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Rising Star: Philadelphia

By Irene Levy Baker

Philadelphia was one of just two U.S. locations on National Geographic’s list of best trips for 2020. The magazine describes the city as “a scrappy underdog with a heart of gold” and uses words like “vibrant” and “creative” to describe this formerly industrial city. That’s good news for meeting planners and should certainly boost attendance at meetings. And adding to the excitement are shopping, entertainment and restaurants cropping up around the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC), glitzy new hotels and renovated attractions with event space. Mix in the city’s wealth of historic attractions, culture, award-winning restaurants, large number of hotel rooms and walkability, and it’s clear why Philadelphia is attracting so much attention.

“We’re thrilled to be included on National Geographic’s list. We’ve been working hard over the last couple of years to raise our profile internationally and motivate visitors to spend more time in our city when traveling for conventions. It’s not about the accolades, but it is still nice that the world now knows what we’re capable of,” says Anthony Stipa, communications manager for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB). “We expect it to really drive interest in Philadelphia and the meetings and conventions held here.”

All this excitement comes on the heels of Philadelphia successfully hosting a  series of high-profile events over the last few years, including Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families Congress, the Democratic National Convention and the NFL Draft. PHLCVB, which was Northeast Meetings + Events’ 2019 runner-up for Best CVB/DMO (1 million+ in population), shined throughout. The PHLCVB’s sales and service teams—including three business development divisions—clearly have the chops to craft world-class events and exceed attendance goals.

Convention Center District
The neighborhoods north and east of the PCC have long trailed behind the revitalization seen in other parts of Center City (downtown)—until now. And they’re the perfect complement to classic assets in the neighborhood like Reading Terminal Market (RTM) and Chinatown.

East Market, the 4.3-acre area a block from the Center that used to be home to Ben Franklin and iconic department stores, is undergoing a transformation that has brought new stores and restaurants to the area and a pedestrian-friendly streetscape with green- ery and twinkling lights, entertainment and food trucks. Attendees can enjoy the massive Iron Hill Brewery with outside dining, Wawa, an iconic Philadelphia convenience store that serves millions of hoagies and cups of coffee a year and more.

The Fashion District recently opened along Market Street, between the Convention Center and the historic district, and is linked to a major transportation hub, an area well-traveled by meeting attendees. The three-block stretch is dedicated to mixed use with shopping and entertainment, including an interactive art gallery; AMC Theaters, a dining movie theater; and Round 1, an entertainment complex with bowling and arcade games; and City Winery, with not only dining and concerts but also two rentable performance spaces.

There’s new energy on North Broad Street, too, with the opening of a major entertainment and events space and two new restaurants. The Met, a majestic performance venue with the city’s largest performance stage, was built in 1908 and recently underwent a $56 million renovation to become a stunning entertainment complex and sought-after event venue that seats 3,400 people. Two new restaurants recently opened on North Broad Street between The Met and the Convention Center—Gabi, a relaxed French all-day cafe, and Cicala, a southern Italian restaurant in a historic building that was formerly a hotel and is now apartments.

New Event Venues
The Museum of the American Revolution, the newest museum in Philadelphia’s historic district, focuses on the colonists’ fight to form the United States of America. The museum has gracious architecture, including the ground floor rotunda with a sweeping spiral staircase and vaulted ceiling and an outdoor space with amazing terrace views. It has six event spaces with a capacity of up to 1,000 people.

Penn Museum, an iconic archaeology and anthropology museum on the University of Pennsylvania campus, has renovated its Africa, Mexico and Central America galleries and auditorium, and moved its 3,200-year- old sphinx to a prominent spot near the entrance—in its own gallery. “With this portion of the building transformation completed, it truly allows the Penn Museum to shine as Philadelphia’s premier location for corporate parties, cocktail receptions, conferences, philanthropic events and intimate gatherings,” says Atiya German, director of facility rentals at the museum. It offers both indoor and outdoor event spaces (including the Warden Garden, featuring a koi pond, and the Stoner Courtyard, which has a historic marble fountain), that can accommodate 10 to 1,000 guests.

At Yards Brewing Company, fun is always on tap. The taproom and brewery in Northern Liberties has two private rooms that can accommodate 25 to 200 guests. The brewery is known for its ales, especially those in the British tradition, and offers tastings as well as tours of the brewing facility during events.

“Our experienced event staff is with the host every step of the way, ensuring that their vision becomes a reality. Our incredible customer service is parallel with our outstanding menu and beverage offerings,” says Megan Gray, the brewing company’s director of sales.

New Hotels
Philadelphia has more than 12,500 hotel rooms within walking distance of its convention center, including seven new hotels that opened in 2019, from luxury properties to economy-minded options. And that doesn’t include six more currently under construction and scheduled to open by the end of this year.

The new Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center raises the city’s hotel package to new heights. The luxury hotel is located on the top floors of Comcast’s gleaming new 60-story tower, which is the highest skyscraper between New York and Chicago. The hotel has 219 guest rooms, 39 of which are suites, and 15,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as a restaurant and bar by Jean-Georges Vongerichten with 360-degree views of the city from the 59th and 60th floors, and two restaurants by James Beard Award-winner Greg Vernick.

Other newly opened hotels include the Lyric at 1213 Walnut St. with 42 furnished apartment-suites; The Notary, an Autograph Collection property; the Philadelphia Marriott Old City, formerly the Sheraton Society Hill; Pod Philly, the city’s first micro-hotel; Fairfield Inn and Suites Philadelphia Downtown/Center City, a Marriott boutique hotel; and the Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown Center City on the Avenue of the Arts; all are within walking distance of the Convention Center, and the Lokal Fishtown, a hip six-unit hotel, is nearby.

Irene Levy Baker is the author of “100 Things to Do in Philadelphia Before You Die” and “Unique Eats & Eateries of Philadelphia.