New York

East (Destination)

July 2017

NYC, Long Island and Westchester County still dazzle groups

by Jeff Heilman

  • Old Westbury Gardens Mansion

    Old Westbury Gardens Mansion

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0717/NYC_1.jpg

    Old Westbury Gardens Mansion, Long Island

    Old Westbury Gardens Mansion
  • The Vessel

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0717/NYC_2.jpg

    The Vessel, Hudson Yards, MANHATTAN

    The Vessel
  • Dale Chihuly installation

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0717/NYC_3.jpg

    Dale Chihuly Installation, N.Y. BG | Photo by Jeff Heilman

    Dale Chihuly installation

Last month marked my 30th anniversary of waking up in the city that never sleeps, and this place of inexhaustible possibilities remains as exciting as day one.

Behind billions of dollars in tourism and transportation investments, there are myriad more ways to be a part of it, too.

As revealed this May by NYC & Company at the Whitby Hotel in Midtown, this is the “New” New York City. Hospitality growth is one dramatic storyline. Opened in February 2017, the 86-room Whitby, with artful meeting space, including its 130-seat theater and book-filled Reading Room, is among a crop of new openings.

When first covering New York City for Meetings Today in 2005, the city had nearly 70,000 rooms, mostly in Manhattan. Now the total is 113,000 across all five boroughs, and fueled by the nation’s hottest hotel development pipeline, the target is 137,000 by late 2019. In the same period, tourism soared from nearly 40 million visitors to 2016’s all-time high of 60.7 million.

Epic even by NYC standards, blockbuster projects include multibillion-dollar makeovers of LaGuardia, Newark and JFK airports, the latter’s iconic 1962 TWA Flight Center becoming a 505-room hotel with 50,000 square feet of space.

Rising on the West Side, multi-tower, mini-city Hudson Yards, the priciest U.S. development project in history, boasts awesome elements such as The Shed, a performing arts venue with a massive telescoping outer shell, and the Vessel, a walkable vertical wonder of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs.

The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center’s $1.5 billion expansion adds 90,000 square feet of exhibition space and the Northeast’s largest ballroom, at 55,000 square feet.

“There are no signs of stopping,” noted NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon, as Gotham visibly ascends to futuristic new heights with new “supertall” towers recontouring the skyline. With the bounty extended by Long Island and Westchester County, the “New” NYC dynamically aligns with the reimagined future of meetings.   

Amid this unprecedented turnover, here are some personal favorites from three decades of biting the Big Apple to its core.

Homeward Bound

In 1979, the New York Philharmonic recorded the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Last fall, the orchestra played the gorgeous Gershwin score in accompaniment of the film’s live screening at Lincoln Center’s iconic David Geffen Hall. Among several rental venues on the legendary performing arts campus, the 2,732-capacity concert hall felt as familiar as home, as the packed house of knowing New Yorkers celebrated every landmark, scene and reference.

More inspiration calls just above Central Park at event-capable Saint John the Divine. Begun in 1892, mostly completed in 1997 but still under construction, this massive cathedral is the world’s largest.   

Founded by legendary Italian fashion photographer Fabrizio Ferri in 1991, Industria, in the West Village (with a second facility in Williamsburg, Brooklyn), is a pioneering multi-studio complex for cutting-edge event programming. Meanwhile, on the once down-trodden Bowery, the New Museum is a hot ticket for edgy art exhibitions, with the 200-capacity Sky Room panoramically commanding the stacked-box building.  

For Brooklyn, now a global byword for NYC cool, turnaround began in 1998 when the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge opened as the borough’s first new-build branded hotel in 64 years.

Within walking distance of the multipurpose Barclays Center and waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn’s largest hotel unveiled a sweeping $45 million transformation in July 2016 that included all 667 guest rooms and 44,000 square feet of meeting space, incorporating NYC’s third-largest ballroom.

My journalism career began in 2004 interviewing the WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans of the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project (HARP) at Brooklyn’s national landmark Floyd Bennett Field, Gotham’s first municipal airport, from 1931.

Now part of the 27,000-acre Gateway National Recreation Area, the airfield has also since taken off. Renovated historic hangars house the 175,000-square-foot Aviator Sports and Events Center, with acres of outdoor event space. Group activities include guided nature programs, kayaking and HARP tours in Hangar B.

Turnstile Tours offers superb insider explorations of two other legendary former military facilities, the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Brooklyn Navy Yard.  


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