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Cities on the Rise

A rising tide lifts all boats, but what causes the tide to rise? Sometimes it starts with a single business that attracts other companies. Sometimes it’s investment in a new convention center or stadium. Most times, it starts with local efforts to improve the economy.

With booming hotel development, thriving convention center expansions and brand-new attractions, these cities are on the rise as destinations, not only for businesses, tourists and residents but also for meetings and conventions.

Arlington, Texas

Ten years after AT&T Stadium opened, the entertainment district in Arlington, Texas, continues to grow. Across the street from the home of the Dallas Cowboys, visitors will find the Texas Live! entertainment complex; Globe Life Field, future home of the MLB’s Texas Rangers;  and the Live! by Loews hotel that opened in August. Half a mile down the street is the Esports Stadium Arlington and Expo Center, which anchors the city’s convention district.

Put it all together, and “there are some great opportunities for folks to be engaged,” said Chad Enloe, vice president of sales for the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 300-room Live! by Loews boasts 35,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The hotel “almost shares a back patio” with Texas Live!, a 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex with eight distinct venues, including a beer garden, private lounge spaces and a 5,000-capacity outdoor event pavilion, all available for private events.

Next door, construction is underway on the 40,000-seat Globe Life Field, a retractable-roof baseball stadium that will welcome concerts, sporting events, conventions and meetings. The adjacent former stadium, Globe Life Park, is being reconfigured to host the XFL Dallas Renegades team.

In November 2018, the city unveiled its 100,000-square-foot dedicated Esports venue that makes up about half of the Arlington Convention Center, where up to 2,500 people can attend competitive gaming tournaments.

Though nothing has been announced, local officials expect additional hotel development in and around the entertainment district and convention campus.

Boise, Idaho

When people arrive in Boise, Idaho, “they’re really surprised with all there is to do and all they can find,” said Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Boise Centre’s multiphase expansion was completed in July 2017, taking the center from 50,000 square feet of event space to over 80,000 square feet. The expansion allows the city to welcome larger meeting and conventions, but the center’s “sweet spot” is using both spaces to host two events at the same time.

Boise also went several years without a new hotel, but now “we’ve had four hotels built in the last three years,” Westergard said.

A Home2Suites by Hilton is slated to open late this year, and Residence Inn plans to build two hotels downtown, Westergard said. The 182-room Red Lion Downtowner is also set to undergo a $10 million renovation and become a Delta by Marriott property.

In addition to its growing food scene, Boise is gaining recognition for its burgeoning wine industry. The Telaya Wine Company overlooks the Boise River and is available for private events for 10 to 150 guests. Next door, the Riverside Hotel offers 21,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. Coiled’s Garden City winery and its downtown tasting room are both available for events.

In downtown, groups can also walk from the convention center to the Basque Block, where they’ll find Basque restaurants, a market and a cultural museum. There, private events can close the street to feast on paella and enjoy Basque dance performances.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, meetings hotels are undergoing a bit of a boom. Three new downtown hotels have opened over the past year, all within walking distance of the DeVos Place Convention Center. An Embassy Suites by Hilton opened in April with 250 suites and six flexible meeting spaces that can accommodate up to 250 guests. The 130-room AC Hotel by Marriott opened in June in a restored 127-year-old building, and the 160-room Hyatt Place Hotel followed in September.

All the new hotel development has helped with peak room nights, but it has also “helped us with recognition because our inventory continues to grow,” said Mary Manier, director of sales for Experience Grand Rapids.

The Amway Grand Plaza in downtown is wrapping up a renovation of all the guest rooms in the historic 1913 building and is now is the middle of a $40 million exterior renovation of its glass hotel tower, built in the early 1980s.

Also in downtown, construction is underway on a new Canopy by Hilton, set to open in spring or early summer with 155 guest rooms and 2,400 square feet of meeting space. The hotel is part of Studio Park, a new mixed-use development that opened a nine-screen movie theater in September and also features retail and restaurants. Crews are also building a new 13-story Marriott Residence Inn in downtown that will have 147 rooms.

Meanwhile, a taskforce is examining the idea of building a publicly financed convention hotel and outdoor amphitheater and expects to issue a recommendation early this year.

Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville is known as Rocket City, and the Alabama community is taking off as a meetings destination. The city is home to a NASA flight center, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and the FBI’s future $1 billion “second headquarters.”

“The businesses are here; now, the attractions, the hotels, the shopping are starting to catch up,” said Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

New development means Huntsville will have several entertainment districts throughout town, with pockets of hotel rooms and unique experiences in various neighborhoods.

In downtown, the Von Braun Center is expanding, and the first phase includes the new 1,575-person-capacity Mars Music Hall, which opened January 3 with a concert by Jason Isbell. The restaurant and rooftop bar, Rhythm on Monroe, will open in February.

Future expansion plans include a new 35,000-square-foot multipurpose ballroom, 14,000 square feet of breakout space and a 15,000-square-foot prefunction/lobby area. A hotel is planned for an empty lot across the street, though it hasn’t yet broken ground.

Across the street from Mars Music Hall, a 150-room Hampton Inn and Suites and neighboring 187-room Autograph by Marriott are slated to open in late 2021.

In the historic downtown square area, a Curio by Hilton should open at the end of the year with 117 rooms, and a new Hyatt House will have 145 rooms.

In the Town Madison development, the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ new baseball stadium, Toyota Field, will open April 15. There are plans for a Margaritaville hotel in the ballpark’s outfield, but a Home2 Suites by Hilton is already open, and construction is starting on an 87-room Avid hotel.

Louisville, Kentucky

The 612-room Omni Louisville Hotel opened in March 2018 in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, and connects to the newly renovated Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC), which unveiled its $207 million renovation six months later.

And the new additions keep coming.

Two hotels opened this fall on Whiskey Row: Hotel Distil and Moxy Louisville Downtown, both Marriott properties and both down the street from the KICC and KFC Yum! Center.

Hotel Distil is a 205-room boutique property that’s all about bourbon heritage. Located on a site that once held a barrelhouse, the building incorporates an 1860s-era facade that was saved after a fire. The hotel has 11,000 square feet of meeting space, an oak-fired steakhouse and an open-air rooftop bar with a retractable roof.

Though the 110-room Moxy doesn’t have any meeting space, it does have a 24/7 taco counter.

“Between the two of them, it’s 315 rooms added to our hotel inventory,” said Rosanne Mastin, marketing communications manager for Louisville Tourism. “That brings us to 6,000 total rooms downtown.”

Downtown is also welcoming new attractions. The first phase of the Waterfront Botanical Gardens debuted in October 2019 with the grand opening of the Graeser Family Education Center, a curving, glass-encased space surrounded by the Mary Lee Duthie Gardens.

Behind the botanical gardens, construction is underway on the 10,000-seat stadium that will open this spring and be home to the popular Louisville City FC of the United Soccer League and the new National Women’s Soccer League expansion team, Proof Louisville FC.

The Roots 101 African-American History Museum is slated to open on Museum Row in time for Black History Month this February.