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Lexington: Kentucky’s Crown Jewel

When people think of Lexington, Kentucky, several things often jump to mind: bluegrass, basketball and bourbon. There’s plenty of gorgeous scenery to enjoy in the greenbelt surrounding this city of 308,000 in what locals call the Horse Capital of the World. University of Kentucky basketball is a passion of the Big Blue Nation, as is the distilling of arguably the best bourbon in the world.

“We have horse farm tours that groups are just in awe of because it’s typically not something they can receive in another city,” said Marci Krueger, vice president of sales and services for VisitLex, the local convention and visitors bureau. “The bourbon distillery tours are also a fascinating experience for them.”

While all of those things are local cultural building blocks, there are many other surprises in store for meeting attendees visiting Kentucky’s second-largest city.

Krueger hears from meeting planners who say it’s easy to get into Lexington with Interstates 64 and 75 crossing paths there and with a convenient airport.

“We’re close to two-thirds of the nation’s population, and our Blue Grass Airport is only about 10 minutes away from all hotels that can host meetings,” she said. Planners sometimes complain about how in some cities, they must drive up to an hour from an airport to a meeting site and hotel. Not so in Lexington.

Lexington’s downtown restaurant scene is exploding, and several emerging nearby neighborhoods like Jefferson Street and National Avenue are sprouting new eateries that aren’t part of national chains. “Visitors love that we have homegrown farm-to-table concepts and that you can taste food produced and created by folks in Lexington,” said Krueger. Some locals are calling the foodie movement “Beyond Grits.” There are also new bar and entertainment options available in Lexington’s safe, clean and compact downtown.

Top Meeting Sites

The Lexington Center downtown is the hub of major meeting activity. This convention center has 130,000 variable square feet of meeting and exhibit space. The 24,000-seat Rupp Arena is attached and can accommodate major conventions, meetings and events. There is also a two-level boutique shopping center inside the center, as well as a food court.

“Why meet here? First you have the quality of our city,” said Joe Fields, director of convention management for the Lexington Center. “Then you have a facility like ours with all the natural lighting and five-star-quality meeting space that’s flexible and attached to the Hyatt Regency Hotel and connected by pedway to the Hilton. There are also 2,000 attached parking spaces,” said Fields.

Across the street, the Lexington Opera House, a historic performing-arts theater, can seat 900 people for various meeting events.

Getting Your ZZZs

The Hyatt Regency overlooking downtown is as convenient for meetings as can be. It has the Patterson and Regency ballrooms and numerous breakout spaces, as well as a handful of suites ideal for corporate gatherings.

“Regency is the middle level of Hyatt hotel and is a meat-and-potatoes kind of meeting site,” said Todd Garvin, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt. A hotel renovation is coming, with the Hyatt spending $8 million to refresh all meeting spaces and guest rooms by next January.

The Hilton Lexington/Downtown prides itself on having a Kentucky feel, with designs, artwork and colors that reflect the region. The double queen-size beds are also popular. “This hotel is an easy sell for us,” said Dave Willmarth, the Hilton’s sales manager. “So many things are within walking distance of it.”

Between them, the downtown Hyatt and Hilton have 732 guest rooms to book.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.