Seattle's Summit and One-of-a-Kind Vibe Have the Emerald City Soaring
Seattle Convention Center Summit building. Credit: Visit Seattle.
The addition of the Summit building to the Seattle Convention Center (SCC) is one of those game-changing developments that catapults a destination into a rarefied upper range of citywide clients, and the Emerald City was keen to show off it and other meetings and events options to Meetings Today as well as a group from streamlinevents, a San Francisco Bay Area-based experiential events agency.
The trip kicked off with a The Amazing Race-style tour of the new facility that had four groups from streamlinevents (including staffers, planners and current and prospective clients) sprinting through the building to complete missions that highlighted the state-of-the-art options of the addition that opened in January 2023.
Summit, located a block and a half northeast of the original Arch building, has nearly doubled the capacity of the convention center—SCC estimated it had to turn away more than 300 events between 2012 and 2015 due to the unavailability of space in Arch—with the addition of nearly 575,000 square feet of event space that includes 62 meeting rooms, a design-forward 58,000-square-foot, column-free ballroom that features nearly 4,000 suspended planks of reclaimed Douglas fir wood, and almost 250,000 square feet of exhibit space. With roughly 1.5 million square feet of space, Seattle is in a whole new citywide competitive set.
According to Anne Gorman, vice president, sales and marketing for streamlinevents, the Seattle fam was born pre-pandemic and then really took on greater importance due her company wanting more choices because of the impact of post-shutdown space compression in major meetings destinations.
“It really brought to the forefront the importance of us understanding, okay, when Vegas is sold out, when Orlando is sold out, when Atlanta is sold out, where can we go?” Gorman said. “And you really need to go and see it in order to be able to understand if it’s a fit, to actually experience it and get the vibe of the city and get a sense of the space and the hotels that are available to you.
“This was the second year that we’ve done this [familiarization] event, and [this year] we selected Seattle because we really feel like there’s so much to offer there,” she continued. “They’ve got that brand-new convention center that’s beautiful, and from a very practical perspective, all the needs are there; the lift into SeaTac; the square footage of the convention center; the number of hotel rooms that are within walking distance of the convention center. There’s also a really great vibe there, and I think that is so important and contributes so much to the success of an event if there is energy that you can pull from and draw from when you’re thinking about designing the attendee experience. Seattle absolutely has that.”
Visit Seattle Meetings and Events Tour
My fall tour of Seattle, which crossed paths with the streamlinevents group at various stations, provided a great snapshot of the city’s iconic meetings and events attractions, from bustling Pike Place Market to Seattle Center, hotels large and small and even a jaunt outside of city limits to experience three very different venue options. The experience was further augmented with a seaplane excursion from Seattle’s Lake Union north to the San Juan Islands via Kenmore Air, which counts many incentive travel and executive retreat groups as clients.
Seattle Convention Center
The main order of business for this trip, of course, was a tour of the Seattle Convention Center, with the $2 billion Summit addition naturally getting top billing. Our group met for an orientation on the forthcoming The Amazing Race-style competition, split into four groups and then was literally off to the races, attired in reflective vests that definitely made us stand out from the crowd.
The design of Summit is inspiring, rising 14 stories with architectural statements from LMN Architects reflective of Seattle’s always forward-thinking perspective. Perhaps the most stunning design feature of what has been dubbed “North America’s first high-rise convention center” is the madrone wood Hillclimb staircase that rises nearly the height of the building and also serves as a gathering place due to its width and seating areas. Another highlight is the 3,900 salvaged Douglas fir planks that hang from the roof of the ballroom.
According to the Seattle Convention Center, highlights of the Summit include:
- 149,200 square feet of heavy-load exhibit space with direct drive-in access
- A 99,250-square-foot carpeted and acoustically treated Flex Hall
- 99,620 square feet of carpeted meeting space divisible into 62 meeting rooms
- 58,000 square feet of carpeted ballroom space divisible into three
- 140,700 square feet of naturally lit lobby space
- 27,000 square feet of garden terrace and other usable space
- 18 covered loading dock bays
- More than 7,000 hotel rooms within walking distance
- A projection to achieve Gold LEED certification and possibly Platinum if additional solar panels are approved
The streamlinevents race ended on the Garden Terrace of Summit with an F&B reception that drank in views of Seattle that stretch beyond the roof’s sustainable landscaping. Alas, the team I was on came up short, but the camaraderie and knowledge about the facility gained made it a winning proposition for all.
The Nest at the Thompson Seattle
Refreshment is required after any race, so my next stop was at The Nest, the Thompson Seattle hotel’s rooftop bar towering over the iconic Pike Place Market and boasting views of Elliott Bay, the Seattle Great Wheel and the Olympic Mountains rising in the distance. A great spot to fortify and get one’s bearings, the heated indoor/outdoor rooftop space featuring cozy nooks and greenery can accommodate from 60-80 for a partial buyout and 150-200 for the entire facility. Craft cocktails, small bites and seasonal produce are highlights of its lofty F&B offerings.
Dinner had myself and a Visit Seattle rep hop in an Uber for a short drive to Westward, a restaurant in Seattle’s quaint Northlake neighborhood on the shore of Lake Union. Smaller groups can get a true feel for Seattle here due to its beachside seating and imaginative seafood fare, with local oysters being a specialty.
A truly charming 1,400-square-foot venue perched above Pike Place Market, Beecher’s Loft is located adjacent to the boutique Inn at the Market hotel—the only hotel in the Pike Place Historic District—and perfect for smaller groups wanting to get the full Seattle waterfront experience, as the neon Pike Place Market sign beams bright off the balcony and windows looking out over Elliott Bay.
Our group was treated to a sumptuous breakfast featuring local delicacies that included three varieties of smoked salmon, all catered by Succulent Catering & Events’ chef Traci Calderon, who also operates Atrium Kitchen just up the hill near the corner of Pike and 1st street. The breakfast also featured a presentation from Pike Place Market Foundation about the origination of the famed market and how the organization operates a variety of senior housing, preschool and homeless outreach initiatives that could be a good fit for CSR programs.
The Residence at Hotel Theodore
This historic hotel within a block of the convention center offers a stunning penthouse that spans the entire 19th floor of the property and boasts 360-degree views of downtown Seattle and beyond. Groups of up to 30 can rent the 2,000-square-foot penthouse via a private-key-access elevator. Design highlights of the elegant venue include exposed brick walls and a curated gallery of modern art featuring significant works by master modern artist Roy Lichtenstein as well as Pacific Northwest artists Fay Jones and Danny Perkins. Groups often hire jazz combos to complete the rarefied atmosphere.
Sheraton Grand Seattle
The host property for Meetings Today’s stay, Seattle’s 35-story, 1,236-room Sheraton Grand makes an impression from the moment one enters from 6th avenue, passing a lobby display of famed glass artist Dale Chihuly’s work. The property completed a renovation in 2018 that refreshed its lobby, fitness center, pool and all of its public spaces. Offering substantial meeting space a block from the Arch building, the Sheraton has three ballrooms, the largest of which is 18,000 square feet, and 77,000 total square feet of meeting space.
Climate Pledge Arena
The epitome of Seattle’s dedication to sustainability, the former Seattle Center Coliseum and KeyArena—and one of the showpieces of the 1962 World’s Fair—completed a $1.5 billion redevelopment in 2021 that transformed it into what many consider to be the most sustainable arena in the world. Home to the NHL Seattle Kraken and WNBA Seattle Storm, and a major-act entertainment venue, the arena earned its moniker after Seattle’s Amazon bought the naming rights to promote its partnership with environmental advocacy group Global Optimism, vowing to make all of its operations carbon neutral. The arena offers six rental spaces for up to 10,000 in the largest space and the entire facility can seat more than 18,000.
Alder & Ash
Located in the Sheraton Grand Seattle, this first-level restaurant that hosted me for lunch serves up New American cuisine and craft cocktails and is popular with groups staying in-house due to its two semi-private dining areas. This is an especially great place to check out some of the area’s fresh seafood.
The Electric Boat Company
Joining up with streamlinevents again, our group took to Lake Union for an “aquatic bingo” cruise on electric boats. Seating up to 12 on each heated boat, The Electric Boat Company offers everything from tours to scavenger hunts and catered events. A bonus: Anyone over the age of 25 can take the wheel, as no prior experience or license is required. This is a fantastic activity option that truly shows off the maritime culture of Seattle, all via the comfortable seating of an environmentally friendly electric Duffy Boat.
The final event with streamlinevents was held in chef Traci’s Atrium Kitchen for a competitive cooking class starring many ingredients sourced from purveyors in nearby Pike Place Market. Small groups can really get to know each other while rubbing elbows in the kitchen and then sitting down at a long table to savor the fruits of the effort while the wine flows.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room
One of Seattle’s most iconic companies, Starbucks, invites groups to reserve its Coffee Library at the Starbucks Roastery Reserve, where some of its upper-tier coffees are roasted and packaged. Gleaming, multi-floor roasters, locals at the coffee bar or tapping away on their various devices, and the orderly procession of a packaging conveyor belt complete the atmosphere. A coffee-lovers Disneyland, the roastery located about nine blocks from the first Starbucks in Pike Place Market offers tastings for small groups in its Library, with extensive Starbucks merchandise and a number of additional buyout and other event options available. As our personal coffee sommelier put it, “We’re not a coffee company. We’re a people company serving coffee.”
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Located about 20 miles from downtown Seattle, Chateau Ste. Michelle is the mothership of Washington state wineries. Its expansive grounds are a perfect respite from the bustle of downtown, and small groups can partake in a BLEND Wine Experience that educates them on the wine-growing regions of the state—the second-largest wine producing state in the nation—and the many Columbia Valley varietals offered by the winery. Participants not only taste different varietals led by a sommelier, they can also craft their own blend after tasting five different varietals, creating their own custom label. The bucolic property offers a variety of venues for private events, from banquet rooms and small dining spaces to gatherings up to 6,000.
Alki Kayak Tours/Marination Ma Kai
Another nice little jaunt out of downtown is available via a short ferry ride across Elliott Bay to West Seattle’s Alki Point, where Alki Kayak Tours operates sunset sea kayaking tours. The company also operates a variety of other group and individual tour options. Neighbor Marination Ma Kai restaurant is a good place for some down-home Hawaiian food after a vigorous paddle, with an outdoor patio-seating area that lends a festive, waterside vibe to an event.
The Lodge at St. Edward Park
A truly unique venue about 17 miles from downtown is The Lodge at St. Edward Park, a former Catholic seminary opened in 1931. After the seminary was sold to the state of Washington to become Saint Edward State Park, The Lodge was reborn in 2017 after a massive restoration of the stately Romanesque Revival exterior facade and Art Deco interior. The venue now offers 84 guest rooms repurposed from former dormitory rooms, with the classrooms transformed into meeting and event spaces. Managed by Columbia Hospitality, its 450-acre grounds make it ideal for teambuilding. The venue partners with Kenmore Air for packages that combine it with destinations in the San Juan Islands that are ideal for executive retreats.
Hyatt Regency Lake Washington at Seattle’s Southport
The last stop on my tour was the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington at Seattle’s Southport, which features a waterfront setting and a stellar F&B operation led by Executive Chef Azad Rawat. A popular hotel and meeting venue for the region’s tech community right on the shore of massive Lake Washington, the Hyatt offers 347 guest rooms and more than 60,000 square feet of technologically advanced meeting and event space, with the largest topping out at just over 14,000 square feet.
Kenmore Air: A “Splashy” Experience
Groups traveling to Seattle for a meeting or convention, or simply wanting a “splashy” executive retreat or incentive travel experience, would do well to consider booking a seaplane trip via Kenmore Air to Washington’s idyllic San Juan Islands or points north, including Victoria, British Columbia, and destinations in Canada’s Inside Passage, as well as hotel packages in a variety of locales.
“Our group business is largely comprised of incentive and affinity groups, with the top destinations being the lodges of Desolation Sound,” said David Gudgel, CEO of Kenmore Air. “Nanook Lodge, a well-known B.C. fishing lodge, offered a new wildlife photography group program this past summer that was an overwhelming success. There were seven small groups that spent a week at the lodge shooting with a well-known professional wildlife photographer.”
Offering regularly scheduled service from both Lake Union—right in the heart of downtown Seattle—and Lake Washington, this Pacific Northwest institution has been flying to remote locations since 1946.
Kenmore Air also offers charter service on its seaplanes as well as land planes and two eight-seat PC-12 Pilatus aircraft, with executive-style cabins, out of Seattle’s Boeing Field.
Columbia Hospitality is a frequent accommodations partner with Kenmore.
“Nanook Lodge is a major partner as are the hotels managed by Columbia Hospitality,” he said. “Columbia Hospitality manages properties in the San Juans that we serve with our floatplane operation and also manages properties in the Western U.S. and inland British Columbia that we serve with our wheeled fleet of Cessna Caravans and luxury Pilatus PC-12s.”
More info about Kenmore Air's hotel package partnerships can be found at https://kenmoreair.com/hotel-packages.
No matter what aircraft one selects, the view from on high flying past the relatively unspoiled green and blue expanse of the Pacific Northwest is certainly one of those unforgettable memories clients will savor long after their meeting or incentive trip is wrapped.