Throughout the South, new and renovated venues have been making a splash as more conferences, conventions, meetings, and special events take place in person. Whether it’s checking out fresh amenities in classic destination hotspots or venturing off the beaten path to explore exciting new options, here are 12 new and renovated event and meeting sites that have everyone talking.
Capital One Hall – Tysons, Virginia
Just outside of Washington, D.C. and steps away from the McLean Metro Station on the Silver Line, Capital One Hall is on schedule to open October 2021 as part of the Capital One Center mixed-use development. With its centerpiece of a 1,600-seat main theater designed for Broadway-level productions, this state-of-the-art performing arts complex also features numerous event and meeting spaces.
The four-story Atrium, featuring 52-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, a solid marble bar, and a grand staircase, can host up to 500 seated or 1,600 standing guests. With modern sculptures and views overlooking Capital One’s headquarters tower, the Atrium-adjacent Terrace is ideal for cocktail parties and receptions for up to 180 seated or 450 standing guests. The Perch, connected to the Watermark Hotel (also scheduled to open October 2021), is a roof deck park with an amphitheater, and the home of the Starr Hill Biergarten. Indoors, an intimate lounge with built-in bar leads to the private 225-seat Vault theater. For smaller meetings, Capital One Hall also hosts two 50-seat classrooms with self-contained audio-visual systems and a top-floor boardroom for up to 20 guests.
Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center – Kissimmee, Florida
After its recent $158 million expansion, Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center hosts more than 480,000 square feet of event and meeting space. This includes five ballrooms, from the 3,115-square-foot Orange Blossom Ballroom to the brand-new 30,000-square-foot Coastal Ballroom. Additional event spaces include the 12,000-square-foot Mangrove Lawn, the Emerald Bay Plaza atrium, the Escambia and Emerald meeting rooms, the St. George Street conference rooms, and the 178,500-square-foot Florida Exhibition Hall—enough space for nearly 90 10×10 booths and 10,000 guests.
The 306 guest rooms and suites in the new Gulf Coast Tower bring the total sleeping rooms at Gaylord Palms to 1,718. Within minutes of Orlando’s famous theme parks and with shuttle services to them all, Gaylord Palms’ outdoor amenities include the Cypress Springs Water Park, South Beach Pool, FlowRider Surfing Experience, and the newly opened Crystal River Rapids. Indoor amenities include five sports bars, nine restaurants, and Relâche Spa and Fitness Center, awarded four stars by Forbes Travel Guide.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort – Cherokee, North Carolina
Within the Qualla Boundary land trust of the Great Smoky Mountains’ Oconaluftee River Valley, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort completes its four-year, $250 million expansion project this fall. The expansion includes a fourth hotel tower with 725 rooms, a lobby bar, a parking garage, and the 83,000-square-foot Cherokee Conference Center, including a 900-square-foot boardroom, 32,000 square feet of ballroom space, and a 33,000-square-foot exhibition hall.
Further event space highlights include the 13,801-square-foot Council Fire Ballroom (which can be partitioned into four smaller ballrooms), the 16,815-square-foot Event Center with four VIP suites, and the 12-seat Birch Boardroom. In addition to the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, resort amenities include the River Shops with virtual shopping options, the Balinese-themed Mandara Spa, 11 dining options in addition to room service, and the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center with 24 bowling lanes, a game center, and a new ESports Zone. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is also partnered with Sequoyah National Golf Club, which grants Harrah’s Cherokee guests preferred access to its par 72 championship course.
Hotel Drover – Fort Worth, Texas
In the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards historic district, just north of the Central Business District, Hotel Drover offers Western decor, Texas hospitality, and nearly 40,000 square feet of meeting and event spaces. Highlights include the 3,215-square-foot Legacy Hall with 913-square-foot terrace, the Vaquero and Ranchero meeting rooms, the Drover Boardroom, and the Barn, a rustic 4,004-square-foot space with vaulted ceilings and reclaimed timber, an additional 1,235-square-foot pre-function space, and a 3,105-square-foot outdoor lawn. Hotel Drover’s partnership with Stockyards Station allows easy bookings of the 5,000-square-foot Stockman’s Club, the 5,000-square-foot Heritage Room, the 2,700-square-foot Lone Star Room, and the 2,000-square-foot Stampede Room.
Meeting packages at Hotel Drover can accommodate up to 250 guests. Key amenities include indoor and outdoor chef’s table experiences, 97 West Kitchen & Bar (offering Texan, Southern, and ranch cuisine), the Western glam Lobby Bar with craft cocktails, morning pastry, and coffee service, a 24-hour fitness center, and two in-house boutiques, Lucchese Custom Collection and Wide Brim.
Hotel Morgan – Morgantown, West Virginia
Wyndham and Charlestowne Hotels’ Hotel Morgan has served travelers and guests of West Virginia University alike since 1925. The boutique hotel has undergone four major renovations since then, with the most recent in 2020 recapturing its 1920s-era splendor. Hotel Morgan has more than 10,000 square feet of event space, including the 3,200-square-foot, two-story Brant Grand Ballroom, with original wood beams, fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a mezzanine foyer; the 42-seat Sugar Maple Conference room with cutting-edge audiovisual technology; the 21-seat Honey Bee Boardroom; and Anvil + Ax, a hybrid coffee shop and cocktail bar with 36 seats available for private luncheons, dinners, and happy hours.
Hotel Morgan’s 81 rooms and two suites merge historic charm and modern amenities, while its High Street address grants easy access to West Virginia University, Mountaineer Field, WVU Coliseum, the Art Museum of WVU, West Virginia Botanic Garden, Dorsey’s Knob Park, Coopers Rock State Forest, and Core Arboretum.
JW Marriott Tampa Water Street – Tampa, Florida
In 2020, JW Marriott Tampa Water Street completed its two-year, $50 million renovation as part of Tampa’s walkable waterfront wellness-focused $3 billion Water Street development. This 519-guest room convention hotel boasts nearly 90,000 square feet of meeting and event space with full audiovisual and multimedia capability, from the 425-square-foot floating glass Skybox Meeting Room to the 29,100-square-foot Tampa Bay Ballroom, the largest in the Tampa Bay area. The skybridge to its sister hotel, Tampa Marriott Water Street, opens an additional 50,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
Further amenities include Driftlight and SIX restaurants, the Driftlight Lounge four-story glass lobby bar, a poolside cabana, the luxurious Spa by JW, and a 24-hour fitness studio. The Water Street development’s highlights and partnerships include the Tampa Convention Center, Amalie Arena, Sparkman Wharf retail and restaurants, Tampa Riverwalk, and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.
New Orleans Marriott Warehouse Arts District – New Orleans, Louisiana
Located in a newly renovated 200-year-old warehouse with design combining industrial history and modern luxury, the New Orleans Marriott Warehouse Arts District hosts 24 event rooms and 20 breakout spaces, totaling more than 24,000 square feet of event and meetings space. These range in size from the 430-square-foot Creole Queen and Natchez rooms to the 2,756-square-foot Cypress Ballroom and the 6,912-square-foot Gravier Ballroom. Meeting and business services cover a portable stage, cutting-edge audio-visual options, videoconferencing, and an onsite technician.
Just across from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, this convention hotel is within walking distance of the Central Business District, the French Quarter’s shops, bars, and nightclubs, the Warehouse Arts District’s galleries and museums, and the St. Charles streetcar line. Onsite food and beverage options include in-house catering, a Starbucks, and the Greatroom Bar & Restaurant with French/Creole cuisine, craft cocktails, local beer, and a wine menu.
Savanna Hall – Atlanta, Georgia
Nestled in the heart of Grant Park as part of Zoo Atlanta, Savanna Hall merges the majesty of the African savanna and its iconic wildlife with the grand scale and neoclassical architecture of one of the city’s most treasured historic buildings. Originally built in 1921 as the Atlanta Cyclorama, the building completed renovations in 2020. Savanna Hall offers more than 25,000 square feet of space for large events such as corporate gatherings, weddings, and mitzvahs, but it can also be transformed to host intimate gatherings like rehearsal dinners and parties.
In the two-story Michael and Thalia Carlos Ballroom, guests will have full access to outdoor terraces overlooking Zoo Atlanta’s all-new African Savanna habitat, where they might spot African elephants, giraffes, zebras, and more. On the third floor, two versatile meeting rooms offer indoor lighting, video, and sound technology. Additionally, the dedicated specialty kitchen, staffed by Atlanta caterer Proof of the Pudding, is equipped for kosher catering and other cultural needs and preferences. Whether the guest list is 600 or six, Savanna Hall’s amenities and stunning views will leave guests talking about their experience for months to come.
The Valley Hotel – Homewood, Alabama
Located just outside downtown Birmingham on the other side of Red Mountain, The Valley Hotel, a 129-guest-room upscale boutique hotel with nine luxury suites from Curio Collection by Hilton, opened in February 2021. The hotel includes 7,400 square feet of event space, including a private dining room and outdoor terrace, ranging in size from the 406-square-foot Vulcan Boardroom to the 4,312-square-foot Red Mountain Ballroom, all with in-house catering options.
The Valley Hotel’s food and beverage options include Ironwood Kitchen & Cocktails, serving comfort food, grilled steak, and seafood; the Terrace Bar at Ironwood’s craft cocktails, wine, and
beer; and the Valley Hotel Coffee Co. bistro. Within a five-minute drive of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a 10-minute drive from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, the hotel offers small-town charm just beyond the city and is within walking distance of unique boutique shopping opportunities, like Homewood Antiques & Marketplace, which showcases work from local artisans, artists, and designers.
The Westin Galleria – Houston, Texas
The Westin Galleria, a Four-Diamond AAA hotel with direct access to Uptown Houston’s The Galleria mall, completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in February 2020. The 469-guest-room hotel includes nearly 67,000 square feet of event space, from the five-seat Focus meeting room, to the 12,496-square-foot Galleria Ballroom, up to the 26,034-square-foot Woodway Hall exhibition space. Perhaps most notable is the 24th-floor 3,770-square-foot Monarch Room, boasting stunning views of the city. Customizable catering menus, including kosher options approved by Houston Kashruth Association, are available for all meetings and events.
The Daily Grill, the Westin Galleria’s restaurant in The Galleria, offers casual but upscale classic American dining, while Lobby Bar, open for lunch and dinner, serves light bites and handcrafted cocktails. The hotel also includes a rooftop pool, while another major renovation highlight is the 24th-floor WestinWORKOUT Fitness Studio next to the Monarch Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the uptown Houston skyline.
Wild Dunes Sweetgrass Inn – Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Within the Charleston metropolitan area on a barrier island separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway, Isle of Palms is the home of the Sweetgrass Inn, a Destination by Hyatt, the newest gateway to the Wild Dunes resort. Wild Dunes has more than 35,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, all with a full catering menu and teambuilding packages available. Sweetgrass Inn boasts the 6,764-square-foot Osprey Grand Ballroom, the adjacent 550-square-foot Avocet Boardroom, and the 6,000-square-foot Indigo Room & Rooftop Terrace, with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Isle of Palms’ Lowcountry marsh landscape.
Sweetgrass Inn has 153 spacious guest rooms and suites, each with floor-to-ceiling windows. Key amenities include Laughing Gull Restaurant & Bar’s Caribbean cuisine, Oystercatcher Restaurant & Bar’s fresh local cuisine and craft cocktails, the expansive Sweetgrass Inn pool complex, a gallery featuring works from 15 South Carolina artists, and the Spa at Sweetgrass. Wild Dunes additionally hosts eco, kayak, and paddleboarding tours and offers the Links and Harbor Courses for golf.
W Nashville – Nashville, Tennessee
Scheduled to open in September, W Nashville sits in the heart of the Gulch, a trendy, upscale neighborhood in downtown Nashville between Music Row and Midtown. With 346 hotel rooms and 60 suites, the W Nashville includes nearly 25,000 square feet of event space, ranging in size from the 680-square-foot Studio 2 to the 6,105-square-foot Great Room to the 9,700-square-foot rooftop WET Deck, with luxury cabanas, a poolside bar, and incredible views of downtown Nashville. All events at the W Nashville have options for in-house catering and audiovisual requests.
Food and dining options beyond WET Deck include the Living Room Bar, featuring acts from local musicians, and artisanal coffee shop Barista Parlor. The W Nashville also hosts James Beard award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch Nashville, featuring American cuisine and craft cocktails, and Italian Chophouse, a classic Italian steakhouse with a Nashville twist. The 2,200-square-foot 24-hour fitness center includes cardio equipment, free weights, Peloton stationary bicycles, and an adjacent 1,000-square-foot yoga lawn. n
Christopher Jennings is a freelance writer based in New Orleans, La. His most frequent topics are arts, culture, and nightlife. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Loyola University New Orleans and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University.