Providence, Rhode Island’s dynamic capital city, is seeing robust meetings growth, thanks to its vibrant arts scene, diverse food and drink spots and expanding hotel options.
“2019 is off to a great start, with secured bookings currently pacing at 118 percent above our three-year average,” said Thomas Riel, vice president of sales & services for the Providence Warwick CVB.
“We are even happier looking ahead, with our normal booking pace up six percent for 2020 and 57 percent in 2021," he added.
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The bright outlook also includes record-setting occupancy over the past 18 months, and eight new hotels delivering some 926-plus rooms in various stages of development.
“We are excited to welcome downtown’s first-ever extended stay properties, creating new opportunities for weekday business travelers and weekend sports groups, along with new flags like Graduate and Hive,” Riel said.
“These brands are a great reflection of who we are as a destination," he added.
Providence buzzes with signature discoveries and diversions for visitors, in line with Rhode Island’s current “Fun-Sized” tourism campaign.
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From globally recognized cultural events to nationally acclaimed restaurants and bars, going local in the Ocean State’s “Creative Capital” delivers oversized returns on experience.
Festivals in Providence That Event Planners Should Care About
WaterFire Providence, launched by multimedia artist Barnaby Evans in 1994 as “First Fire,” celebrates its 25th anniversary this year as the “crown jewel” of the city’s renaissance.
This free festival of fire, water and music is dedicated to “inspiring connection and building community.” It is presented annually on Saturday nights from May to November.
Viewing options include the event-ready, amphitheater-style Waterplace Park, along the riverwalk, or aboard gondolas as nearly 100 log-filled braziers crackle with flames and ethereal music fills the air.
The 2019 season includes an artistic tribute to the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that first put humankind on the moon.
The 37,000-square-foot WaterFire Arts Center, an updated 1929 warehouse in the Olneyville/Valley neighborhood, is available for private rental.
Other event tie-ins for groups:
- PrideFest: Highlights of the “biggest party in the smallest state” include the magical Illuminated Night Parade on June 15.
- PVDFest: Free festival of art, music and food each June.
- Rhode Island International Film Festival: Influential Academy Award-qualifying event staged each August.
Providence Theaters Set the Stage for Group Experiences
The Providence Performing Arts Center is a cultural beacon for the ages, with its vertical red “Providence” neon sign. Known locally as “PPAC” and the “Jewel of Weybosset Street,” this update of the 1928 Loews State Movie Place has launched 17 national Broadway tours since 2008. Number 18, the Tony-winning The Band’s Visit, starts this June.
Groups can rent the 3,000-seat main theater for presentations and more, upon request. PPAC also offers three reception rooms accommodating a maximum of 150 ticketed guests for pre- and post-show receptions, full bar and catering included.
Trinity Repertory Co., Credit: Jeff Heilman
Other cultural stars:
- Trinity Repertory Company: Founded in 1963, this Tony-winning treasure is among America’s most respected regional theatres.
- Veterans Memorial Auditorium: This national landmark serves as the cultural venue of The Rhode Island Convention & Entertainment Complex. The auditorium features a sumptuous main stage and flexible event hosting.
- AS220: This internationally acclaimed art, performance and event space was built in 1985.
Group-friendly Hotels in Providence Include Everything from Arts-Centric Boutiques to Expansive Meetings Favorites
Hotel Providence, centered in downtown’s theater district within sight of PPAC, combines heritage architecture with museum-quality art.
Hotel Providence Ballroom, Credit: Hotel Providence
To create this 80-room AAA Four Diamond boutique, developer Stanley Weiss revived the two-story 19th century buildings and added a new structure in between. Weiss, also an international art and antiques dealer, bestowed the lobby and other areas with a multimillion-dollar collection of paintings, sculpture and furniture.
“We offer a self-guided tour of these rare and significant works,” said Greg Nawrocki, Hotel Providence’s director of sales, whose team also designs artful meetings and events for clients.
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Hotel Providence offers 5,500 square feet of space in four meeting rooms, including an executive boardroom and ballroom, as well as an outdoor terrace and Backstage Kitchen + Bar.
The property is within walking distance of the convention complex and surrounded by restaurants and shops.
Other group hotels:
The Arts Scene in Providence Is As Eclectic As it Gets
The preeminent Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), featuring a museum that is a top choice for tours and events, has been graduating creative minds since 1877. Modern alumni include Yarrow Thorne, founder and executive director of The Avenue Concept (TAC).
Since 2012, Thorne has collaboratively championed the transformation of Providence through “sustainable” public art. To date, TAC has installed or exhibited 170-plus works around the city, including an ongoing series of eye-popping outdoor murals.
Engaging programs include the self-guided Wayfinding tour, with interactive plaques featuring smartphone-enabled QR codes at each work curating and directing the experience.
TAC also offers guided walking tours for 20 people and flexible indoor and outdoor event space at its headquarters.
Other creative encounters:
- BIG NAZO: When not roaming Providence or greeting visitors at the new “Space Transformation Studio” inside the Kennedy Plaza bus station, RISD graduate Erminio Pinque’s for-hire troupe of intergalactic mutant puppet creatures will forever change your perspective on event programming.
- Lovecraft’s College Hill Walking Tour: This self-guided walking tour of 34 sites associated with Providence-born horror and “weird fiction” master H.P. Lovecraft includes heirlooms such as the 1838 Providence Athenaeum library, Fleur-de-Lys Art Studio and Lovecraft Arts and Sciences visitor center/bookstore inside downtown’s 1828 Arcade Providence.
Providence’s Global Cuisine Scene Dishes Out Diversity
Providence’s globetrotting culinary scene offers memorable tastes for every budget and palate, with talent coming directly from the historic flagship campus of Johnson & Wales University.
Diverse experiences range from James Beard-nominated restaurants to the unexpectedly entertaining side of Federal Hill, the city’s storied Little Italy, at IL Massimo. Located on the Hill’s historic Atwells Avenue, this lively top-ranked trattoria serves up regional Italian favorites like spaghettoni alla carbonara, topped with a fresh egg, and fig and gorgonzola pizza.
Private events for up to 100 people can be accommodated upstairs, which is also home of IL Massimo’s drag brunch on the first Sunday of each month. Call ahead to inquire about a group booking—your hostesses Jacqueline Dimera, Vilet Laboss and LaDiva Jonz will not disappoint.
Other event-capable restaurants:
- O’Boy: Recent newcomer serving award-winning Asian-inspired modern cuisine.
- Gracie’s: Fine dining landmark that crafts its menu around seasonal ingredients.
- Milk Money: Fried chicken and other classics prepared with fresh New England ingredients in a historic setting.
Providence’s Bar Culture Ranges from Hip to Historic
With some 15 distinct neighborhoods, Providence rewards venturesome visitors with finds like Troop. In 2018, Architectural Digest tapped this hip hangout in the West Side’s resurgent Olneyville warehouse district as Rhode Island’s entry in its “Most Beautifully Designed Bar in Each State in America” feature.
Troop Interior, Credit: Jeff Heilman
The vibe mixes 80’s hip-hop with international street food amid street murals, hanging rattan chairs, tropical plants and a long bar with skateboard-backed seats to create an inviting space for relaxing and socializing.
It’s a street-savvy choice for groups, hosting events of up to 150 people
Other lively bars for events:
- The Dorrance: With soaring ceilings and marble floors, this former 1902 bank lobby seduces with yesteryear elegance and craft cocktails.
- Rooftop at the Providence G: Year-round indoor/outdoor party space with firepit and skyline views.
- The Hot Club: Popular riverfront hotspot with outdoor patio.
The Latest Hotel Developments in Providence, Rhode Island
Chicago-based Graduate Hotels is transforming the 1922 landmark Providence Biltmore Hotel into the Graduate Providence. Featuring 294 rooms and 19,000 square feet of space, the property is slated for a soft relaunch this spring and grand opening summer 2019.
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Providence Marriott Downtown, offering nearly 11,000 square feet of meeting space, commenced a multiyear, multimillion-dollar makeover that includes reimagining all 351 guest rooms, followed by the main lobby and restaurant. Completion date has yet to be announced.
The $30 million, 120-room Homewood Suites by Hilton Providence Downtown opened in March 2019 as downtown Providence’s first extended-stay property.
The 176-all suite Residence Inn Providence is scheduled to open in late 2019 across from the Rhode Island Convention & Entertainment Complex.
Other Providence projects in various stage of planning and approval include a:
- 48-room Hotel Beatrice
- 91-room Holiday Inn Express
- 170-room Aloft
- 76-room Best Western Glo
- 129-room Hotel Hive
Providence CVB Contact Information
Providence Warwick CVB