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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Carolinas: Chapel Hill passes the test

Photo courtesy A Southern Season


Team building is tasty in Chapel Hill, N.C., where meeting groups can engage in customized culinary demonstrations at A Southern Season, one of the largest gourmet stores in the nation.

“This nationally known store and restaurant is also popular with groups for wine tastings and dinners,” said Linda Ekeland, director of sales, Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, which includes the towns of Carrboro and Hillsborough. “Another option for culinary team building is the Spice Street restaurant, where a group from the Allscripts medical company took part in a cookoff in which two teams cooked for each other.”

Concentrating on food comes naturally in Chapel Hill, named “America’s Foodiest Small Town” by Bon Appetit magazine. A new Food Lover’s Guide to the city profiles more than 100 restaurants, bakeries and markets.

“We also have several new restaurants, as well as shops and galleries, downtown on Franklin Street,” Ekeland said. “Meeting attendees can enjoy everything from a gourmet chocolate and truffle shop to a vegetarian restaurant or an Irish pub.”

Groups not spending their downtime eating in this college town of 52,000 are usually touring attractions affiliated with the University of North Carolina (UNC).

“We have the Carolina Basketball Museum, the Morehead Planetarium and the North Carolina Botanical Garden, which is the largest botanical garden in the Southeast,” said Ekeland. “Many groups hold receptions at the garden, which also has a new Education Center that can hold 200 for a meeting or 120 in a classroom setting.”

This 30,000-square-foot facility, designed to be the first public building in North Carolina to achieve Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, consists of three connected buildings that flow into the botanical garden. They include exhibit, classroom and workshop space, as well as an auditorium.

Other popular sites for receptions are the Depot at Hillsborough Station, a new art gallery in Hillsborough with a 900-square-foot dance floor and space for a 150-person reception, and the Chapel Hill Museum, where 125 people can enjoy cocktails amidst an exhibit of Franklin Street as it appeared in the 1940s.

Another new Chapel Hill venue is the Great Room at the Top of the Hill restaurant and microbrewery, which recently opened for events for up to 170 people. The entire restaurant can host parties of 300, including space for 40 in its Tank Room, near the beer fermentation vessels.

Educational and medical groups dominate Chapel Hill’s meeting business, as these fields are associated with UNC; the university also provides the city with its largest meeting facility: the William and Ida Friday Center.

“We also use the Friday Center for corporate groups and associations that have an educational component to their meetings,” Ekeland said. “It has 25,000 square feet of meeting space for 500, an auditorium for 420 and numerous meeting rooms.”

The area’s largest hotel with meeting space, the 168-room Sheraton Chapel Hill, was recently renovated and offers 16,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space for 500, as well as outdoor terrace space for 150.

“Our historic, AAA Four-Diamond Carolina Inn will also begin a renovation this spring to enhance its authentic Southern style,” said Ekeland. This National Register of Historic Places property on the UNC campus has 184 rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space. “With our history and our university atmosphere, people always want to return to Chapel Hill,” said Ekeland. “Once you’ve been here, you just have to come back.”

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