Located between Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes wine region, New York’s third-most-populous city has historically been one of America’s most industrious centers. In the early 1800s, with Genesee River waterfalls powering its mighty mills, “Flour City” roared as the nation’s first boomtown, or “The Young Lion of the West.”
When flour-making moved away, Rochester bloomed again as “Flower City” behind its preeminent nursery industry, followed by a post-Civil War renaissance as a cradle of innovation. Each founded here, Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb introduced the age of imaging and optics, forever changing the way humankind saw the world. The strong-shouldered run continued until around the 1980s, when competition and changing technologies began eroding the city’s manufacturing base.
With civic pride and Rust Belt resiliency, however, the city strove back, with high tech, the creative arts and health care now leading the way. Industrious by nature, Rochester, which hosts an impressive 140-plus annual festivals and events, also makes unlimited room for fun and play.
As Visit Rochester President & CEO Don Jeffries explained, the bureau is creatively answering the call of evolving expectations for re-imagined group experiences.
“With current industry trends extending beyond venues, hotel product and square footage, planners now need to compete for the attention of conference attendees,” he said. “Our meeting and convention team frequently hears from planners on the need to plan unique, memorable experiences that help participants get the most out of their time in a destination. Event content must be attention-grabbing and relevant, with the expectation that meeting environments, and destinations themselves, are engaging for all attendees, across multiple generations.”
In the city of the Kodak moment, there is much to capture a delegate’s imagination, and in the spirit of Kodak founder George Eastman’s famous 1888 tagline, “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest,” the bureau is a ready partner for processing the fun.
“What better gathering place for attendees looking to be engaged and inspired than the city that celebrates play and creativity every step of the way?” Jeffries said. “Rochester offers outlets that extend far beyond the four walls of a meeting room, and working collaboratively with planners on site visits, our team always makes time to showcase our non-traditional opportunities,” he said, adding that, “close relationships with our local partners allows us to easily provide personal, customized experiences that speak to the fun and creative ways to explore Rochester.”
The conversation naturally starts with The Strong National Museum of Play, where rare artifacts such as the first handmade Monopoly set, Thomas Edison’s talking doll, first LEGO sets and Barbie No. 1 form part of the world’s largest collection of historical play-related materials. The museum encompasses multiple entities, among them the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, World Video Game Hall of Fame and National Toy Hall of Fame, where 2016 finalists Fisher-Price Little People, Dungeons & Dragons and the swing are among the 62 iconic inductees to date.
With its intimate research into play (see Zoom In), The Strong is a welcoming playground for groups, offering behind-the-scenes VIP tours and accommodating up to 250 guests in spaces such as the Caterpillar Atrium and magical Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden. With buyouts also available, The Strong headlines a diverse set of fun engagements for groups in all seasons.
Firing the imagination year-round, and ideal for these winter months, when Rochester records nearly 90 inches in annual median snowfall, are tours, events and classes at the city’s hotbed of cultural and artistic institutions.
In the vibrant Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA), the George Eastman Museum is the world’s leading museum of photography. Housed in Eastman’s National Historic Landmark mansion-estate, the incomparable collection includes daguerreotypes and cameras used by Ansel Adams and NASA. Rental options for qualified groups include the gardens, certain areas of the museum and mansion, and 535-seat Dryden Theatre, where films are screened daily. Private photography workshops offer an exceptional hands-on opportunity to learn from experts.
Connected to the Eastman by NOTA’s permanent outdoor ARTWalk trail, Memorial Art Gallery is a 1913 heirloom showcasing 5,000 years of art and the recently completed Centennial Sculpture Park. Group options include custom tours, creative workshops and event spaces such as the M&T Bank Ballroom and Bausch & Lomb Parlor.
Other “NOTA-bles” include The Auditorium Theatre; Anderson Arts Building, a former shoe factory now housing artists’ studios and offering open tours; and 155–room Strathallan, a DoubleTree by Hilton. Play is a major theme at the boutique “Strath,” a destination for live music, tastings and special events, and meeting and function space including the wine cellar and 9th-floor Hattie’s, Rochester’s only rooftop bar and restaurant.
With other group-capable coordinates, including the nationally preeminent Geva Theatre Center and all-grass Highland Bowl amphitheater with its Art Deco bandshell, the arts pulse throughout the city. Founded in 1921, the globally renowned Eastman School of Music offers 700-plus concerts in the grand Eastman Theatre, intimate Kilbourn Hall and modern Hatch Recital Hall, most admission-free.