This combination of the old and new shapes the five boroughs that comprise the city, keeping more than 8 million residents, along with 50 million-plus visitors, constantly on their toes.
While world-famous Manhattan understandably tends to be a top draw for meetings, “the other boroughs offer tremendous affordability with easy access into NYC,” says Fred Dixon, SVP tourism and convention development for NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism organization. All five are definitely worth visiting for their past and present, because each has a distinct personality and at least one “oldest” claim that makes it standout in New York City history.
Oldest Pizzeria: Lombardi’s in Little Italy, founded in 1905
Newer Pizzeria: Artichoke Basille’s, founded in 2008
Central Park, courtesy of NYC & Company
The oldest of the five boroughs, Manhattan was settled in 1624 and was the true beginning of what is now known as New York City. Development started on the south end of the island at the mouth of the Hudson River and worked its way north before expanding to the other four boroughs. Because of these early roots, Manhattan can claim some of the oldest venues in the city. Lombardi’s, for instance, is an institution. Not only was it the first New York City pizzeria, it was the first in America and is one that still uses a coal oven.
Another spot that continues to attract customers with its antiquity: the Bridge Cafe. Known as the city’s oldest continuously operating bar, this historic watering hole is located in Manhattan’s oldest wood-framed building, which dates back to 1794. It has served as a brothel, pirate bar, Hungarian restaurant and seafood restaurant, among other incarnations, but it’s always served alcohol in some capacity. Rumor has it that Ms. Gallus Mag, a bouncer at the bar in the early 19th century, would bite or cut the ears off misbehaving patrons, pickle them and store them on the shelves above the bar to warn off rowdy customers. Nowadays, the staff is involved in more practical practices such as beekeeping; six beehives are on the building’s rooftop.
Planners will be especially interested in The Sohotel, the oldest running hotel in the metropolis. Formerly known as the Westchester, the Occidental and the Pioneer, this site has been a longtime landmark in The Bowery, the neighborhood surrounding the city’s oldest thoroughfare with the same name. The 100-room property creatively combines the building’s exposed brick walls with contemporary black-and-white furnishings. While it doesn’t have meeting space per se, Randolph restaurant is available for buyouts next door.
Another New York gem—opened in 1928—is being made new again. The Milford – A Times Square New York City Hotel is undergoing a $140 million renovation to its guest rooms and public spaces, including the lobby, lounge, fitness center, restaurant and rooftop bar. Although the 1,300 guest rooms have already been completed, the rest of the makeover will debut next spring. A three-story glass-enclosed lobby design, including see-through guest elevators, will brighten up the entryway. Other advanced features include three self-check-in kiosks and an Internet lounge.
In Midtown, The Roosevelt Hotel has stood the test of time since opening in 1924, when it served as a music hotspot during the Jazz Age. In fact, Guy Lombardo and his orchestra played their first show at the Roosevelt Grill in 1929 and continued to perform there for 30 years. And that same restaurant was where the first broadcast of his popular New Year’s Eve song “Auld Lang Syne” started a long-time tradition. The 1,015-room property still impresses groups with its extravagant decor and 30,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. One highlight: The newer Mad46, a rooftop lounge added to the 19th floor in 2009, is a perfect space to host an evening gala during summer months.
The Colony Arcade is a circa-1912 building featuring Neo-Gothic arches and windows. What once housed an assortment of hat manufacturers debuts as the Refinery Hotel this month in Manhattan’s Garment District just blocks from fashionable Bryant Park. The new interior design helps tell the building’s story. The 197 guest rooms feature coffee tables made to look like old factory carts and desks with wrought-iron legs (the same that an old Singer sewing machine might have), while the concrete ceilings and hardwood floors give off a warehouse feel. Several other touches, such as a bar called Winnie’s Tea Lounge named after Winifred T. McDonald, who ran the tea salon in the building’s early days, give a nod to the property’s storied past. A 3,500-square-foot rooftop space will entice attendees with its indoor-outdoor concept, complete with a fireplace and fountain inside.
Not quite as old, but still rich with history, the Sheraton New York Hotel celebrated 50 years in September by debuting the major part of a $160 million renovation to its public spaces and 1,780 guest rooms. (A renovation to its 60,000 sq. ft. Of meeting facilities will be completed in March 2013. ) The property opened as the Hotel Americana on Sept. 24, 1962, in preparation for the World’s Fair, and at that time, the 53-story structure was the city’s tallest concrete frame building. Throughout the years, it has hosted such noteworthy figures as Frank Sinatra, members of The Beatles and President Obama.
The mega Javits Center finished the expansion phase of its multiyear renovation, which added Javits Center North, in 2010. Major renovations of the main building, including the installation of a green roof, will take another year for completion. Other large-scale event facilities include Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which has a variety of venues ranging from the 2,738-seat Avery Fisher Hall to the terraced penthouse on the 10th floor, with sweeping views of the Hudson River and the Lincoln Center complex.
Radio City Music Hall is another standout with quite a history. It is the $91 million property that John D. Rockefeller had a lease on when the stock market crashed in 1929 and on which he later decided to build a complex of buildings to attract commercial tenants. The first project: what Radio Corporation of America head David Sarnoff dubbed “Radio City,” a music hall that has attracted more than 300 million guests throughout the years. Planners can rent out the entire 5,900- seat theater.
Oldest Roller Coaster: The Cyclone on Coney Island, built in 1927
Newer Roller Coasters: Soarin’ Eagle and Steeplechase, part of the new Scream Zone theme park on Coney Island, opened in 2011
Coney Island, photo courtesy of NYC & Company/Bami Adeloyin
The most populous of the five boroughs with 2.5 million residents (Manhattan has just over 1.6 million), Brooklyn has a rich history with a very ethnically diverse community. First settled by the Dutch in 1634—the city’s motto Eendraght Maeckt Maght means “Unity makes strength”—it remains a popular spot for immigrants. As a result, the city has become a colorful melting pot with neighborhoods touting their own distinct heritage.
One area that continues to attract New Yorkers: Coney Island. It was one of America’s first amusement parks, and its Cyclone roller coaster is on the National Register of Historic Places. Along the boardwalk is the first Nathan’s Hot Dogs, the oldest hot dog stand in the city and site of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Said to have begun on July 4, 1916 as a competition between four immigrants, the event today attracts more than 40,000 spectators every Fourth of July. This year, five-time defending champion Joey Chestnut won again by eating a record-tying 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
A brand-new—as of September—addition to the Brooklyn appeal is the Barclays Center Brooklyn. Home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, the 18,000- seat arena is also available to rent. Or groups can attend a Jay-Z show—the local rapper sold out eight shows to launch the center’s first season—in one of the arena’s 101 luxury suites. On a smaller scale, Cushman & Wakefield Theater seats 3,500–6,000 people and is located within the center.
The New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge is minutes from the new center and just 1.5 miles across the river from Manhattan. It’s a perfect example of convenience to the city’s offerings while providing reasonable price points and a central Brooklyn location. The 638-room property features 44,542 sq. ft. Of meeting space, as well as A/V equipment, wireless Internet and catering services available onsite. The 321-room Sheraton Brooklyn New York Hotel is another option for groups. When it opened in 2010, it was the city’s first new full-service hotel to open in 12 years. Its 6,250 sq. ft. Of meeting space is optimal for small to midsize conferences of up to 400 people.
Groups can meet amid wallabies and sea lions at the Prospect Park Zoo. What began in the 1880s as a small collection of animals became the official zoo in 1934 and is now home to about 400 animals. Its inviting landscaping and exotic denizens offer a city-meets-wildlife escape for evening affairs. Another such escape: Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Opened in 1910, the natural setting is an example of Brooklyn’s sense of community. It started more than 100 years ago as a 39-acre botanic garden and has become a horticultural learning center. The Palm House is available for full-service luncheons, cocktail parties and dinners for up to 300 guests.
Oldest Place of Worship: The Bowne House, built in 1661 by John Bowne, a Quaker who championed religious liberty in the Americas
Newer Place of Worship: Citi Field, home to the New York Mets, was erected as a brand-new ballpark in 2009
Queens is the largest borough (in terms of size) and, like Brooklyn, is speckled with a variety of cultures. In fact, it is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, with a population of 2.2 million, 46% of whom were born outside the U.S., representing more than 100 different nations and speaking more than 138 languages. This easternmost borough was established in 1683 and was named for the Queen consort, Catherine of Braganza, the Portugese princess who married King Charles II of England. It was also the site of the World’s Fair in 1939 and 1964.
The borough has made recent headlines due to reports of a new convention center opening in the area; however, according to NYC & Company’s Dixon, that plan is no longer in development. Groups can, however, meet amid thousands of baseball fans at the new Citi Field, which debuted in 2009. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda can host product launches or large-scale galas for up to 1,500 people, or groups can book the 150-seat auditorium.
Other meeting options include the 435-room New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott, which boasts 15,245 sq. ft. Of meeting space, and the 103- room Four Points by Sheraton Plainview Long Island, with 3,000-plus sq. ft.
Oldest Pedestrian Bridge: High Bridge, connecting the Bronx to Manhattan, built between 1837 and 1848
Newer Bridge: Washington Bridge, carrying eight lanes of traffic as part of I-95 over the Harlem River between the Bronx and Manhattan, built in 1963
Located primarily on the mainland, the Bronx is the northernmost borough of New York City. One major claim to fame: It’s home to the New York Yankees, which spawned baseball greats including Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, and newer celebs Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. The team plays at the also-new Yankees Stadium (opened in 2009). As with the Mets’ Citi Field, groups can bask in the history of one of the leading baseball franchises, with 27 World Series championships under its belt. The meetings highlight: Legends Suite Club, a 9,000-square-foot room with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Groups can also meet at the 265-acre Bronx Zoo, the largest zoo in the city, with about 4,000 animal inhabitants; its Schiff Family Great Hall is the city’s first LEED-certified landmark building. Another fabulous off-site option: Wave Hill House, built in 1843 as a country home for William Lewis Morris. Past tenants of the property have included Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain, but today the house is a cultural institute that can host evening galas for up to 180 attendees. It is currently undergoing renovations and accepting group bookings for when it is scheduled to reopen in 2013.
Oldest Schoolhouse: Voorlezer’s House, built in 1695
Newer Schoolhouse: Staten Island Academy, the island’s oldest private school and only independent school, established in 1884
Staten Island Ferry, courtesy of NYC & Company/Malcolm Brown
The most suburban of the five boroughs, Staten Island features beautiful Victorian homes in residential neighborhoods. Manhattanites can get to the island via the Staten Island Ferry, which has been giving free rides back and forth to commuters and tourists alike since 1906. It currently runs every 25 minutes, seven days a week—a perfect perk for planners looking to do Manhattan-meeting offsites on Staten Island or vice versa.
On the island, the Hilton Garden Inn New York/Staten Island located in the center of the Corporate Park business area features 12,000 sq. ft. Of its own meeting space. Groups can also meet at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, which offers an array of indoor and outdoor event venues in an 83-acre setting. The 686- seat Music Hall, built in 1892, is the second oldest music hall in the northeast (just three months younger than Carnegie Hall) and has showcased David Bowie and comedian Wanda Sykes in the past. South Meadow Stage is another venue, with enough outdoor space for up to 5,000 people.
Main image: Brooklyn Bridge, courtesy of NYC & Company
What About the Cost?
As the most populous urban center in the United States, it's no surprise that New York City can be a pricey meeting spot; however, its popularity often leads to record attendance. It certainly did for Lora J. Di Padova-Tannehill, CMP, director of scientific meetings for the American Society of Neuroradiology (ASNR). The six-day event she planned at the Hilton New York in April increased attendance by more than 40% compared to an East Coast event held in 2010. It being the society's 50th annual meeting was one reason for the record turnout, but Di Padova-Tannehill cited "the draw of the venue and location" as definite factors behind the success. "Don't be surprised by the costs," she suggests. "Keep in mind that your revenue will more than likely offset the extra expenses." While the ASNR event was an overall winner, there were a lot of ways Di Padova-Tannehill prepared in order to keep costs to a minimum. Here are some of her budgeting tips:
• Allow forannual monitoringand reviews (additions and/or reductions) of the contractual meeting room block. "We allowed for a 20% slippage clause, and it saved us approximately $250,000 in attrition penalties," notes Di Padova-Tannehill.
• Know your group history, meeting registration housing block and final registration patterns for the East Coast. Be conservative on the room block, especially if your attendance base is near the East Coast. Attendees might consider cost-saving options such as a daily commute to the meeting.
• Be alert to potential changes to the original contract that might better reflect your room block and meeting space needs as early as 18 months prior to your event; evaluate these factors monthly as your event approaches.
• If you have an international attendance base, anticipate additional representation in this category, because the city is a big draw for those abroad.
• "Successful collaboration with the team at NYC & Company was a great benefit to us," says Di Padova-Tannehill. "[They were] integral to the success of this meeting from the start of our RFP process in 2005 through the meeting's conclusion."
NYC & Company: nycgo.com/meetingplanners
• Who: A specialty chemicals company; 40 attendees
• What: Global Tax Conference
• When: June 26–July 2
• Where: JW Marriott Essex House New York
• Why: “This is a city that keeps you on your toes, so you need to be on them at all times. I think it is necessary to have a plan A, B, C—perhaps all the way to Z—when planning in New York City. As long as you realize that traffic, weather, locals as well as tourists, and numerous other variables will all throw mini wrenches into your plans, you will be prepared to face and solve the challenge. That being said, we had an overwhelmingly positive response to this conference, especially from the participants from outside of the country.” –Beth Gear, meeting planner/sourcing manager, Excellence in Meetings, Incentives & Events