From attention-getting cultural scenes to major new convention centers, here are four destinations where major downtown investments are significantly reshaping and redefining the meetings scene.
Boston’s once blighted downtown comes right to mind as an urban revival success story. On many visits here in the 1980s, I experienced the rough edges first-hand.
Today, the redevelopment of former no-go areas like the infamous Combat Zone and Seaport District is a showcase of how districts can be unrecognizable from one generation to the next.
While not to everybody’s liking, gentrification has changed famously hard-nosed neighborhoods like South Boston, East Boston and Dorchester.
Along the way, Boston has evolved into a serious business and convention destination.
“The extraordinary pace of development on the waterfront and in the Seaport District has helped shape a new image of Boston,” said Patrick Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston CVB.
With some $23 billion in residential, commercial and hotel development since 2012, the skyline keeps changing—along with opportunities for planners and groups.
Current major projects include a new two-tower, $550 million, 1,054-room property from Omni Resorts and Hotels. Offering 120,000 square feet of space, the hotel is slated to open in 2021 across from the Boston Convention an Exhibition Center.
Boston has even attracted a high-end Vegas-style resort, the $2.5 billion Wynn Boston Harbor.
In April 2018, owner Wynn Resorts changed the name to Encore Boston to create distance from former CEO Steve Wynn and bolster efforts to keep its Massachusetts gaming license
America’s youngest major city is another case study in turnaround. My first visit here was in 1987, investigating product counterfeiters as part of an early law job. Expecting paradise, I found a city on the edge. That same year, The New York Times asked, “Can Miami Save Itself?”
It took time, but Miami today is the real deal. An early catalyst was the 2002 arrival of Art Basel. Now attracting some 77,000 attendees each December, the show, just renewed for another five years, began shifting perception of “Magic City.” And in a destination where image is everything, art, culture and technology continue to shape the future.
Downtown’s turnaround began in 2006, with the opening of the celebrated Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Museum Park, which includes the American Airlines Arena and Perez Art Museum Miami, opened in 2013, added the $305 million Frost Science Museum in 2017, with an amazing aquarium among the exhibits and event spaces.
Offering 101,000 square feet of space, downtown’s 641-room InterContinental Miami was famously built around Henry Moore’s 70-ton Spindle sculpture.
Since 2012, the hotel’s New Media Digital Arts Program has transformed the building into an art canvas, including visuals projection mapped onto the building’s facade.
Street art turned the abandoned warehouses and factories of the Wynwood District into a global creative hub, with tours, tastings, concerts and events among group options.
Opened in 2017 in the nearby Miami Design District, the free-admission Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami offers tours and speaking programs.
Art and technology have dramatically impacted Miami Beach, where the storied Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC), opened in 1957 and last updated in 1989, is nearing completion on a $620 million renovation and expansion.
Enhanced spaces benefitting the destination’s core healthcare, scientific, technology and other groups include a 60,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom; 500,000 square feet of exhibit space; 84 breakout rooms totaling 183,000 square feet; and 20,000 square feet of specialty space.
Surrounded by event-capable cultural institutions including the adjacent The Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater, newly renovated Bass Museum and New World Symphony, MBCC anchors a cultural campus extended by the world-famous Art Deco District. Six internationally renowned artists have commissions to create original Miami-themed pieces for the venue.
In April 2018, MBCC hosted the fifth annual eMerge Americas conference, featuring sessions on cybersecurity, robots and other future-forward technology.
Designed for LEED Silver certification, the building itself will be a leader in sustainable technologies, including the wave-like, heat-reducing metal fins on the exterior.
Major environmental statements include replacing a six-acre asphalt lot with green space and saving 200 onsite trees while planting another 350 new trees. Highlights include a giant banyan, or Strangler Tree, preserved in the outdoor event-programmable Convention Center Park.
“Conventioneers will have a sense of place like never before,” said William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami CVB.
The fusion of innovation and technology with art and culture is also informing the reimagination of downtown Las Vegas, which has made remarkable turnaround strides in the last 20 years.
Just-introduced interactive experiences at two of downtown’s cultural anchors speak to a new frontier spirit of invention and discovery made to measure for today’s group sensibilities and appetite.
The Neon Museum’s new Brilliant! installation is a veritable time machine. Using augmented reality-based projection mapping technology, Oregon-based artist Craig Winslow has re-electrified a collection of inoperable vintage neon signs in the museum’s new North Gallery.
Accompanied by a classic Vegas soundtrack, this immersive and transporting experience, by design, creates a powerful sense of place and connection to the destination.
“We are combining art, history and technology in this space,” Rob McCoy, president and CEO of the Neon Museum, told The Washington Post. “This is Las Vegas as it was. It is very emotional. Even people who don’t live here but live around the United States or around the world, they all have in their heads a romantic image of Las Vegas, and it’s usually that vintage, neon Las Vegas.”
Gripping in their own way are the new interactive experiences at The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Part of $9.2 million in upgrades, the Use of Force training experience puts visitors in the role of police officer facing intense digital and live role-playing shoot and don’t shoot scenarios, while Crime Lab showcases the stark realities of forensics.
The same art and technology that sparked downtown’s revival in the mid-90s is getting a major overhaul, with a planned $33 million upgrade of the Fremont Street Experience’s LED Viva Vision Light Show.
Downtown offers some 7,700 hotel rooms and around 1.1 million square feet of customizable meeting and convention facilities.
With diverse venues including the boutique stylings of MEET Las Vegas, Keep Memory Alive Center, 450,000-square-foot World Market Center and outdoor Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, plans are moving forward on a proposed new $76 million, 350,000-square-foot expo and convention center.
Meanwhile, there’s much anticipation for the new-build resort-casino on the historic corner of Main and Fremont Streets from brothers Derek and Greg Stevens, owner-developers of the Golden Gate and D Las Vegas.
In July 1953, Elvis Presley, then unknown, cut his self-financed demo My Happiness at Sun Studio in Memphis. Birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, this still active, tour-capable landmark is one happy offsite venue for Memphis delegates.
Among the others are the neon-lit Beale Street, where event rentals include the 500-seat New Daisy; National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Hotel; Stax Museum of American Soul Music; Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum; and, of course, Graceland.
History has been less kind to the Memphis Cook Convention Center, which opened in 1974.
“Our unique amenities are very appealing to meeting planners, with many potential clients expressing a strong desire to bring group business here,” said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of the Memphis CVB. “Yet our facilities needed improvement.”
The city won’t be singing the blues of missed opportunity much longer, as preparations are under way for the $175 million ground-up transformation of the convention center. Targeting completion in Q4 2019, the investment is an anchor of the Bicentennial Gateway Project, a series of major improvements intended to reshape downtown, the riverfront and other areas as Memphis turns 200 next year.
The enhancement is led by Atlanta-based tvsdesign, globally preeminent convention center design architects (the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion is another current engagement) and the Memphis office of Looney Ricks Kiss.
Their vision includes expanding the Cook’s existing footprint with outdoor terraces and glass-enclosed concourses, pre-function and meetings spaces that take full scenic advantage of the venue’s location by the Mississippi River.
Highlights include new retractable ceiling lights in the 125,000-square-foot, column-free Main Exhibit Hall; a secondary hall convertible to a 40,000-square-foot ballroom; and 52 flexible breakout rooms, up from 30.
Additional features include a new skybridge connection to the 600-room Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel, improved loading docks and upgrades to the connected 2,100-seat Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.
“The convention center will have the look, feel and high-tech amenities that planners expect in a 21st century facility,” Kane said. “Since announcing the sizeable investment in the Memphis Convention Center, a variety of hoteliers have expressed a strong interest in our destination for future projects. Already a solid domestic and international leisure market, Memphis has tremendous potential to grow with an increase in the meetings business segment.”
Other Gateway projects taking Memphis into its third century include the $1 billion expansion of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the renovation of Mud Island River Park into an aquarium.