Tennessee: top meeting facilities, entertainment complexes luring major convention groups

A coonskin-capped pioneer, armed only with his trusty flintlock rifle, exploring the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains–that’s an image many conjure up when they think of Tennessee. Others, more in tune with the present, might picture a nuclear physicist toiling at an Oak Ridge laboratory, or an engineer working on a dam for the TVA.

In fact, Tennessee’s commercial side is becoming as well-known as its friendly, down-home ambiance. The pride of its residents is reflected in its five official state songs: “Rocky Top,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “My Tennessee,” “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee,” and “My Homeland, Tennessee”–ample testimony to the fact that the state has produced and nurtured several rich, flavorful varieties of American music.

Nashville, of course, is the home of “country.” Knoxville, and other cities, have heard bluegrass develop from the songs of Irish and Scots who settled there decades ago. Memphis gave birth ot the Delta blues, which had its origins in the sorrowful songs of poor blacks in the river cities of America.

While these three major cities are justifiably proud of their rich historical and musical traditions, they haven’t neglected tomorrow and tomorrow’s business-especially the meetings business. Many ramshackle downtown areas have been rejuvenated and brightened with ultramodern office buildings and charming entertainment complexes. The hotels there and in smaller towns, particularly Chattanooga and Gatlinburg, offer a wide variety of top meeting facilities, many of which were built only within the past five years. Nashville

Nashville’s biggest industries are publishing, insurance and finance, but everyone knows why some streets in town are called such names as Music Square East, Roy Acuff Place and Johnny Cash Boulevard. Some 100 recording studios and record companies can be found here, many of them on celebrated Music Row. Within walking distance of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (last resting place of Elvis’s solid gold (Cadillac), you’ll find the Guinness Hall of World Records; Nusic City Jubilee, which offers live country-music shows on weekends; and the Car Collectors Hall of Fame.

There’s music galore for almost every taste at Opryland U.S.A., a $28-million family-entertainment complex in a 12-acre park 11 miles from donwtown. Opryland prides itself on its bountiful live-music productions: at any given time some 15 shows, ranging from four-piece bluegrass bands to big stage production, are being performed. There are also rides, specialty restaurants, and, of course, the Grand Ole Opry, where on Friday and Saturday nights, the biggest stars in country music perform on the nation’s oldest continuous radio show.

Rick Davis, director of conventions for the Nashville CVB, is jubilant about the steady growth of both the city’s meeting and convention facilities and the business that these places are attracting. “We’ve had a 21 percent increase in meeting attendance this year over 1983,” he said, “and in the next four years, we’ll have hosted all the major meeting groups,” including Meeting Planners International, the National Tour Association and the Convention Liaison Council.

Ground was broken last year on a new convention facility, the Nashville Convention Center, which Davis said will open in mid-1986. It will feature a 120,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 30 additional meeting rooms, and will be anchored by a 704-room Stouffer’s hotel.

Nashville’s current facility, the Municipal Auditorium, has 63,000 square feet of exhibit space and a seating capacity of 9,900; it can handle 300 eight- by 10-foot booths.

The Nashville Airport is undergoing an expansion that, when finished in 1988, will double its size. Already, Davis said, the airport has the capacity to handle 10,500 incoming passengers daily, which is 2,000 more than last year.

They city now has some 14,000 hotel rooms. The newest facility will be the Sheraton Music City Hotel, when it opens next March with 412 rooms, an 11,000-square-foot ballroom, and seven additional meeting rooms, all next door to the airport.

Major meeting sites in town include the Hyatt Regency Nashville (500 rooms, 15 meeting rooms) across from the State Capitol Building; Radisson Plaza (350 rooms, 12 meeting rooms); Maxwell House (292 rooms, 12 meeting rooms); Nashville Marriott (400 rooms, 12 meeting rooms); Sheraton Nashville (280 rooms, nine meeting rooms); Airport Hilton (230 rooms, 12 meeting rooms): Best Western Executive Inn (300 rooms, 11 meeting rooms); Best Western Road Venture Inn, next to the Opryland Complex (214 rooms, three meeting rooms); The Hermitage, also next to the State Capitol Building (112 rooms, three meeting rooms); and the Holiday Inn Briley Parkway near Opryland (400 rooms, six meeting rooms).

Inside the Opryland U.S.A. complex is the Opryland Hotel. Built in 1977, it was renovated and enlarged in 1982, virtually doubling the room count, from 598 to 1,067, and adding a 77,000-square-foot exhibit hall, bringing the facility’s total exhibit space to 107,000 square feet. Also added were a 30,000-square-foot ballroom with a permanent stage, and 37 breakout rooms. All told, the hotel, an M&C four-time Gold Key winner, has a mammoth 230,000 square feet of function space.

While a couple of riverboats already ply the waters near Nashville, they’ll be upstaged when Opryland premieres its General Jackson in mid-1985.

For information: Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 161 Fourth Avenue N., Nashville, TN 37219; (615) 259-3900. Memphis

Founded in 1819 by General Andrew Jackson, Judge John Overton and General James Winchester, Memphis was named after the Egyptian city on the Nile; tradition says that the name means “place of good abode.” After the Civil War, the city became quite prosperous owning to the cotton industry and the brisk Mississippi river traffic, and today it’s chiefly valued as an important national distribution center.

But everyone knows the city as the birthplace of the blues and of one Elvis Aaron Presley, who was reportedly delivered by the composer W. C. Handy in a saloon on Beale Street. The city recently renovated the area, now known as the Beale Street Historic District, as part of a $250-million program that also created several tourist attractions. You can catch some of the city’s best music at clubs in the Beale Street area–not surprising, since some of the nightspots there are owned by such people as Lou Rawls, Charlie Rich and Al Hirt.

One of the newest and most elaborate attractions is Mud Island, a $63 million recreation complex built on a sandbar in the middle of the Mississippi and connected to downtown by a monorail. Its 50 acres include an aquarium, a river museum and a 4,300-seat amphitheater where you can hear rock, blues, gospel, bluegrass, pop and even classical music in the summer. There’s even a five-block-long scale model of the Lower Mississippi River Valley–complete with real currents.

The Memphis Convention Center Complex, houses the Everett Cook Convention Center and Auditorium, and is one of the largest in the country. The main convention hall has 125,000 square feet of unobstructed function space; it seats 16,500 for meetings and 12,000 for banquets. The Auditorium has two halls, a 12,270-square-foot meeting room and a ballroom. At street level, a vast 21,000-square-foot lobby faces Main Street through a two-story window wall of glass. The Center also has 30 conference rooms, seating from 25 to 500, and over 22,000 square feet of storage space.

The Center is bordered on the west by the river, on the east by the city’s Civic Center, and on the south by the new Mid-America Mall, a ten-block-long ribbon of promenades, sidewalk cafes, displays, playgrounds and decorative canopies.

There are about 9,000 hotel rooms in the area, and the Memphis CVB reports that three hotels will open their doors in the next few months. The 415-room Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, set to open in March, will connect with the convention center complex. Its one ballroom will seat 460 for a banquet and 500 for a meeting. The old Hotel Tennessee is being refurbished and is scheduled to open next fall as the Summit Memphis Hotel, with 270 rooms. The French Quarter Inn, an all-suite facility with 70 suites, opens in the Overton Square area in November 1985.

Major meeting facilities here include: the 26-story Hyatt Regency, a suburban hotel 12 miles from the downtown business district (400 rooms, 15 meeting rooms, 12,000-square-foot ballroom); the 452-room Peabody Hotel, with its famous ducks that march every night from the lobby fountain to their penthouse–in formation; the Holiday Inn Executive Conference Center, 12 miles south of Memphis in Olive Branch, Miss., (177 rooms, 16 meeting rooms and a 350-seat amphitheatre); the Sheraton Memphis (243 rooms, six meeting rooms), and the Ramada Convention Center Hotel (186 rooms, five meeting rooms).

There are four properties adjacent to Memphis International Airport: the 400-room Hilton, the 213-room Sheraton, the 329-room Quality Inn, and the 200-room Winchester Plaza.

For information: Convention and Visitors Bureau of Memphis, 12 S. Main St., Suite 107, Memphis, TN 38103, (901) 526-1919. Knoxville

Knoxville, in the eastern part of the state, underwent a considerable facelift in preparation for the World’s Fair of 1982. New hotels sprang up, much of downtown was renovated, and a couple of permanent attractions made their debut–most notably, the 266-foot-high Sunsphere, the city’s answer to Seattle’s Space Needle.

Since then one of the Fair’s largest buildings was completely redone and opened last year as the Knoxville Convention Center, which has 108,000 square feet of exhibit space, 21 meeting rooms and seating capacity for 10,000. Nearby is the Civic Coliseum, with 32,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The 300-room Holiday Inn on Henley Street is directly connected to the Convention Center. A block away is the 325-room Knoxville Hilton, with 11 meeting rooms, the largest of which seats 900. The other big downtown hotel is the Hyatt Regency, with 387 rooms and 13 meeting rooms. Its Regency Ballroom can accommodate 1,200 people for a meeting and 800 for a banquet.

There’s also the Holiday Inn Knoxville West (242 guest rooms, four meeting rooms and 1,175 square feet of exhibit space), the Holiday Inn University Center (217 guest rooms, three meeting rooms), the Knoxville Airport Hilton Inn (250 guest rooms, 17 meeting rooms), the Quality Inn Downtown Hotel (200 guest rooms, eight meeting rooms), the Sheraton Campus Inn (119 guest rooms, three meeting rooms), and Sheraton West (225 guest rooms, eight meeting rooms).

For more information: Knoxville CVB, P.O. Box 15012, Knoxville, TN 37901; (615) 523-7263. Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg, some 40 miles southeast of Knoxville, is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, half of which is in neighboring North Carolina. Developed into a year-round resort in the 1940s, Gatlinburg now has about 5,000 hotel rooms, not to mention plenty of attractions, including music festivals and shops.

The River Terrace Resort, which opened in 1983, has 209 rooms and a conference center with 18,000 square feet of meeting space. The W.L. Mills Convention Center has two exhibit halls with 7,900 and 8,400 square feet of meeting space respectively; the latter is known as the Gatlinburg Civic Auditorium.

Other facilities are the Glenstone Lodge (222 guest rooms, nine meeting rooms); Holiday Inn Hotel Resort (411 guest rooms, 12 meeting rooms); Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge (252 guest rooms, one meeting room); Quality Inn Cobbly Nob Resorts (108 guest rooms, two meeting rooms); Quality Inn In Town (70 guest rooms, three meeting rooms); Ramada Inn Four Seasons and Convention Center (145 guest rooms, five meeting rooms); Riverside Motor Lodge (160 guest rooms, five meeting rooms); and the Sheraton Gatlinburg (315 guest rooms, 14 meeting rooms).

For information: Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 527, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; (800) 251-9868, (615) 436-4178. Chattanooga

A city of interesting contrasts–which include excellent shopping of both 18th century English antiques and regional folk crafts–Chattanooga is also determined to expand its convention and hospitality plant. The 225,000-square-foot Chattanooga/Hamilton County Convention and Trade Center will open next April in downtown, within walking distance of some 1,300 hotel rooms. The facility will offer 60,000 square foot of exhibit space and will be anchored by a 352-room Holiday Inn, which will have three 1,500-square-foot banquet rooms and 18 breakout rooms. The center’s kitchen will be able to serve banquets for up to 550 people.

The center will complement the meeting facilities at the nearby University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (including a two-year-old 13,000-seat sports arena) and the downtown Memorial Auditorium & Convention Center. The latter has 45,000 square feet of exhibit space and five meeting rooms.

There are about 5,000 hotel rooms in the area. The Read House (245 guest rooms, 10 meeting rooms) is a Mobil three-star property on the National Registry of Historic Places. There’s also the Choo-Choo Hilton, which recently expanded to 375 rooms; 48 of those are in luxuriously appointed train cars, which may explain why the hotel claims to be the most popular Hilton in the country.

There are two Sheratons: Sheraton City Center (205 guest rooms, nine meeting rooms) and the Sheraton Inn Chattanooga South (140 guest rooms, three meeting rooms).

The Quality Inn South Resort and Convention Centre recently changed its name to the Southern Inn; it has 245 guest rooms and 10 meeting rooms.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *