Northern Florida's Idyllic Meeting Offerings

Whether on the Atlantic coast or the green water of the Gulf, the Sunshine State's upper region delights

Henderson Beach Resort

From the Spanish moss-draped oak trees of Amelia Island on the east coast to the sugar-white sand beaches and emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico found along the Panhandle, Northern Florida is a part of the state too often overlooked by planners considering the Sunshine State, despite record tourism numbers in the last few years. The bustle of Jacksonville plays counter to the laid-back attitude of the Panhandle, and lodging choices range from five-star resorts to condo hotels suitable for groups with families. Northern Florida boasts great golf and seafood, and the water sports attendees expect, but without the crowds. Whatever you're looking for, it can be found on the top of Florida.


South Walton
The South Walton area's Grayton Beach State Park was honored this year by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, who put it at No. 6 on his 2016 list of the top 10 beaches in America.

Leatherman said Grayton Beach State Park's development "has been restrained so big sand dunes still dominate the landscape." The park also features tidal ponds and freshwater lakes.

A new venue for groups in South Walton is The Hub, an indoor/outdoor dining, nightlife, and entertainment venue with seven event spaces and a 25-foot LED Jumbotron screen. Construction is under way at the new Seascape Towne Centre, a 55,000-square-foot outdoor entertainment venue at the 330-acre Seascape Golf, Beach and Tennis Resort in Miramar Beach. Scheduled to open next spring, it will bring a variety of potential meeting venues, as well as group entertainment and dining options. The large, outdoor events plaza will include a ropes course and climbing walls, as well as laser tag, boutiques, a golf chipping range, a live-music venue, and open space.

The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa has renovated its 602 guest rooms and public space, and has increased the size of its meeting facilities to 40,000 square feet with the addition of the 7,500-square-foot Costal Ballroom.

The 155-suite Embassy Suites by Hilton Destin - Miramar Beach recently wrapped up a three-year renovation project covering the rooms, 6,000 square feet of meeting space, and public areas.


The Emerald Coast
The Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Okaloosa Island area has 24 miles of spectacular white-sand beaches and brilliant waters. The area offers more than 1,000 holes of golf, including the Audubon-registered Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club and the 36-hole Eglin Air Force Base Golf Course, the third-ranked U.S. military golf course. The seaside version of farm-to-table dining is a growing trend in the area, and the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a Gulf-to-table dining guide.

The biggest news is the opening this month of the 170-room Henderson Beach Resort, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, the first new luxury resort to open on the Emerald Coast in a decade. A member of Associated Luxury Hotels International, the Destin property will have 20,000 square feet of outdoor event space and 10,000 square feet of indoor meeting facilities, including a 5,221-square-foot Grand Ballroom, 1,000-square-foot hospitality suite, and rooftop terrace. There is a 10,000-square-foot spa with 11 treatment rooms, as well as an adult pool, family pool, and a lazy river. The resort is located next to the 208-acre Henderson Beach State Park.

Another new property is the 85-room Courtyard by Marriott Fort Walton Beach, with 1,250 square feet of meeting space in two rooms. A 175-room Hilton Garden Inn is also planned for Fort Walton Beach. Opening this coming spring, the property will have a conference center and 5,500-square-foot banquet room with Gulf views.


Panama City Beach
The 320-room Sheraton Bay Point reopens this month after a $30 million renovation. With a private, St. Andrews Bay beach shuttle and daily shuttles to the Panama City's Gulf Coast beaches, the resort has five HydroGrid clay tennis courts and 36 holes of golf, including the only Nicklaus Design golf course in northwest Florida, and the 12,000-square-foot Serenity Spa. The property has four dining venues, including the over-water Pelican's.

The renovated and expanded meeting facilities include 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including two grand ballrooms (12,000 and 7,900 square feet), waterfront lawns, and the popular St. Andrews Pavilion on the bay.

In July, the 109-room Fairfield Inn & Suites, Panama City Beach, opened its doors with 554 square feet of event space.
Northeastern Florida
In Jacksonville, EverBank Field, home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, is undergoing $90 million worth of renovations and additions. A 5,500-seat concert and event amphitheater is being built at the south end of the stadium, as is a new indoor practice facility, a covered, climate-controlled, multipurpose flex field at the south end of the stadium that will be able to host private events when it opens next year. In addition, the Club sections have been completely redesigned, replacing seats with large decks and other open spaces suitable for private events.

The Lexington Hotel & Conference Center on the St. John's River (formerly the Wyndham) is renovating its 323 guest rooms, 35,000 square feet of meeting space, pool, landscaping, and two restaurants, as well as upgrading its high-speed Internet system. Work is scheduled to wrap up by the end of this year.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Omni Jacksonville, DoubleTree by Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront, Embassy Suites Jacksonville-Baymeadows, and Courtyard Oceanfront in Jacksonville Beach, have all completed multimillion-dollar renovations recently, and the Sheraton Jacksonville will wrap one up by the end of the year.

Several unusual venues have or will arrive this year. Velocity Air Sports' 40,000-square-foot entertainment facility has opened with a 25,000-square-foot, indoor trampoline field, Olympic-size foam pits, ninja warrior obstacle course, dodgeball stadium, and trapeze. The Barge Jax is a floating venue that will bring 6,000 square feet of outdoor event space to downtown Jacksonville.

Located in the hip area of downtown Jacksonville, the new Unity Plaza outdoor event venue includes an amphitheater, indoor community center, three restaurants, and an outdoor beer garden.

Topgolf is opening a 65,000-square-foot, three-level driving range with 34 booths that can each take up to 10 people. Microchip-embedded balls keep score. A restaurant and three bars will be available.


Amelia Island/Ponte Vedra Beach
In nearby Amelia Island, the CVB has a new Flights for Sites program that will reimburse planners looking to book 150 room nights and at least $7,500 in food and beverage, up to $400 for airfare.

After wrapping up a yearlong, $25 million renovation project encompassing its 511 guest rooms, pools, exterior, and spa, the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach embarked on the creation of a VIP wing with 31 butler-serviced rooms. The main renovation included an overhaul of the Cabana Club and the installation of a SurfStream wave simulator for onsite surfing -- which Dan McCarron, the property's director of sales and marketing, said can be adjusted to suit all skill levels -- as well as the addition of two couples treatment rooms to the Sawgrass Spa. The resort has more than 61,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including the 16,000-square-foot Champions Ballroom.

The 249-room, AAA Five Diamond Ponte Vedra Inn & Club's Conference Center is undergoing a major renovation this fall. It has 25,000 square feet of meeting space and a 30,000-square-foot spa, as well as 15 Har-Tru hydro tennis courts and two well-respected golf courses, the Ocean Course and the Lagoon Course.


St. Augustine
There is plenty of destination news in the nation's oldest city. In St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565, the 206-room Courtyard Marriott St. Augustine Beach opened with 5,800 square feet of meeting space, including the 4,800-square-foot Flagler Ballroom, which can take up to 490 people for a reception, and the 1,000-square-foot Ponce de Leon room.

The Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort will reflag as the Guy Harvey Outpost St. Augustine in early 2017, following a renovation. The 153-room property will offer beach and pool views, and more than 4,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

Hilton is building the 180-suite Embassy Suites St. Augustine -- Oceanfront on the site of the former St. Augustine Beach resort. The beachfront property will have 5,500 square feet of meeting space. It is set to open in late 2017.

A new venue has opened in an historic 1928 bank building in the heart of old downtown St. Augustine. The Treasury on the Plaza can host up to 450 for receptions in its opulent Grande Ballroom. There are six other spaces, including the Vault Bar, through the bank's massive circular vault door.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the November 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Prime F. Osborne III Convention Center, Jacksonville (265,000 sf); Pensacola Bay Center (10,000-seat arena, 33,000 sf meeting/event space); Emerald Coast Convention Center, Fort Walton Beach (35,000 sf indoor/30,000 sf outdoor)

ROOM TAX
Emerald Coast: 11 percent
Jacksonville: 13 percent
Panama City Beach: 11.5 percent
Pensacola: 11.5 percent
St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra: 10.5 percent
South Walton: 11.5 percent


READERS RECOMMEND

PINNACLE AWARDS GO TO:

• Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau
• Edgewater Beach & Golf Resort
• Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
• The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

WHERE TO…
MEET - Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
Recently renovated to the tune of $85 million, this sprawling AAA Four Diamond beachfront resort replete with walking trails has 80,000 square feet of versatile meeting space, including a new 16,825-square-foot ballroom and 11,000-square-foot event lawn.

STAY - Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa

The recently renovated Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach offers a variety of options in its 511 rooms and suites, including one- and two-bedroom villas with separate living rooms, kitchenettes, and outdoor balconies or patios; and coming soon, a 31-room VIP wing featuring butler service. It offers privileged access to its next-door neighbor, TPC Sawgrass -- A PGA Experience, which has two championship courses.

PLAY - Topgolf Jacksonville
Topgolf will soon be opening a 65,000-square-foot, three-level driving range with 34 booths that can each take up to 10 people. It will feature a restaurant and three bars. The company's 30th facility in the U.S., it will use microchip-embedded balls to keep score.


Northeastern Florida
In Jacksonville, EverBank Field, home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, is undergoing $90 million worth of renovations and additions. A 5,500-seat concert and event amphitheater is being built at the south end of the stadium, as is a new indoor practice facility, a covered, climate-controlled, multipurpose flex field at the south end of the stadium that will be able to host private events when it opens next year. In addition, the Club sections have been completely redesigned, replacing seats with large decks and other open spaces suitable for private events.

The Lexington Hotel & Conference Center on the St. John's River (formerly the Wyndham) is renovating its 323 guest rooms, 35,000 square feet of meeting space, pool, landscaping, and two restaurants, as well as upgrading its high-speed Internet system. Work is scheduled to wrap up by the end of this year.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Omni Jacksonville, DoubleTree by Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront, Embassy Suites Jacksonville-Baymeadows, and Courtyard Oceanfront in Jacksonville Beach, have all completed multimillion-dollar renovations recently, and the Sheraton Jacksonville will wrap one up by the end of the year.

Several unusual venues have or will arrive this year. Velocity Air Sports' 40,000-square-foot entertainment facility has opened with a 25,000-square-foot, indoor trampoline field, Olympic-size foam pits, ninja warrior obstacle course, dodgeball stadium, and trapeze. The Barge Jax is a floating venue that will bring 6,000 square feet of outdoor event space to downtown Jacksonville.

Located in the hip area of downtown Jacksonville, the new Unity Plaza outdoor event venue includes an amphitheater, indoor community center, three restaurants, and an outdoor beer garden.

Topgolf is opening a 65,000-square-foot, three-level driving range with 34 booths that can each take up to 10 people. Microchip-embedded balls keep score. A restaurant and three bars will be available.


Amelia Island/Ponte Vedra Beach
In nearby Amelia Island, the CVB has a new Flights for Sites program that will reimburse planners looking to book 150 room nights and at least $7,500 in food and beverage, up to $400 for airfare.

After wrapping up a yearlong, $25 million renovation project encompassing its 511 guest rooms, pools, exterior, and spa, the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach embarked on the creation of a VIP wing with 31 butler-serviced rooms. The main renovation included an overhaul of the Cabana Club and the installation of a SurfStream wave simulator for onsite surfing -- which Dan McCarron, the property's director of sales and marketing, said can be adjusted to suit all skill levels -- as well as the addition of two couples treatment rooms to the Sawgrass Spa. The resort has more than 61,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including the 16,000-square-foot Champions Ballroom.

The 249-room, AAA Five Diamond Ponte Vedra Inn & Club's Conference Center is undergoing a major renovation this fall. It has 25,000 square feet of meeting space and a 30,000-square-foot spa, as well as 15 Har-Tru hydro tennis courts and two well-respected golf courses, the Ocean Course and the Lagoon Course.


St. Augustine
There is plenty of destination news in the nation's oldest city. In St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565, the 206-room Courtyard Marriott St. Augustine Beach opened with 5,800 square feet of meeting space, including the 4,800-square-foot Flagler Ballroom, which can take up to 490 people for a reception, and the 1,000-square-foot Ponce de Leon room.

The Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort will reflag as the Guy Harvey Outpost St. Augustine in early 2017, following a renovation. The 153-room property will offer beach and pool views, and more than 4,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

Hilton is building the 180-suite Embassy Suites St. Augustine -- Oceanfront on the site of the former St. Augustine Beach resort. The beachfront property will have 5,500 square feet of meeting space. It is set to open in late 2017.

A new venue has opened in an historic 1928 bank building in the heart of old downtown St. Augustine. The Treasury on the Plaza can host up to 450 for receptions in its opulent Grande Ballroom. There are six other spaces, including the Vault Bar, through the bank's massive circular vault door.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the November 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.