River Street, Savannah
Georgia’s top cities expand options for meeting planners
The Peach State has long lured groups with its Southern hospitality, and it’s been enhancing its appeal recently by opening and renovating many attractive hotels and other meeting places.
These properties are scattered throughout the state, though many of them are in Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, three of its largest cities. They range from boutique hotels to large stadiums, and from modest to expensive in room rates. They supplement an already-healthy supply of choices for planners, thereby making it easier than ever to find suitable accommodations.
This, in turn, is enabling more groups not only to meet in the cities, but also to experience their unique attractions. Greater Atlanta, with 5.7 million people and 42 million visitors annually, is a major international city, yet some of its intriguing qualities—including a booming arts scene—are still under very much under the radar.
Savannah, with nearly 150,000 residents, welcomes 13.7 million visitors each year, while Augusta, with a population of 200,000, welcomes 1.5 million visitors annually. These two cities don’t offer all the big-city features found in Atlanta, but they have unique identities and are steeped in history—and they’re generally more affordable.
“Savannah is often referred to as a bucket-list city,” says Jeff Hewitt, senior vice president of Visit Savannah. “It’s a charming, quirky and authentic destination with an incredible coastline and fantastic music, and it’s visually breathtaking.
“Beyond our beautiful waterfront convention center and hotels, everything you could hope for is within steps of your front door. These attributes drive strong attendance, and whether your meeting is incentive or association, record attendance can mean record revenues.”
Here’s a look at some of the main new and renovated properties in each city, along with some of the other top spots for groups.
Georgia International Convention Center, Atlanta (photo by Georgia International Convention Center)
This has been one of Atlanta’s biggest years for downtown hotel and business development. Many new projects have risen up from the cityscape, and even more properties and venues are in the pipeline for the next few years.
AC Hotel Buckhead at Phipps Plaza, which opened in October, is a stylish Marriott property that offers 166 guest rooms and 1,258 sq. ft. of meeting space. SpringHill Suites by Marriott Atlanta Downtown broke ground this year and is expected to open in spring 2018. Located across from Pemberton Place, the property will offer 146 guest rooms and an undetermined amount of meeting space.
New sports stadiums are in the works for 2017. SunTrust Park will be the new baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves. The $400 million open-air venue will seat approximately 41,500 fans and include an entertainment complex with a 260-room Omni Hotel and The Roxy Theatre.
Atlanta Falcons fans are pumped up for the new $1.2 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is scheduled to open in time for the 2017 NFL season. The retractable-roof stadium will also be home to Atlanta’s first Major League Soccer club, Atlanta United FC.
Intriguing Spots for Meeting Groups
The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta
Downtown is the area most visitors will remember from their first visit to Atlanta. It showcases Atlanta’s most developed cityscape, from the skyscrapers of Peachtree Street to peaceful Centennial Olympic Park. Easily covered on foot, there are more than 10,000 hotel rooms and 300 restaurants within 1 mile of Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC). The Atlanta Streetcar provides another easy transportation option; the 2.7-mile loop connects the GWCC to some of the best food, entertainment and nightlife venues.
The city’s vertiginous skyline boasts the 10th-tallest building in America—Bank of America Plaza, at 1,023 feet tall. The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, with 73 stories, is the second-tallest hotel in the country.
Hilton Atlanta, another top property, emphasizes health and wellness and provides 1,242 guest rooms and 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Downtown also offers plenty of green space, as well as places to bike and hike.
Ron Tarson, general manager of The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, notes the importance of exercise to keep guests feeling their best.
“We offer guided runs with our running concierges and conduct Bike Westin tours of Downtown Atlanta,” he says. “We even challenge guests to Climb the Peach—a fun and engaging team-building activity for groups to climb 73 stories of the Southeast’s tallest hotel.”
If Downtown is all business, then Midtown, just a couple of miles away, is where Atlanta starts to show its artsy, hipster side. Known as the Heart of the Arts, Midtown Atlanta offers the highest concentration of cultural venues in the Southeast. With 4,500 hotel rooms, 180,000 sq. ft. of event space and Atlanta’s favorite green space, Piedmont Park, Midtown is a funkier alternative to the Downtown hub.
Atlanta has been undergoing an artistic renaissance for the past few years, and it has grown organically from the institutions of Midtown. Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre is the preeminent theater company in the Southeast, and features leading plays and dramas.
High Museum of Art is a world-class museum that not only spans classical and modern art from Europe and America, but is also the first museum to hire a full-time folk art curator. It is beloved in the community for supporting local and self-taught artists. Alliance Theatre and High Museum of Art offer tours and discounts for groups.
AC Hotel Buckhead at Phipps Plaza, Atlanta
Elegant hotels, fine dining and designer shops—this is the uptown district of Buckhead. A longtime home to Atlanta’s well-heeled, the neighborhood has evolved into a dynamic business center over the past two decades. With more than 7,000 hotel rooms, 180,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and The Shops Buckhead Atlanta shopping venue—available for special events—the area has many options for high-end retreats.
The Stave Room at American Spirit Works is the latest event space from Novare Events, which manages many of Atlanta’s premium locations. Its whiskey distillery contains a 10,500-square-foot event space that holds 1,500 people.
Foodies take note: Buckhead is also home to a large concentration of great New Southern Cuisine restaurants, including Gypsy Kitchen and The Southern Gentlemen.
Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center
The Garden City is buzzing about the announcement in October that two new hotels will be opening in the downtown area. One will be opening on James Brown Boulevard, adjacent to Augusta Convention Center. The hotel, which has not been branded, will have 130 to 150 guest rooms and a parking deck that is connected to the convention center via a pedestrian bridge.
The other, a new, limited-service Hyatt House hotel, will be opening downtown on Broad Street. The business-class property will offer 100 to 117 upscale rooms and a 140-space parking deck.
Augusta also will welcome Hampton Inn and Suites-Augusta Washington Road this month. The property, located near Interstate 20, will feature 126 guest rooms, a 24-hour fitness center, a business center and 660 sq. ft. of meeting space.
One of the city’s largest properties, Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, completed a multimillion-dollar renovation project this year. The main tower aims to attract Generation X and millennials by reducing furnishings in the rooms to provide more open space, installing 55-inch televisions and replacing most bathtubs with showers. The property has 214 guest rooms and more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Residence Inn Augusta, which opened this year, provides 124 guest rooms and 483 sq. ft. of meeting space. It’s located 6 miles from Augusta National Golf Club and 9 miles from downtown.
Intriguing Spots for Meeting Groups
Nestled on the banks of the mighty Savannah River, the Garden City exudes Southern charm, mixed with quirkiness and intrigue. It’s the home of the Masters Golf Tournament and features an exciting assortment of music, art galleries, shops and culinary pleasures, as well as the beautiful Riverwalk and year-round events.
One of the most popular new attractions in Augusta is The James Brown Family Historical Tour, which takes place every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. These narrated bus tours originate at Augusta Museum of History and pass by sites that were significant to the late Brown, often referred to as “The Godfather of Soul,” as he grew up and then lived for many more years in Augusta.
Another popular attraction, Men’s Refinery BarberSpa, recently opened directly across from Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center.
“This unique offsite venue serves as both an event location and attraction,” says Paige Rodriguez, convention sales manager for Visit Augusta. “Themed as an old-fashioned barber shop, with an outdoor patio, full service bar and spa, and indoor digital golfing range, attendees can enjoy a cocktail social while playing a digital round at Augusta National.”
Partridge Inn Augusta, Curio Collection by Hilton provides attendees with a distinctly Augusta experience. Perched on a hilltop in a peaceful residential area, the property provides 143 guest rooms and more than 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The property dates back to 1836, but Hilton has transformed it into a modern Southern boutique.
Forsyth Park, Savannah
Savannah is known for its manicured parks, ornate antebellum architecture and horse-drawn carriages. Its cobblestoned historic district is filled with squares and parks including Forsyth Park, shaded by magnolia blossoms and oak trees covered with Spanish moss.
The historic district’s landmarks include the Gothic-Revival Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. The city’s history also lives on in some recently opened properties that are situated in historic structures.
The Kimpton Brice, located in a renovated historic building, recently was converted into a stylish downtown hotel that features 145 guest rooms, including 26 tasteful suites. It also provides 6,000 sq. ft. of eclectic meeting space, including the sun-washed Greene room, and the verdant Secret Garden.
Formerly the Inn at Ellis Square, the 252-room Hotel Indigo Savannah Historic District is a 19th-century, sprawling architectural masterpiece that opened in March. It combines modern luxury, contemporary design and nods to its impressive past, and has more than 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, divided among six rooms.
The lifestyle brand B Hotels & Resorts opened its first property outside of Florida, B Historic Savannah, in late 2014. Located in the downtown historic district, B Historic provides 101 guest rooms and 1,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The 422-room JW Marriott Savannah Downtown, Georgia, will break ground on Dec. 5 with an undetermined amount of meeting space. It’s scheduled to open in 2018.
Intriguing Spots for Meeting Groups
Secret Garden at The Kimpton Brice, Savannah (photo by Cris Molina)
Savannah boasts more than 300 shops, restaurants and historic sites in a single square mile of the downtown area. Many of them are located on River Street, where century-old buildings, formerly cotton warehouses, have been converted into antique shops, boutiques, galleries, brew pubs, restaurants, nightspots, elegant inns and hotels. Cruises are also available.
Meeting groups often utilize Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, a waterfront facility that overlooks the River Street area. The convention center offers 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, up to 13 breakout rooms and a 367-seat auditorium.
The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, with 403 guest rooms and 36,261 sq. ft. of meeting space, is next door to the convention center. The 351-room Hyatt Regency Savannah is located along River Street and provides 33,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 1,922 sq. ft. of prefunction space.
Hilton Savannah Desoto, set in the Savannah Historic District, offers 246 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 5,408-square-foot ballroom.
Rising Art Scene
Photo by High Museum of Art
Atlanta is home to a booming arts scene, which includes High Museum of Art (pictured). It opened in 1905, but really took off when the museum relocated there in 1983.
The world-famous Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) moved into its current Atlanta facility in 2005, which brought a burst of youthful energy and artistic innovation.
“The force that drives the Atlanta art scene is the creative work behind its grass roots and non-profit institutions that often collaborate with established museums and retail galleries,” says Ann-Marie Manker, an artist and professor at SCAD Atlanta. “The scene extends beyond gallery walls to include street art, dance, performance, happenings and temporary public installation.”
Manker offers several favorite Atlanta hot spots for art enthusiasts. Whitespace Gallery and Marcia Wood Gallery are top retail locations. Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, DASH, Flux Projects, WonderRoot and Living Walls are some of the best art-centric nonprofits. Mammal Gallery, Eyedrum and Kibbee Gallery are alternative spaces for art viewing. Manker’s favorite museums include The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and High Museum.
Golden Isles of Georgia
One of the biggest developments in the Georgia hotel scene took place in June, when the Anschutz family, owners of The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, obtained full ownership of Sea Island Resort, resulting in the formation of The Broadmoor-Sea Island Company, LLC.
“The complementary nature of our two resorts and, more importantly, the cultural similarities will create an opportunity to enhance the guest experience at each of our destinations,” said Scott Steilen, president of Sea Island Company.
Located 86 miles south of Savannah in the Golden Isles of Georgia, Sea Island Resort is a beachfront property that offers four Forbes Five Star experiences: The Cloister at Sea Island, with 267 guest rooms and 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; The Lodge at Sea Island, with 40 guest rooms and 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; The Spa at Sea Island; and Georgian Room restaurant. It’s the only resort in the world to have received four Forbes Five-Star awards for eight consecutive years.
Sea Island also features a beach club, tennis, squash, a yacht club and three championship golf courses.
Another one of the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island, is home to The King and Prince Golf & Beach Resort (pictured).
The 60-room resort blends Southern hospitality and modern amenities throughout the property, including its richly decorated rooms, spacious villas with ocean view balconies and residences. Amenities include oceanfront dining, a golf course, pools, massage therapy and a tennis court. A wide variety of water sports, including paddleboarding and kayaking, is available on the island.
The property’s 10,000 sq. ft. of oceanside meeting space can accommodate 20 to 350 guests. The 2,880-square-foot Lanier Ballroom is the resort’s largest meeting venue and can be divided into three sections. A large prefunction area provides space for vendor tables and registration desks, snack breaks and receptions prior to dinner.
Groups can utilize a team of skilled meeting planning and support professionals, full catering service and comprehensive audiovisual services.
Natalie Compagno and Greg Freitas contributed to this story.
Major Meeting Venues
Atlanta Convention Center at AmericasMart
Rapid rail available from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; 500,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 100,000 sq. ft. of contiguous space; 45 breakout rooms; can accommodate 3,000; VIP wholesale shopping at AmericasMart.
Atlanta Marriott Marquis
Near Georgia Dome; sky bridge connects to Hilton Atlanta and Hyatt Regency Atlanta; 1,569 guest rooms; 169,435 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Georgia International Convention Center
400,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; 150,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space; 40,000-square-foot ballroom; adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Marriott Atlanta Airport Gateway hotel on campus.
Georgia World Congress Center
World’s 14th-largest LEED-certified convention center; 200-acre campus includes the Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park; 3.9 million sq. ft.; 12 exhibit halls; 106 meeting rooms; five auditoriums; two ballrooms.
Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead
Twin 275-square-foot terraces overlook Japanese Zen Garden; 439 guest rooms; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, divided among 13 rooms.
Downtown property; 1,242 guest rooms; rooftop dining; fitness-focused, with tennis and basketball courts, gym and pool; 129,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Atlanta Airport
AAA Four Diamond hotel; five-minute drive from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; 507 guest rooms; 34,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; fitness center.
Hyatt Regency Atlanta
Located downtown on Peach Street; 1,260 guest rooms; 180,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Loews Atlanta Hotel
Forbes Four Star property in Midtown; 414 guest rooms, including 44 suites; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; two ballrooms; 10 breakout rooms.
Omni Hotel at CNN Center
AAA Four Diamond hotel; next to Centennial Olympic Park and linked to Georgia World Congress Center; 1,059 guest rooms; 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel
Newly renovated AAA Four Diamond hotel; 387 guest rooms, many with private balconies; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 35 meeting rooms.
The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead
Situated next to high-end dining and shopping; 510 guest rooms, including 56 suites; 23,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; two ballrooms.
The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta
Second-tallest hotel in North America; 1,073 guest rooms; The Sun Dial rooftop restaurant has 360-degree view; 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Augusta
Located 13 miles from Augusta Regional Airport; 182 guest rooms; heated indoor pool and spa; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Garden Inn Augusta
A 10-minute drive from downtown Augusta; 114 guest rooms; indoor pool and fitness center; more than 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Partridge Inn Augusta
Built in 1836; newly renovated site in the Summerville District; known as “The Grand Hotel of the Classic South”; 143 luxurious rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Just three minutes from the Augusta National Golf Course and a short drive from downtown; Prime 1079 Steakhouse; 152 guest rooms; 1,458 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Contemporary hotel on Ellis Square in the Savannah Historic District; 151 guest rooms; market-to-table dining at 22 Square; 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 2,800-square-foot-outdoor terrace.
Hampton Inn & Suites Savannah Historic District
Close to historic attractions, including Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum; 154 guest rooms; business center; pool; 2,686 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Mansion on Forsyth Park
AAA Four Diamond property; Victorian Romanesque mansion with 125 guest rooms; art collection includes more than 400 original artworks; more than 10,710 sq. ft. of flexible function spaces.
Savannah International Trade & Conference Center
Located on the Savannah River; provides spectacular views of Savannah and its ever-changing riverscape; 100,000 sq. ft. of divisible exhibit space; 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 25,000-square-foot ballroom; 367-seat auditorium.
The Kimpton Brice
Centrally located in the historic district; trendy and colorful hotel surrounded by Antebellum architecture; 145 guest rooms, including 26 suites; 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 1,700-square-foot garden courtyard.
The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
AAA Four Diamond resort; accessible by complimentary water ferry service; 403 guest rooms; 36,261 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space; 18-hole PGA golf course.