In years past, the Charleston Civic Center became a stop on President John F. Kennedy’s campaign tour, saw Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain break the National Basketball Association’s all-time scoring record, and hosted Elvis Presley for five sellout shows. The center now serves as the No. 1 meeting spot in the capital of a state known for its mountains and rivers.
West Virginia’s breathtaking scenery, outdoor adventure and small-town friendliness all shine in Charleston, which, with 50,000 residents, is a relatively small city. That, said Tim Brady, vice president of sales and service for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, is part of its allure.
“We’re big enough that there’s lots to do, with live music seven days a week and great arts and music scenes,” he said. “But we’re small enough that a group feels special, like it’s the only game in town, and is not lost in a big-city shuffle.”
Hugging the Kanawha River, Charleston has a walkable downtown, from its 293-foot gold-domed Capitol to its primary meeting sites — the Civic Center and five hotels — its varied assortment of restaurants and its three-level Charleston Town Center mall. Along the riverbanks is a paved boulevard, popular with walkers and joggers, where free summertime concerts light the evenings.
Fresh-air seekers can hit the links at eight golf courses within five minutes of downtown, view the city from the water on a river cruise on the Spirit of West Virginia and cheer on the West Virginia Power, a single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, at Appalachian Power Park. In its Legends Club, 50 fans can watch baseball from an eagle’s-eye view, 200 can revel on its Party Deck or 1,000-plus can fill the entire left field seat section.
With roots in Appalachian cuisine, Charleston’s food scene rocks. The CVB can arrange a dine-around to feature as many as 25 different restaurants on Capitol Street. These can include Bluegrass Kitchen, a farm-to-table eatery with locally sourced food, art, music and a health-conscious menu, and Noah’s Eclectic Bistro, a fine-dining specialist that offers world fusion fare.
Set at the intersection of three interstate highways, Charleston’s city center is five minutes from the airport and has an Amtrak station.
“People often don’t realize how easy it is to get into and out of Charleston,” Brady said. “Our brand is ‘Hip, Historic, Almost Heaven.’ That speaks volumes to the city and the people who live here.”
Charleston Civic Center
Location is everything for the Charleston Civic Center. With 80,000 square feet of meeting and event space, the facility is downtown within a five-minute walk to five hotel properties. Its 13,500-seat Coliseum connects to a 52,000-square-foot Grand Hall with a dozen meeting rooms, and a Little Theater provides an intimate, formal space with 750 seats and a stage.
A short block away, the center’s Municipal Auditorium is a 1939 Art Deco grand dame on the National Register of Historic Places that seats 3,400 for musical and theatrical shows.
According to John Robertson, general manager, the center will soon begin a $50 million renovation that will include the addition of a 20,000-square-foot ballroom and larger capacity, high-tech meeting rooms. The target completion date is summer 2017.