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Spokane Transformed Into a World-Class Meeting Destination

By Marianne Hale

Spokane is no meetings and events newbie. Situated along the Spokane River in eastern Washington, this Northwest gem became the smallest city to host the World’s Fair in 1974. Expo ’74, as it was called, was the first fair centered around environmental issues with a theme of “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.” Approximately 5.6 million people attended the fair, and its legacy was an urban renewal that balanced Spokane’s natural beauty with its downtown core.

Not one to rest on its laurels, 40 years after the world flocked to Spokane, the city is undergoing another hospitality revival with new and expanded spaces that make meeting here, as they say in Spokane, “near nature, near perfect.”

New and Improved
In January 2015, the newly revamped Spokane Convention Center will open its doors. A $55 million renovation expands the center’s options to 120,000 square feet of exhibit space and 83,512 square feet of meeting space. The center boasts 32 meeting rooms, three ballrooms—the largest of which can fit up to 1,630 guests banquet style—and an exhibit hall with floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the surrounding foliage. In all, the center can host up to 6,500 people, but its meeting rooms will work nicely for more intimate gatherings, as well.

Directly across the street from the convention center, the Grand Hotel Spokane is nearing completion. When construction of the hotel wraps up this summer, it will be the second hotel connected to the convention center via skybridge (the first being the 375-room DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Spokane City Center, with more than 21,000 square feet of meeting space). The 16-story, 716-room Grand Hotel will be Spokane’s largest hotel and the fifth largest in Washington state. Boasting 62,500 square feet of meeting space, including an 18,000-square foot ballroom, it’s a member of the Davenport Hotel Collection.

Sister properties include the historic Davenport Hotel and Tower, with 612 rooms and 33,000 square feet of meeting space, and the boutique 48-room Hotel Lusso in the city’s arts district. Both are within walking distance of the convention center. “A lot of people when they’re here really comment on the walkability,” says Peyton Scheller, Visit Spokane’s communications coordinator.

Out and About
The convention center sits along the banks of the Spokane River with views of—and easy access to—the 100-acre Riverfront Park, the site of the World’s Fair and home to the Sculpture Walk, amusement rides, the 1902 Clock Tower and the spectacular Spokane Falls the second-tallest urban falls in the U.S. In addition, the 37-mile Centennial Trail, which cuts by the convention center, stretches from Riverfront Park to the Idaho Trail. “People can walk right out the doors of the convention center and be right on the trail,” Scheller says.

The park has a veritable smorgasbord of venues all its own, including the IMAX Theatre, which seats up to 342 audience members and works well for presentations. Its lobby can also be transformed into prime exhibit or event space via vendor displays and booths or catered receptions. If you’re looking to take a more whimsical route, the park’s Looff Carrousel can host as many as 300 guests against the background of the hand-carved wooden carousel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Park shelters—including the Forestry Shelter and the Northbank Shelter—can also be rented for outdoor picnics and barbecues. And to further set the mood, the Pavilion Crown Lights surrounded by the park’s amusement rides can be programmed with your company’s colors. Other park attractions include the Ice Palace, which hosts private ice skating and curling lessons (team-building, anyone?), and the Skyride Over the Falls, a scenic cable-car ride in an enclosed cabin that affords bird’s-eye views of the falls.

Post-meeting Adventures
For after-meeting fun and wine tasting, head over to Spokane’s Cork District, home to 15 award-winning wineries. Some are within walking distance of one another, while others are just a short drive from downtown. 

The beer connoisseurs in your group can taste their way along the Inland Northwest Ale Trail—a network of craft breweries and sponsors throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Pick up a trail map online or at any of the trail’s sponsoring hotels or breweries. Then take your crew on a team-building brew quest of sorts, collecting at least 12 stamps along the scenic route to reap an Ale Trail prize: a 32-oz. mini growler.

Of course, no trip to Spokane is complete without a side excursion to the 250 guestroom Northern Quest Resort & Casino. It’s the spot for getting some serious work done and some serious play in. With more than 22,000 square feet of meeting space, including conference rooms and ballrooms, Northern Quest can host an event for as many as 1,300 people. And when the meeting is done, guests can slip over to the spa for some relaxation or rendezvous at one of the resort’s two nightclubs. Take a gamble on any of the casino’s 1,650 games, or plan your trip to coincide with a performance by one of the musicians, comedians or other entertainers who take the pavilion stage.

The 1974 World’s Fair may have ended its successful run more than 40 years ago, but it’s clear the city of Spokane still knows how to plan a great event.