A Southern star with cosmopolitan appeal
This year, Charlotte, N.C., is finally getting the attention it deserves, playing the lead role in major pop culture and political arenas. It made its debut as the Capitol of Panem in The Hunger Games, which was largely filmed in and around the city. The Charlotte Convention Center was the setting for the underground scene between Katniss and her stylist Cinna, when they decide to dress her as “the girl on fire,” and the stage at the Knight Theater in Center City is where the tribute interviews were filmed.
Earlier this summer, Charlotte again took the spotlight in ABC’s The Bachelorette, on which Emily Maynard (who also happens to be a hospital event planner) brought 25 suitors to visit her hometown. And next month, all eyes will turn to the city when the Democratic National Convention (DNC) comes to town.
Whether or not Charlotte has caught your eye before, now’s the time to cast the city in a role for your very own meeting. Its historic charm and cultural offerings meld the warmth of the South with the urban sophistication of the North in a cosmopolitan setting that was destined to be a star.
The Charlotte Convention Center, with 280,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, is the venue in town for holding conventions and trade shows. The inviting space stands out from the pack with its nine pieces of public artwork, which represent the city’s history, community and legacy. In the Grand Hall’s oculus is Jamie Carpenter’s Oculus Reflector, a glass and steel sculpture that uses the sun to create moving patterns on the center’s floor. The 40,000-square-foot Crown Ballroom, connected to the building via a skywalk, adds to the center’s offerings.
Time Warner Cable Arena—home to the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats—is another mega-venue option and will host day one and two of the DNC. On day three, President Barack Obama will accept the Democratic nomination at the Bank of America Stadium, the 73,778-seat headquarters of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Event professionals can look to both for large-scale events, or for an off-site activity that takes advantage of the facilities’ various sports and entertainment offerings.
Looking for a convenient host hotel? The Westin Charlotte stands next to the convention center and is just minutes from the Bank of America Stadium. It has 700 guest rooms and 44,000 sq. ft. of event space; plus, its onsite Westin Wellness Center provides a relaxing escape for attendees. Located a couple of blocks away are the Charlotte Marriott City Center, with 434 rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of space, and the Four-Diamond Hilton Charlotte City Center, with 400 rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of space.
The Westin Charlotte
Also close by is The Dunhill Hotel. Built in 1929, this 60-room boutique property is a member of the Historic Hotels of America group and still has 18th-century European furnishings, hand-sewn draperies and original artwork by North Carolina native Phillip Moose. Also true to its North Carolina roots is the onsite Harvest Moon Grille, offering a taste of the Carolinas, with dishes made from fresh local ingredients and new twists on traditional fare. The restaurant can accommodate groups of 100; or attendees can meet in the property’s more than 2,500 sq. ft. of space.
Just 20 minutes outside downtown is the Four-Star, Four-Diamond Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge. There are 200 guest rooms in the main hotel, but groups can also stay in the 35-room lodge or four-room guest cottage. The property has 30,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space. Attendees can take advantage of a slew of activities onsite, including a Scotch-sampling class, an Olympic decathlon challenge, and a program that encourages groups to create a mural for local hospitals, nursing homes and shelters. For an even sweeter option, the Spa at Ballantyne gives ice-cream pedicures and can help throw spa parties for 20 or more guests.
In The Bachelorette, Maynard took some of the guys on a group date to the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s 434-seat Booth Playhouse, where the cast put on a show with the Muppets. The performance raised money for Levine Children’s Hospital and was a fun way to get the group of men to bond and show off their theatrical skills. Other venues are available for rental as well, including the 2,100-seat Belk Theater and the 150-seat Stage Door Theater.
If your group needs some time to cut loose, they can venture to After Five at the EpiCentre. The happy hour and free entertainment celebration, which takes place every Thursday, is in the heart of the downtown district, where attendees can wander into restaurants and shops at their own leisure.
Image: A premier center for outdoor activities, the U.S. National Whitewater Center offers white-water rafting (on the largest recirculating man-made whitewater river), canyon crossing, eco-trekking and rock climbing among its team-building options. Groups can try out the Canopy Tour, which takes attendees along the Catawba River and Historic Tuckaseegee Ford and Trail via ziplines, sky bridges, rappels and other challenges. Event space is also available onsite at venues, including a 2,400-square-foot conference center and 1,400-square-foot adventure pavilion. Courtesy of Visit Charlotte
Find inspiration at ImaginOn, a library, children’s theater and innovative educational facility where groups can take advantage of available theater space. The McColl Family Theatre can seat 570 attendees, while the 1,170-square-foot Round room includes a puppet theater for groups looking to incorporate a creative performance.
The NC Music Factory is a music venue complex featuring (among other spaces) the outdoor Fountain Plaza, often used for corporate events, fashion shows and concerts for groups of up to 1,200 people. Both The Fillmore and Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre make up part of the complex’s music venue offerings.
NC Music Factory
Surround guests with colorful flowers and foliage at the 110-acre Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Both indoor and outdoor spaces are available for groups to rent. The Four Seasons Garden is the property’s largest area, suitable for 300-plus attendees.
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
The McNinch House Restaurant is an icon in Charlotte. The circa-1892 Queen Anne-style home was built by Vinton Liddell after he bought the property lot for $3,000. It was later owned by four generations of Sam McNinches, the first of whom served as mayor in the early 1900s. For the past 22 years, the house-turned-restaurant has offered guests a multicourse culinary experience. A Four-Diamond award recipient for 14 consecutive years, it includes a choice of seven, six or four courses. There is also a Chef’s Table option, where groups of four to eight can gather in what was once the family dining room, lined with floor-to-ceiling cabinets filled with the house collection of china and crystal. The chef pairs wines with each of the courses. Past dishes have included a coffee-rubbed tenderloin and burgundy-braised short rib, and Carolina sweet potato gnocchi.
–Who: American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics; 2,244 attendees
–What: 2012 ACMG Annual Clinical Genetics
–When: March 27–31
–Where: Charlotte Convention Center, with some sessions also held at The Westin Charlotte
–Why: “In searching for an East Coast destination, Charlotte offered reasonable hotel and convention center rental rates. The downtown area offered much to do in the way of restaurants, shopping and cultural activities. While an urban setting, it still has a smaller-city atmosphere where it is easy to navigate and the people are very friendly and welcoming. The response from our attendees was overwhelmingly positive. All in all, it was a great city to visit and have a meeting in.” –Jane Dahlroth, CEM, CMP, director of meetings & exhibits
Charlotte Convention Center
–Best Festival: More than 90 teams will grill and compete for cash in the 10th annual Time Warner Cable BBQ & Blues Festival, which takes place Oct. 12–13. The best part (apart from the simmering dishes and lively music): Admission is free.
–Bank Here: As the second-largest banking center after New York City, Charlotte is the Bank of America headquarters and the site of East Coast operations for Wells Fargo.
–Drive Here: Charlotte is home to 80% of Sprint Cup NASCAR drivers, and three major races—NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race, Coca-Cola 600 and Bank of America 500—are held each year at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
–Fried Chicken Sensation: Founded in 1977 in Charlotte, Bojangles’ is a fried chicken institution in the South. Its Cajun-style fare drew the cast and crew of The Bachelorette here while they were filming.
–Sweetest Spot: Amelie’s brings the flavor of Paris to Charlotte with French cafe cuisine, pastries and desserts—so tasty they even made an appearance onscreen in The Hunger Games. Private event space is also available in the annex, with seating for 80.
–Where to Catch a Movie: Get both dinner and a movie at EpiCentre Theaters, which also sells wine and cocktails during your movie and has wide, comfortable seating.
–Where to Grab a Beer: The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is Charlotte’s only packaging microbrewery. A 1,700-square-foot private room is available for groups and has its own private Biergarten.
–Contact: Visit Charlotte, charlottesgotalot.com
–Who Knew? The nation’s first gold rush drew immigrants to the area in 1799 after a 17-pound gold nugget was found in Little Meadow Creek.