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Virginia: Fredericksburg wins battle for convention business

Courtesy Fredericksburg Tourism

The Virginia Turfgrass Council was in a quandary. Knowing its members and their preferences, the council’s convention organizers realized that if they held the annual state conference too far north, they’d risk losing attendees to the south. If they held it in the Hampton Roads area, where executive director Tom Tracy lived, northern members might balk.

Consequently, the council opted to hold its event in Fredericksburg, which is located between Richmond and Washington, D.C. It’s been so well received that the event, which draws up to 1,000 attendees, is staying put.

“I’m the biggest advocate of the city and the expo center,” said Tracy. “I’ve worked with a lot of convention and facilities staff and never found people as easy to work with as in Fredericksburg — they’re as good to work with as a friend.”

Situated along Interstate 95 a little more than an hour from the nation’s capital — if traffic is light — Fredericksburg is peppered with Civil War battlefields, wineries and Colonial flavor, all available at nonurban prices.

“We can sell ourselves as an affordable location, yet we are close enough to D.C. for day trips,” said Lura Hill, tourism sales manager for Fredericksburg’s economic development and tourism department.

Along with its proximity to Washington, Fredericksburg is close to three military bases, which makes it popular among military reunion planners. Religious groups, such as the Southside Nazarene Church Women’s Conference, also favor Fredericksburg. State associations, however, remain the area’s bread and butter.

A major draw is the 110,000-square-foot Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center, with its 11 meeting rooms and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom. An 80,000-square-foot exhibit hall boasts 30-foot ceilings.

There are currently three hotels within walking distance of the center. When a fourth opens at a yet-to-be-determined date, the room count will rise from 400 to 600. Those numbers do not include the many hotels within driving distance.

In addition to hotels, the center and its adjacent properties offer plenty of shopping. “You don’t need to leave the complex,” said David Kerper, director of marketing for Ballantine Management Group, which manages the center.

Those who want an event venue that reflects the area’s history should consider Stevenson Ridge, which recently opened in nearby Spotsylvania.

The 87-acre historic property combines a 10,000-square-foot event space with accommodations in six restored one- and two-bedroom cottages.

Groups can do more than simply tour the area’s four Civil War battlefields. Gary Hernbroth of Training for Winners has developed Battlefields-to-Business, a team-building activity that uses Civil War battles as lessons in leadership. Attendees embark on a customized tour of a Civil War battlefield, which is followed by a discussion of the battle’s strategy. What went right? What went wrong? The lessons are applied to today’s business challenges.

The battlefields also make for popular off-site excursions, as do tours of historic homes and visits to Old Town Fredericksburg and its 100-plus boutiques, antiques shops, art galleries, studios and restaurants. The area is also home to the 98-room Courtyard Fredericksburg.

For dinner and a show, planners can book the Colonial Heritage Society, which will give a Colonial dancing demonstration before or after a banquet.

In historic Fredericksburg, everything old — and charming — is new again.