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New Mexico: Dig into Santa Fe’s cultural landscape

Photo by Chris Corrie

As the financial world began its fall two years ago, Santa Fe celebrated the opening of its convention center in historic downtown.

The 72,000-square-foot facility, true to its hometown with an adobe facade, abundant plazas and courtyards, and handmade wrought-iron details, spent much of its time welcoming locals, excited to have a new place for meetings and events. In its first year, 81 percent of the center’s business was local.

As the economy has improved and the city has gotten the word out about the center, its business has shifted. For 2010, at least 16 groups from beyond the city are having conventions there, with several more in the negotiating stage. This month, a group of 1,600 marine biologists will use the center and every bit of meeting space in town, from the auditorium of the new New Mexico History Museum to the meeting space at the Masonic temple.

By Doug Merriam

“We are seeing an increase in RFPs. People are starting to know now that we have a convention center and are a viable location for meetings,” said Keith Toler, executive director of the Santa Fe CVB.

The center has moved Santa Fe into a new competitive set, from a market once best suited for small meetings to one that can handle much more.

“This facility allows us to attract larger groups that we weren’t able to accommodate before,” said Toler.

Like a number of the smaller convention centers, this one does not have an adjoining hotel but with good reason. There are an estimated 1,500 hotel rooms within walking distance in a city where walking is not regarded as a negative.

Hotels that are beyond walking range offer shuttles to the center and downtown. One hotel has added a second shuttle in response to demand.

The center is green, achieving Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Gold status a few months ago. “We were trying to exceed the requirements for Silver so we would be sure to get it, and we ended up getting Gold,” Toler said.

The green features appeal to a number of conventions, including the science-oriented groups drawn by Santa Fe’s proximity to Los Alamos National Laboratory. Medical groups also like the center and Santa Fe.

“They often travel with spouses, who are attracted to our arts community,” said Toler.

A new Creative Tourism program is putting a spotlight on that artistic community. Santa Fe was designated the first U.S. UNESCO Creative City five years ago for its folk art, crafts and design.

The Creative Tourism program offers dozens of hands-on arts and cultural experiences for individuals and small groups. For example, groups can take a whitewater rafting trip with a local artist and sketch scenes along the way. The following day, participants choose a sketch and make a painting at easels set up in the courtyard of a Santa Fe cafe. Other options are flamenco dancing lessons and a trail ride that ends with a lesson in preparing a dutch oven dinner.

“The activities tie in with our cultural landscape,” said Toler.


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