Portland at a Glance
Location: Southeast Maine on Casco Bay
Access: Interstate 95, Portland International Jetport, Amtrak’s Downeaster, the CAT ferry
Hotel rooms: 6,400
Cross Insurance Arena
Built: 1977, renovated 2012
Exhibit Space: 30,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: 17 breakout rooms
Sheraton Sable Oaks
Guest rooms: 226
Meeting Space: 12,330 square feet
Holiday Inn by the Bay
Guest rooms: 239
Meeting Space: 27,010 square feet
Sebasco Harbor Resort
Guest rooms: 133
Meeting Space: 10,000 square feet
Westin Portland Harborview
Guest rooms: 289
Meeting Space: 16,000 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Portland
Wanderful’s Women in Travel Summit
New England Veterinary Medical Association
National Governor’s Association
Maine is best captured in images: white-capped waves crashing against a craggy seacoast; stolid, lonely lighthouses flashing perpetual warnings to vessels at sea; year-round, adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities; well-built clapboard houses with huge stacks of hand-hewn firewood; outfitter extraordinaire L.L. Bean; and fat, rosy lobsters still steaming, ready to crack into, dip in drawn butter and melt in the mouth.
As the Pine Tree State’s largest city, Portland has all the above, plus the amenities of a cosmopolitan city with an appealing, funky vibe. Its extensive selection of award-winning restaurants has garnered this harbor town kudos from People magazine as “Top Foodie City,” and Bon Appetit named Portland its Restaurant City of the Year.
Groups can enjoy Portland’s food and iconic Maine imagery when they meet in this seacoast city.
Perched on a peninsula that juts into island-sprinkled Casco Bay, Portland has a compact, easily strolled downtown with close-knit neighborhoods, a working waterfront, impressive old and new architecture, and intriguing boutiques and galleries galore.
Minutes from the town center, Westbrook’s Performing Arts Center can seat 1,000 in its state-of-the-art theater.
“The arts thrive here,” said Robert Witkowski, director of media relations, Visit Portland. “There’s the symphony, opera, ballet, concerts and James Beard Award-winning chefs.”
Downtown Portland claims one of the country’s most successful revitalization efforts. It’s Old Port district is a combination of quaint, old, cobblestoned New England and contemporary craft beer, artisanal coffee and top-notch restaurants.
Formerly a 19th-century shipping and railroad center in West Portland, Thompson’s Point has morphed from a rundown industrial zone into a waterfront cultural, residential and commercial hub. The Point is now Portland’s top outdoor concert venue. Ongoing development plans in the area include a 148-room boutique hotel adjacent to existing Brick South, a beautifully restored former machine shop that now serves as a 34,000-square-foot event venue.
When not in sessions, delegates can absorb Maine’s flavor with a stroll on a sandy beach, paddle canoes in a salt marsh, snap selfies while eating a lobster roll at Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth and overnight at a variety of properties.
“Portland accommodations run the gamut from sophisticated urban lodgings and elegant coastal resorts to rustic lakeside retreats and charming historic inns,” said Kate McDonough, group marketing director for Visit Portland.
Major Meeting Spaces
Though Portland’s 155,000 square feet of downtown meeting space does not include a convention center, creativity has alleviated that issue.
“Small-Town Takeovers are an innovative, fun way we can accommodate groups over 500,” said Lynn Tillotson, CEO and president of Visit Portland. “Large groups can make Portland’s Arts District their own by utilizing larger conference hotels and Cross Insurance Arena [CIA], all within walking distance of each other.”
Home to the Maine Mariners pro ice hockey team, numerous sports events and high-attendance concerts, the arena has 30,000 square feet of flexible space that includes several lounges, one for groups of up to 200, with panoramic views of downtown, the Old Port and big water; a number of suites for smaller meetings; and a 1,500-seat floor capacity.
“We don’t have a set stage so we can turn nearly every room into exactly what an individual convention needs,” said Bill O’Malley, director of marketing for CIA.
The city’s largest conference hotel, Holiday Inn by the Bay, is one of several near the arena and all downtown attractions. With views of Portland Harbor and the White Mountains, the inn is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar property modernization that includes meeting rooms for 10 to 1,200 attendees.
An hour north of Portland, Sebasco Harbor Resort stretches 550 acres along Casco Bay and is pure Maine, complete with a sleep-in lighthouse. Corporate groups of up to 250 can meet in bay-view rooms, relax on a cruise or bib up for a lobster bake. Teambuilding can include an oceanfront golf scramble.
Portland’s variety of off-site venues highlight the personality of southern Maine.
Victoria Mansion, circa 1860, is the finest remaining example of an Italian Villa style in America. According to the elegant building’s curator, Arlene Palmer-Schwind, its remarkable interior wall paintings make it “a time capsule of a historic house museum.” Its Carriage House Meeting Room accommodates 30.
The gorgeously contemporary Congregation Bet Ha’am is an open-door Jewish community facility. Two meeting spaces can each seat 180 theater-style or 300 combined, plus there is a library boardroom and a relaxing garden.
Tucked into 125 pine-forested acres, Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake has offered “Down East” hospitality since 1916 in beautifully appointed lakefront cottages and lodge rooms. Its conference center features state-of-the-art technology and a warming fireplace. Besides resortwide wireless capacity, amenities include sailing, massages and lunch on a private island via 1947 Chris Craft.
For an economical winter experience, the New England Outdoor Center has spectacular mountain and lake views, 20 on-site cabins and a 135-seat restaurant. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and ice fishing are also available.
Adventure and teambuilding challenges await near Portland at L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School in Freeport, where attendees can learn a new sport, such as fly-fishing or snowshoeing, or compete with a ropes course, archery, sporting clays, etc.
Teams can compete in cooking challenges modeled after the TV series “Chopped” at the Fyood Kitchen — pronounced “feud.” And up to 60 corporate retreaters can negotiate a ropes course, zip lining and sea kayaks at Rippleffect on Cow Island.
After the Meeting
Sailing is a popular activity in Maine, and visiting groups have choices in focus and vessel. For instance, Odyssey Whale Watch and Nature Cruises specializes in wildlife spotting — whales in their feeding grounds, porpoises, dolphins and sea turtles — as a naturalist explains the sea life. A smaller, 16-person boat offers seal watching and a trip to mid-19th-century Fort Georges on Casco Bay.
Adventurous attendees and spouses can work their abs on a Portland Paddle tour in kayaks or on stand-up paddleboards (SUPs). Options include a paddle to the fort with a bag lunch and full-moon SUP tours.
Wine Wise Events pairs up to 45 guests with a sommelier on a 74-foot windjammer that sails the bay to ogle lighthouses, islands and coastal scenery while sipping fine wines. Wine and Oyster Cruises add fresh oysters shucked right on board.
Landlubbers can stick to the company’s Spirits and Cocktails Walks onshore.
For sampling local spirits with a designated driver, the Maine Brew Bus — “Driving You to Drink Local” — offers customized private tours of southern Maine’s breweries, wineries and distilleries. A walk with the company’s historian around Portland landmarks with stops at three legendary local breweries is also available.