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Food for thought on Bethesda

Courtesy CVB of Montgomery Co.

Bordering Washington, D.C., are a handful of Maryland and Virginia communities that consistently top the charts for affluence, a highly educated population, health care, high-tech, fitness and income.

One of the most engaging is Bethesda in Montgomery County, Md. It’s a 20-minute Metro ride from downtown Washington and a destination for restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries and trendy entertainment.

As one fan put it in the town’s promotional video, Bethesda’s a place to “grab a bite, grab a movie and grab an outfit.”

Bethesda is also home to defense conglomerate Lockheed Martin, managed health care company Coventry Health Care and hotel chains Marriott International and Host Hotels and Resorts.

Until recently, the city had a reliable meeting client base that included the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and other large government agencies.

Sequestration has softened the government meeting market in recent months and heightened interest in other meeting segments.

“We are trying to get more association and SMERF market business, especially on weekdays,” said Michael Lauriente, senior sales manager for the Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Largest in the county
Montgomery County’s largest meeting venue is the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, a flagship for Marriott International, headquartered in Bethesda.

Built in 2005, it was doubled in size four years ago and now has 447 guest rooms and 50,500 square feet of meeting and event space on two levels. On the main level is a 25,000-square-foot grand ballroom that can be divided into eight parts. A 10,000-square-foot foyer with gold highlights and an Art Deco feel opens onto a patio.

One level down, a tiered and technology-rich 120-seat amphitheater features a push-to-talk microphone for every two people and a translation booth.

It shares the floor with a boardroom and 10 other meeting rooms. An event-planning office is conveniently located for quick help when it’s needed.

“We’re ranked No. 2 among Marriott hotels for service,” said Nicole Smith, a destination sales executive.

Atop the Metro Center
For convenience, the 390-room Hyatt Regency Bethesda is hard to top. It rises 11 stories from a plaza it shares with the Bethesda Metro Center, a station for the Red Line that whisks travelers into and out of the heart of Washington.

It’s also strolling distance from more than 200 restaurants that have made Bethesda what Washington Magazine calls “a restaurant lover’s dream.”

For those who don’t stroll, a free bus called the Circulator makes 20 stops in the popular Bethesda Row and Woodmont Triangle sections from morning to night every day but Sunday. On Saturdays and Sundays, parking is free in 16 public parking garages; street meters are free on Sundays.

The Hyatt’s 20,000 square feet of meeting space is arranged on two levels below a lobby that soars through 11 stories of guest rooms.

“We can do meetings and events from 12 to 450,” said Darren Bumbaugh, associate director of sales. “The best size is 225.”

One level down from the lobby are two wings of meeting rooms with a large foyer in between. Spaces include two boardrooms and 10 meeting rooms that range in size from 420 square feet to 1,944 square feet.

Below, with its own entrance from the hotel’s parking garage, a 7,200-square-foot ballroom fronted by a large foyer can be divided into four suites.

The 28-year-old hotel has two restaurants and a new lobby lounge that serves breakfast starting at 6 a.m. Above the lobby and visible from it, a square open terrace is used for meetings and receptions for up to 180 people.

“I’m always impressed  with a hotel that can keep its staff,” said Amy Tobin, conference manager for Capital Consulting Corp. Tobin organizes several  meetings a year at the Hyatt.  “When I come back, everyone’s still there, greeting me warmly.”