Let’s face it: The American South is incredibly hot right now with leisure travelers. Talented chefs are training in the North and coming back home to open James Beard Award-winning restaurants in their hometowns; craft breweries and distilleries are taking over former warehouses; and historic buildings, left and right, are becoming boutique hotels.
But many of the same booming businesses popping up for leisure travelers are also keeping a watch on meeting business. These five hip Southern cities are awash with new venues to give your next event a young, up-and-coming vibe.
Greenville, South Carolina
As the main metro area in northwestern South Carolina, Greenville is a natural magnet for the best of Blue Ridge culture; but events have taken a major turn in recent years.
“Ten years ago, Greenville was not a tourist destination,” said Taryn Scher, public relations representative for VisitGreenvilleSC. “Even five years ago, we had business travel on weekdays but then fell flat on the weekend. But in the past five years, leisure travel has actually surpassed business, and we’ve been beating national, state and regional growth rates. We’re right in line with Charleston.”
Much of the city’s new energy focuses on TD Stage at the Peace Center, an amphitheater that seats up to 1,450 and welcomes acts like Marc Cohn and Edwin McCain for its Summer Nights series, which opened in 2012. Groups can rent the center in conjunction with several other unusual spaces at the riverfront Peace Center, whose buildings used to be a coach factory, a textile plant, a mayonnaise factory, and a retail store.
Two exclusive tours offer visiting groups the best way to experience the city’s culinary scene. At the Chef’s Table, tours for up to 40 take groups behind the scenes and into the kitchens of five of the city’s top restaurants for a five-course meal — one plate per stop, though it’s a lot of food by the end — with beverage pairings for just $39 per person. Greenville History Tours also offers a tour for up to 20 of some of the top barbecue joints in the nation, the types of spots you wouldn’t find without a local. And this month, Hall’s Chophouse, one of Charleston’s most popular restaurants, is opening an outpost in Greenville with multiple options for private dining.
Savannah may be known for old-fashioned Southern charm, elegantly crumbling mansions and Victorian gardens, but a surprising amount of the city’s art, architecture and design leans heavily modern thanks to its award-winning local design university, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
SCAD opened a new art museum in 2011, starting a cascade of new and renovated architectural projects throughout the city. In 2012, in the heart of the city near River Street, famous for its live music, Hyatt opened an Andaz — its funky upscale lifestyle line — with four meeting rooms in addition to its 151 guest rooms. Kimpton’s Brice Hotel in the historic district is one of the newest properties in town, with 145 rooms and 8,700 square feet of event space in a historic building that has served in former lives as a stable, a cotton warehouse and a Coca-Cola bottling plant. A 252-room Hotel Indigo with 6,000 square feet of meeting space is opening this March.
Slightly older yet still epitomizing Savannah’s new modern side, the Telfair Museum Jepson Center designed by Moshe Safdie allows groups to rent the entire building, including the three-story atrium, 7,500 square feet of galleries, the 200-seat auditorium and the sculpture terraces.
The new Savannah style is especially evident in its restaurants, like the lauded Local 11ten, which can accommodate up to 30 for a meeting and 45 for a meal in its private dining room, or up to 130 for a buy-out of its renovated bank building just off Forsyth Park. The Grey, named one of the top 25 restaurants of 2015 by Food and Wine magazines, welcomes private groups of up to 45 in three atmospheric spaces in a chicly refurbished former Greyhound station.