Florida's West Coast Meetings Offerings

The Gulf Coast boasts some of the world's best beaches, and some terrific meeting venues

In 2016, Tampa Bay unveiled a new Riverwalk, was the setting of a pair of Hollywood movies, and saw its booming craft brewery scene grow so strong it attracted the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference to the city in July. That's on top of a growing restaurant scene, and a nearly $1 billion expansion and renovation project wrapping up next year at the Tampa International Airport. 

Record tourism numbers included a citywide convention business that more than quadrupled this summer, with six groups bringing in 72,000 attendees for a $22 million economic impact, compared to $11.5 million in 2015. The City of Tampa Summer Business Program, which makes the 600,000-square-foot Tampa Convention Center overlooking Tampa Bay free for up to three citywides, certainly helped.  

The Tampa Riverwalk connects 16 downtown parks, museums, music venues, and restaurants along 2.4 miles of the Hillsborough River, as well as the Amalie Arena -- home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning -- the Port Tampa Bay cruise terminal, and the Tampa Convention Center. Intended for both locals and tourists, it will be a hub for many of the city's annual festivals and will connect to the cultural heart of the city.

Tampa is the setting of a pair of crime films -- The Infiltrator, starring Bryan Cranston, about a local federal agent who infiltrated the Medellin cartel, and the forthcoming Live by Night, based on a Dennis Lehane novel set in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood, directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Once the cigar rolling-capital of the world, Ybor City, a National Historic Landmark District, is now Tampa's Latin Quarter and a hub of nightlife and dining.

More than 30 craft breweries and a dozen brewpubs have made Tampa a hub of beer culture in Florida, a role the city has embraced by declaring the first week of the month "Craftober," with a number of beer-themed public events. On the dining side, farm-to-table cuisine is (unsurprisingly) a big trend, but so are collective dining establishments that provide young chefs the opportunity to do something creative without the price tag of a full restaurant. The 8,000-square-foot Hall on Franklin will open in November and the 12,000-square-foot Heights Market will open in 2017 in Armature Works at the Heights, a development in a 1914 trolley barn that will also include several restaurants, a rooftop bar, and two event spaces, 10,150 square feet and 2,640 square feet. 

In 2018, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants will open a new 150-room property in the city's Westshore neighborhood with 4,000 square feet of indoor meeting and event space as well as a rooftop space and a locavore restaurant from a Michelin-starred chef.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater
Record tourism and a growing economy are bringing about 2,000 new hotel rooms to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, half of them to Clearwater Beach. There's good reason for that. The 2.5-mile stretch of white sand was named America's Beast Beach in TripAdvisor's 2016 Travelers' Choice Awards, and the 20th best in the world. And nearby Caladesi Island State Park was ranked ninth on the list of America's 10 best beaches this year by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman -- better known as Dr. Beach. 

But it's not only hotels that are new. St. Petersburg's famous old pier is gone, and the city is in the process of planning a much more substantial replacement, a Pier District more than a half mile long. While still in the planning phase, the current design will include a Great Lawn and event plaza that can accommodate more than 3,000 people, an education center, a boathouse and kayak launch, a large restaurant and outdoor bar, several other green spaces, and a welcome plaza and transit hub. 

The beachfront Opal Sands Resort, Clearwater Beach opened earlier this year with a curved design that gives all 230 rooms Gulf and beach views. The luxury property has 25,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor event space. The 77-suite beachfront Treasure Island Beach Resort, a nearby OPAL Collection property, opened this year. 

The 450-room Wyndham Grand Resort, Clearwater Beach is scheduled to open early next year with 24,000 square feet of event space. A 174-room Hyatt Place is set to open late next year in downtown St. Petersburg. The 72-room Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach has rebranded as the Kimpton Hotel Zamora. It has 9,000 square feet of meeting space. 

Sarasota's lovely Siesta Key Beach brought home a number of accolades this year, with Dr. Beach ranking it the second-best beach in America, while TripAdvisor's 2016 Travelers' Choice Awards placed it at No. 3. 

Sarasota is also undergoing a hotel boom, which is expected to add 1,200 new hotel rooms to the area's existing 5,300 by 2018. Earlier this year, Starwood opened a 139-room Aloft Sarasota with a 550-square-foot, sunlit meeting room, as well as outdoor spaces. In April, a 255-room Westin property will open on Sarasota Bay with 20,000 square feet of meeting space and a 20,000-square-foot roof deck.  

Fort Myers/Sanibel
The Fort Myers/Sanibel Island area received some much-deserved recognition this year when Travel + Leisure placed Sanibel Island at No. 4 on its list of "Favorite Beach Towns in America."

The big news in town is an $8.5 million renovation of the 41,000-square-foot Harborside Event Center in historic downtown Ft. Myers, set to get under way by the end of the year. The facility has 41,000 square feet of space, including a 30,000-square-foot main hall. In addition, delayed plans to find a developer for a 225-room convention center hotel took a substantial step forward in August.

The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village began work on a 35,000-square-foot conference center with a 13,000-square-foot ballroom this summer. The maximum meeting size will grow from 200 to 1,250 when it opens in early 2018. Thirty one-bedroom suites, for a total of 293 rooms, will be completed this summer. 

Naples, Marco Island, and the Everglades
The Naples, Marco Island, and Everglades region was No. 3 on the Travel + Leisure list of "Favorite Beach Towns in America." In addition, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index released this year ranked Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, as the U.S. community with the highest well-being score, out of 190 surveyed. But Scuba divers may be the happiest in the area this year, as 36 new artificial reefs, each one made up of 500 tons of concrete, were created in a half dozen spots off Naples and Marco Island in the past 18 months. 

The biggest of six renovations and two new builds, the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa has completed phase one of a $300 million expansion and renewal, and will rebrand as the first JW Marriott Beach Resort in the continental U.S. in 2017. By next summer it will have 810 rooms and more than 100,000 square feet of event space.  

The Naples Grande Beach Resort completed an $18 million renovation at the beginning of the year as it reflagged from the Waldorf Astoria Naples. It has 83,000 square feet of event space. 

The 319-room Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club wraps several years of renovations with the mid-November reopening of its 71-hole championship golf course after a major overhaul by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. It will feature a new 300-yard practice and teaching range, and GPS-enabled golf carts. The 125-acre, AAA Four-Diamond property includes more than 34,000 square feet of meeting and event space. 

The LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, with 12,000 square feet of event space, just renovated its 189 rooms. Featuring new bathrooms, rooms, and balconies, the resorts also has 8,000 square feet of indoor and 4,000 square feet of outdoor meeting space, as well as a number of outdoor event venues, including the beach. 

The new Hyatt House Naples/Fifth Avenue is an extended-stay property with 183 guest rooms -- 120 of them suites -- and 3,160 square feet of meeting space.   

The luxury, 125-suite Edgewater Beach Hotel is finishing up the final stages of a major renovation this month. It has more than 2,600 square feet of event space that can accommodate groups of up to 80 attendees. 

The boutique Inn on Fifth in downtown Naples has undergone a renovation that included its pool deck, landscaping, and Spa on Fifth, as has its 700-square-foot executive boardroom. The 119-room property has a total of 8,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has added a 99-room hotel to its casino. The Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee now has 99 rooms, a 51,000-square-foot casino and 10,000 square feet of event space that can accommodate up to 750 visitors. 

Questions or comments? Email ljakobson@ntmllc.com