It should come as no surprise that capital cities across the United States are generally picked first for meetings and events; they’re the star athletes, the top performers and the focal points of their regions. Capitals are packed with venue options — both on- and off-site — unique activities and outstanding dining choices.
In Southern states, the capital is not only a hub of action but also the symbolic heartbeat for what makes the state tick. Southern capitals are among the most dynamic in the United States, and many are among the fastest-growing cities in America.
Choosing a capital city for a small meeting or event comes loaded with options. Here are some of the most exciting capital cities in the South for your next meeting or event.
Kentucky’s capital city, Frankfort, is in the midst of a downtown redevelopment. The city’s master plan includes building a brand-new state-of-the art convention center. But the lack of a dedicated convention center has never slowed this vibrant city center, as Frankfort is home to a number of exciting venues in hotels, museums, restaurants, distilleries and more.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” said Robin Antenucci, executive director for the Frankfort Tourist Commission. “We do have a lot of unique spaces given our predicament; but in terms of a classic conference center, we are lacking. To have 800 to 1,000 people is sustainable here, especially since we’re a good central location and we’re affordable. The bourbon industry is hot right now, and we’re right in the heart of it. We have four distilleries in our area.”
The Kentucky River flows through this historic city, breathing life into the city’s many districts and providing a whole other realm of possibilities for groups looking to break from the typical urban setting with canoe trips or riverboat excursions. The historic Berry Hill Mansion sits on a gorgeous bluff overlooking the state Capitol — another venue available for meetings and events — where it not only acts as a memorable venue for groups but also offers self-guided tours.
The city is also home to a number of breweries and distilleries that give a delicious insight into the region’s brewing culture; they, too, offer memorable venues for events and gatherings.
Jackson is full of soul: soulful music at its numerous stops along the Mississippi Blues Trail; passionate souls who have helped preserve the city’s charm and history over the years; and loads of amazing soul food at cafes, restaurants and upscale eateries throughout the city.
“I moved here, and that’s what I fell in love with,” said Kim Lewis, communication and destination development manager for Visit Jackson. “It wasn’t my first choice to move here, but it was my first choice to stay here. I’m from San Diego. I moved here, and then all the sudden, I just opened my eyes. Sometimes people don’t realize what they have in their own backyard, and it’s been amazing to see the city with new eyes.”
The city’s main meeting space is the ultramodern 330,000-square-foot Jackson Convention Complex, with its own theater, breakout rooms, spaces for concerts and more. Jackson is also home to three full-service hotels, each with its own meeting spaces. A brand-new Westin hotel recently opened, the brand’s first property in Mississippi, and that allowed for even more rental space throughout the city.
Just outside downtown, guests can book spaces at Providence Hill Farm, a 1,250-acre retreat with sporting clay ranges, fishing, trap ranges, rifle shooting, horse stalls and more. The Jackson Country Club is available for events and meetings when it’s not hosting the Sanderson Farms PGA Golf Championship each year. And a handful of local breweries and distilleries open their doors for family-style events and meetings year round.
Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Virginia coastline, Richmond has Colonial roots and urban appeal that add color to its meetings and events. Festivals are a regular occurrence in Richmond, where every month, visitors and locals gather for the RVA First Friday art walk. Richmond boasts numerous highly acclaimed restaurants and more than 30 breweries, and many open their doors for off-site events and meetings.
“There is always so much to do and choose from every weekend,” said Meghan Gearino, public relations coordinator for Richmond Region Tourism. “You can earn a prize by visiting five or more breweries on the Richmond Beer Trail map. Many of our local breweries are kid and dog friendly.”
Richmond is within roughly a day’s drive for half the U.S. population and has many meeting facilities and venue options to accommodate groups of all sizes. The Greater Richmond Convention Center, the largest in Virginia, comprises 700,000 square feet, and the popular Richmond Raceway Complex offers more than 150,000 square feet of exhibition and meetings space. Another favorite venue for meeting guests is the Main Street Station, which recently completed a $92 million renovation.
The region is home to more than 18,000 hotel rooms. The Richmond International Airport is just eight miles from downtown.
Charleston, West Virginia
A former frontier town, Charleston, West Virginia, has become a decidedly hip metropolis since its founding in 1788. Charleston today delights locals and visitors alike. The city’s quirky boutiques, progressive eateries and upscale art galleries are set amongst a backdrop of historic architecture.
Charleston’s innovative atmosphere has attracted young creatives who are transforming downtown districts with hip art galleries, vinyl-record stores, boutique shops and independent restaurants.
“I am a lifelong resident of the Charleston area and can’t imagine living anywhere else,” said Leslie Smithson, communications director for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I never cease to be amazed by the talented people who call the area home. One of my favorite things to do is catch a live taping of Mountain Stage Radio Show. I always leave with a list of new music to download.”
Meeting groups enjoy walking the stalls at the Capitol Market, an upscale farmers market housed in a historic train depot, to sort through rows of fresh produce and shop for handmade items and delicious souvenirs.
The Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center recently added 146,000 square feet of space during its $100 million expansion and renovation, nearly doubling its footprint with state-of-the-art meeting rooms and an on-site kitchen and catering facility. There are more than 3,500 guest rooms throughout the city in all price ranges, many within walking distance of the convention center, the Charleston Town Center Mall and the dozens of restaurants and shops that make up the city.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Set along the banks of the mighty Arkansas River, Little Rock, Arkansas, is the Natural State’s pride and joy. Many of the top meeting sites and attractions are located downtown within the city’s beloved River Market District. Although many of the main sites are within walking distance of one another, the city offers a vintage-inspired streetcar system that allows visitors and locals to hop on and hop off at their desired destinations.
“It goes by both main convention facilities and takes people down to the River Market with two different routes,” said Gina Gemberling, vice president of sales and services at the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is so easy to get around here. We are an arts culture community and have the heritage of the Civil Rights Trail with Central High. We also have the nature touch, since we are along the river, with miles of trails wrapping along the city. It’s a nice urban feel with a touch of nature.”
The city’s top venues include the State House Convention Center, attached to a Marriott hotel; a 2,214-seat performance hall known as the Robinson Center, attached to a DoubleTree hotel; multiple hotel venues; and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.
“Our Robinson Center and our Marriott Convention Center lead into the River Market District, which then leads into the President Clinton library,” said Gemberling. “All of them wrap around the river. Along that whole stretch of the river, there’s a river trail and a sculpture park, which is just outside the Statehouse Convention Center.”