By David L. Malhalab, MNS Photo M News Service
The Small Market Meetings Conference has set itself apart by bringing meeting planners to a second-tier or smaller city and making sure they see interesting aspects of the town.
So, after Sunday’s kick-off presentation, attendees boarded motor coaches and headed for the beach, a 20-minute ride from downtown Jacksonville.
There, they were treated to a full moon and tour of One Ocean Resort at Atlantic Beach, a high-end boutique property that was host of the opening night reception. From heavy hors d’oeuvres laid out on buffets in the ballroom and a bonfire on the beach to tours of the 193-room property and its 10,000 square feet of meeting space and a second buffet, the evening was a grand introduction to the conference, making it clear that its beaches are part of Jacksonville’s allure.
Taking city tours
On Monday afternoon, with business out of the way, attendees could take a motor coach tour of Jacksonville, and many did. During the one-hour drive, guides described the city’s early days as an East Coast version of Hollywood. More than 300 silent movies were made there in the early 1900s.
Today, the city is better known as a center for medical and insurance industries, as well as a golf destination. Most of its downtown is modern, the result of the 1901 Great Fire, still the largest ever in a southern city. It killed seven people and left 10,000 homeless. The fire’s glow was seen as far away as Savannah.
“There were only three buildings left standing,” a tour guide said. “Jacksonville was a clean slate.”
The new city rose fairly quickly. “More than 3,000 building permits were issued. Architects with the greatest imaginations came to rebuild the city,” the guide said.
All on board for reception
Among the city’s architectural standouts is the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center, the only train station in the South to be converted to a convention facility. The center, site of the SMMC’s closing night reception, was a grand departure point in its day, as passengers migrated by train to Florida, and today, with 265,000 square feet of meeting space (including a modern addition) the former Union Station retains its importance in the community. The Grand Lobby, with its 75-foot-tall ceilings and its marble floor, was an impressive place for attendees to enjoy hors d’oeuvres and drinks, listen to a band and get to know one another better.