by Alex Palmer | March 07, 2018

Competitive Edge

Columbus, OH, offers a different illustration of how major sporting events can spur meetings growth in a city. After unsuccessfully bidding on the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, in part due to the city's lack of hotel inventory, the city saw a rapid expansion of its offerings, in particular the completion of the Hilton Columbus Downtown convention center hotel, offering 32,000 square feet of its own meeting space as well as 532 additional rooms for groups visiting the city. The Greater Columbus Convention Center underwent a $140 million renovation to its interior, expanding by 32,000 square feet and connecting to five adjacent properties including the Hilton and Hyatt Regency Downtown.

"Our mayor worked with the community to build the Hilton Columbus Downtown, and once that hotel was built, we bid and won the Women's Final Four," which held its games in the city this past January, says Brian Ross, president and CEO of Experience Columbus. "If it wasn't for the Hilton convention hotel, the Women's Final Four wouldn't be here. Once we had those convention hotel rooms to support the center and the arena, we could get new business."

The enhancements have also attracted the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), which will hold its annual convention in Columbus at the end of this month.

"The Greater Columbus Convention Center, the site of our convention, is only steps away from Nationwide Arena where the NCAA Women's Final Four will be played, as well as multiple hotel properties in which our attendees will stay," says Jack Watford, director of communications for the WBCA. "All are within walking distance of numerous restaurants and a great entertainment district. We could not ask for a more convenient and inviting footprint for our convention and our member coaches who will attend."

The city is far from done with its enhancement efforts, though, with further plans underway to improve connectivity, add more inventory to the downtown, and continuing its airport renovation. Ross says that the city hopes to get another 500 to 1,000 convention hotel rooms in the community over the next two to three years.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center
recently wrapped a $140 million renovation
and expanded by 32,000 square feet

"I believe that when people see Columbus is hosting these big marquee events, it really does add to our profile and image, and people say, 'If that event's in Columbus, then my convention will fit there as well,'" adds Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. "It checks a lot of boxes, whether it's the size of the arena, convention center, the footprint of the downtown, the easy access, or the volunteers who can be mobilized -- all those things come into play when someone turns on the TV and says, 'Hey, the Women's Final Four is in Columbus.'"

The coming months will see major events following suit, including AmericanHort's Cultivate '18 show for the horticultural industry, and next year's American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting & Exposition.

Atlanta, which will be hosting the Super Bowl in 2019, has been doing some major updates of its own. According to William Pate, president and CEO of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the completion of Centennial Olympic Park's $27 million capital improvement campaign will enhance the visitor experience through updates in the park including to the Fountain of Rings Plaza and Southern Company Amphitheater, new event space, and an addition of more than three acres of green space.

"Fans will be able to enjoy the festivities planned for the Super Bowl in and around a newly renovated park," says Pate.

Several new hotel properties will also be wrapped up, a few within walking distance of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. SpringHill Suites by Marriott Atlanta Downtown, Canopy by Hilton Atlanta Midtown, AC Hotel by Marriott/Moxy, and Curio Hotel by Hilton are all scheduled to open by the end of this year.

"Hosting the Super Bowl shows potential conventions that we are able to execute citywide and large-scale events with ease," says Pate. "Our collaborative hospitality industry gets the opportunity to show how well we work together to pull off high-caliber events. A spotlight is shone on our city's accessibility, through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and MARTA, to the walkability of our convention and entertainment corridor."

But even more important, for meetings groups, will be the advantages it offers for long after the teams have left town.

"The great thing about these new improvements is that they are built to appeal to conventioneers, leisure travelers, and sports fans," says Pate. "We're constantly working to refresh the destination for returning guests while increasing destination appeal for groups that have yet to come to Atlanta."
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This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.