In the Carolinas, college towns are always changing and innovating while retaining local charm, and they offer diverse meeting space and buzzing social atmospheres.
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Home to eight colleges, Spartanburg is a college town characterized by variety. Each college gives its own perspective, from the all-women Converse College to the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. The diversity of colleges is great not just for students but also for meeting groups.
“There’s a little something for everyone,” said Patricia Byrd, sales manager at the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Primary meeting facilities include the Spartanburg Expo Center, formerly a mall, which has 100,000 square feet of unusual space for trade shows.
“All the traditional shopping space in the mall is now space for meetings and conferences,” Byrd said.
The Marriott Hotel has 30,000 square feet of meeting space, including an 11,000-square-foot ballroom that accommodates 1,500 attendees. The Hampton Inn has 19,000 square feet of space. Indigo Hall and Duncan estate offer alternate venues for smaller groups.
Many attractions are available, including the Glenville Outdoor Leadership Center, the River Bend Sportsman Facility, 195 miles of biking trails, revolutionary battlefield sites and a host of museums.
“The No. 1 thing to do is the BMW Performance Driving School,” Byrd said.
The factory is great for board retreats and team-building activities, and meeting planners can arrange for catering at their events there. Visitors have a fun driving experience on the fast track and learn about the history of BMW at the nearby Zentrum Museum.
For dining, the RJ Rockers Brewery and Restaurant and the Peach Blossom Diner are fun and friendly experiences.
Columbia, South Carolina
When visiting Columbia, expect to see a lot of black and garnet, as well as images of the gamecock, the University of South Carolina’s mascot. Columbia boasts not only USC, the largest college in South Carolina; but also many meeting opportunities and attractions.
“Columbia is a very eclectic city with a lot to offer; it is what you want to make it,” said Kim Jamieson, director of communications at the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism.
Among the primary meeting facilities is the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, which is the only downtown convention center in South Carolina. It is located about a block from the Congaree Vista, an area with more than 65 restaurants, shops, art galleries and other attractions. Jamieson said this makes meeting and relaxing extremely convenient for visitors. The center itself includes 142,500 square feet of meeting space and 15 customizable rooms, including ballrooms. The center also has a 24,700-square-foot exhibit hall and a number of breakout rooms.
Other meeting areas include hotel properties that are suitable for breakout meetings. Columbia and the surrounding area have a total of 12,000 hotel rooms, and 1,500 are located within one mile of the convention center.
Unusual meeting facilities include the Columbia Museum of Art and the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens, the No. 1 zoo and attraction in South Carolina.
“They do a phenomenal job of creating that outdoor feel,” Jamieson said, “and you feel like you’re on a safari while meeting.”
The dining scene is very diverse and includes everything from Cajun and Creole to American classics to Italian. But the favorite is, of course, barbecue.
“Columbia has one of the highest populations of barbecue restaurants, including a number of meat-and-threes, where you pick one meat and three sides,” Jamieson said.
Jamieson said there is a wealth of things to do in Columbia, including arts and culture, food, outdoor life and history.