The Constitution State is a picturesque, meetings-ready alternative for groups from surrounding New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and beyond. For a successful Northeast gathering attendees won’t soon forget, planners should check out historic Hartford, artsy New Haven, the coastal Fairfield and Mystic areas, and the pastoral Litchfield Hills.
Situated within a two-hour drive of 23 million people and midway between New York and Boston, Hartford is easily accessible for drive-to meetings and national gatherings via Bradley International Airport. According to Michael Van Parys, president of the Greater Hartford CVB, getting to and spending time in and around Hartford is quite the scenic endeavor.
"We are the Gateway to New England, which opens up many options for pre- and post-convention leisure travel touring in all seasons, from fall foliage leaf-peeping to winter recreation activities to spring and summer sunset boat cruises down the Connecticut River," he says.
The state’s capital also has its stage set for meetings. The same downtown district that’s anchored by the Connecticut Convention Center (CCC) and the Hartford Marriott Downtown, which both opened in 2005, will soon welcome the completion of Adriaen’s Landing. It currently boasts the Connecticut Science Center, which science, technology and education-related conventions turn to for science-focused, hands-on leisure activities and social gatherings, and the Front Street entertainment and retail complex, which is on schedule to open in 2011 with new tenants that will add to the Landing’s options for meeting attendee entertainment.
"It’s also easier than ever for air travelers to go from Bradley International Airport to the downtown area, just 12 miles away," Parys says, explaining that for just $1.25, the new Bradley Flyer bus route travels from the airport directly to the 540,000-square-foot CCC. "Once visitors arrive downtown, they can hop aboard free Hartford Star Shuttle buses, which continually loop the downtown area, stopping at major hotels and attractions. Our convention and hospitality leaders work with CT Transit, which operates the line, to accommodate attendees at major conventions."
While downtown Hartford features a number of large hotels within walking distance of major convention venues, including Homewood Suites by Hilton Hartford Downtown, the Hilton Hartford (connected to the Hartford Civic Center), and the Crowne Plaza Hartford Downtown, in the past year, the Greater Hartford CVB spearheaded the creation of hotel partnerships in several suburban communities.
"Clusters have been formed in Windsor and Glastonbury, with another in the works in Middletown, the home of Wesleyan University in the center of the state," Parys says.
There is also an ample amount of off-session pursuits for groups convening in Hartford.
In Hartford’s West End is the Mark Twain House & Museum, a Victorian mansion where the author wrote many of his famous books. Another appealing and popular attraction, Parys says, is the historic Old State House, which is the site of the historic Amistad trials and has a sweeping lawn for outdoor events. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, currently undergoing a $16 million renovation, and the historic Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, are also popular off-site venues.
Greater New Haven, according to Ginny Kozlowski, executive director at Visit New Haven/REX Development, is often selected to host events related to its knowledge-based economy, including eight colleges and universities, namely Yale University, as well as the Yale-New Haven Hospital complex and the Hospital of St. Raphael.
"Specialty associations and organizations select the region for access to national leaders in these disciplines," she says, adding that education, healthcare, biosciences, biomedical, and arts and culture form the core of the area’s meetings. "We see high demand for small to midsize meetings focusing on intellectual capital and the exchange of ideas with much less emphasis on the convention-type events. These meeting planners are looking for spaces to inspire the attendees."
The 30,000-square-foot Thomas E. Golden Jr. Center is one such space that includes a 230-person lecture hall, round meditation room, dining hall that seats 120 people and four seminar rooms.
Among the area’s other standby meetings-friendly options are the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale; the Study at Yale, a boutique property; and the newly renovated New Haven Hotel. Nearby are the Holiday Inn North Haven and the West Haven-based Savin Rock Conference Center, and the Madison Beach Hotel is being rebuilt and will reopen early this year.
New Haven also boasts a variety of attractions, shopping and dining located within its walkable downtown.
Theater productions at the Shubert, Long Wharf and Yale Repertory theaters hit their stride late fall through early spring, Kozlowski says, and the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art offer must-see exhibits.
Coastal Fairfield County
Located just 40 miles from Manhattan, Fairfield County is a uniquely positioned meetings destination that’s loaded with history, culture and natural beauty. One of the area’s strongest selling points as a meetings destination, according to Janet Serra, executive director of the Western CT CVB (representing Fairfield County and Litchfield Hills), is its accessibility via air, rail and road.
"Fairfield County also offers a palette of unusual and exciting alternative meeting venues, from seaports and museums to boat charters and lighthouses," Serra says, citing, among others, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.
"Because Fairfield County’s meeting venues are on the modest side—the largest being 60,000 square feet—your meeting or event will always have personalized and attentive professional service," Serra adds.
The region’s meetings players include Courtyard by Marriott Stamford Downtown; Hyatt Regency Greenwich; the newly renovated Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa; Holiday Inn Stamford Downtown; Dolce Norwalk Conference Center; and Bridgeport’s Arena at Harbor Yard. Meanwhile, the Sheraton Stamford Hotel is expected to open in July with 379 guest rooms and more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
The area also has a fine array of acclaimed restaurants, shopping opportunities, attractions like the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan and professional entertainment, including performances at the Westport Country Playhouse and Stamford Center for the Arts’ historic Palace Theatre, which is available for off-site events.
Situated halfway between New York City and Boston, with attractions such as Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, as well as world-class entertainment and large-scale meeting facilities at Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Southeast Connecticut is a meetings powerhouse.
"Meeting costs are lower than in the larger cities, yet the amenities are comparable," says Janice B. Putnam, marketing and sales manager at Mystic Country Connecticut/Eastern Regional Tourism District. "We cater to both small meetings and retreats, as well as larger conferences and conventions. Mystic is also set up to accommodate citywide events."
The Mystic area along Connecticut’s coastline is well known as a tourist destination so there is a high level of awareness that leads to great attendance numbers.
"With the high-powered marketing of the casinos, along with partnerships among properties, there’s more to offer groups than ever before," Putnam adds.
Meetings standbys include the Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa, Spa at Norwich Inn, Hyatt Place Mystic, Inn at Mystic, Foxwoods Resort Casino, MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Hilton Mystic, which recently finished an $8 million renovation.
Other new developments include the High Rollers Luxury Lanes & Lounge at Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Grand Pequot Tower. The 35,000-square-foot bowling, dining and entertainment destination has 20 bowling lanes and three private rooms accommodating 20 to 100 guests. There is also function space for up to 800 guests. Meanwhile, Mohegan Sun is on track to open BALLO Italian Restaurant and Social Club in its Casino of the Earth this spring.
At the close of business in the region, planners have numerous options for fun off-session pursuits, including strolls around historic downtown Mystic and visits to Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Mystic Aquarium, all of which are available for off-site events.
In Northwest Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, planners will find more than 3,000 sleeping rooms and 100-plus lodging facilities, and hotel rates that are among some of the most competitive in the Northeast, according to Putnam.
Putnam says two high-end conference inns are the Mayflower Inn and Spa, a Relais and Chateaux country house hotel built in 1894, and Winvian, a Morris-based group getaway.
Other area meetings-equipped facilities include Lakeville’s Interlaken Resort and Conference Center; Southbury’s Heritage Hotel Golf, Spa, Conference Center; Danbury’s Ethan Allen Hotel and Danbury Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, formerly a Sheraton property; Waterbury’s CoCo Key Water Resort, Hotel and Convention Center, formerly a Holiday Inn; and the Courtyard by Marriott Waterbury Downtown, situated near the circa-1920 Palace Theater.
There are also plenty of off-site venue options, including New Milford-based Hunt Hill Farm, featuring 10 historic buildings, 84 acres of farmland, Skitch Henderson’s Museum and the Silo Store, Gallery and Cooking School; Bristol’s Lake Compounce Family Theme Park; and Kent-based Club Getaway, a 300-acre sports and adventure resort that hosts day-long corporate picnics, multiday retreats and team-building events.
Originally from Connecticut, freelancer Carolyn Blackburn really misses New Haven pizza and day trips to the shore.