Sweet Carolinas: Unique Venues Down South

On January 15, 2009, a rapt world watched as Captain Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed a crippled 76-ton Airbus with 155 passengers atop the Hudson River. Ninety seconds before hitting the water, came the instructions, "Brace for impact." US Airways Flight 1549 was headed for Charlotte, NC, that day. And at long last, that Airbus A320 has made its way to Charlotte‚this time aboard a flatbed truck. 

The airplane is becoming a permanent exhibit at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, and museum director Shawn Dorsch anticipates this acquisition will attract great numbers of visitors. The aircraft has international appeal and will likely draw groups from around the world to the museum‚conveniently located adjacent to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The permanent exhibition, which also will include passenger artifacts and details on how the federal investigation unfolded, is slated to open January 15, 2012, the third anniversary of the event.

Sullenberger spoke at a sold-out event on June 11 at the museum that celebrated the plane‚Äôs arrival. Also in attendance were many of the 155 passengers and crew who were aboard Flight 1549. The museum can easily accommodate groups like this, in the hundreds, for all types of special events. 

Myriad Events 
The Carolinas Aviation Museum is not the only unique special event venue in the region. The NASCAR Hall of Fame, near the Charlotte Convention Center, the official shrine of America's favorite motorsport, is a popular choice. It features 50 interactive exhibits like tire-changing stations and race simulators, three floors of NASCAR history, the 40,000-square foot Crown Ballroom, and a 32,000-square foot outdoor space. 

Another one-of-a-kind venue that is available for meetings and events is the Richard Petty Museum in Greensboro, NC. Petty had a 32-year racing career on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit and his group-friendly Richard Petty Driving Experience puts people behind the wheel of a racecar in 20 locations including Atlanta and Charlotte. 

It's possible for your group to both converse among dinosaurs and mingle with live animals during a special event at the largest natural science museum in the Southeast, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. The museum's collections, consisting of approximately 1.8 million specimens, focus on zoology, geology, and paleontology of the Southeastern United States.  

The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort features a taste of coastal cultures. Exhibits here highlight the state's rich seafood industry, lighthouses, sailboats, and motorboats. The museum is also the official repository for artifacts from the ship of notorious pirate Blackbeard, Queen Anne's Revenge, which ran aground near Beaufort in 1718 (and recently appeared in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). The museum offers a variety of venue options for groups.  

For a more cultural excursion, head back to Greensboro, where the sign still says "F. W. Woolworth Co." in gold letters across the building on South Elm Street, just as it did 50 years ago. And within that two-story structure is the lunch counter that led to social transformation as four college freshmen sat in protest after being refused service because of their race. The International Civil Rights Center & Museum, located here, opened on February 1, 2010, and explains the Jim Crow laws against which the movement rebelled. There are various locations within the museum available for special events. 

Events Abloom
The Atlanta Botanical Garden, adjacent to Piedmont Park, is a colorful place for an offsite event. The Day Hall is the largest event space in the Garden, and it's available for conferences, lectures, parties, and receptions of up to 500. For truly unique functions, there is the Sourwood Terrace and Canopy Walk, where an event can be held in the treetops on the 600-foot-long Canopy Walk. 

Another intriguing Atlanta attraction is the Atlanta History Center, which was founded in 1926. This 33-acre complex of museums and historical attractions features the Atlanta History Museum, one of the Southeast‚Äôs largest interactive history museums; two historic houses, the 1928 Swan House and the 1860 Tullie Smith Farm; the Centennial Olympic Games Museum; the Kenan Research Center; the Grand Overlook event space; and acres of historic gardens with paths. The center can accommodate small corporate meetings or galas for as many as 500. 

For a more modern-minded group, Centennial Olympic Park is a 21-acre swath of green that was the central venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Almost anything can be accommodated within the beautiful space, which is sure to add the "special" to your special events.