Florida's East Coast Is Heating Up for Meetings

A strong outlook and plenty of development make this destination worth a visit

If there's anything that the last 12 months have proved, it is that the popularity of Florida's East Coast is both strong and resilient. Trials ranging from Zika to terrorism have not dimmed the region's strength as a tourism and meetings destination with huge growth ongoing and in the pipeline.

Miami is looking forward to a strong 2017 with a host of new and newly renovated hotels, hot restaurants from chefs both established and up-and-coming, growing cultural offerings, and of course the $615 million expansion and updating work that by 2018 will turn the Miami Beach Convention Center into a 1.4 million-square-foot, LEED-certified, state-of-the-art convention facility with more than 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 60,000-square-foot mixed-use ballroom, and 81 new breakout rooms using 190,000 square feet of space.

Work also continues apace on the Brightline, a train line that will connect Miami with Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and eventually Orlando. Taking just one hour to go from Miami to West Palm Beach, the train will offer first-class cars and free Wi-Fi when the first phase opens this summer. It will run out of downtown's new MiamiCentral, an 11-acre, two-site transportation hub. Miami's free trolley system is also growing, with the addition of two new routes -- Middle Beach and Collins Link -- that will make it possible to travel from the north shore to South Beach.

In November, the $1 billion Brickell City Centre, an upscale, open-air, mixed-use development opened with retail and entertainment options as well as the 352-room EAST, Miami hotel. It will offer 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, including a 3,300-square-foot, 39th-floor ballroom with 270-degree panoramic city and ocean views.

Last March, the 181-room Washington Park Hotel opened in an extensively renovated collection of four Art Deco buildings in South Beach. Amenities include more than 8,000 square feet of meeting space, an outdoor pool deck, event lawn, and an outpost on New York's West Village speakeasy, Employees Only. Starwood's new Aloft Miami Dadeland offers 120 loft-style guest rooms, an outdoor pool, 383 square feet of meeting space and the w xyz bar.

The AAA Four-Diamond Betsy South Beach has more than doubled its size to 130 beachfront rooms, a 3,000-square-foot rooftop pool, celebrity chef Laurent Tourondel's new LT Steak and Seafood, and 10,000 square feet of event space.

The beachfront Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, Surfside, Florida in Miami's North Beach this month with 77 rooms, a 15,000-square-foot spa, and three outdoor pools.

In late February, the historic, 1,504-room Fontainebleau Miami Beach unveiled a redesign of its Versailles Tower to match the elegance of the resort's famed Chateau Tower, as well as renovations to the hotel's 33 poolside cabanas. The Versailles Tower now includes two entirely new room categories -- Executive One Bedroom Suites and Grand One Bedroom Suites -- ideal for hosting intimate gatherings. The poolside cabana's goal was to optimize flexibility and privacy. New additions include an upgraded flat-screen television, wireless internet, butler service, mini refrigerator, phone, and a digital safe. It has 12 restaurants and bars, a 40,000-square-foot spa, and 107,000 square feet of meeting and event space

Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale remains strong, with a dozen new hotels planned or under construction through 2019, as well as a number of substantial renovations. A new marketing campaign featuring a digital television channel, Hello Sunny TV, will focus more attention on the destination's increasingly cosmopolitan nature.  

Hilton's luxury Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort will open in October with 290 guest rooms, four restaurants, a 4,000-square-foot spa, ocean-facing pool, and nine indoor and outdoor meeting and event spaces, totaling 30,000 square feet.

The 163-room Plunge Beach Hotel opened last month in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Spread across three buildings, it features a true toes-in-the-sand watering hole, the Backflip Beach Bar.

The 363-suite HYDE Resort in Hollywood, sister property to the new Beachwalk Resort in Hallendale Beach, opened this year with a full-service spa, and three event spaces.

In downtown Fort Lauderdale, Starwood will open a dual-branded complex featuring The Dalmar, with 209 rooms, and an Element by Westin with 114 rooms, as well as 24,000 square feet of meeting and retail space. In April 2018, the 136-room Aloft Westin will open with 600 square feet of meeting space, and the Aloft Fort Lauderdale with 1,500 square feet of meeting space opens in 2019.

Starwood is transforming its airport Sheraton into the Le Méridien Fort Lauderdale Airport, with 245 guest rooms, redesigned restaurants, pool and lobby, and 20,000 square feet of meeting space. It is set to open in October.

The 150-room Tryp by Wyndham Maritime Hotel, located in the Marina Bay deep-water marina complex, opens this month. A 142-room Wyndham Garden Hotel opens in Dania Beach late this year with 1,500 square feet of flexible meeting space. The historic Escape Hotel in North Bergen Village is being transformed into the 96-room luxury Gale Boutique Hotel. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts will open a 150-room luxury hotel with two restaurants, a spa, fitness center, and meeting and event space in 2018.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL, is adding a $1.8 billion, guitar-shaped tower with 800 rooms this year, nearly tripling its size to 1,273 guest rooms and adding a number of dining and entertainment venues. It has a 5,500-seat arena and 40,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, including a 16,000-square-foot ballroom, as well as a 4.5-acre pool oasis and beach, and a full-service Rock Spa.

In addition, more than a half dozen properties are undergoing or have recently completed transformations, including a $100 million project at the 1,000-room Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, part of Curio - A Collection by Hilton. The grand property's makeover consist of 10 new restaurants and nightlife venues, 209,000 square feet of meeting and event space including the 20,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom overlooking the Atlantic, and a new ocean-facing spa.

The 650-room Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach underwent a complete room renovation late last year. Facilities include a tropical lagoon pool, an advanced fitness center and 22,000-square-foot spa, and more than 100,000 total square feet of indoor and outdoor event space.

Other renovations include a $55 million project at the W Fort Lauderdale, that will bring a sleek new design to its 430 rooms and add a 4,000-square-foot ballroom to its existing 26,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor venues. The 480-room B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale, with 14,000 square feet of meeting space and a new B Active Fitness Center, and signature B Indulged Spa Suite, and its four dining and nightlife venues including the signature Wreck Bar.

Palm Beach 
Whether you're looking for a luxe incentive trip to West Palm Beach, a convention with great dining and nightlife literally across the street, or a laid-back experience in one of the other 38 cities spread along the 47 miles of white-sand waterfront between Boca Raton and Jupiter that make up The Palm Beaches, this area offers something for every group.

And people are noticing, as shown by a 5.8 percent increase in tourists, to 7.35 million in 2016. New to the county is the 10-mile Bluegill Trail for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding that connects Jupiter's Riverbend Park with West Palm Beach's Grassy Water Preserve

On the meetings side, one key ingredient is the year-old Hilton West Palm Beach, a 400-room hotel attached to the Palm Beach County Convention Center by a walkway so short you can practically jump it. With 24,00 square feet of event space and access to meeting rooms a few feet away in the convention center, the property nonetheless manages to double quite nicely as a downtown resort hotel, helped along by its location directly across the street from CityPlace, an outdoor dining, shopping, and entertainment development -- which is, in turn, right next to the Clematis Street arts and entertainment neighborhood.

Among the new hotels coming to the area is the Boca Raton Mandarin Oriental, a 158-room property set in a luxury development opening by the end of the year. It will offer 65,000 square feet of retail space, a private club with fitness and golf options a signature rooftop restaurant and bar offering expansive city and ocean views, a large spa, and substantial meeting and event space anchored by a 4,500-square-foot ballroom.

The 200-room Hyatt Place Boca Raton/Downtown opened in December with more than 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. One of the new Canopy by Hilton Hotels brand properties is expected to open late next year, featuring 150 rooms just two blocks from CityPlace. Also in 2018, the Aloft Delray beach is set to open with 122 rooms in the SoFA district.

On the renovation front, the PGA National 40,000 square feet of newly expanded meeting and event space, as well as a 40,000-square-foot spa and a newly renovated, 33,000-square-foot sports and racquet club. And, of course, some of the best golf in Florida -- or anywhere, really.

The Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa's $6.8 million renovation has brought a relaxed, breezy coastal style to guest suites, the lobby area, and the dining facilities, as well as the nearly 37,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces.

Boca Raton's 139-room Waterstone Resort & Marina, an upscale, Art Deco property, has been added to the list of hotels in the Curio - A Collection by Hilton collection.

On the venues front, last summer saw the opening of the Delray Beach's new Silverball Museum, a 9,000-square-foot interactive museum where visitors can view and play (free!) about 200 video and pinball machines dating back to the 1930s, as well as some of the original skee ball alleys from the Eldorado Arcade in New York's Coney Island. Venues range from the 15-person Green Room to a full venue buyout for up to TKTK.

Daytona Beach
Led by a $400 million renovation of its world-famous Daytona International Speedway, there is more than $2 billion in renovations and new construction in Daytona Beach.

Among the new and renewed properties are the 501-room Daytona Beach Convention Hotel and Condominium, which broke ground last month. It will have 18,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The 200-room Westin Daytona Beach Resort & Spa is set to open in late September with 500 feet of private beach, a 5,000-square-foot spa and 20,000 square feet of event space.

On the horizon are a new Marriott Autograph Collection property and a complete redesign and rebuild of the historic Streamline Hotel -- which hosted the meeting that launched NASCAR -- into an Art Deco boutique property.