New, renovated, and just in time: These Southern properties make a timely entrance as live meetings return

A meeting venue can be the difference between complete success and downright disappointment. Fortunately for planners, many properties made the most of the pandemic downtime by investing in upgrades and renovations. And despite construction disruptions, new properties have continued to open.

Among the hottest markets for new hotels are Nashville, Tenn., and Dallas, Texas. Last month, ConventionSouth covered two new hotels in Tennessee (in Nashville and Memphis), and this month, the Guide to New & Renovated Southern Sites on page 20 includes more on Dallas.

The timing couldn’t be better, as in-person meetings and conferences are ramping up. As part of the comeback, hotels, resorts, convention centers, and other venues are doing all they can to enhance the guest experience.

Here’s a roundup of some of the new and refreshed Southern properties that are dressed to impress.

Caribe Royale Orlando, Orlando, Florida

Caribe Royale Orlando recently completed a $127 million property renovation that revamped the guest experience.

“Caribe Royale has been a hidden gem in Orlando for more than 20 years,” says Amaury Piedra, the resort’s managing director. “Our reimagination has elevated the resort to a new level of luxury, beginning with our check-in experience and extending all the way to our modern suite accommodations and guest programming. We’ve transformed our property into a destination unto itself, where guests come to stay, play, work, dine, relax, reconnect, and be entertained.”

The comprehensive project at the AAA Four Diamond resort included renovation of its 1,215 one-bedroom suites, updating them to a classic-meets-contemporary style that also speaks to its Florida location with soothing color palettes. Each suite features a separate living room and dedicated workspace to accommodate the growing number of remote-work and extended-stay travelers.

Already boasting approximately 167,000 square feet of meeting space prior to the renovation, the property also debuted the Palms Ballroom, adding 50,000 square feet of event space designed specifically for large conventions and corporate gatherings.

The renovation also included the transformation of the lobby and public spaces and adding a new Rum Bar, onsite Starbucks, two-level sports bar, and gift shop.

Four Seasons Hotel Houston, Houston, Texas

Steps from the 1.8-million-square-foot George R. Brown Convention Center, Four Seasons Hotel Houston has graced the Texas city’s downtown area for 40 years. In celebration of the milestone, the property undertook a multiyear renovation to enhance and update the space.

In addition to all 289 guest rooms, 103 suites, and 12 specialty suites undergoing a refresh to highlight Texas style, two new spaces were added: Toro Toro, a pan-Latin steakhouse, and Bandista, a modern-day speakeasy reminiscent of a 1920s lounge.

The reimagined event space is a highlight of the renovation. The property’s 16,500 square feet of event space was completely redesigned and updated with the same inviting interiors already found on the lobby level, providing a seamless transition from one space to another. Walnut-wood paneling and doors, touches of brass and oil-rubbed bronze on hardware and light fixtures, and rich rug artwork were added, as well as updated breakout furnishings and renovated restrooms. Beyond the facelift given to the existing space, the new Grand Ballroom creates 150 percent more gathering space.

InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia

Luxury is a lifestyle at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta. Situated in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead neighborhood, the property features a newly redesigned space that builds on its sophisticated cosmopolitan feel.

The property boasts it is home to the largest hotel ballroom, largest secondary ballroom, and most expansive outdoor event space in Buckhead. All meeting spaces were refreshed with an eye on incorporating elegance, culture, and serenity. The pre-function space now features unique wallpaper accents, brass lanterns, large mirrors, custom floral displays, and custom carpeting.

“We are proud to celebrate the reimagination of InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta,” says Gerasimos Ferentinos, the property’s general manager. “These enhancements will elevate all aspects of the hotel from the design-forward environment to the services and amenities provided to our guests—all while offering a luxury experience synonymous with the InterContinental brand.”

In addition to updating the 31,000-plus square feet of meeting space, the club lounge and all 422 guest rooms and specialty suites were transformed with a fresh feel, including ebony wood flooring, crisp white walls, and green accents.

Not to be overlooked is the addition of The Americano, a trendy Italian steakhouse led by two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Scott Conant.

Finley Farms, Ozark, Missouri

Set on the banks of the Finley River in Ozark, Mo., Finley Farms is a sprawling 40-acre property that is as historic as it is serene. The new project offers unique venues and brings historic structures to life while preserving local heritage—a passion for Johnny Morris, founder of Finley Farms and Bass Pro Shops.

The latest spot on the property to undergo a major restoration is The Ozark Mill. Originally built in 1833, the mill has been rebuilt several times over the years, and today it features 29,000 square feet of space for meetings
and events.

Also onsite is The Workshop, a fully restored 1932 industrial garage that houses a coffee shop during the day and workshop and event space at night; a high-yield urban farm that supports onsite restaurants, including The Ozark Mill Restaurant and The Garrison; a riverfront open-air wedding chapel; and the historic 1909 Riverside Bridge, creating a memorable outdoor event space with a capacity of 100.

“Corporate events have often used the bridge for cocktail hours, and it’s a beautiful space,” says Dayle Duggins, marketing manager for Finley Farms. “Beneath the bridge, we also have an event lawn, which is a great grass area that serves as multipurpose space, whether it be setting up additional tables or even games.”

TradeWinds Island Resorts, St. Pete Beach, Florida

TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach, Fla., comprises two properties: Island Grand and RumFish Beach Resort. The adjacent properties sit on 40 acres of sugar-white sand on the Gulf of Mexico.

TradeWinds recently added 141 guest rooms to RumFish, bringing the room count to 352 rooms and villas. That’s in addition to Island Grand’s 545 rooms and villas for a combined total of nearly 900 accommodations. The expansion also added two pools, a covered spa area, and a beachfront bar.

Island Grand recently opened a new Mexican eatery and bar named Bermudas Beachside Cantina.

TradeWinds also just expanded its floating waterpark, added floating cabanas and loungers, and installed the Zing Ray Zip, a three-story, dual-line zipline.

Marriott San Antonio Airport, San Antonio, Texas

Lots of updates and additions have been going on at the Marriott San Antonio Airport hotel in Texas. A massive renovation took the property down to the studs and built it back, reorganizing the space for a new guest experience. Following the multiyear project, which reportedly cost $25 million, the redeveloped hotel debuted this spring.

The hotel, just minutes from San Antonio International Airport, has 367 guest rooms and nearly 15,500 square feet of flexible meeting and event space. La Cantera Ballroom was expanded to 5,147 square feet, and the Alamo Heights Ballroom was redesigned to offer direct access to the pool terrace, creating easy flow between indoor and outdoor spaces.

Flexible spaces also were added, including the Pearl Boardroom, which also is connected to the outdoor terrace, and the 6,189-square-foot Hill Country Conference Center.

Hilton Richmond Downtown, Richmond, Virginia

The Hilton Richmond Downtown recently completed an extensive renovation. The 250-room property took its renovation inspiration from its historic location—the former Miller & Rhoads department store—showcasing the mercantile monument’s rich history. The building’s original marble floors and high ceilings now blend with modern touches throughout the public areas.

The décor extends to the hotel’s new Gather & Hem bar and lounge, which offers small plates and local craft brews. The eatery features a color palette of greens, tans, and browns complemented by geometric details, gold finishes, and rich wood accents.

With nearly 11,000 square feet of event space, the hotel made the timely addition of a new state-of-the-art hybrid meeting space. In addition, the property has two ballrooms, one of which offers natural light thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as a full kitchen, dining area, private breakout space, and a cozy collaboration space for networking and meetings. The hotel is located across from the 700,000-square-foot Greater Richmond Convention Center, said to be the largest exhibition and meeting facility in Virginia.

Hilton Tampa Downtown, Tampa, Florida

The Hilton Tampa Downtown sits in the middle of it all, just two blocks from the Tampa Riverwalk and a half mile from Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center, which is undergoing its own $38 million capital improvement project. A popular destination with a rooftop pool offering incredible views, the hotel recently completed the final phase of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar renovation.

All 520 guest rooms were renovated during the project, as were the public spaces, lobby, and restaurant. The renovation also extended to its meeting and event space. More than 38,500 square feet of the space was upgraded, creating more flexible options, such as a 14,500-square-foot ballroom, large meeting rooms, and an outdoor function space.

Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk, San Antonio, Texas

Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk sits in a prime location and offers direct access to the famous Alamo in Texas. The property has enjoyed its sought-after location—as have its guests—for 40 years, and that achievement coincides with a $38 million renovation the property recently completed.

The project, which began last December, transformed the hotel’s 602 guest rooms and 28 suites. Open floor plans provide a sophisticated aesthetic, and floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the hotel’s downtown views. Rooms now feature hardwood floors, modern rugs, and a light and airy color palette, along with updated furniture and work-center desks.

Oklahoma City Convention Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The Oklahoma City Convention Center opened last year, and it remains an impressive option for hosting a meeting, conference, or convention in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City, Okla. The convention center encompasses 500,000 square feet of space, including a 200,730-square-foot exhibit hall. Nearly 45,000 square feet of space is available for meetings, with operable walls that can create 27 meeting spaces. The center includes two ballrooms: a 9,700-square-foot Junior Ballroom and the Painted Sky Ballroom, which spans 30,000 square feet and includes a large terrace overlooking the city.

The $288 million facility includes an innovative design that reflects the city’s culture and history with the thoughtful inclusion of details such as soaring glass walls, spacious balconies, and original art.

“That is a really unique aspect of the convention center,” notes Barbara Beaton, the center’s general manager. “There is so much natural
light that comes into the facility, which doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a convention center. It’s a really aesthetically pleasing place to be.”

The Schoolhouse Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

The Schoolhouse Hotel gets its name from its former occupant. The White Sulphur District High School in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., occupied the 1912 building for decades. In 2020, the property was purchased, and work began to convert the space into a full-service boutique hotel, which opened earlier this year.

The hotel features 30 rooms in the main original structure. Two additional structures are occupied by suites and a restaurant. The renovated space includes two separate meeting spaces: a ballroom—which used to be the school gym—and a small meeting room.

Among the hotel’s notable achievements: It is said to be the world’s first boutique hotel to fully comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“The hotel went above and beyond to create a space ideal for a variety of needs,” says Genny Freiman, who works with the Disability Opportunity Fund, the group that purchased
and renovated the property. “We also have a sensory room for anyone that may need to escape to a calming and relaxing space, and every room is equipped with technology to help guests with disabilities, such as an app that controls the TV, lights, and window shades.”

Conrad Nashville, Nashville, Tennessee

Just minutes from Music Row in Nashville, Tenn., is the new Conrad Nashville. The 234-room hotel blends urban sophistication with refined elegance and includes 24 suites, five wellness rooms, an expansive fitness center, three dining experiences, and a poolside retreat.

The hotel features more than 17,000 square feet of meeting and event space, with 11 meeting rooms and a 6,370-square-foot ballroom with an adjacent 4,000-square-foot outdoor terrace. The meeting and event space offers onsite catering, and there is an event planner on staff.

New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, Louisiana

With 1.1 million square feet of contiguous exhibit space, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center boasts it is the sixth largest convention facility in the country and consistently ranks among the top 10 facilities that hold the most conventions and trade shows each year. It’s not surprising—the facility is built to host events of all types, and it recently embarked on a $557 million capital improvement plan to keep it that way.

Thus far, a variety of improvements have been made to the facility, including bathroom renovations, digital signs placed at each of the 140 meeting rooms, wayfinding kiosks installed throughout the lobbies, and one of the largest energy-saving initiatives in the region, which involved an overhaul of the lighting and HVAC systems. Working toward the goal of achieving LEED certification, the center replaced more than 4,000 light fixtures with LEDs, installed more than 40 miles of new wiring, and retrofitted more than 2,000 light fixtures.

The center, which has an award-winning sustainability program, also has a prime location near the French Quarter and the Mississippi River.

Orlando World Center Marriott, Orlando, Florida

There isn’t much Orlando World Center Marriott doesn’t offer, and now—thanks to a thoughtful addition—it offers even more event space with this summer’s opening of Magnolia.

“We are excited to add the Magnolia meeting rooms to our meeting space footprint, bringing us to over 500,000 square feet of flexible event space,” says Robert Bray, the property’s general manager. “We listened to the needs of meeting planners to design this new space with one goal in mind: more flexibility.”

The new space boasts eight 3,600-square-foot flexible meeting rooms that can be arranged as 24 1,200-square-foot rooms. Magnolia features floor-to-ceiling windows in six of the rooms, 15-foot ceilings, modern design, large foyer space with natural light, and outdoor space.

The addition of Magnolia followed other recent enhancements at what is touted as the world’s largest Marriott property, including renovating all 2,010 rooms and suites and adding River Falls Water Park and Mikado Japanese Steak House, one of nine onsite eateries.

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