New England Gets Serious About Meetings

Combine intellect with culture to get a vibrant, meetings-friendly region

Providence park skyline

When it comes to culture, New England is hard to beat. Take Boston: its Museum of Fine Arts has a collection of Asian art considered to be the best in the Western Hemisphere. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the top five in the country, and the beloved Boston Pops flourishes as it did in the days of Arthur Fiedler.

This is, and always has been, an intellectual city as well. Boston and its suburbs are home to numerous colleges and universities: Harvard, the oldest institution of higher education in the country; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world's great science and engineering schools; not to mention Wellesley, Tufts, Brandeis, Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern.

Although Boston in brimming with attractions, it is relatively small in size. Packed within a four-mile radius are the North and South ends, the Theater and Financial Districts, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Chinatown. As a result, Boston has earned its place as one of the great walking cities of the world. Many agree that it is as close to London as travelers can find in the U.S.

Already a top U.S. destination for international meetings and conventions, Boston is in the midst of planning an expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) is interviewing project managers and architects for a 1.3-million-square-foot expansion that includes 335,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, 100,000 square feet of meeting space, and an additional 75,000-square-foot, column-free ballroom. MCCA board members are in the process of analyzing the project's viability in the marketplace.

There are nearly three dozen new hotel projects planned in the greater Boston area, some recently opened and some about to break ground, with a potential for more than 3,000 new hotel rooms in the next three years. They are a mixture of full-service hotels, boutique properties, and extended-stay facilities. More than half the rooms are planned for the South Boston Waterfront near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The 1,054-room Boston Park Plaza has completed the first two phases of its $100-million renovation and now offers more than 50,000 square feet of fully renovated meeting space.

First opening its doors to the general public as the Statler Hotel in 1927, Boston Park Plaza has served as one of Boston's most impressive hotels for almost 90 years, hosting such celebrated figures as Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Katherine Hepburn and Judy Garland.

Small Town, Big City Feel
Providence, RI, has the accessibility and friendliness of a small town with the culture and sophistication of a big city. A thriving arts community combines with vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, outstanding hotels, and impressive eateries.

Providence has a compact and diverse walking district and the Providence Warwick CVB recently created Providence Walks: The East Side, a new self-guided tour that begins in the downtown area at the Rhode Island State House on Smith Street, before turning down North Main Street and into Providence's historic East Side with a stop at the Roger Williams National Memorial. The North Main area is home to some of the city's most famed attractions, including the Rhode Island School of Design and the RISD Museum, the Providence Preservation Society, and the Providence Art Club. The tour continues through Brown University and along Benefit Street, which is lined with stately mansions, and plays home to The Providence Athenaeum, the John Brown House Museum, as well as the residences of governors Stephen Hopkins and Henry Lippitt.

During WaterFire, a signature Providence event, more than 80 fires blaze on the three rivers of downtown Providence, filling the night with the scent of aromatic smoke as music from around the world plays. Vendors, performance artists, and living statues and gargoyles along the river make the experience a memorable one. Many groups have held events during WaterFire under a tent along the river with a catered meal and drinks. It is also possible to arrange for your group to enjoy WaterFire aboard a custom-built boat that will pilot them silently through the bonfires.

There are more than 2,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Rhode Island Convention Center, with more on the way.  

The Omni Providence is scheduled to embark on a more than $6-million renovation of its 564 guest rooms and corridors, set to be completed in the spring of 2016. Once wrapped, the total investment by Omni Hotels and Resorts into the property for renovations and updates will top $11 million.

The Renaissance Providence Downtown is completing a full lobby and guestroom renovation, scheduled to be finished by the end of this year. The historic Providence Biltmore, an icon in the city, has completed a $13-million renovation designed to add new luster to the historic property. Its 294 guest rooms and suites, as well as meeting and conference areas have been enhanced.

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This article appears in the November 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.