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Alaska Meeting Guide: Anchorage

By Ken Graham Photography, courtesy Visit Anchorage

With more than 290,000 residents, about 44 percent of Alaska’s entire population, Anchorage is by far the state’s largest city.

“We are kind of the gateway to all the Alaskan experiences people are looking for,” said Julie Dodds, director of convention sales for Visit Anchorage, the city’s convention and visitors bureau. “We’re a very metropolitan city but with a small-town feel. People love the wilderness, but they don’t want to live in it.”

Last year, Anchorage brought in an estimated $99 million in meeting business that runs the gamut, according to Dodds. The city attracts environmental and wildlife societies, as well as military associations and affiliated groups. International scientific, engineering and technology organizations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, often gather in Anchorage because of its proximity to the lower 48 states, Asia and Europe, Dodds said.

Transportation meetings are big business for Anchorage, which is home to large shipping centers, as well as the Anchorage International Airport, one of the busiest air cargo hubs in the world.

Many of the city’s meetings are held in a burgeoning convention district downtown.

The $111 million Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center opened in September 2008 with nearly 200,000 square feet of event space. Two blocks over is the city’s “old” convention center, the 85,000-square-foot Egan Center, which received a $3 million upgrade in 2009.

The two venues form the core of Anchorage’s downtown convention district, which is surrounded by major hotels and peppered with 48 restaurants and is a short distance from the Cook Inlet waterfront, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and several museums.

“Once you get here, the things you really want to experience are all within walking distance,” Dodds said.

The Anchorage Museum in downtown opened its 80,000-square-foot expansion in summer 2010. The Brian E. Davies Chugach Gallery on the fourth floor can accommodate groups of 70 to 100 people; an auditorium, an atrium, a restaurant and a 45-seat planetarium can also be booked for events.

Three miles from downtown, the 26-acre Alaska Native Heritage Center can hold 1,000 people. Native buildings, exhibits and demonstrations that represent Alaska’s five indigenous groups are its focus. The center’s newest building, the Athabascan ceremonial house, opened in January. The rustic log dwelling with a traditional sod roof can accommodate up to 80 people.

“It’s a great way for people to learn more about these cultures that they probably wouldn’t generally be able to see anywhere else,” Dodds said.

Two other off-site options may not be that practical but are distinctly Alaskan.

A boardroom car on the Alaska Railroad, generally available in the fall, winter and spring, can accommodate small, high-end meetings. Attendees conduct their business on the train and then go sightseeing.

Groups can also charter glacier cruises, which are generally used more for off-site dinners and company parties than working meetings.

“I’m not sure how much business gets done, but those are two options that are quite uniquely Alaskan,” Dodds said.