Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, photo by the Greater Wilmington CVB
About four times a year, the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Del., holds familiarization trips for meeting planners. Sales and marketing director Merella Merulla always enjoys watching attendees’ reactions as they tour the Brandywine Valley, home to former du Pont mansions, first-rate museums and Colonial sites.
“They’re amazed,” she said. “Wilmington is right off the I-95 corridor; it’s very accessible. There are a lot of companies within driving distance and a lot of attractions.”
You may say the same about the entire state, all of which is within easy driving distance of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. But don’t underestimate Delaware. Although small, its three counties have a distinctly different slant.
The more populated New Castle County to the north wears a corporate mantle. Kent County, in the middle, holds the state capital. To the south, Sussex County offers beaches. Even in difficult economic times, the Delaware hospitality industry is far from stagnant.
The Hotel du Pont last fall began renovating its 3,000-square-foot executive conference center, sprucing up the space with window treatments and new paint and furniture. The five meeting rooms, outfitted with new retractable screens and ceiling-mounted projectors, open into a spacious area where buffet lunches are served. Ideal for meetings of 10 to 40 guest rooms, the space “predominantly fits a corporate business model,” Merulla said.
The Executive Conference Center is adjacent to the hotel’s main conference center, which will undergo renovations this year. The center’s 20,000 square feet of meeting space can be divided into as many as 11 spaces. It features ergonomic chairs, wired tables, tackable wall surfaces and all-day dining.
Planners can also opt for meals in private dining rooms on the second floor. For fancier and larger feasts, the Gold Ballroom seats 400, and the DuBarry Room seats 100.
The 1,252-seat DuPont Theatre is in the same building as the hotel, and it’s often used for shareholder meetings or lectures.
Planners also have access to the DuPont Country Club, whose meeting space ranges from the 4,752-square-foot Crystal Ballroom to the 525-square-foot Governors Room. Brantwyn Estate, across from the country club, is perfect for small meetings or receptions.
Wilmington is in the midst of a revitalization, and a children’s museum and revived theater are jewels in its crown.
Delaware Children’s Museum, which opened last year, is on the Wilmington Riverfront. Because children romp through the interactive exhibits during the day, rentals are primarily confined to evening hours.
On the lower end of Market Street, known as LOMA, the Queen Theatre will reopen in April after an extensive renovation. The 1915 theater will be the home of World Cafe Live, which manages its entertainment schedule, restaurant and event bookings.
The theater’s restaurant will seat 160, and the main auditorium will seat more than 300.
“The acoustics are just unbelievable,” said special events manager Julie Shaw. “All our audiovisual is built in; you don’t need to rent it.” Two event spaces — which can seat 120 people each — with flexible seating have already been booked by a law firm, a historical society and the art college next door.
The 2,300-square-foot Film Brothers Movie Co-op, owned by brothers Gordon and Greg DelGiorno, is part art gallery, part meeting space and part screening room.
“It’s a funky yet contemporary space,” said Gordon DelGiorno. “It’s unique compared to a traditional meeting room.”
Nearby Chelsea Tavern, which opened last year, offers a 1,500-square-foot meeting space. With 27 craft brews on tap at last count and many more available by the bottle, it’s not surprising that co-owner Joe Van Horn says the space is “connected to the best beer list in Wilmington.”
In Dover, the state capital, Dover Downs Hotel and Casino was a recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award for 2011. Meeting planners increasingly take advantage of the hotel’s Fire and Ice Casino Lounge to host a performance by the in-house Elvis Presley impersonator.
“They want to give guests a great experience on a reasonable budget,” said George Fiorile, vice president and general manager of hotel operations. “We can put together a particular show for a group, and it moves them out of that traditional banquet-room setup.”
The hotel has added Blu-ray DVD players to its spa suites and the casinohas upgraded its table games and opened the Crown Royal Poker Room.
The 135-room Holiday Inn Dover replaced its Zodiac Restaurant with the Final Score Sports Bar and Restaurant. The hotel, which opened in 2009, offers a 2,552-square-foot ballroom and a boardroom for up to 15.
To make planners and meeting guests feel welcome, the Kent County and Greater Dover Delaware CVB provides a discount card for hotels, spas, shopping, museum fees and dining.
Dover is less than 45 minutes from the northern beaches of Sussex County. The Boardwalk Plaza, which faces the beach in Rehoboth Beach, was the third Delaware property to receive a AAA Four Diamond Award this year. About 20 minutes down the coast in Bethany Beach, four meeting spaces at the Holiday Inn Express are undergoing renovations.
The newest addition to the coastal area, the Cordrey Center, was built in part to host Valery Cordrey’s garden classes and cooking demonstrations. She and husband, Rick, own East Coast Garden Center and RSC Landscaping in Millsboro, about five miles inland. The center has also become a popular venue since it opened last year. Its breakout room can hold up to 80 people; the main room fits 150 to 200. A side patio, which can be tented, accommodates about 70 people.
And not surprisingly, the venue is “beautifully landscaped,” said manager Ruth Dingwall.