Courtesy Athens CVB
Fourth Street Live, the Vista and LODA — entertainment districts in Louisville, Ky., Columbia, S.C., and Mobile, Ala. — may not have the cachet of the Las Vegas Strip, Times Square or the Magnificent Mile, but they are not lacking in the food, drink and fun that meeting-goers seek after a long day of convening.
Like the smaller towns in which they reside, these entertainment districts stay true to their local roots. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more thorough lineup of the unofficial Kentucky state drink — bourbon — than at a bar in Louisville’s Fourth Street Live. Conventioneers walk only a block from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center to find 50 bars and restaurants in the four-block-by-four-block area known as the Vista. Oysters and Mardi Gras are two of Alabama Coast favorites found in Mobile’s Lower Dauphin Entertainment District or LODA, as it is called.
Here’s a look at these entertainment districts and others in Memphis, Tenn., and Durham, N.C.
Lured by the sound of the blues and the scent of barbecue, visitors start walking along Memphis’ legendary Beale Street as soon as business is done. This famous three-block pedestrian area boasts some of the world’s best music, as well as entertainment that never seems to end.
“Our August 2011 convention had 300 attendees — our best turnout ever — because Memphis is a city famous for fun,” said Joey Hagan, co-chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which met at the Peabody Hotel Memphis.
“We held an event at the Hollywood Disco, a great blues joint, and our delegates received reduced admission at clubs like the Blue Monkey in the South Main Arts District and B.B. King’s on Beale Street.”
Groups find everything from blues to rock ’n’ roll and jazz at places like Alfred’s, Silky O’Sullivan’s and Club 152, all of which can easily accommodate 500 for dine-arounds and private buyouts.
“Many of Memphis’ most famous restaurants, including the Rendezvous, McEwen’s and Chez Philippe at the Peabody, are just a few blocks away from Beale Street and all do buyouts for up to 200 people,” said John Oros, executive vice president/COO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Beale Street will become even more entertaining in April when Beale Street Landing opens on the Mississippi River. As the new home of the American Queen Riverboat, this riverfront venue will include a park and an outdoor event space.
In 2013, at the other end of town, a Bass Pro Shop will open in the city’s iconic Pyramid.
“It is easily walkable from the Cook Convention Center,” said Oros. “The development will also include 100 guest rooms and new retail, and is located in the Pinch District, a historic area that is our newest entertainment district.”
Memphis’ downtown attractions are along the Main Street Trolley line, providing easy access for meeting groups at the Cook Convention Center, which can accommodate 15,000-person conventions and includes the 2,100-seat Cannon Center for Performing Arts.
The trolley runs to important landmarks such as the National Museum of Civil Rights, where 800-person receptions can be held, and to sports venues such as the 18,400-seat Fed Ex Forum on the edge of Beale Street.
“The Forum is the home of the NBA Memphis Grizzlies, and many groups hold receptions for up to 1,000 around a game,” said Oros. “The attached Rock and Soul Museum can hold receptions for 400.”
One of Louisville’s newest entertainment districts is NuLu, a name created by combining “New” and “Louisville” that is also an apt description of a city constantly working to increase its leisure-time attractions.
Three new entertainment areas — NuLu, Whiskey Row and the Yum Center Area — were all sparked at least in part by the October 2010 opening of downtown’s 20,000-seat KFC Yum Center, the home of the University of Louisville basketball team. Hosting major concerts and events for religious and sports groups as well, the Yum Center is now surrounded by nightclubs, shops and restaurants.
“Groups can do buyouts for 80 at Harvest restaurant and for 150 at the Four Roses Loft at the Bluegrass Brewing Company,” said Karen Williams, executive vice president of the Louisville CVB. “And the Whiskey Row Building is our newest meeting facility where groups of up to 300 can hold events.”
The Derby City’s connected entertainment areas are easily accessed by riding the free trolley.
“Most of our downtown conventions are held at the Kentucky International Convention Center, which can hold 3,000 people and is connected by skywalk to 2,300 full-service guest rooms,” Williams said. “Right next door is the Fourth Street Live entertainment district. Conventioneers love the convenience of its shops, clubs and restaurants like the upscale Eddie Merlot’s, which can hold 80 for dinner or 180 for a reception.”
Down the street is Louisville’s Museum Row, a four-block area with nine attractions, including the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, the Frazier International History Museum, the Muhammad Ali Center, Glassworks and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
“Our museums all work together to offer the Show Your Badge program, which lets delegates enter at a discounted price anytime during their stay,” said Williams. “They also stay open late when delegates have a free night.”
Museum Row and Fourth Street Live were popular venues for the 12,000 high school delegates of the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) International Conference held in April 2010 at the city’s Kentucky Exposition Center. Louisville’s annual Kentucky Derby Festival was under way during DECA’s stay, so the city declared a DECA Day Downtown.
“The CVB worked very hard to make the day student-friendly by adding more activities and entertainment for them,” said Shirlee Kyle, assistant executive director for DECA in Reston, Va. “We loved Louisville and found that the entire community supported us; I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Although its stately homes and picturesque squares evoke a genteel image, the southern Alabama city of Mobile knows how to throw a party.
Famous for celebrating Mardi Gras years before New Orleans did, Mobile is still showing its guests a good time and is helping them pay for it, too.
“We can help meetings and conventions pay for receptions and events, as British Petroleum has provided us with funds to entice the convention business back to the Gulf Coast,” said David Randel, president of the Mobile Bay CVB. “Once we show them the gulf is fine, we sweeten the deal with Southern hospitality, service and competitive rates.”
That Southern hospitality often begins at the city’s Carnival Museum, which can host 150 for a dinner that includes the chance to dress in royal clothing and pose on a Mardi Gras float. And since Moon Pies are the favored “throw” of real Mardi Gras revelers, the city celebrates New Year’s Eve by dropping a 12-foot electronic Moon Pie down a wire from the roof of the RSA Bank Trust Building.
The Carnival Museum and the RSA building, which offers reception space for 150 in its top-floor Bienville Business Club, are both located in Mobile’s Lower Dauphin Street Entertainment District, or LODA.
“It’s a very walkable area, with restaurants, theater, clubs and museums within five blocks of the Outlaw Convention Center, which can accommodate groups of 1,000,” Randel said. “One of the most popular restaurants is Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Dauphin Street landmark with a private room for 50.
“Art is a major attraction at LODA as well, with many groups attending the Mobile Symphony or holding a reception at the 1,900-seat Saenger Theatre,” said Randel. “There is also a monthly ArtWalk through downtown galleries, including Space 301, a contemporary art gallery with reception space for 600.”
Other nearby reception sites are the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, where 200 people can enjoy a drink in a three-story atrium, and the waterfront Alabama Cruise Terminal, the 6,000-square-foot former home of Carnival Cruise Lines, which can accommodate 450.
Mobile’s newest downtown waterfront attraction is the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum, scheduled to open in October. The first museum dedicated to the Gulf Coast’s rich maritime traditions will include reception space for 500.