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Mesa: A Desert Destination

A brutal winter like the one Northerners endured in 2013-2014 doesn’t come along very often. But when it does, you can bet that thousands of northerners will pull up stakes and move to the sun and warmth of places like Mesa, Arizona. With an average of 325 days of sunshine a year, more than San Diego or Miami Beach, Mesa is becoming a popular spot to live, work and meet.

“Arizona has always been a snowbird area with people coming down from the northern U.S. and western Canada to escape the weather,” said Karen Hunt, director of sales and marketing for Phoenix Marriott Mesa, one of three designated hotels for the fifth annual Small Market Meetings Conference (SMMC), which will take place September 28-30. The other two are Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa and the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa.

“They stay for months,” Hunt said. “I hear stories about people’s kids and grandkids coming to visit and deciding to stay. They visited but just fell in love.”

The SMMC will give the nation’s meeting planners a closer look at this East Valley suburb of Phoenix. Mesa is Arizona’s third-largest city with a population of 448,000 and likely will soon become the second largest if current growth patterns continue.

Mesa is a short drive from both Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and the smaller Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

“Mesa is more of a quaint residential neighborhood, with easy access in and out to any other place you’d want to go,” said Hunt. “It’s green grass, palm trees and many water features. We have more land, so you feel like you can get outside and enjoy that versus having tall buildings all around you.”

Mesa has the right combination of meeting venues, hotels and spectacular natural attractions, plus appealing nightlife, to satisfy meeting delegates.

“I believe the people make Mesa special,” Hunt said. “It’s a low-key, easygoing community, but with the professionalism we can bring to meetings, it’s a great mix.”


Venues for All Needs

The Mesa Convention Center consists of three buildings on 22 acres of downtown park land. There’s 19,000 square feet of exhibit space and an equal amount of flexible meeting space. There are 15 meeting rooms to configure any way that’s needed.

Also on the property is the 5,000-seat outdoor Mesa Amphitheater, which stages a variety of concerts for visitors who sit on its intimate, tiered lawn. The facility is also available to rent for meeting events. The entire campus offers free parking to all.

“We’ll have the Small Market Meetings Conference people visiting downtown so they can see what the area is like and also how close everything is,” said Michelle Oden-Huebner, national sales manager for Visit Mesa, which is helping to organize the conference.

Delegates will also engage in fun team-building activities at two smaller venues just a few blocks from the convention center. One is 12 West Main, in the heart of Mesa’s historic downtown. It boasts 17,000 square feet of space for corporate gatherings and other events. A few doors down is the Castle on Main, which gives the feel of being inside a castle. The elegant space is often decorated for weddings, but it can easily be transformed into a venue for business meetings, corporate parties or other similar events.


Hotels: Sleep or Meet

Mesa has about 60 hotels of every variety, with approximately 5,000 comfortable guest rooms and suites. The three hotels designated for the SMMC host delegates staying in town for all kinds of meetings. The Phoenix Marriott Mesa has 264 rooms and 10 suites. In addition, it offers 27 meeting rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space, plus space at the adjoining convention center. Recent hotel updates have included a fresh, new lobby.

Another conference hotel is the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa, with 260 guest rooms and suites.

“We have 22,000 square feet of meeting space and a lot of breakout rooms. The atrium or poolside can be used, too,” said Kimberly Mehalos, the hotel’s sales director. “Our motto is ‘Everyone Leaves Happy.’ We provide great customer service and food, and that’s what people are pretty much looking for at a conference.”

Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa is also right in the middle of everything in Mesa. It has 152 guest rooms and is known for taking good care of guests. In 2012, it was rated the No. 1 Hyatt Place in the world for customer service.

“The hotel location is so convenient, just a few minutes from the Phoenix airport and a few miles from the Mesa Convention Center. We’re a great option for meeting attendees,” said Alana Ashman, director of sales at Hyatt Place. Ashman added that the hotel’s 1,300 square feet of meeting space is perfect for small corporate meetings.


Naturally Attractive

Visitors to Mesa have a big selection of things to see and do. Start with nature. It is bountiful and remarkable. Outside of Mesa, there’s the Sonoran Desert with its spectacular vegetation, which includes millions of cacti. Their primary flowering season lasts from February to June.

Delegates might spot any number of types of wildlife in the desert, including coyotes, jackrabbits, Gila monsters, road runners and lizards. And yes, there are also the creepy but fascinating creatures like scorpions, rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Explorers must be aware of what they touch or brush up against. Visitors who enjoy birding can spot owls, hawks, cardinals, woodpeckers and many more species.

Meeting delegates can enjoy a hike along the trails of Red Mountain or the Superstition and Four Peaks wilderness areas. Outdoor options include Usery Mountain Recreation Area, Tonto National Forest, Lost Dutchman State Park or San Tan Mountain Regional Park, to name a few. Historic Apache Trail is rated one of the most scenic byways in Arizona.

It’s generally bone dry in Arizona, but there’s plenty of water recreation around Mesa. Delegates to the Small Market Meetings Conference can opt to travel 20 minutes northeast of Mesa and board the double-decked Desert Belle for a Saguaro Lake nature cruise.

“It showcases our area and the flora, fauna, geology and ecology of the valley,” said Visit Mesa’s Oden-Huebner. “Most people don’t think of water when they think of Arizona, but we have the only two year-round running rivers here in the valley.”

Back in Mesa, SMMC attendees can opt to do many things in their spare time. There will be pre- and post-conference familiarization tours available.

Meeting attendees can spend some downtime shopping in various retail developments around Mesa. Golf fans will love the 40 courses within a half-hour of downtown and the many other recreational opportunities.

Baseball fans know Mesa will be a busy place in February and March when spring training unfolds. The Chicago Cubs recently moved into a new training facility in Mesa and play their games at the beautiful new Cubs Park. Their national fan base, among the most loyal in the game, flocks to Mesa each season. Also, in 2015, the Oakland A’s will relocate to new training facilities and a renovated Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, giving fans of both teams, and baseball enthusiasts in general, plenty to chatter about.


Distinctive Events

SMMC delegates will attend the opening reception at the Commemorative Air Force Museum, just outside Mesa.

“Our mission is to commemorate the service of WW II, Korean and Vietnam aviators,” said Larry Turner, the museum’s air base leader.

The site features a variety of impressive aircraft from bygone eras: 20 to 25 pieces inside and outside the hanger.

“People hold events and see aircraft all around them, some even hanging from the ceiling,” said Turner. “It’s a different venue than you can find anywhere else in the Phoenix area.”

Delegates will also sample the wonders of the 210,000-square-foot Mesa Arts Center, the city-owned performing and visual arts complex located downtown. “It’s the largest comprehensive arts campus in the southwestern United States,” said Casey Blake, public relations director for the center. “It presents everything from dance to theater, hosts resident companies, offers classes and outreach to the community, hosts five galleries in the contemporary arts museum and operates an artists’ cooperative store.”

SMMC attendees will have an immersive arts experience in which they’ll make and create something of their own in a very short time to take away with them.

“They’ll get to know each other and the center during this creative break in their day,” Blake said.

Locals will nudge you in the direction of some of their favorite Mesa haunts, but two quickly come to mind. Queen Creek Olive Mill makes its own olive oil and sauces and is a place where customers can eat, tour and shop. Superstition Restaurant and Saloon in Tortilla Flat, Arizona, is an old burger joint with a heavy Old West flavor and clever atmosphere. Look for the signed $1 bills attached to the walls by visitors from around the world.

With its mix of great weather, meetings hospitality, outdoor attractions and diverse visitors, Mesa just might convince travel planners to join the snowbirds and bring their meeting attendees to this city at any time of year.


Spotlight on Mesa, Arizona

Location: South-Central Arizona, 20 miles east of Phoenix

Access: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, I-10, I-17

Major Meeting Spaces: Mesa Convention Center, Sheraton Riverview Hotel, Phoenix Marriott Mesa, Hilton Phoenix/Mesa, Holiday Inn Mesa, Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa, Arizona Golf Resort

Hotel Rooms: 60 Hotels, 5,000 Rooms

Off-Site Venues: Cubs Park, Commemorative Air Museum, 12 W. Main Street, Castle On Main, Mesa Arts Center, Mesa Amphitheatre

Contact Info:

Visit Mesa

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.