Chattanooga at a Glance
Location: Southeast Tennessee
Access: Interstates 75 and 24, Chattanooga Airport
Hotel rooms: Approximately 10,000 in Hamilton County
Chattanooga Tourism Co.
Chattanooga Convention Center
Exhibit Space: 185,000 square feet, with 100,000 square feet of clear span exhibit space
Other Meeting Spaces: 21 meeting rooms and 6 ballrooms
Marriott Downtown (connected to convention center)
Guest rooms: 343
Meeting Space: 9,862 square feet
Guest rooms: 259
Meeting Space: 15,308 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Chattanooga
Volkswagen Dealers Association
American Association of Woodturners
International Association of Black Professional Firefighters
Chattanooga is sitting pretty: It’s halfway between the major convention cities of Nashville and Atlanta, happy with its size, surrounded by nature and practically humming with high-tech capabilities. Meeting planners have much to work with here in a city that’s easy to navigate and fun to explore.
It’s difficult to beat the combination of attributes that Chattanooga possesses. Its mix of history, natural beauty and modern innovation have made it highly popular for meetings, business growth and leisure visitation. It occupies the sweeping Moccasin Bend in the Tennessee River. Lookout Mountain is one of several famous ridges around the city, and the Appalachian Mountains are off to the east. Smart municipal decisions have earned it the nickname Gig City.
In 2010, Chattanooga became the first city in the U.S. to build a communitywide fiberoptic network to deliver 1-gigabit internet speeds to every home and business within a 600-square-mile area, according to Marissa Bell, public relations manager for the Chattanooga Tourism Co. It upped the ante to a 10-gigabit speed in 2015. Along the way, it became the first midsize city to establish an innovation district. This downtown zone aims to be the driver of the city’s 21st-century economy, and meetings get the benefit of the resulting restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, public art and parks. There’s even a free electric shuttle system available to all.
“When you can look out of your hotel room and see the mountains and admire the sweep of the Tennessee River, it lifts your spirits and makes for a better meeting,” said Barry White, Chattanooga Tourism Co. president and CEO.
The Tennessee Aquarium isn’t just an aquarium. It’s two massive aquariums — one telling the story of rainwater’s descent from the mountains into the Tennessee River and onward and a second telling the story of the oceans’ inhabitants — plus an Imax theater. There are spaces for presentations, receptions and banquets, all with the added bonus of perhaps encountering a river otter, a jellyfish or a penguin.
Totally different yet similarly captivating is the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on the revitalized MLK Boulevard. The Bessie honors the city’s African American culture with an emphasis on Bessie Smith, “The Empress of the Blues.” Spaces include the Vilma Fields Atrium, which can hold 175 people for a reception and 104 for a banquet; the Bessie Smith Performance Hall, which can hold 400 people for a reception and 240 for a banquet; and an expansive terrace that can accommodate a 1,000-person event.
Groups that want to go the museum route might consider these two diverse choices: The Hunter Museum of Art crowns a bluff over the Tennessee River, offering great views of the river, the Walnut Street Bridge and the North Shore neighborhood. The permanent collection explores American art from the 1700s forward, and there is an appealing outdoor sculpture garden. A different focus — playtime — drives the Creative Discovery Museum, a children’s museum that offers fun activities for adults after the kids leave.
The Turnbull Building honors Chattanooga’s industrial past through an adaptive reuse of what once was the Turnbull Cone and Machine Co. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and has 10,000 square feet of high-ceilinged space on two floors of a historic warehouse loft.
Major Meeting Spaces
When you need lots of space, turn to the 185,000-square-foot Chattanooga Convention Center. That total includes 100,000 square feet of clear-span exhibit space, six ballrooms and 21 meeting rooms. It is attached to the 343-room Chattanooga Marriott, which has 9,862 square feet of meeting space. The convention center area features almost 1,500 additional first-class hotel rooms, and the city’s free electric shuttles help groups glide around town.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga can put some sports flair into a meeting. The UTC Moccasins are the big users of Finley Stadium, but the Stadium Club is appealing to groups outside of football weekends. Its 4,000 square feet are adaptable for classroom setups, receptions, banquets or theater-style presentations. If you have a really big crowd or the need to stage a major entertainment production, McKenzie Arena, the university’s basketball venue, seats 12,000.
The Signal, which the Chattanooga Tourism Co. calls “an industrial chic warehouse-style venue,” offers a very non-hotel atmosphere for trade show and conference use. It has 11,830 square feet and can handle 800 people theater-style, 500 for banquets or 700 for classroom-style events.
Two more downtown hotels have space worth examining. The 259-room Westin Chattanooga has 15,308 square feet of meeting space, and the Chattanoogan Hotel in Hilton’s Curio Collection has 23,336 square feet.
After the Meeting
If ever there were a city with incentives to stay and play after a meeting, it’s Chattanooga. Three of America’s most famous visitor attractions draw people to Lookout Mountain to see the fanciful gardens of Rock City; the underground novelty of Ruby Falls, a 145-foot waterfall inside a massive mountain cave; and the seemingly near-vertical pitch of the Incline Railway, which marked 125 years of gliding up and down the mountain in 2020.
A relaxing after-meeting activity is strolling through the Bluff View Art District near the Hunter Museum. This quiet neighborhood is atop a bluff overlooking the river, and it comes complete with a sculpture walk, a coffee shop, a bakery and shops. You can cover more distance on foot or on a bicycle along the 16.1-mile Chattanooga Riverwalk or on the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. Its eye-catching blue trusses are a photographic favorite.
Real adventure is only an hour away on the Ocoee River, where the Tennessee Valley Authority regulates water flow for some of the most exciting whitewater rafting in the eastern U.S. Yet another way to enjoy time on the water is much more placid: kayaking or paddleboarding right through the city. More extreme adventure is nearby at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park, where brave souls can learn to hang glide while the simply curious can marvel at people who willingly run off the side of a mountain.
“Our area’s outdoor recreation possibilities are especially appealing to meeting attendees who can tag on an extra day,” said White of the Chattanooga Travel Co. “It’s all right here.”