Athens, Georgia at a Glance
Location: Northeast Georgia
Access: About 60 miles northeast of Atlanta between I-85 and I-20; Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
Major Meeting Spaces: Classic Center, Georgia Center for Continuing Education, Bowman Hospitality Campus, Plamondon Hospitality Campus
Hotel Rooms: 2,900
Off-Site Venues: State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Morton Theatre, Athens Cotton Press, Taylor-Grady House
Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau
Two figures are inextricably tied to Athens, Georgia: One is a true Greek goddess, and the other is a jowly bulldog with a countenance only a mother could love.
The goddess, of course, is Athena, the city’s namesake, and the dog is Uga, the mascot of everything University of Georgia. They are from different universes, but they coexist quite well in this city of 130,000 people northeast of Atlanta that is the home of the University of Georgia, a hotbed of alternative rock music, a destination for craft beer lovers and a favorite of meeting planners.
You can see Athena, or at least a statue of her, at the Classic Center, which is the city’s multifaceted convention center, and you can see images of Uga just about everywhere you look in one of America’s most appealing college towns. In normal years, Uga is an honored guest on the sidelines of Sanford Stadium for Georgia Bulldogs football games. The stadium capacity of 92,746 almost equals the city’s headcount.
As you might expect, there’s a youthful, vibrant vibe to Athens. The university, the first state-chartered public university in the nation, has been pumping out graduates since 1804, and today’s students generate an academic atmosphere complemented by a multitude of music clubs, bars and restaurants. The music scene in Athens has been rocking for decades. Bands that sprouted roots here include R.E.M., the B-52s, Widespread Panic and Drive-By Truckers.
“You can enjoy live music every night of the week at spots all around downtown, which is very convenient to the Classic Center,” said Nick Arnold, sales manager for the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Many meeting attendees do exactly that because the Classic Center occupies some prime real estate within walking distance of more than 1,700 hotel rooms. The 190-room Hyatt Place, is attached to the convention center, and others, such as a Hilton Garden Inn, a Homewood Suites, a Springhill Suites, the Hotel Indigo-Athens and the Graduate Athens, are close by.
A piece of city history anchors the Classic Center. It is Fire Hall Number 1, which was incorporated into the design after citizens objected to initial convention center plans that would have razed the structure, built in 1912. Components of the Classic Center are numerous and substantial. It offers 105,000 square feet of space, including 56,000 square feet of exhibit space; a 2,100-seat performing arts theater; and a covered outdoor pavilion suitable for concerts, seated meals and marketplaces. Construction is to start in 2021 on a 5,000-seat concert-ready arena.
For an on-campus meeting experience, the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education and Hotel is in the heart of things. It has 38,000 square feet of meeting space, 22 conference rooms and 200 guest rooms.
As you might expect in a history-steeped college town, Athens offers a range of off-site venues. Among the most popular is the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia, where a stunning conservatory complements an array of horticultural highlights. The Morton Theatre is a vaudeville-era classic that has had many lives. Performers included Duke Ellington, Ma Rainey and Cab Calloway. It went dark for years but is now restored and available for banquets, receptions and other events. Its auditorium seats 544.
Two more venues with stories to tell are the Taylor-Grady House, built in 1834, and the Athens Cotton Press. The Taylor-Grady House can accommodate up to 350 for indoor-outdoor events, 150 for indoor receptions and 65 for indoor dinners. The Athens Cotton Press is a revitalized industrial building, whose 8,000 square feet of open space are a veritable blank canvas for event planners.
After the Meeting
Hanging around Athens itself after adjournment is a major temptation. Take in another live club performance, enjoy nature on the Oconee River Greenway, design your own culinary tour — favorites include traditional hits such as DePalma’s Italian Cafe, the Porterhouse Grill and the Last Resort Grill, as well as Five and Ten and the National — or sample craft beer at Creature Comforts and learn how a small-town brewery got a free product placement in the Marvel superhero hit “Avengers: Endgame.”
Attendees catching flights in Atlanta can detour to major attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the High Museum of Art, while those with time to head north can explore Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains include a notable wine district, tumbling trout streams and little towns such as Dahlonega, site of America’s first gold rush. That event was triggered in 1828 and eventually led to creation of a branch of the U.S. Mint. A University of North Georgia building sparkles with gold leaf from the mining era, just as the dome of Georgia’s capitol in Atlanta does.