Knoxville at a Glance
Location: East Tennessee
Access: McGhee Tyson Airport, interstates 40, 75 and 81
Hotel rooms: 9,000 countywide, 2,100 downtown
Knoxville Convention Center
Built: 2002, with ongoing upgrades like digital signage and wayfinding, and new carpet installed last year
Exhibit Space: 120,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, plus an additional 67,000 square feet in the World’s Fair Exhibition Hall, adjacent to the convention center and managed by them
Other Meeting Spaces: 28,000-square-foot ballroom, 14 breakout rooms, 460-seat lecture hall and elegant rotunda room
Guest rooms: 320
Meeting Space: 13,814 square feet
Crown Plaza Knoxville Downtown
Guest rooms: 197
Meeting Space: 15,670 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Knoxville
Grassroots Outdoor Alliance
Tennessee Health Occupations Students of America
American Society of Biomechanics
Knoxville is “scruffy” no more.
Famously dismissed as such by a Wall Street Journal reporter incensed by the decision to locate the 1982 World’s Fair in the city, Knoxville has evolved into one of the South’s most charming burgs. In the midst of a legitimate boom that has swept in a wave of jazzy new visitor-friendly businesses, it also boasts a celebrated outdoor recreational area running along downtown and the Tennessee River.
With meeting venues ranging from the sleek, modern convention center and the dazzling Sunsphere, Knoxville boasts everything planners need to create conferences that engage, educate and energize during on and off hours.
Tucked away in eastern Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains foothills, Knoxville offers an unbeatable combination of outdoor adventure, creative energy and fine food and drink purveyors. There are now about a dozen craft breweries in Knoxville and a lauded cache of restaurateurs that worked at nearby Blackberry Farm, one of the country’s finest resorts. Add a heaping dose of Southern hospitality and college-town verve courtesy of the University of Tennessee, and you’ve got a city that will have meeting-goers counting down the days until they can return.
“There are so many things that make Knoxville a memorable destination,” said Sarah Rowan, Visit Knoxville’s senior director of convention sales and marketing. “Outside of the friendliness and the fact that our city is very safe, we talk a lot about downtown. We’ve got three distinct districts — Market Square, Gay Street and the Old City — within four or five blocks of each other, and there’s so much to do in such that compact footprint. It’s pretty amazing to see all the growth, but we’ve kept our authenticity, and visitors notice that almost immediately.”
That growth includes a rise in the number of artisans, thanks to copious support from the city. Shopping ’til you drop is a cherished pastime in Knoxville, but for those who like to get their thrills in the great outdoors, the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness awaits. Some 50 miles of trails cut through lush forests that are dotted with lakes and quarries. It’s all easy to reach thanks to River Sports Outfitters and other outdoor gear suppliers.
As relaxed and outdoorsy as it is, Knoxville also knows how to get down to business, and there are a number of unique venues in the city for mingling work with a bit of play. That includes Ijams Nature Center, a 315-acre environmental education center with opportunities for hiking, biking, climbing, swimming and paddling. Ijams can accommodate meetings of 20 to 1,000 in its indoor and outdoor spaces.
Knoxville is also home to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, a 35,000-square-foot facility that celebrates women’s basketball around the world. Individual rooms are available for rental, including the Urban Playground. Designed to look like a city ball court with graffiti-covered walls and a chain link fence, it can seat about 120 and features audiovisual capability.
“We also offer exclusive facility rental for conventions, which can accommodate around 600 people,” said Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame president Dana Hart. “We can do guided or self-guided tours, team scavenger hunts or organized games on the ball courts, and we have a variety of teambuilding activities. We are very different from a hotel convention space — we make it fun.”
Another singular Knoxville venue is the iconic Sunsphere, built for the World’s Fair. The 266-foot-high structure looks like a golden disco ball from the outside and provides breathtaking 360-degree views of the city and the Smoky Mountains from the inside. It can accommodate up to 300 guests, and audiovisual capabilities and catering are available.
Major Meeting Spaces
Should meeting planners decide to hold their next event at the Knoxville Convention Center, they should be aware they might well find themselves returning sooner than planned.
“We’re Southern hospitality all day, every day,” said Mary Bogert, the center’s general manager. “Once groups come here, they don’t want to leave. It’s not unheard of for us to get a group that’s on a three- or four-year rotation, and the next thing you know, another facility can’t handle them, or there was a conflict, and we get them. We take a lot of pride in that.”
With a location overlooking World’s Fair Park, the 500,000-square-foot Knoxville Convention Center offers a 28,000-square-foot ballroom, three boardrooms, a 461-seat lecture hall and state-of-the-art catering facilities. But it’s not the only major meeting venue in the city. Planners might also want to consider the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, which includes seating for 2,500 in the auditorium, a 6,500-capacity coliseum with 22,000 square feet of exhibit space, and a 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall.
Connected to the Convention Center via a covered pedestrian skybridge, the Hilton Knoxville provides 320 guest rooms; 13,814 square feet of event space, including 19 meeting rooms; and staff to help organize catering and audiovisual equipment. Meanwhile, the Crowne Plaza Knoxville, according to Rowan, “is good for self-contained events. They have 197 guest rooms and over 15,000 square feet of meeting space. It’s a great option if you want to be in the heart of downtown.”
After the Meeting
There’s no doubt Knox rocks, thanks to an entertainment scene that rivals Tennessee’s bigger cities, as well as green space galore and a bustling craft brewery scene. Meeting planners might want to book a teambuilding adventure with a private Knox Brew Tour, which features tastings at the city’s best bastions of beer. Groups will also get a kick out of a visit to Pretentious Glass, where both brews and the glasses they fill are made.
“They do demos and hands-on activities,” Rowan said, “so if you want to take your board of directors or to do a VIP event, folks can go to the brewers side and get a flight of beer, and then go over to the studio and watch a demo or do the glass themselves.”
Speaking of frosty mugs, Rowan and her team can help organize a teambuilding afternoon that includes paddling the lovely Tennessee River with a stop for a bite and a brew along the way. Should attendees want to amp up the adventure, Knoxville has also become known as one of the best places in the South to mountain bike, thanks to the recent addition of the double-black-diamond Devil’s Racetrack Mountain Bike Trail.
When it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a show, Knoxville serves up the spectacular Spanish-Moorish-style Tennessee Theatre, built in 1928 and home to the city’s opera and symphony, and the more intimate Bijou Theatre, more than a century old. Both can be booked for backstage tours and off-site functions.