For years, meeting planners would tell the staff of the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, “We love your town.”
“Then they would say, give us a call when you have a hotel adjacent to your convention center,” said Ruth Sykes, vice president, media relations and marketing. Last fall, the CVB’s sales team began picking up the phone to alert planners that the 220-room Macon Marriott City Center Hotel had opened adjacent to the Macon Centreplex.
The new hotel is making a difference in the central Georgia city’s meeting business. State associations, which had held board meetings and other small gatherings in Macon, are now choosing the city for their annual conferences, according to Beth Robinson, the CVB’s convention sales manager.
Macon’s location dead center in the state, 85 miles south of Atlanta, scores points with statewide groups. “If they meet in Macon, they all have equal driving distances,” said Robinson.
Government business has stepped up, possibly because of the Marriott flag. The city is 15 miles from Warner Robbins Air Force Base.
Religious conferences, a staple here, are also appreciative of the new headquarters hotel and large groups like the Georgia Missionary Baptists and Georgia Baptist Youth end up booking most of the city’s 5,200 guest rooms.
Downtown, the Centreplex is the dominant meeting venue, with good reason. The complex includes a 9,000-seat arena and the Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center, with its 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 9,100-square-foot ballroom, 13 breakout rooms and rotunda lobbies for prefunction events.
When the center’s exhibit hall is combined with the coliseum’s floor space, there is 82,000 square feet of exhibit space.
In addition to downtown, Macon has two clusters of meeting hotels and venues. In a suburban area 7 miles north of the city, the opening of a 110-room full-service Holiday Inn has brought limited meeting space to an area previously served only by limited-service hotels.
On the west side of town, off the I-475 Bypass, two new meeting facilities are geared toward smaller conferences. Macon State College’s new conference center has a 4,500-square-foot banquet hall, a boardroom, five meeting rooms and a 75-seat tiered classroom.
Across from the college’s campus, a former Sam’s Club warehouse is now the Anderson Conference Center, a multi-dimensional facility that includes a conference center operated by Goodwill Industries and open to the public.
The complex, designed to be a training ground for Goodwill clients, has its own hospitality program (the first class recently graduated), a catering operation, a Goodwill thrift store and a coffee shop and bookstore.
The center’s mission of preparing unemployed or underemployed people for careers excites many who visit it. “When I do site tours there, meeting planners are ecstatic about the facility and what it stands for,” said Pammie Eagle-Jimmar, the CVB’s convention sales manager.
Like Athens, Macon has a mighty music heritage. The city has nurtured such talents as Otis Redding, REM, Little Richard and the Allman Brothers Band.
So it makes sense that the Georgia Music Hall of Fame should be there. It is packed with costumes, instruments and other memorabilia, as well as interactive exhibits like a giant floor piano that makes anyone with feet a pianist.
The hall of fame is a natural for special events. Among its exhibits is the Gospel Chapel, complete with pews and suited to live performances.
Another new music attraction is the Allman Brothers Band Museum. It is housed in the home where the band lived when it was based in Macon. Several of the rooms are furnished as they were when the band lived there; the house is packed with memorabilia collected by the band’s former road manager, who saved the house and later sold it to the foundation that now manages the museum.
Back when the road manager owned the house, people wandered up and were welcomed to informally tour it. “It became a museum in that hippy sort of way,” said Sykes.
Now the tours are more formal, and the museum can be booked for after-hours events, although it won’t be of interest to every group because not everyone is a fan of the rockers.
It and the hall of fame are two of the ways meeting planners can build on Macon’s Southern personality. “A lot of meeting planners wrap their arms around it and theme their meetings with Southern mansions or with the music,” said Sykes.