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A Canvas for Events

By Shelley Levitt

The Capital Wheel illuminates the glistening waterfront skyline of National Harbor.

National Harbor

Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Maryland’s National Harbor is a meeting planner’s dream. The area is a 350-acre waterfront destination that’s home to eight hotels, more than 3,500 guest rooms, over 1 million square feet of meeting space, 16 special event venues, 40 restaurants, 160 stores, 1.2 miles of shoreline, and a walkable downtown.

Convenient to the area’s three airports, a quick drive from D.C., or a scenic ride on the water taxis operated by City Cruises Washington DC, National Harbor was developed and is managed by one entity, Peterson Companies, and it has quickly been embraced by planners.

“National Harbor opened in 2008, so we are just approaching our 15-year anniversary,” says Deborah Topcik, the destination’s director of marketing. Cvent’s ‘Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the United States’ ranks National Harbor ahead of many long-established meeting destinations, including St. Louis, Salt Lake City, and Fort Worth.

“Other than Disney Parks, you are not going to find anything on this level by one developer,” Topcik adds. This centralization means branding opportunities abound. The jumbo screen at the waterfront and banners throughout the destination are available to display a corporate logo, welcome attendees, and show a video. Entertainment is, likewise, sprinkled throughout National Harbor, including The Capital Wheel, which offers stunning views of landmarks in the district, Maryland, and Virginia as riders soar 180 feet above the Potomac in climate-controlled gondolas. In keeping with National Harbor’s friendliness to groups, logos or company colors can be displayed on the Wheel’s 1.6 million LED lights.

Here is a look at three National Harbor properties for meetings and events.

Gaylord National Resort And Convention Center

The largest nongaming hotel and con-vention center on the East Coast, the AAA-Four Diamond Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center offers 1,996 rooms and over 600,000 square feet of convention space, including five ballrooms, 101 conference and breakout rooms, and an 11,000-square-foot private event pier. The vast property also includes three full-service restaurants, two grab-and-go options, four bars, and a 20,000-square-foot spa.

The atrium of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center

Gaylord National

While large conventions like Super MAGFest, a four-day video gaming event, and Katsucon, the annual three-day anime convention, buy out the entire property, the site “can usually host up to 30 groups at a time,” says Patrice Clayton, the resort’s public relations manager. She adds, “We offer everything under one roof, including our gorgeous 19-story atrium that feels like an outdoor venue. And we are extremely flexible. For example, we turned our exhibition space into a full-sized basketball arena for a girls basketball tournament.”

MGM National Harbor

Sheila Hession, executive director of sales at the 308-room MGM National Harbor, encourages meeting planners to do on-site inspections. Step into the lobby of this $1.5 billion casino resort with 1.7 million square feet of space that’s set on more than 30 acres, and it’s easy to understand why.

The heart of the lobby is the Conservatory, a 15,000-square-foot space that is transformed into a seasonal display four times a year. For fall, that display included an 18-foot-tall cornucopia; a 24-foot birch bridge in the shape of a crescent moon; and 18,800 flowers, plants, pumpkins, and gourds. Simply put, the property is stunning, with the casino tucked out of view.

Radiant autumnal display at the MGM National Harbor Conservatory

MGM National / Sean Kelley Photography

The more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space here includes a state-of-the-art 3,000-seat theater, which has hosted performers such as Bruno Mars and shows such as Cirque Dreams Holidaze; the MGM Grand Ballroom (capacity of 1,800); a multitude of boardrooms and meeting rooms; and more than a half dozen restaurants and lounges that are available for private events. Attendees might want to explore the property’s impressive art collection, which includes “Portal,” an iron archway sculpted by musician Bob Dylan.

“I’d like planners to know that we are a fully integrated resort that allows them the ability to customize their events,” Hession says. “Whether it’s branding in the meeting space, utilizing our various outdoor terraces or the Potomac Plaza for meals or receptions, or a buyout of one of our many restaurants and lounges, we are not just another cookie-cutter property.”

AC Hotel National Harbor

One of more than 100 hotels in Marriott’s AC collection across the country, the AC Hotel National Harbor offers 192 guest rooms and six event spaces that have a total footprint of 7,253 square feet. The modern, light-filled property can provide spillover space for citywide gatherings, or host meetings for small groups, like boards of directors, who may be coming to National Harbor for a single night or just for a meeting and dinner.

Other Meeting Venues

National Harbor is a canvas for events. Standout spaces include the Capital Canopy, a tented waterfront canopy located next to the National Harbor Marina and Capital Wheel that can accommodate 250-350 guests for standing receptions, seated dinners, fundraisers, and sponsorship activations. The Flight Deck, an outdoor lounge at the foot of the Capital Wheel, can host up to 145 guests and offers some of National Harbor’s most spectacular sunset views. For large-scale events, the Plateau is a wide-open paved space of roughly 210,000 square feet and can accommodate groups as large as 15,000. Restaurants with meeting space are plentiful, including Grace’s Mandarin, Succotash, and the Walrus Oyster & Ale House.

Whatever venue you choose for a National Harbor event, your attendees will be able to enjoy the Show Your Badge perk, a mobile passport that provides a curated collection of deals and discounts at participating retailers, restaurants, and attractions.

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