A natural gathering point for national associations and state lawmakers, these cities benefit from ample transportation links, hotel rooms, meeting venues and state museums.
If you’re looking for a meeting destination in the South, these six state capitals merit some attention.
Charleston, West Virginia
While Charleston, South Carolina, has been the Charleston in the tourism limelight for the past decade, Charleston, West Virginia, has a bold plan underway to come onto the wider tourist radar with $200 million in tourism infrastructural improvement set to culminate with the opening of a $90 million convention center expansion in 2018.
“We have live music every night because we’re the home of Mountain Stage, which is like Austin City Limits but older,” said Alisa Bailey, CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A lot of musicians have been attracted to the city because of that and the Maier Foundation Performance Hall at the Clay Center for the Arts, which is arguably the third-best acoustical hall in the world because when they built it, it was across from the hospital and they could hear the helicopters, so they redid the acoustics.”
Charleston’s rich arts and culture scene opens up unusual venue options for meeting groups. At the Clay Center, groups can hold a meeting or a pub-style reception on the main stage, or a banquet in the glass-enclosed foyer. Small groups can have breakfast, or wine and appetizers, while watching the ballet rehearse, and the CVB can shut down a block of Main Street for large groups to have a street fair with live music before a dine-around.
Bailey recommends groups allot two to three hours to take in the West Virginia Capitol Complex, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the Capitol itself, which, when designed in 1924, had an estimated cost of $10 million and was the inspiration for the current U.S. Supreme Court building, the complex includes the Governor’s Mansion and the West Virginia Culture Center and State Museum, which can tailor an exhibit to the focus of visiting convention groups.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
New Orleans may have the crowds, but Baton Rouge has the same laid-back riverfront spirit, lagniappe hospitality, soulful blues and Creole culture without always having to wait in line.
Large groups can take over the 200,000-square-foot Baton Rouge River Center, just behind the Old State Capitol, but the city also has a plethora of museums ideal for meetings for small and midsize groups. Regina Porter, senior sales manager for Visit Baton Rouge, recommends three Louisiana state museums for meeting groups: the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, the Louisiana Art and Science Museum and the Capitol Park Museum.
The Capitol Park Museum, which includes life-size shrimp boats and Mardi Gras floats as well as the history of each of Louisiana’s parishes, is popular with corporate events because “if you have an event, they leave the museum open, and there’s a view of the Capitol lit up from outside.”
While Louisiana’s Gothic Revival Old State Capitol could be mistaken for a castle, the new one leans more toward Rockefeller Center. Though it’s not available for rentals, groups can tour the building and ride up 34 floors to the observation deck atop the country’s tallest capitol. The Old State Capitol, which dates back to the 1850s, when it was designed in the style of a 15th-century Gothic cathedral, functions as a museum during the day, but the former Senate and House chambers can be rented during museum hours for groups of up to 200, and the rotundas are open to groups in the evenings.
Porter recommends meeting planners avoid football season and the period between March and the end of May, when the state Legislature is in session.