Planners looking for a city that offers a low-key vibe should consider the Pacific Northwest. Specifically, the so-called Emerald City. Northstar Meetings Group recently went to Seattle to learn about all its meetings offerings: from the new addition to its existing convention center and annual Taste Washington events to exploring iconic Pike Place Market.
For planners, one of the biggest bits of news surrounds the Washington State Convention Center. It is adding a second facility called the Summit building. The addition, which broke ground last year, will sit a block away from the existing Arch building. The current center offers 205,700 square feet of exhibit space, 93,692 square feet of flexible meeting space, two separate ballrooms totaling 44,628 square feet, energy-efficient lighting and a composting program.
With the additional space provided by the Summit building, the city is slated to become even more suitable for groups: It will add 248,450 square feet of expo space, 102,040 square feet of meetings rooms and offer a 58,000-square-foot ballroom. The new building is scheduled to open in spring 2022 and is already taking bookings.
Such a vast expansion of the convention center also means an uptick in hotels. As it is, the existing center has an array of properties — e.g., Hyatt Regency, Westin, Four Seasons, Fairmont, Motif, Thompson, Sheraton Grand, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt at Olive 8 — within walking distance from the venue. And with a growing hotel inventory, meeting and event planners won’t find a shortage of rooms. Some noteworthy updates and facts about existing hotels:
Fairmont Olympic Hotel: This regal property offers 28,000 square feet of meeting space and features an on-site UPS store. Rooms were recently renovated and feature a mid-century modern look.
Four Seasons Seattle: Four Seasons Seattle offers stellar rooftop views of Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. Its rooftop is home to the city's only heated infinity pool. This spring, the property will complete guest-room renovations. In addition to the hotel's complimentary coffee concierge, all rooms will be equipped with Nespresso machines.
Hyatt Regency Seattle: This recently opened property is the largest hotel north of San Francisco. It features 52 venues, including four ballrooms and 46 meeting rooms. The Regency Ballroom features a ceiling of lights that can turn your event into a full-blown experience.
Motif Seattle: Motif Seattle has two whole floors dedicated to conference facilities. Each guest-room is equipped with an Amazon Alexa device to cater to tech-savvy attendees. The property's porch is a great space for group arrivals, and the rooftop can be used for an open-air reception.
Sheraton Grand Seattle: Just 27 steps from the Washington State Convention Center, this property received Sheraton's "Grand" distinction in October 2018. Part of a recent $60 million renovation is a new Starbucks in the lobby.
Thompson Seattle: The hotel offers rooftop space, The Nest, and will welcome a new in-house restaurant called Conversation.
Westin Seattle: The very first Westin was in Seattle, and this property celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. With 29 newly renovated meeting spaces, the hotel emphasizes wellness: it offers gear rental and Peloton bikes.
The development doesn’t end with the convention center and the hotels. Seattle’s Pike Place Market — home to restaurants, markets and terrific views of Elliott Bay — is currently undergoing a $74 million renovation, with parts of the complex (like the western expansion featuring a new plaza, a viewing deck with panoramic views of mountains, and the Grand Staircase with colorful mosaic murals) already complete. By 2024, it will have a waterfront bike path and a promenade.
For planners seeking offbeat venues, Seattle has several unique spaces. Right outside of the Arch building is Freeway Park — a 5.5-acre park set to receive $10 million in upgrades. The Starbucks Roastery in the Capitol Hill neighborhood offers a unique craft menu and can be booked for a private event or experience. And planners looking to incorporate the "gum wall" (it is what it sounds like) should know that a portion can be sectioned off for private events.
In Seattle Center — home to the Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) and Chihuly Garden and Glass — planners can host a “Block party” that utilizes all three venues for larger groups. It should also be noted that the iconic Space Needle recently underwent a $100 million renovation — designed by Olson Kundig — and part of the massive remodel is a rotating glass floor, which allows attendees to look down some 500 feet to the ground.
One major plus point of the city is how walkable it is: Pike Place Market is just 6 short blocks away from the WSCC, while the Sheraton is just 27 steps from the center. The city’s walkability won’t change with the rapid development — convention and local officials have reserved resources from the convention center project "to make drastic improvements in pedestrian and transit infrastructure."
And for locations less walkable — say, Seattle Center — there are alternatives. Groups can go to the facility via the Monorail, which was originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair but now brings people to and from downtown, with a train every 10 minutes. It’s cost-effective, fun, quick and lets attendees come and go as they please.
Food and beverage are vital to any event, and Seattle doesn’t fail to deliver. If 2019's Taste Washington events were indicative of anything, it was to spotlight the city's local food and wine scene. Chefs and restaurants can help bring a local touch to your event. Equally impressive is the wine scene — we learned that the state of Washington is the second largest producer of wine in the United States, and it's excellent quality, too: 46 percent of wines rated by Wine Spectator from 2009 to 2016 scored 90 points or higher.
For planners looking to incorporate the local wine scene outside of F&B, consider an event at nearby wineries. Woodinville, Wash., just a half-hour away from Seattle, has picturesque wineries that offer tours and tasting rooms. It's a terrific option for group entertainment or events.
To follow social media coverage of Seattle, look up #NMGVisitsSEATTLE on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about meetings in Seattle, head over to Visit Seattle.