Charleston at a Glance
Location: Metro Valley
Access: Yeager Airport, interstates 64, 77 and 79
Hotel rooms: 3,500
Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau
Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center
Built: 1959, renovated 2018
Exhibit Space: 50,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: 25 meeting and conference spaces
Charleston Marriott Town Center
Guest rooms: 360
Meeting Space: 17,406 square feet
Guest rooms: 253
Meeting Space: 38,000 square fee
Courtyard by Marriott
Guest rooms: 119
Meeting Space: 810 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Charleston
Military Order of the Purple Heart (2021)
American Baptist Association (2021)
Freewill Baptist Association (2027)
Maybe John Denver had it right when he called West Virginia “almost heaven” in his enduring song “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” The only state that lies completely within the Appalachian Mountains, it’s paradise for outdoor lovers, and even Charleston, its capital, benefits from this bucolic landscape.
With rivers astride and parkland within, the city offers greenery galore. But it bustles with business, too — not only at the lovely West Virginia Capitol Complex, but also within the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, the recent recipient of a $100 million-plus overhaul.
Loaded with this and more modern meeting space, as well as opportunities to explore a diverse range of cultural, historic and outdoor attractions, Charleston makes a heavenly destination for meetings.
A small city of about 49,000 residents, Charleston is distinguished by its stunning state Capitol, which features a 293-foot-tall dome gilded in 23.5-karat gold leaf. The building, available for meeting-goers to tour, like the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion, another historic treasure close by, gives the city a stately profile. This contrasts delightfully with Charleston’s unmistakeable down-home vibe, perhaps best experienced in its music-filled bars and through its inhabitants, who are well-versed in the art of Southern hospitality.
“I think what makes Charleston really special is the people,” said Leslie Smithson, communications director of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have some great meeting venues and awesome locally and independently owned restaurants. Another thing we’re really proud of is that we have live music in Charleston every night, 365 days a year. But at the heart of everything is our people. The people that live and work in Charleston are very welcoming, very excited, when we have visitors in the city.”
Though New River Gorge, one of the country’s premier places to play outdoors, is just an hour from Charleston, meeting attendees can take it outside a lot closer to their hotel. Coonskin Park, a few minutes from downtown, unfurls over more than 1,000 acres with hiking and biking trails, an 18-hole, par-3 golf course and an Olympic-size pool all available for off-hours fun or team-building activities. There are also facilities to rent for off-site meetings. Only seven miles from Charleston, Kanawha State Forest offers some 25 miles of hiking and biking trails.
As befitting a capital city, Charleston is rich with off-site meeting venues, most offering the chance to mix business with pleasure. The Culture Center, on the state Capitol grounds, along the Kanawha River, features several event rental spaces. They include the Great Hall, which can seat 150 for dinner or 250 for a standing buffet or reception. The facility doesn’t have in-house food or beverage service, although it does rent audiovisual equipment.
The Culture Center is also home to the West Virginia State Museum, always worth a visit for meeting-goers, according to Smithson. “If people have a couple hours in town, we always tell them to hit our state museum,” she said. “It’s phenomenal.”
Speaking of museums, the 240,000-square-foot Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences boasts everything from an art institution to a planetarium, a performance hall — home to the city’s symphony — and a hands-on science center. The spaces available for event rental include the Benedum Grand Lobby, which offers a three-story wall of windows and a seated dinner occupancy of 450, and the Susan Runyan Maier Sculpture Garden, which 250 can enjoy comfortably. Catering is available through the Clay Center.
Meeting planners might also want to investigate the Hale Street Center, a newer downtown venue housed in a historic structure built in 1906 and still graced by exposed brick walls and tin ceilings. It can hold groups of from eight to 150.
Major Meeting Spaces
In October 2018, following a renovation and an addition that topped $100 million, the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center reopened. Modern in technology and sleek style, it’s a gorgeous facility that offers, among other things, 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, 25 meeting and conference rooms, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and an 8,000-square-foot reception area that overlooks the Elk River.
Some $8 million alone went to upgrading the Wi-Fi, resulting in an increase in concurrent-user capacity from 100 to more than 7,500.
“All of our meeting rooms have screens and most have ceiling-mounted LCD projectors,” said Joe Varney, Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center senior event coordinator. “The AV technology is controlled by a wall-mounted LCD panel that not only allows us to control the AV in each room, but it allows us to link up the AV from room to room … For the larger spaces, we have large screens for projection, and we work with the clients and outside contractors to provide the ultimate experience and professionally produced events.”
Varney, who said the fact that Charleston has a “clean, safe, walkable downtown filled with thriving local restaurants and nightspots” is one of the best reasons to host a meeting in the city, also noted that it offers 3,500 citywide guest rooms. Among the best properties for hosting meetings are Embassy Suites by Hilton Charleston, which provides 13,090 square feet of event space, 23 meeting rooms and 253 guest rooms, and the Charleston Marriott Town Center, with 17,406 square feet of total event space, 16 event rooms and a maximum of 16 breakout rooms.
After the Meeting
As great as Charleston is at getting down to business, it’s just as good at encouraging visitors to let their hair down. Meeting-goers will want to explore the city’s sparkling music scene with stops at beloved bars like The Empty Glass. The legendary Mountain Stage, a live music radio show heard on more than 200 NPR stations, airs performances on some Sundays from the likes of Norah Jones from the Culture Center Theater. “If I had a meeting Monday or Tuesday, I honestly would come in early to go to Mountain Stage,” said Smithson.
Fans of our national pastime will also want to grab a ticket to see minor league ball club the West Virginia Power play at Appalachian Power Park. The stadium offers group ticket packages and rents luxury suites, great for smaller, off-site functions.
For meeting planners who want to increase attendees’ motivation and promote cooperation within ranks, nothing beats a rafting trip in the New River Gorge area. Adventures on the Gorge, which works with the Charleston CVB, will arrange transportation for groups traveling between the city and the resort.
“You navigate that raft together,” said Robin Hildebrand, Adventures on the Gorge’s head of sales. “You work as a team. You don’t know what the turn will be, but you’re able to work together and handle it as it unfolds. There is no better method to team build than whitewater rafting together.”