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These Convention Center Hotels are Leveling Up

Game-changer: That single term neatly sums up what new convention center hotels have created in cities where they are planned, under construction or already open.

Having a dedicated headquarters hotel that connects to the convention center allows cities to book larger, longer events and allows destinations to attract top-tier conferences that want high-end accommodations. Whether they’re already open or in the works, these new convention hotels have already changed the game in their markets.

Louisville, Kentucky

The 612-room Omni Louisville Hotel opened in March 2018 in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, and connects to the newly renovated Kentucky International Convention Center.

When the Omni opened, “it was a “significant change not only to our skyline, but also to our hotel package,” said Rosanne Mastin, marketing communications manager for Louisville Tourism.

The AAA Four Diamond property allows Louisville to pursue conferences and conventions the city couldn’t accommodate before, and the high-end hotel has also elevated the city’s lodging portfolio.

“The top tier conventions and events that we’ve been able to attract because of the Omni, they may not have considered us previously because they want that space and that name,” Mastin said.

The Omni’s 70,000 square feet of meeting space includes a 20,000-square-foot and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom. The hotel has two full-service restaurants — for relaxed fare and for fine dining — as well as a spa and a rooftop pool. Pin and Proof is an old-timey speakeasy complete with a secret entrance and bowling lanes, and Library Bar in the lobby gives guests a modern take on a manor house library.

One of the Omni’s crown jewels, though, is Falls City Market, a 20,000-square-foot urban market on the ground floor that allows the public to interact with the hotel in a new way. The emporium of eateries, food stalls and gift vendors sell local foods and curated goods.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah, is already a strong destination when it comes to attracting conferences and conventions, but having a new, dedicated convention hotel at the Salt Palace Convention Center will “just take us to the next level,” said Erin Litvack, deputy mayor and chief administrative officer of Salt Lake County.

“Within our competitive set, we may be the only destination that doesn’t have a specific, dedicated convention center hotel,” she said. “For us, it just changes the dynamics of the offerings of the convention and tourist industry tenfold.”

What is now an open plaza leading into the convention center on its southeast corner will be the site of a 27-story, 700-room headquarters hotel.

Plans call for the hotel to have approximately 62,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space as well as an outdoor entertainment deck on the fifth floor. That south-facing space will have an outdoor pool, a pool deck and activity space, as well as a food-and-beverage component.

Crews will break ground in late fall on the 36-month project, and construction should be complete in 2022.

Because the convention center is in the Central Business District, the heart of downtown, the new hotel will be “ a game-changer on so many levels,” Litvack said. “For our city and downtown, it’s a great activator for all the great restaurants and activities surrounding the convention center.”

Toledo, Ohio

Local officials and developers are breathing new life into a vacant behemoth in downtown Toledo, Ohio, and the redevelopment project will breathe even more life into downtown’s ongoing renaissance.

The 19-story former Hotel Seagate closed in 2009, and Lucas County Commissioners bought it in 2014 to ensure that the property would return to productive use. Construction will begin this fall to renovate the hotel, which will open in 2021 as a dual-branded 128-room Hyatt Place and a 68-suite Hyatt House. First Hospitality Group will operate the hotel, which will serve as dedicated lodging to the neighboring SeaGate Convention Centre.

“We’ll have room for bigger groups to come in now and [be able to] house them here at the convention center,” said Cathy Miller, Experience Toledo manager for Destination Toledo.

With the new Hyatt property, Toledo will have two hotels that connect to the convention center. The 294-room Park Inn by Radisson provides skyway access to the SeaGate center and offers nearly 12,000 square feet of event space. Three blocks away, the Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel opened in August 2017 after a $31 million renovation with 25,000 square feet of event space.

The Hyatt redevelopment project “is in a prime location in Toledo — it’s the heart of downtown,” Miller said, across the street from Promenade Park and within walking distance to the 8,000-seat Huntington Center arena, Fifth Third Field baseball stadium and Hensville entertainment district.

As part of the project, the county will also expand the convention center with a new 16,000-square-foot ballroom.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

There’s a lot going on at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A massive expansion of the center is set to begin in early 2020, and construction of a connecting Omni hotel will soon follow.

Crews have started demolition to clear the site on the north side of the center, which Broward County owns, and officials expect the hotel to open in mid-2023, around the same time the second phase of the convention center expansion will be complete, said Ed Simon, executive vice president of convention sales and services for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 29-story, 800-room hotel will have its own 73,000 square feet of meeting space, along with a spa and a rooftop bar “with spectacular views of the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as the beach and ocean,” he said.

The property will have multiple restaurants and bars, both in the hotel and in a new pedestrian plaza out front, where there will also be event space and boat docks. Plans call for several event lawns with water views and an outdoor amphitheater. Groups will be able to step out of the hotel and onto a private charter for a sunset cruise, or onto a water taxi to get to Las Olas entertainment district and other points in the city.

In addition to growing the city’s high-end offerings, the new Omni will be “the missing piece” in the convention puzzle, Simon said. Fort Lauderdale currently has to use two or three more hotels than its competitors for citywide events, and “now that should even the field out a little more,” he said.

Des Moines, Iowa

“For a long time, we always heard, ‘We’re not going to look at Des Moines until you have a true connecting convention hotel,’” said Greg Edwards, president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Now they do.

The 330-room Hilton Des Moines Downtown opened in March 2018 next to the Iowa Events Center.

“It really has been a game-changer for us in that it’s opened up the opportunity to go after a lot of larger convention groups and sporting groups,” Edwards said.

Since the hotel’s opening, Des Moines has booked 31 new pieces of business. Among them are groups that previously said they wouldn’t come to the city, and large conferences and citywide conventions that “are overflowing the convention hotel, so they’re helping other hotels,” he said.

The new Hilton Des Moines Downtown has 14,000 square feet of meeting space that includes a 10,000-square-foot flexible ballroom, and the full-service Park Street Kitchen restaurant features local fare. On the second level, an indoor pool is surrounded by windows that overlook the Des Moines skyline.

The opening of the new Hilton “has also really caused all the other convention hotels in the market to elevate their properties,” Edwards said. The 403-room Des Moines Marriott Downtown, the city’s largest hotel, unveiled its extensive renovation in October 2018, and the historic 209-room Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel reopened the same month following a two-year renovation.

Irving, Texas

Since the Westin Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas hotel opened in March in Irving, Texas, “it’s definitely changing the dynamics,” said Maura Allen Gast, executive director of the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. Groups that wouldn’t consider Irving before are now in the mix, and Irving has booked groups because “they could see it was under construction and was going to happen.”

Before the hotel opened, the copper-clad Irving Convention Center averaged about 290 events a year. That’s a big number, but many of those were one-day corporate events.

“Now that the hotel is here, there might be fewer events, but they’re going to be longer, higher-value events,” Gast said.

The first event that booked the Westin was the National Guard Association of Texas Conference in 2022, a group “we’ve been chasing for a long time,” and Irving has now also landed the Texas Pharmacy Association, another event the city has not been able to host before.

The hotel sits between the convention center and the Toyota Music Factory, a live-entertainment district with a convertible indoor-outdoor pavilion, an outdoor concert plaza and about a dozen restaurants.

The Westin has over 21,000 square feet of event space, and attendees can walk out of the 10,000-square-foot, ground-floor ballroom across the street and into the convention center. The hotel also has a 4,200-square-foot junior ballroom, an event lawn and a poolside event deck. The on-site restaurant, Mesa Mezcal, offers local flavor and private dining.