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Georgia: There’s nothing old school about Athens

By Becky Ferrero and Vickie Mitchell

Courtesy State Botanical Garden of Georgia

There’s nothing old school about Athens
The opening last year of an upscale green hotel in downtown Athens has proved golden in terms of new meeting business for the home of the University of Georgia.

Courtesy Athens CVB

The Hotel Indigo Athens, a gold-level LEED certified hotel, is bringing more corporate business, including small meetings for such heavy hitters as Georgia-based Coca-Cola and environmentally oriented gatherings as the Georgia Organics Conference. The Hotel Indigo Athens is among eight hotels in North America in the running for “North America’s Leading Green Hotel” by the World Travel Awards.

The upscale-boutique nature of the 130-room hotel is a draw, along with hip, albeit untraditional, meeting spaces like the Rialto Room, a music venue by night that can be set for meetings during the day, and a clubby lounge with comfortable sofas, a natural for casual functions.

“Hotel Indigo is set up to handle smaller meetings, like board retreats or board meetings,” said Hannah Smith, communications manager for the Athens CVB.

The hotel also serves in a supporting role for the city’s Classic Center, two blocks away, the city’s main venue for larger meetings.

The 185-room Hilton Garden Inn is attached to the 80,000-square-foot meeting complex, which includes a 28,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 2,100-seat theater and up to 29 breakout rooms. About 1,100 hotel rooms are within walking distance.

There could be changes in store for the Classic Center if Athens voters approve a referendum to extend an existing 1-cent local tax. Officials would like to expand the center’s grand hall by 25,000 square feet and place a dome over its courtyard, giving the facility space that could be used in any season.

Long a college town, Athens has, in the past decade, become more sophisticated. The change is most obvious in its restaurants. Smith was a UGA student in the mid-1980s, and says the difference is “night and day.
“When I was a student here there were not many choices for upscale dining, it was all quick stuff.”

Courtesy State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Today, the city is home to independent restaurateurs, including Hugh Acheson, a four-time James Beard Award finalist known for his restaurants, Five and Ten and the National.

“He is one of many chefs creating high-quality food at a much lower price point than in Atlanta,” said Smith.

Athens is also known for its music, and the Terrapin Brewery is a place where music and homemade brews blend.

Open Wednesday through Saturday, the brewery “does tours and tastings, and there is live music every night they are open. The brewery has an Athens vibe to it,” said Smith. “The people creating the beer take you on the tour and show you every step of the way.”

Management will book group events on nights the brewery is closed; the CVB also helps meeting planners add live music, Athens style, to their events.

“We always let people know about the live music because it is what gives us personality as a destination,” Smith said.

For the Georgia Governor’s Tourism Conference in late August, the CVB has helped line up the bluegrass band Packway Handle. When the Georgia Photographers Association had a party at the Foundry Park Inn and Spa’s Melting Pot, bands specializing in beach music helped set a breezy, easygoing tone.


More Georgia Meeting Guide:

Georgia Meeting Guide: Just Peachy!
Cartersville’s proud to say it’s not Atlanta
Convention center hotel has Macon singing a new song
Valdosta’s a belle on the southern border
WEB EXCLUSIVE! Georgia’s Savannah