plasma screens, attendees can connect with several other groups around the world simultaneously. The Telepresence table seats six, and while the system only can display two remote others at a time, when someone off-screen speaks, the camera pivots to include him or her in the frame.  

In all, the JW Marriott Marquis Miami features 80,000 square feet of function space, including 32 breakout rooms equipped with either a 58- or 65-inch flat-screen digital display screen for regular videoconferencing. For an interactive experience, the hotel has two mobile virtual concierge kiosks that can provide directions around the hotel, display preprogrammed material or stream live video from a back room, so the company president or a high-profile speaker can interact with the attendees as they arrive.

When work is done, the hotel invites innovative play in its 19th-floor entertainment complex. Spanning 50,000 square feet and with panoramic views of downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay, the space offers attractions such as a two-lane virtual bowling alley, where teams complete by rolling full-sized balls down shortened lanes, with the throw subsequently picked up on a video screen depicting the ball's progress, either knocking down virtual pins or slipping into the virtual gutter.

Down the hall, the Jim McLean Golf School employs professional golf instructors from the Doral Resort & Spa to help guests improve their game on the hotel's own virtual golf simulators.

In addition, a 10,000-square-foot, NBA-approved basketball court also serves as a full-size tennis court or event space. Mounted on the walls are 25 50-inch LCD televisions in a five-by-five-screen grid that can be programmed individually or as a single-block display.

The hotel also offers a 3-D Media Lounge with leather recliners and a 65-inch 3-D Samsung TV for watching movies or business presentations while donning special glasses.

In-room amenities include 52-inch Samsung flat-screen televisions programmed with DIRECTV, a desktop internet terminal that can be used for web browsing, and a Wi-Fi phone that functions as a typical hotel phone but can be taken out of the room and used anywhere within the property for free intra-hotel communication on the go.