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Fresh to the Scene

The Southeast welcomes new and renovated spaces that invite guests to gather and stay awhile.

By Ava Diaz

The Presidential Suite terrace at the Loews Coral Gables Hotel CREDIT Loews Coral Gables

A steady increase of in-person events and travel in the last year has inspired venues across the region to reimagine meeting spaces. And it is no secret that the desire to spread out is top of mind. Emphasizing the need for additional room, many places have reconfigured their layouts to provide more open and multifunctional options for planners and their attendees. Not to mention the collective efforts to revamp existing interiors in line with sleek and modern trends.

Bursting at its seams with new growth in 2023, the Southeast offers a bustling hospitality scene—making it a premier destination for meetings and events. From Florida to the Carolinas, and everywhere in between, new hotels and event centers have popped up or are nearing completion. With a collection of refreshed convention centers, unique spots to sip, and a few relaxing getaways, this roundup of new hotspots is sure to spark inspiration for your gathering.

FLORIDA
This year brought the completion of the first phase of renovations for the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale. The West Building, now open and operating, expanded the Exhibit Hall, which increased its size to 350,000 square feet. The building’s total square footage is now 800,000. Phase two of the project will be finished by 2025 and will introduce a new East Building along the intercoastal waterway that will feature a 65,000-square-foot ballroom—the largest ballroom on the water in the area—a smaller 15,000-square-foot ballroom, and several breakout rooms. The East Building will connect to the West Building via skyway.

The center will also add an 800-room Omni headquarters hotel alongside a 5-acre tropical waterfront plaza that will feature an amphitheater, an event lawn, and a boardwalk for visitors to access the water taxi and private yacht charters.

“Massive renovations call for massive rewards,” says Mike Pouey, vice president of group sales for the Broward County Convention Center. “We are looking forward to bringing economic impact to the community.”

Farther south near Miami is the Loews Coral Gables Hotel, which opened last November as a part of a mixed-use development called The Plaza Coral Gables. The first of its kind in the area, The Plaza consists of the hotel, two office towers, and 200,000 square feet of retail space for restaurants, shops, and entertainment. Located just 4.5 miles from Miami International Airport, 10 miles from Miami Beach, and four blocks from the Miracle Mile, the 242-room LEED-certified hotel is in the center of it all. “The location is an attractive option for guests who are looking for a warm-weather option in a not-so-congested area but still want a fun and entertaining experience,” says Felix Llibre, director of sales for Loews Hotel & Co.

The hotel is also home to 30,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor meeting space that includes the city’s largest ballroom at 9,000 square feet on the seventh floor. Four restaurants and lounges feature luxe event options, and the ninth-floor pool deck can accommodate up to 350 people al fresco.

GEORGIA
Located in Chamblee—a suburb of Atlanta—The Distillery of Modern Art ushers a new concept that is sure to get attendees’ creative juices flowing. Operating as a distillery, cocktail bar, event center, and art gallery space, owner Chad David Shearer says he wanted to create a venue that connected “everything to art as humanly possible.” And a place to make whiskey, of course.

The Distillery of Modern Art is a multipurpose event facility that serves craft cocktails CREDIT Matthew Demarko

With a history of working in the events industry, coordinating upward of 400 events each year, Shearer says that he longed for the opportunity to have a space that was uniquely his. Putting his industry knowledge and passion for art to work, he opened a modern community space for local artists to routinely showcase their work (rotating two different artists every two months) and for planners to put on unforgettable events.

The distillery offers three distinct spaces (the Rothko Room for 200 people, the Watson Gallery for up to 50, and the Kandisky Tasting Room for casual cocktail hours) that can be rented individually or combined for a full buyout.

“It can be a neighborhood drink spot or a place that you can show off,” he says. “We give [event planners, artists, and visitors] space to go and play and design. … It can be transformed enough for guests so that they are coming back for different reasons.”

For a breath of fresh, coastal air, head southeast to Hutchinson Island’s Savannah Convention Center. Visitors arrive at the venue via water taxi on the Savannah River—a feature that planners deem as more of an attribute than an obstacle, says Jeff Hewitt, executive vice president of sales and service for the Savannah Convention Center.

The center’s waterfront location accompanied by the mild year-round climate makes it a premier destination. Not to mention the fact that Savannah is one of the nation’s busiest seaports—the busiest on the East Coast—and is also the largest National Historic Landmark district in the country boasting 20 city park plots filled with forts from the Revolutionary and Civil War eras, museums, and monuments. “The expansion is simply a product of demand,” Hewitt says. Adhering to the needs of event planners, the renova- tion’s primary focus is on expanding the already existing spaces.

The Exhibit Hall will go from 100,000 to 200,000 square feet; the 25,000-square-foot ballroom will increase to 40,000 square feet with a 10,000-square-foot rooftop garden to complement; and the number of breakout rooms will double to 32, he notes. The north side of the building will also receive a facelift. The existing exterior wall will feature a glass facade, and a 58-foot-wide hangar door will be added to taxi in airplanes that land on the golf course of The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa nearby.

The interior of the entire building will also get new carpet and fresh paint, and two additional hotels will be built on the island. Although renovations are still underway and are scheduled for completion in 2024, planners are encouraged to start booking now.

LOUISIANA
The historic Kimpton Hotel Fontenot in New Orleans expanded into the building next door. The addition features 33 guest rooms, more than 12,000 square feet of meeting space, and a French brasserie called King. Maintaining the integrity of the building, the designers incorporated elements unique to the original structure crafted by prominent New Orleans architect, James Allier, including exposed brick walls, reclaimed timber, and white pine flooring.

The Peacock Room at Kimpton Hotel Fontenot in New Orleans CREDIT Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

“To see a building from 1844 be used, and to come alive in 2023, is pretty spectacular,” says Kristin Crawford, director of sales and marketing for the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot. “There is just so much history, and there is a story to tell between the walls.”

Upon entering the meeting spaces, guests are greeted with a cus- tom staircase to the second floor that leads to the 2,158-square-foot prefunction space for the Canary Ballroom—a 5,506-square-foot room for up to 550 people that was named after Creole fiddler Canary Fontenot. The more intimate Evangeline Ballroom features a large boardroom table in a 554-square-foot space named after Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, Fontenot’s hometown. An additional outdoor terrace on the second floor looks out on the New Orleans’ skyline and offers 2,600 square feet of space for up to 265 guests. Head to the third floor for to visit Lala, a 1,017-square-foot space for 100 that features a separate 779-square-foot prefunction area.

NORTH CAROLINA 
Since 1933, Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley has created a casual high-country experience for visitors. Completing renovations later this year, the property will evoke modern, western ranch vibes with a touch of East Coast flair through local and regional art pieces, says Michelle Fortin, director of special events at Cataloochee Ranch. “It’s more than just a fresh coat of paint—the renovations are inspired by the idea that we want guests to feel like they can escape their busy lives and connect with nature while they still feel like they are taking a luxury vacation.”

Guests enjoy horseback riding at Cataloochee Ranch. CREDIT Cataloochee Ranch

Spread across hundreds of acres of diverse landscape along the southeastern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cataloochee Ranch allows guests to enjoy expert-led outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. The ranch also features The Hayloft, a functional barn space for up to 100 guests. Its on-site restaurant will also be available for full buyouts for up to 140.

For a more urban setting, travel east to the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh. Undergoing a $425 million renovation, the four-building complex (the Red Hat Amphitheater, the Raleigh Convention Center, the Martin Marietta Center for Performing Arts, and Coastal Music Park) will double its current capacity, creating space for an additional 20,000 guests by 2028. To compensate for this expansion, the 6,000-capacity Red Hat Amphitheater will relocate to make way for a two-block, 500,000-square-foot complex for entertainment, meetings, and events.

SOUTH CAROLINA 
Opened in March, Hotel Hartness in Greenville provides a one-of-a-kind four-star experience with a touch of Southern hospitality. Situated on over 400 acres, this new hotel is a part of a longtime vision that pays tribute to one of Greenville’s most-prominent families. Known as the Hartness Family Estate, the 1970 manor serves as the anchor and is the reimagined hub for the hotel.

The 73-room hotel is less than 10 minutes from Greensville-Spartanburg International Airport and about 15 minutes from downtown. It features a spa, some 16,000 square feet of event space, and two dining concepts: The Village Kitchen for fast-casual bites and the waterfront Patterson Kitchen + Bar. Between two levels, the expansive meeting space includes the 2,629-square-foot White Oak Ballroom for a 400-person reception, the 3,192-square- foot Ballroom Terrace for 300, The Great Room for 50, the Paladin Boardroom for 12, and an additional five meeting rooms.

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