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Florida Meeting Guide: Sarasota

Courtesy Visit Sarasota

Located between the Tampa Bay area and Fort Myers, Sarasota is punctuated by a comma of beautiful barrier islands. Among them is Siesta Key, which Dr. Beach (Stephen Leatherman)ranked at the top of his 2011 best beaches list.

Yet even with its 35 miles of beachfront, Sarasota is much more than sea and sand. With a ballet, an opera, theater and an art museum, it makes makes enough of a cultural splash to be called “Florida’s Cultural Coast.”

Business guests visit from all over, but hot markets include Chicago, Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., said Kelly Defebo, meeting and group sales manager of Visit Sarasota. “We are a perfect small to midsize meeting destination,” she said. The association, corporate, incentive travel and SMERF sectors are all strong sectors.

The Sarasota Bradenton International Convention Center, located behind the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, is a former Sam’s Club that was turned into a 93,000-square-foot expo space.

“It is a good venue for trade shows,” Defebo said. “There is an adjoining Holiday Inn with 135 rooms and 3,200 square feet of additional meeting space.

Among Sarasota County’s 29 meeting hotels is the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, which has earned the AAA Five Diamond award since 2005. Each of its 266 guest rooms has a private balcony; the resort also has a spa, a beach club on Lido Key, an 18-hole golf course and 18,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Hyatt Regency Sarasota, a AAA Four Diamond Hotel, features 294 rooms and more than 20,000 square feet of function space. A $22 million renovation in 2008 gave it a Lilly Pulitzer-like style. Pulitzer’s classic fashions epitomize Florida chic, with their happy pinks, greens, yellows, blues and oranges and floral-inspired patterns.

The 218-room Longboat Key Club Resort and Spa has earned both AAA Four Diamond status and recognition from Golf Digest. It’s also consistently ranked among the top tennis resorts in the country. In addition to renovating its guest rooms, the resort has also added a new restaurant, the Tavern and Whiskey Bar.

Among the resort’s meeting spaces is the 2,948-square-foot John Ringling Room in the Resort Center, named for one of the best-known Ringling brothers. In winter, John Ringling moved the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus to Sarasota, where his wife, Mable, liked to spend the cooler months.

The couple’s 56-room mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, which means “House of John” in a Venetian dialect, and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are part of the Florida State University Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts.

Both the mansion and the art museum offer outdoor meeting spaces: The mansion’s bayside terrace accommodates 250; the museum’s courtyard can accommodate up to 400 people.

For more culture-laced fun, book one of the 10 meeting rooms or space on the grounds of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, with its views of sunset over Sarasota Bay. Or visit the Sarasota Opera House, located downtown, where the options include a courtyard with wrought iron fencing and a fountain.

Gourmands, meanwhile, will be pleased to know that there are more Zagat-rated restaurants within a 20-mile radius of Sarasota than anywhere else in Florida.

941-955-0991 ext. 106