Wilmington at a Glance
Location: Southeastern North Carolina
Access: Interstate-40; Highways 17, 74/76, 117 and 421. I-95 is 73 miles away
Hotel Rooms: 8,000
Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau
Wilmington Convention Center
Exhibit Space: 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall
Other Meeting Spaces: 12,000 square feet of lawn
Aloft Wilmington at Coastline Center
Guest Rooms: 125
Meeting Space: 10,344 square feet
Hotel Ballast Tapestry Collection by Hilton
Guest Rooms: 272
Meeting Space: 20,000 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Wilmington
North Carolina Bar Association 2023 Annual Meeting
North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees 2023 Leadership Seminar
North Carolina Recreation and Park Association N.C. / S.C. Joint Conference
Three island beaches, one of the nation’s largest historic districts and an award-winning two-mile riverwalk make this laid-back city on southeastern North Carolina’s storied Cape Fear Coast a delightful destination for nature lovers, arts and culture aficionados, watersports enthusiasts and foodies of every persuasion. Wilmington is affordable and alluring, with modern amenities, including state-of-the-art meeting facilities, alongside windswept Atlantic shorelines, grand antebellum architecture and graciously manicured gardens. Strands of Spanish moss drip from the branches of majestic live oaks, while in spring countless blossoms find the “Azalea Capital of the World” awash in delicate, candy-colored petals.
“As pleasant and delectable to behold, as is possible to imagine.” That was the impression of explorer Giovanni da Verrazano — reportedly the first European visitor — in his 1524 report to France’s King Francis I on the region between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. Incorporated in 1739, Wilmington’s vast forest reserves and strategic location soon established it as a key port and an important center for shipbuilding and commerce. In the waning days of the Civil War, the fall of Fort Fisher, the “Gibraltar of the South,” was a death blow for Confederate forces. Located 18 miles upstream from Wilmington, it was the largest earthen fortification in the world. Wilmington’s robust shipbuilding industry also played a crucial role in World War II, constructing 243 cargo vessels to support the war effort. The city is now home to the decommissioned Battleship North Carolina — “the world’s greatest naval weapon” — which is open to the public for tours.
“We’re a real working city, but with a resort feel” says Connie Nelson, communications/public relations director for Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are city amenities, an amazing downtown and three beaches, each with its own unique vibe.” Pleasant in all seasons, Wilmington also boasts eclectic shopping, art museums and galleries, and a full calendar of entertainment options from Broadway performances to high-energy local and national musical acts. Meeting attendees and their guests can choose to kayak at a pristine barrier island, stroll or cycle along a network of nature trails or make a trophy catch on a deep-sea fishing charter.
Major Meeting Spaces
The only convention center on the state’s coast, the Wilmington Convention Center is centrally located and connected to the city’s riverwalk. Up to 2,000 people can gather for meetings and conferences in its 30,000-square-foot exhibition hall and 12,000-square-foot grand ballroom. For outdoor gatherings, the event lawn has a stunning 12,000 square feet of green open space that enjoys balmy breezes along the Cape Fear River. In the Convention District, six hotels near or adjacent to the center offer more than 1,000 rooms, all within walking distance. The Aloft Wilmington at Coastline Center has 125 rooms, a 7,300-square-foot ballroom and a chic rooftop bistro, while Hotel Ballast Tapestry Collection, with 272 rooms and suites, has 20,000 square feet of meeting space and a riverfront pool deck. Golfers may opt for the 32-suite Beau Rivage Golf and Resort, with 4,000 square feet of event space located 10 miles from the city center. At nearby Wrightsville Beach, about 12 miles from downtown, planners can select the 151-room Blockade Runner Beach Resort with 7,000 square feet of indoor facilities and oceanfront event lawns or the all-suites Shell Island Resort, with 155 guest rooms, 6,000 square feet of indoor event spaces and an oceanfront ballroom. All offer food and beverage services and a full array of meeting planning support.
Those in search of memorable settings have no end of options in Wilmington. For a true taste of the river city, book a cruise aboard the lovely Henrietta with Cape Fear Riverboats. With room for up to 115 passengers and an open-air upper deck, the ship can provide full catering services but will also allow planners to arrange their own food, drink and entertainment. Or have an unforgettable evening at the Arrive Wilmington, where small groups can buy out the spectacular Dram Yard restaurant. Larger events can spill out onto the enviable courtyard that encloses the 36-room boutique hotel’s Gazebo Bar.
Attached to the Crystal Pier at Wrightsville Beach, the Oceanic restaurant presides over an expansive stretch of sand where kiteboarders skim waves while sunbathers splash and surfers aim their boards into the breaks. The restaurant’s second floor overlooks the beach and jetty. It can accommodate up to 120 guests and is ideal for viewing the sunset.
Wilmington’s Airlie Gardens has appeared in hundreds of productions including iconic 90’s teen drama “Dawson’s Creek,” “Iron Man 3” and “One Tree Hill.”
“These 67 acres were part of a parcel originally deeded by King George in 1736,” says Janine Powell, director of donor relations. Under private ownership until 1999, the gardens were purchased by New Hanover County. “We have almost 300 species of birds,” says Powell, “and about 75,000 azaleas.” Numerous locations at the garden may be booked for private events and receptions for up to 300 people, with catering and entertainment available.
After the Meeting
Wilmington has seven districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the downtown district comprises 230-plus blocks of well-preserved architecture that rivals that of Charleston and Savannah. “This is the Mitchell Anderson home — the oldest home in Wilmington,” says John Pucci. “And see these plaques on the houses? A gold one is for something older than 150 years. A black one is for 100 to 150 years old.” Pucci is at the reins of a carriage drawn by two enormous Percheron drafthorses, rescued from “processing” by Springbrook Farms, which operates trolley and carriage rides throughout the downtown area. Private tours are available.
After an entertaining and informative half hour, guests return to Market Street — right in the heart of the historic district — to stroll down the riverwalk and dine at one of the area’s many excellent restaurants. Seabird’s seasonal and seafood-driven menu serves up local oysters and “schnitzel-style” swordfish in a sleek setting that still pays homage to the historic building. The Fortunate Glass offers 400 bottles and 70 by-the-glass pours with creative small plates and charcuterie in an intimate setting.
Groups can catch a Broadway-caliber play or comedy show at Historic Thalian Hall or head to Riverfront Park for national and local acts jamming at Live Oak Bank Pavilion. Sports fans will want to jump into the “Shark Tank” to see a college baseball game when the Wilmington Sharks play at Buck Hardee Field. Or they can end the day by ducking into a discreet alley to listen to live piano as they sip moonshine, bourbon or craft cocktails at The Blind Elephant, a 1920s Prohibition-style speakeasy.