Lexington at a Glance
Location: Central Kentucky
Access: Blue Grass Airport, interstates 75 and 64
Hotel rooms: 8,500-plus
Central Bank Center
Built: 1976; undergoing renovation and expansion; completion projected spring 2022
Exhibit Space: 100,000 square feet
Hilton Lexington Downtown
Guest Rooms: 366
Meeting Space: 18,651 square feet
Hyatt Regency Lexington
Guest Rooms: 366
Meeting Space: 25,000 square feet
Lexington Marriott City Center
Guest Rooms: 218
Meeting Space: 11,171 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Lexington
North American Environmental Education Conference
Society of Trauma Nurses – TraumaCon
Southeastern Theatre Conference Annual Convention
Call it classic Kentucky: Perched at the intersection of interstates 75 and 64 and within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the country’s population, Lexington offers meeting planners a central location in the middle of the beautiful Bluegrass State. But that’s not all there is to love about this affordable and historic city, which was founded back in 1775. Groups that meet there can take advantage of brand-new facilities, up-and-coming hotels and a vibrant culinary and cultural scene.
With a lovely, bustling downtown that’s safe and walkable, there’s much to do in the immediate area surrounding Lexington’s gorgeous new convention center: the Central Bank Center. But if attendees spread out a bit more, they will find a bonanza of more than 100 locally owned eateries located throughout Lexington. Many specialize in seasonal food served fresh from farm to table. Of course, Lexington’s celebrated culinary offerings are just one facet of its booming cultural scene, which includes plenty of art galleries, independent shops and live music venues.
For attendees who want to soak up some of the city’s creative culture and encounter a bit of history at the same time, the Lexington Opera House is a must. Built in 1886 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this downtown landmark plays host to touring Broadway shows and area performing arts troupes, like the Kentucky Ballet Theatre. The Opera House, which is about a block from the new Central Bank Center, is a great place for meetings, too, with a 1,000-seat theater and four breakout rooms.
And then there are the enterprises for which Lexington is most famous and that provide “a lot of things for attendees to do that are one-of-a-kind experiences,” said Niki Heichelbech-Goldey, director of communications for VisitLex. “The signature industries of horses and bourbon that are located here in Lexington do make us a unique destination for meeting attendees. You can come here and do things that you can’t do in other destinations, like visit a bourbon distillery or go to a horse farm where there’s a Derby winner living in residence. I think that’s a big part of what makes us really special.”
Sitting pretty amidst the rolling hills and white fences of horse farm country, the Kentucky Castle was built in 1969 as a private residence. Now one of Lexington’s most distinctive boutique hotels and events venues, this real-life castle makes for a fairy tale reception or dinner with room for 80 in the ballroom and 20 in the formal dining room. Other goodies include private tours of the grounds, an executive chef and even a billiard room.
The Apiary offers catering off-site, but why wouldn’t you want to dine in this exquisite venue, which can accommodate groups of up to 200? Despite its downtown location, the 8,100-squarefoot Apiary benefits from its lovely, secret garden-type vibe, as well as food and beverage offerings such as bourbon tastings and fun Lexington-inspired dishes like locally procured salad greens dressed in bourbon vinaigrette. The Apiary food team is also renowned for baking its own bread, smoking meats in-house and handcrafting sausages.
With 14 bourbon distilleries within 45 miles of downtown, it’s probably fair to say you haven’t really been to Lexington unless you’ve visited one of them. In particular, meeting groups might want to head to Buffalo Trace Distillery, which ranges over 130 acres in Frankfort, Kentucky. The oldest continuously operating distillery in the country, it offers impressive spaces for meetings and receptions like the 3,700-square-foot Giants Hall, with room for 150 seated and 350 standing. According to Amy Preske, public relations manager for Buffalo Trace Distillery, attendees can take a variety of complimentary tours at the distillery that also include tastings. “I think it’s a great destination for meetings because it really gives people something different than what they’re normally used to,” she said.
Major Meeting Spaces
Due to open in its entirety in March 2022 — although its more than 200,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space is launching in stages before that — the new Central Bank Center promises to be a showstopper. Among the upgrades is a 24,330-square-foot ballroom, expanded from the former facility’s 17,000 square feet, to go with 99,444 square feet of exhibition space and 24,116 square feet of meeting space. The Central Bank Center is also debuting a new food-and-beverage hospitality brand, Hardwood and Oak, with the ability to handle all on-site catering needs.
“The design for one, is exciting,” said Joe Fields, the Central Bank Center’s director of convention sales and management. “I think it’s really unique. There’s lots and lots of natural light. And the flow of it, how it will transition from exhibit space to meeting and breakout space to ballroom space while still maintaining attachment to the Rupp Arena, is really cool. For the group that wants to utilize both facilities, which we get occasionally with large religious conventions and things like that, the transition from convention halls to arena is seamless.”
The Central Bank Center will retain its indoor access to two of the city’s most noteworthy meeting hotels: the Hyatt Regency Lexington and the Hilton Lexington/Downtown. The 366-room Hyatt boasts a total of 19,300 square feet of event space and 4,500 square feet of prefunction space, with amenities like an on-site event manager and state-of-the-art audiovisual, webcasting and videoconferencing equipment. Meanwhile, the Hilton also offers 366 guest rooms with a total of 18,651 square feet of function space and 17 meeting rooms.
After the Meeting
When it’s time for a little fun, attendees will want to get out and discover a bit of singular beauty and majesty that the more than 450 horse farms surrounding Lexington provide. Luckily, the online platform Horse Country makes planning visits a snap, according to Heichelbech-Goldey. “You give your meeting dates, and then it tells you what tours are available, and you can book directly through them,” she said. “There are a variety of different farms. For example, there are some that specialize in mare and foal operations, some that are just stallions and some that teach horses how to be racehorses. We live and breathe the horse industry here, and we like to share it, and Horse Country does a great job of opening up the farms to the public.”
For folks that would like to visit a racetrack, the renowned Keeneland Race Course operates in April and October. During the off-season, attendees can take guided tours of the National Historic Landmark facility, bookable through Horse Country, or get up early and watch the horses go through their morning workouts. At Keeneland, there are 10 stunning spaces with on-site catering available as well, including the Sales Arena, which can accommodate meetings of up to 600.
Once attendees have had their fill of Lexington’s equine industry, they can hit up the Distillery District, conveniently located about a mile from the Central Bank Center. Home to the James E. Pepper Distillery as well as the Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, it also offers breweries; a cidery; Crank and Boom, an ice-cream parlor that serves bourbon and honey ice cream; and the Burl, Lexington’s best live music venue.