Greenville, South Carolina, Is a Sophisticated Surprise for Meetings and Events
Reedy Falls and Liberty Bridge with Grand Bohemian Lodge Greenville in the background. Credit: Visit Greenville.
If you weren’t aware of just how cool Greenville, South Carolina, is as a small- to midsize meetings destination, it’s time to get hip to this Southern town that is anything but small in terms of its civic ambition and international appeal.
But Greenville’s current popularity—it was named one of the Coolest Small Cities in the U.S. by Thrillist Travel, for example—was a long time in the making.
Meetings Today got a chance to experience Greenville as part of a fam tour with Helms Briscoe meeting planners in late 2023 and here’s what we learned about this truly surprising destination.
Rise of the Falls
Once a world leader in textile manufacturing, Greenville’s Reedy River—pejoratively nicknamed “Rainbow Reedy” because textile dye waste would give it a different color on different days—was far more of a liability than a lure until the community mobilized to massively clean up the waterway. With the rapid decline of the region’s textile manufacturing base in the 1970s, efforts began to clean up the river and also revitalize a downtown that had become dilapidated and some would say dangerous.
One person who has been along for the Greenville Renaissance ride, if not in the driver’s seat, is Mayor Knox White, who has led the city since 1995 and extended his term another four years last November. White led the effort to demolish the Camperdown Bridge, a four-lane highway that covered the iconic Reedy Falls, and create a world-class park to celebrate, not hide, the neglected signature feature of the city.
In fact, instead of hiding the river and falls, a major visitor attraction now is Liberty Bridge, which showcases the falls via a 345-foot curved pedestrian walkway held in the air by a single suspension cable—the only one of its kind in the U.S. A quaint French bistro experience is available at Passerelle Bistro, located right at the entrance of the bridge and evoking the charm of a Paris sidewalk cafe.
“Most people who lived here at that time had never seen the waterfall, as it had been covered for over a generation, and so it was a very tough political sell—most people just didn’t appreciate it and understand it,” White said. “We opened Falls Park in 2004 and it changed the trajectory of our downtown. It really gave the city a real identity. But that speaks to the authenticity [of the city], where just everything we have is authentically Greenville. And that’s part of the magic of it all.”
Literally a roaring success, the 32-acre Falls Park on the Reedy now even provides an impressive view for guests staying or meeting at the fanciful new Grand Bohemian Lodge Greenville.
This 187-room Autograph Collection resort (with 4,270 square feet of meeting space) could be described as a national park lodge-cum-art gallery, with a location right in Falls Park—and commanding view of the falls—and an artsy eccentricity that befits the many surprises offered by Greenville.
One such surprise is the sheer number of diverse cuisine options offered in a Southern city with a population that tops out at just more than 70,000.
Greenville supports more than 200 restaurants, many of which serve cuisine styles that originated internationally. About 80% of its restaurants are not part of a chain. It’s this variety, especially in its now-bustling downtown, that makes the city a standout for meetings and events.
“We really built our city, our downtown, for people to live here,” White said. “There’s no gimmick—we don’t have a Ferris wheel. These great communities and experiences and restaurants have a great appeal to visitors. There’s surprise around every corner.”
Another surprise to those who aren’t familiar with the destination is the large share of its population that originated outside of the U.S., and especially Europe, due to nearby Greer, South Carolina’s massive BMW plant—the largest BMW production facility in the world—andGreenville’s status as the headquarters of Michelin North America.
Many locals attest that the wide variety of restaurants, shops and walkable downtown were an intentional effort to make the city a desirable place for European workers at the two plants to relocate to.
“It’s certainly the case with the French population, with Michelin being there so long, and BMW as well,” White said. “And it would be fair to say that the people who come here from those countries are just immediately attracted to an American city that almost looks European in style and street life.”
Other Greenville Meeting Venues
Aside from the new Grand Bohemian Lodge, Greenville supports a number of hotels that serve the majority of its meetings needs, as the city’s Greenville Convention Center, which offers 280,000 square feet of space, is located a little shy of four miles from Main Street and is used primarily for consumer shows and exhibitions.
Mayor White said that the city has received approval and appropriations from the state and approval from the city and county to construct a new convention center downtown along the river and has already secured land for it. He said the city is committed to open the new convention center within the next five years.
An intriguing non-hotel venue is Zen, which offers four thoroughly contemporary spaces that can be decked out for corporate events using its list of trusted local vendors. If you want splash, panache and room for your creativity to flow freely, Zen is your space.
Hyatt Regency Greenville
With an enviable location right at the foot of downtown’s Main Street, the 327-room Hyatt Regency Greenville features a soaring atrium that fills the lobby with natural light while revealing the leafy beginning of downtown.
The property offers 17 flexible meeting and event spaces spanning 35,000 square feet and the largest hotel ballroom in upstate South Carolina, the Grand Regency Ballroom. The hotel’s primary restaurant, Roost, is helmed by Executive Chef Zac Leepper and serves up Southern-inspired farm-to-table cuisine—think fried chicken sandwiches and pimento-encrusted filets—along with handcrafted cocktails at its Orb Lounge.
Courtyard Marriott Downtown
Located near Falls Park, this 146-room property in the south section of downtown offers approximately 850 square feet of meeting space, with its largest room able to accommodate 32 attendees and a boardroom with seating for up to 10.
AC Hotel by Marriott Greenville
Opened in February 2021, the eight-story, 196-room AC Hotel Greenville offers a unique rooftop meeting space that allows attendees to drink in panoramic views of Greenville while lounging on comfy outdoor furniture. Its traditional 8,890 square feet of meeting space over five rooms can accommodate up to 360 in its largest room. Fitting with Marriott’s AC brand, the hotel boasts more than 100 works of art by nearly 40 local artists, and its Juniper rooftop bar and restaurant is a standout events space that is prime for creative decor twists.
One “secret” space is its Press Room speakeasy-style lounge, which is hidden behind a faux sliding wall of greenery. The property also offers seven food and beverage outlets, including the Spanish American-fusion tapas restaurant, Paloma.
Springhill Suites/Residence Inn
Located downtown, this 166-key all-suites hotel contains 11,000 square feet of meeting space. Its lobby-level Oak & Honey bar and restaurant is a social focal point of the community that draws not only hotel guests but also other travelers and residents of Greenville.
Embassy Suites Downtown Riverplace
Set along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 28-mile walking and biking greenway that traverses the Reedy River and connects Greenville with Travelers Rest, South Carolina, this 156-room Embassy Suites property offers 6,000 square feet of meeting and event space, with the largest of its four meeting rooms measuring 2,500 square feet.
Fluor Field at West End
Modeled after Fenway Park—even having the same outfield dimensions as the iconic home field of the Boston Red Sox—the Class A home of the Red Sox affiliate Greenville Drive even boasts its own 30-foot-high “Green Monster” wall in left field. A frequent venue for local events, Fluor Field seats 5,000 and can accommodate private events in venues that include the Rooftop, the 4,000-square-foot Champions Club, Luxury Suites, the Furman On Deck Picnic Pavilion, the 500 Club and on the field itself.
The Cuisine Scene
A great way for attendees to start off their day—especially pre- and post-meeting agenda—is to take a Greenville Breakfast Tour with John Nolan, owner of Greenville History Tours. As the name of his company implies, Nolan specializes in history tours, having written several books and articles on local history, but his culinary excursions are his most in-demand draw.
“Our Chef’s Table Tour is a walking tour and is my most popular,” Nolan said. “Sixteen participants is what I usually cut it off at, but I can go up to 25 if groups get in touch with me—I’ve gone up to 50.”
Nolan can also lead tours via a group’s motorcoach, with local barbecue joints being particularly popular.
When it comes to Greenville’s cuisine scene, Nolan is exceedingly enthusiastic.
“It’s surprising, it’s fantastic. There are places like Asheville and Charleston in the region that have nice food scenes, but there’s just something unique about Greenville,” he said. “It’s mostly on that one strip of Main Street so it’s so easy to walk around and try stuff.”
Our breakfast exploration began at downtown’s Southern Pressed Juicery, a 100% organic, cold-pressed raw juice bar that is headquartered in Greenville but has gained national acclaim via write-ups in Southern Living and Vogue, among other media outlets. Attendees will appreciate the natural boost provided by the Juicery’s many healthy concoctions.
Next up was Biscuit Head, owned and operated by a local husband-and-wife team. As one would guess, all manner of biscuit fare is in the offing at this restaurant that is an outgrowth of its owners’ love of Southern cuisine.
The final stop was Papi’s Tacos, which is described as a stationary food truck but is in actuality one of the leading Mexican eateries in this restaurant town. It opened a second location last fall just down the road from Fluor Field. Offering authentic Mexican taqueria-style food, Papi’s breakfast burritos were a perfect way to “wrap up” our breakfast tour.
A fantastic dinner on the final night was held at Indaco, a rustic Italian fine-dining venue that was positively humming with the buzz of dinner conversations throughout the restaurant. Indaco also has restaurants in Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina. Helmed by chef Josh Begley, Indaco provides a sophisticated yet casual urban atmosphere that is only surpassed by the amazing hand-crafted Italian comfort food coming from its kitchen.