Courtesy Otesaga Resort
The Big Apple is an extraordinary destination for metro meetings, but for smaller gatherings and retreats away from the big city noise and lights, one of New York’s many villages is a worthy alternative.
Clear cell-phone reception, high-speed wireless access and state-of-the-art technology make meetings easy in villages where walkable main streets are filled with antique shops and restaurants, homey inns are heavy with history, and outdoor diversions are plentiful.
Cooperstown, for example, trademarked as “America’s most perfect village,” has a population just under 2,000 and one stoplight. However, thousands of fans make pilgrimages there to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
When they meet there, some will stay at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, a AAA Four Diamond property and a member of Historic Hotels of America. A meeting venue of some renown — its American Indian name means “place of meeting” — the inn is owned and operated by the Clark family. The Clarks built the magnificent Federal-style structure in 1909 on the shores of Lake Otsego, the famed Glimmerglass of James Fenimore Cooper’s novels.
Over the past 10 years, the Otesaga has spent $48 million to upgrade its 135 guest rooms and its Leatherstocking Golf Course and add a new swimming pool.
Sixty percent of its business is meetings and conferences; there’s 14,000 square feet of meeting space in 10 rooms.
“If a planner reserves 50 guest rooms in the winter, from December through mid-April, a group can have exclusive use of the whole hotel,” said Bob Faller, director of sales and marketing. “They can snowshoe, cross-country ski and toboggan on the golf course, or ice fish with a guide. The chef cooks the fish.”
Visitors also can watch a baseball game at historic Doubleday Field with a Hall of Fame pitcher such as Phil Niekro on the mound, go boating, take a fishing charter, rent a canoe, feast along a culinary trail, follow jogging and bike trails around the village, visit local breweries and rock with live music at a nightspot.
The Otesaga can arrange a hoedown in a historic barn at Cooperstown’s Farmers’ Museum, a National Register of Historic Places collection of buildings on land once farmed by Cooper, and one of several hometown cultural institutions that double as off-site venues. Another example is the Fenimore Art Museum, where groups of up to 1,000 can have receptions in the Terrace Gardens.
For sports aficionados, cocktail receptions and dinners for 120 can be held in the hall of fame’s Plaque Gallery.
“Attendees are surrounded by 295 hall of famers,” said June Dolhun, sales manager. “Only 1 percent of people who played major league baseball are inducted. It’s quite an honor.”
Cooperstown definitely hits a meetings home run.
In the rolling hills of the Hudson River Valley, Rhinebeck, population 3,000, is one of the largest historic districts in the country, with 437 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Among them are 30 contiguous riverfront estates once owned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Samuel F.B. Morse, the Vanderbilts and other well-to-do families. Most are open for public tours.
Many of the historic town’s restaurants, shops and inns are housed in historic structures. And village exploration is just a few steps away from America’s oldest inn, the full-service Beekman Arms, which has hosted famous folks for libations, dining and overnights since it opened in 1766.
“Most everyone who stays with us is curious about our history,” said Maria Schubert, general manager of “the Beek” and its sister property a block away, the Delamater Inn. “They want to see where George Washington really slept.”
The older, beautifully renovated Beekman Arms has 23 rooms, one a suite, and a meeting capacity of 80. The American Carpenter Gothic-style Delamater Inn’s 50 rooms — four are suites — surround a garden court; its conference room and porch can hold 40.
With the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains in sight, the view’s the thing two miles away at the Rhinecliff Hotel, a 150-year-old property bought by two British brothers in 2003. Five years and $6 million later, the rebuilt treasure is a full-service boutique country hotel on the National Register of Historic Places with antique wood floors, hand-stacked stone fireplaces and the original Victorian mahogany bar, site of a Sunday jazz brunch.
This ideal corporate retreat site sits next to an Amtrak station and is on the banks of the Hudson.
“It’s virtually impossible to have a property this close to the river in the Hudson Valley,” said James Chapman, a former New York restaurateur who owns the hotel with his brother David. “The water views are simply splendid.”
Those vistas highlight the dining room, an upstairs event room for 100, a flagstone patio, tented events on the lawn and all nine guest rooms, two of them suites.
Attendees can stay immersed in history by meeting on a World War II PT boat or at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, famous for its vintage World War I planes, daredevil air show and biplane rides.
Lake Placid, twice host to the Winter Olympic Games, now sports a meeting facility that’s up for the gold — Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status, that is.
The Conference Center at Lake Placid, completed in May, blends with its environment, offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space with 12 breakouts and is attached to two 20,000-square-foot arenas for trade shows and events.
The conference center adds more appeal to the alluring alpine village of 3,000, where on clear nights, stars are visible from the middle of town.
Within an easy walk of the center are shops, eateries and hotels that range from 250-room, full-service resorts to smaller, more economical properties.
“This new center allows us to create flexible, smaller breakout spaces at meetings,” said Kimberly Rielly, director of communications for the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We could never do that before.”
Olympics is the name of the game there, and the CVB can arrange group activities at Olympic venues: a reception at the top of a ski jump with a ski show by Olympic hopefuls, an off-site gathering at a remote lodge on Whiteface Mountain, a presentation at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, or a demonstration at a horse show grounds with the Olympic Torch in the background.
Team building tends to take on Olympic proportions. A torch-lighting ceremony can precede a bobsled competition, a curling competition or a hockey game on the ice where the 1980 U.S. team made history. All are designed to fit a group’s skill levels, and a medals presentation can complete the event.
Although Lake Placid is within a two hours’ drive of three major airports, its natural surroundings offer outdoor pleasures from canoeing and fly-fishing to dogsled rides and skiing. Indoor types can sample microbrews, taste local wine and take spa treatments.