New York

Special Venues
Destination / 3 years Ago

Upstate New York beckons groups with special venues

by Jeff Heilman

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    The Otesaga Resort Hotel, cooperstown

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    Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz

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    Wild Walk, The Wild center, Adirondacks

As summer yields to fall, Empire State groups can access a wide range of agenda-boosting autumnal experiences. When winter comes, another abundant product set kicks into gear, ranging from Olympic venues to cultural escapes from the cold. It’s a great time of year to fall in and chill out with New York.

Urban Relaxation

With anticipation building for the March 2017 debut of the Albany Capital Center (see On the Scene, page 50), Upstate New York’s metros offer myriad options for the year’s latter seasons.

“Rochester is a true four-season group destination for attendees seeking exceptional all-weather facilities and activities,” said Don Jeffries, president and CEO of VisitRochester. “Fall and winter visitors can expect to find natural beauty, unique outdoor activities and world-class arts and cultural experiences.”

Spanning 14,000 acres just south of the city, year-round Letchworth State Park, known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” for its glacier-formed gorges, is in full glory during the fall.

In nearby Canandaigua, Bristol Mountain is the region’s premier ski resort, with Fall Sky Rides offering stunning autumn panoramas and a 1,200-foot vertical drop for advanced skiers. Snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals are available at Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford.

 Indoor escapes include the George Eastman Museum, the world’s oldest photography museum; Memorial Art Gallery, showcasing more than 5,000 years of art history; The Strong: National Museum of Play, with newly expanded group programs; and Rochester Americans hockey at the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.

Meanwhile, in Syracuse, they laugh at the snow.

“We have one of the best locations to experience four dynamic seasons,” said Visit Syracuse President David Holder. “The fall bursts with vibrant colors, and we love our winter wonderland. Snow doesn’t stop us—we plow through it and have a blast.”

With September events like the Irish Festival in historic Clinton Square and Festa Italiana kicking off the fall season, groups can get into the autumnal swing at outdoor escapes like national natural landmark Green Lakes State Park. For colder days, the tasting room of the fourth-generation family- run Beak & Skiff, the region’s premier apple orchard, is an ideal refuge for cider, vodka and gin, all made from apples.  

Clinton Square becomes an ice rink in winter, and from November to January, the annual Wegmans Lights on the Lake is a two-mile extravaganza of lights, life-size displays, animated scenes and themed environments at Onondaga Lake Park.

 Basking in its billion-dollar transformation, Buffalo fires up the fall season with the National Buffalo Wing Festival, celebrating 15 years this Labor Day.

“Buffalo’s ongoing renaissance will continue to heat up this fall and winter,” said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. “A variety of new hotels, restaurants and breweries are slated to open, complementing our vibrant arts scene, thriving downtown theater district, wide variety of outdoor activities and revitalized waterfront and making the region an enticing year-round destination for groups and conventions.”

 In Canalside, the multiuse entertainment district anchoring Buffalo’s waterfront renaissance, historic canals become Ice @ Canalside in winter, a 33,000-square-foot ice rink where small groups can rent ice bicycles from Ice Bikes of Buffalo. Ice rentals are also available at the post-industrial Buffalo RiverWorks development, along with seasonal kayak rentals courtesy of Longboards Paddle Company.

Indoor escapes include historic Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where a new Picasso exhibit will run from November through February 2017, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s preeminent Martin House Complex, coming off a 15-year restoration and newly accessible to the public, guided tours included. Capping off its own extended major restoration, the national landmark Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 90 this year, hosts musicals and plays from September to June and off-week architectural tours.

 Nearby Niagara Falls and its iconic waterfalls are a natural calling card for groups.

“Year-round meetings in Niagara Falls put attendees close to a ‘wonder of the world’ and surrounding forces of nature,” said Julie Gilbert, director of marketing & communications for the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation.  

The American Falls are the centerpiece of Niagara Falls State Park, the nation’s oldest state park, dating to 1885. Open year-round, the lush 400-acre park, featuring miles of hiking trails and attractions such as the Observation Tower, Aquarium of Niagara and Top of the Falls Restaurant, blazes with beauty in the fall. Often frozen in winter, the falls are accentuated by nightly illuminations and seasonal fireworks shows.

Seasoned Greetings

Spectacular Hudson River Valley vistas quicken the heart as you chase the winding road up from the stone gatehouse, culminating in the arrival at true American time-capsule treasure the Mohonk Mountain House. Founded in 1869 by Albert Smiley, a Quaker passionate about peace and nature, this national landmark 600-room Victorian castle, edging glacial Lake Mohonk for an eighth of a mile, is a conference destination for the ages.

Featuring 85 miles of hiking trails along the ancient Shawangunk Ridge, the resort, still Smiley-owned, also offers peerless outdoor pursuits.

“With its spectacular natural setting and 40-plus activities for groups to enjoy, Mohonk Mountain House is special year-round,” said Nina Smiley, director of mindfulness programming, which includes “Mindfulness in Meetings,” an add-on available to groups year-round. “Autumn and winter especially offer wonderfully contrasting choices, from exhilarating outdoor activities in crisp, fresh air to relaxing indoor activities.”

 After convening at the Lake Mohonk Conference House, recreational activities run the gamut from archery and axe-throwing to ice skating and cross-country skiing. Unique options include geocaching hunts for scenic photo-ops, survival training, treatments at the world-class spa and Human Ice Bowling.

Captivating in its own right is The Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown. Commanding the shores of shimmering Otsego Lake since 1909, this luxurious Old-World sanctuary, with 132 newly renovated guest rooms and 30,000 square feet of flexible space, offers rare exclusivity during the winter months.

“Winter meetings at The Otesaga are all about the winter wonderland setting on the lake, sensational seasonal menus, and the opportunity to embrace the entire resort as your own,” said Bob Faller, director of sales and marketing. “While closed to individual overnight guests from Thanksgiving until April, we remain open to groups at favorable rates, including rooms, three meals each day, coffee breaks and meeting and breakout rooms. This continues to be a popular choice with association, governmental and other groups.”
 The Otesaga also arranges personalized tours and tastings at Cooperstown’s famed Brewery Ommegang and private dinners at the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Hall of Plaques, including flying in hall-of-famers to speak and interact with guests.

Synonymous with its historic horse track and spa legacy, Saratoga Springs is another legendary resort destination, with the 124-room Gideon Putnam Hotel, opened in 1935, offering 12,000 square feet of versatile indoor and outdoor function space. Located in the heart of Saratoga Spa State Park, the resort also offers all-season relaxation at its historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa.

In winter, the park is known for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, just two of Saratoga’s seasonal draws.

“As soon as the race season ends on Labor Day, we transition into our fall and winter convention season, when groups have a whole new set of reasons to meet in Saratoga,” said Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau.

These include a run of events, such as this month’s Saratoga Wine & Food Festival and First Night Saratoga in December.

Open from early May to mid-October, Boldt Castle on Heart Island is the star attraction of the Thousand Islands region. Local operators, including the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, ferry visitors to the landmark legend, which offers seasonal tours and after-hours meetings and events.

Peak Performers

From hilltop historic sites to all-season mountain resorts, Upstate New York rises above the competition. In 1891, Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church, collaborating with architect Calvert Vaux (then working on Manhattan’s Central Park), completed work on Olana, his hilltop home in Dutchess County. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this past summer as a State Historic Site, the main house offers seasonal tours and events.

In the Adirondacks, The Wild Center, New York’s first LEED-certified museum, features Wild Walk, an elevated trail of bridges, platforms and unique features like a giant eagle’s nest and spider web rising to breathtaking treetop vistas. Wild Walk is open from Memorial Day until Nov. 1. Set on 81 acres, the 54,000-square-foot Center offers recreational activities and versatile year-round function space.

The Adirondacks are also the home of Lake Placid, host of the 1932 and 1990 Winter Olympics, where the Olympic Sports Complex is the center for a full range of group-oriented winter sports activities. Meanwhile, Gore and Whiteface mountains dominate New York’s 50-plus ski resort collection, which also includes group-capable Hunter, Plattekill and Belleayre mountains in the Catskills.

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