Last October, the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau (CTCSB), the state’s official meetings and sports event sales and marketing organization, presented its third annual Hospitality Industry Night at Hartford’s group-capable Riverfront Boathouse.
Celebrating the positive economic impact that conventions, conferences, meetings and sports events deliver for Connecticut, the program included the "Bring It Home Awards," recognizing six hospitality professionals from around the state for their contributions.
Honorees included Matt Fleury, president and CEO of Hartford’s Connecticut Science Center, for bringing the D.C.-based Association of Science–Technology Centers’ Annual Conference to the Connecticut Convention Center this October. Jason Guyot, vice president, resort operations and development for Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, was saluted for bringing Baseball Winter Weekend to Foxwoods last January. Raymond Pineault, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, was lauded for securing the return of Barrett-Jackson’s Northeast Auction last summer, with the blockbuster automotive show back again in 2018.
Their efforts, and those of Connecticut’s 24,000-plus hospitality workers, were most impactful. According to Destinations International, Connecticut’s convention, meeting and sports events attracted nearly $70 million in delegate spending for FY 2016-'17. Magnetic, too, are the state’s key selling points.
“Our southern New England location and compact size are great assets for groups looking for convenient travel and unique meeting and off-site experiences,” said CTCSB President H. Scott Phelps. “More than 23.5 million people live within a two-hour drive of Hartford, the state’s capital—a major selling point for meeting planners and sports promoters. We offer many types of meeting venues and hotels, including dozens of B&Bs, in picturesque areas. Attendees can meet and day trip to numerous off-site attractions, all within easy driving of each other. In addition, the great affordability of Connecticut’s hotels, venues and convention services compared to New York City and Boston results in many meetings reporting record-breaking attendance, while attracting repeat bookings business.”
For meetings, the Constitution State is the home of special people and places.
From conventions and corporate meetings to banquets and big-time sports tournaments, Connecticut’s cities are major meetings players.
Home to the 540,000-square-foot riverfront Connecticut Convention Center, Hartford is exceptionally reachable. Located at the intersection of I-84 and I-91, Connecticut’s capital is under 20 minutes from Bradley International Airport, with more than 30 nonstop flights. Delegates also have Amtrak, major bus lines and downtown’s free “dash” bus shuttle, with 12 stops between major meeting sites and attractions, and via the CTCSB, extended service for large groups.
Across from the Connecticut Convention Center, the Front Street District features a flavorsome restaurant scene and event-capable Infinity Music Hall & Bistro. Other choice venues include the Mark Twain House & Museum; Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts; Tony Award-winning Hartford Stage; City Steam Brewery Cafe; and the nation’s oldest public art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Spring 2017 saw the debut of the event-capable 6,146-seat Dunkin’ Donuts Park stadium, and following a lengthy renovation, the landmark 124-room The Goodwin, offering 5,000-plus square feet of space, 100-capacity ballroom included.
New Haven also offers great connectivity via I-95, Amtrak and Metro North Railroad, plus new American Eagle service from Philadelphia into Tweed New Haven Airport. As a smaller market made to measure for meetings, the city’s group venues include the LEED Gold-certified Maurice R. Greenberg Conference Center at Yale University, and hotels including the recently renovated 306-room Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, offering 22,000 square feet of space.
Birthplace of the Culinary Institute of America, founded here in 1946, New Haven’s culinary renown includes its famed pizza restaurants and since 1895, Louis’ Lunch, recognized by the Library of Congress as Birthplace of the Hamburger Sandwich. Groups can also enjoy Taste of New Haven’s downtown culinary walking tours and the food trucks on Long Wharf.
Yale University supplies intellectual energy and event-capable institutions including the Yale Repertory Theatre, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and preeminent Yale Center for British Art. Culturally minded groups also have the Long Wharf Theatre, Shubert Theatre and signature events such as the International Festival of Arts & Ideas each summer.
Corporate stronghold Stamford, accessed directly from I-95 and just 40 minutes by rail from Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan, anchors wealthy Fairfield County. With headquarters including NBC Sports, broadcasting the next Winter Olympics from here, hotels include the 508-room Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa, offering 18 meeting rooms totaling 27,000 square feet of space. Local attractions include some 85 downtown restaurants in a five-block radius, Harbor Point and Stamford Center for the Performing Arts.
Unique area destinations include Sheffield Island. Accessed via a 45-minute cruise departing from nearby South Norwalk, Conn., this historic isle features period furniture in its 1868 lighthouse and is ideal for clambakes and beach walks.
Also nearby, New Canaan is nationally renowned for the Mid-Century Modern homes built there from the late 1940s to the late 1960s by a quintet of Harvard-trained architects known as “The Harvard Five.” Among them was Pritzker Prize winner Philip Johnson, whose long-time residence in this leafy enclave, The Glass House, is a must for seasonal (May through November) tours and private events.
Dating to 1949, his transparent rectangular home and adjacent lawn are available for 35-person events and seated dinners for 12. Covering 49 bucolic acres, the grounds’ 13 other structures include the reception-capable Painting Gallery, outdoor sculpture art and mesmerizing outdoor swimming pool.
In southeastern Connecticut, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino continue to raise the visibility of the entire state as two of the world’s largest resort-casinos.
On target for its summer 2018 debut, Mohegan Sun's new $80 million Exposition & Convention Center becomes the largest expo space along the New York-Boston I-95 corridor. Boosting the resort's offerings to over 275,000 square feet of meeting space, the new high-tech venue adds 125,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition space; 8,000 square feet of prefunction space; 38,000- and 20,000-square-foot ballrooms; and 18 meeting rooms, including a 1,200-square-foot boardroom.
The Mohegan Tribe is also seeking to invest up to $600 million to redevelop the abandoned 390-acre Norwich State Hospital site in Preston, across the Thames River from the resort. Components of the multiuse project reportedly include a new hotel and entertainment attractions.
After celebrating its 25th anniversary last year, Foxwoods, North America’s largest resort-casino with 2,230 luxurious rooms and suites in four hotels and 150,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, continues to enhance its appeal by investing in yet more “wonder” for guests.
Introduced last year as part of ongoing strategic expansion plans, exciting new products include PLAY Arena @ Foxwoods. Located in the newly designed Great Cedar Hotel, this arena-style gaming environment, the first and only in New England, features fast-paced, multi-sensory fun at 30-plus stations. Outside, the Foxwoods Thrill Tower features two extreme free-fall rides and the 330-foot-tall, 60 mph Highflyer Zipline experience.
For central Connecticut groups, the Heritage Hotel & Conference Center in Southbury recently completed a more than $2.5 million, two-year renovation of all of its 163 guest rooms, IACC-certified conference center, public spaces, fitness center and luxurious new spa.
Northwestern Connecticut draws include Infinity Hall & Bistro in Norfolk, home of PBS’ Infinity Hall Live and the historic 300-seat Music Hall. In New Milford, Smithsonian-affiliated Silo at the Hunt Hill Farm offers culinary teambuilding.
Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau