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Travel Articles
Meet Me in the Mid-Atlantic
Options abound in Delaware and New Jersey
(Smart Meetings, 2012)
By Heather Larson

 

New Jersey and Delaware aren’t often associated with one another. New Jersey is probably best known for its casinos in Atlantic City and the beach scene on the Jersey Shore, while Delaware showcases the early history of the U.S. But these states share geographical ties including coasts bordering the Atlantic Ocean, and both offer meeting venues of all types and sizes and convenient access from New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia—not to mention a tax structure that makes meeting there affordable.

new jersey

NEW JERSEY

New Jersey has been referred to as a miniature United States because of the diversity of people, geography and attractions it contains. That diversity can be a boon for planners. From traditional and contemporary to historic and off the beaten path, a plethora of venues for social, team-building or corporate retreats can all be found here. Though geographically small, New Jersey is large in many other ways.

With five international airports, more than 100,000 hotel rooms, 140 golf courses, 130 miles of beaches and an assortment of boutiques and outlet stores, the state’s a prime location for most any gathering. And who wouldn’t appreciate that there is no tax on clothes or shoes?

Just one example of the kind of meeting available is the Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, located in the southern part of the state. This 260,000-square-foot facility has a 75,000-square-foot exhibition hall and 20,000 sq. ft. of ballroom and meeting space, a 6,600-square-foot oceanfront deck for pre-functions and a 30,000-square-foot lobby/pre-function area. Read on for more about the state’s major cities.

Newark

Strategically located just 13 miles from New York City, Newark is the largest city in New Jersey, with a population of 277,140. Its appeal lies in its vast number of recreational and cultural attractions. Visitors can find quality music, history, dining, entertainment, galleries, museums, pro sports, festivals and fairs, all in one city.

Downtown Newark is currently undergoing revitalization, and the Prudential Center, a $375 million arena that opened in 2007, is a significant part of that. Just two blocks from Penn Station and home to hockey, basketball, other sports and live entertainment, it’s the biggest venue in the area, with seating for 18,500 and a 350-seat gourmet restaurant onsite. Event spaces include multiple lounges and a 12,500-square-foot concourse.

The Washington Square Conference Center offers 8,379 sq. ft. of meeting space. Conveniently located just 15 minutes from the airport and five minutes from Penn Station, it sits atop the IDT Building in the Financial District.

Even more meeting space—17,000 sq. ft. of it— can be found at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel. All meeting rooms are equipped with both wired and wireless technology.

Looking for a banquet room in a local restaurant? Adega Grill, Chateau of Spain and Seabra’s Marisqueira all fit the bill.

After spending the day meeting, visitors can sample the vibrant music, art and cultural scene in Newark at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark Symphony Hall or Newark Museum.

Hotel Westminster, Livingston, N.J
Hotel Westminster, Livingston, N.J

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Trenton

The capital city of New Jersey, Trenton borders the Delaware River in the western part of the state. As of 2010, the population was 84,900. Historical attractions include the Battle Monument, Contemporary Club Victorian Museum and Meredith Havens Fire Museum.

The New Jersey State Museum boasts four museums in one—archaeology, fine art and cultural history displays, as well as a planetarium that seats 150 in specially designed reclining seats. Changing exhibits provide a backdrop for events; there’s a 384-seat auditorium along with stunning views of the Delaware River.

The Sun National Bank Center is available for rental when there are no scheduled concerts, basketball or hockey games. It can handle up to 10,000 guests and will provide event equipment and personnel, including ushers, security, stagehands and more.

Trenton has gained notoriety as the setting for author Janet Evanovich’s novels featuring Stephanie Plum, a feisty bounty hunter. So far the series encompasses 18 books; a recent movie based on the first book, One for the Money, stars Katherine Heigl. TrenTours, a local company, offers a Stephanie Plum-themed tour, as well as an expedition exploring the city’s American Revolution ties.


Princeton

Grounds for Sculpture

Grounds for Sculpture, Princeton, N.J.

Princeton is about an hour drive from both Philadelphia and New York City, making it an attractive destination for regional meetings. Also alluring is the presence of the eponymous Ivy League university, which gives the town a vibrant, youthful vibe.

If you’re looking for meeting space downtown, the 203-room Nassau Inn Palmer Square offers 10,000 sq. ft. with onsite A/V technicians. Although this full-service hotel is historic, the Yankee Doodle Tap Room is timeless.

Just a few minutes away in Chauncey is the Chauncey Hotel & Conference Center, nestled in woodlands alongside a lake. With 9,500 sq. ft. of meeting space and 100 guest rooms, this is an ideal place for a quiet retreat. The onsite caterer offers kosher options.

Sightseers might enjoy touring Morven Museum and Garden or taking a short walk from the Princeton campus to McCarter Theatre Center, where performances number 200 a year. An 18th-century colonial mansion, The Peacock Inn, recently underwent a major renovation. Grounds for Sculpture, a 35-acre public sculpture park, also lures visitors and groups.

Atlantic City

In January 2012, more than 6,000 visitors stopped at information centers in Atlantic City for maps, general information and reservations—a 25.9% increase over the same period in 2011.

“Atlantic City appears to be on a solid footing,” says Jeffrey Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. “With the opening of Revel, new amenities at Golden Nugget, the rebranding of ACH to the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel and recent announcements of changes at Steel Pier and Bally’s…Atlantic City will continue to gain market strength.”

“Atlantic City is unique and can’t be compared to Las Vegas,” adds Gary Musich, vice president of sales for the Atlantic City CVA. “The quality here can’t be matched anywhere.”

With fishing, eco-tourism, free beaches, headline entertainment and the Boardwalk, the city is a well-rounded option for trade shows and meetings.

Revel, a $2.4 billion, 20-acre resort, is set to open this May on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Besides numerous restaurants and a steakhouse, Revel will house Mussel Bar, a gastropub, in its 6.2 million-square-foot beachfront setting. The resort will also include two nightclubs, 1,800 guest rooms, retail shops, a 31,000-square-foot spa, two theaters and a 150,000-square-foot casino. Its 160,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space will include a ballroom, 20 flexible meeting rooms and four boardrooms.

The megaresort isn’t the only one drumming up interest in town. Bally’s is in the throes of an extensive renovation, including upgrades to guest rooms in two of its three towers. Golden Nugget Atlantic City is going through renovations slated for completion this month and carrying a price tag of $150 million; changes include new restaurants, lounges and a poker room. And Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa will wrap up a $50 million update to its 2,000-room hotel tower this summer.

Steel Pier, a Boardwalk landmark, will soon become a year-round attraction as part of a $100 million makeover that will add new amusement rides, arcades, a food court, an amphitheater and further enhancements over the next couple of years.


DELAWARE

Even though Delaware is the nation’s second smallest state (after Rhode Island), it is bursting with attractive meeting venues and opportunities to enjoy beach time and water activities. Bordered on the eastern side by the Atlantic Ocean, it also boasts numerous rivers and lakes; visitors can enjoy fishing, sailing, kayaking, dolphin watching, exploring lighthouses or just soaking up the sun on the sand.

All the major cities are easily accessible by plane, train and automobile, and the tax-free shopping, dining and entertainment are easy on the budget.

“Meetings in Delaware are more affordable than surrounding metropolitan areas because of the tax savings offered,” confirms Linda Parkowski, director of tourism for the state. “Delaware’s affordability, central location, easy access and diverse attractions make it an ideal destination for meetings and conventions.”

Dover

Centrally located, Delaware’s capital city has much to offer, including NASCAR races, museums and a winery. There are historical touches, too, such as the restored home and plantation of John Dickinson, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

Dover Downs, a Four-Star casino hotel, is the largest casino hotel in Delaware and adjoins Dover International Speedway, which hosts two NASCAR race weekends each year. For those who like their gambling without smoke, there’s a smoke-free casino. The elegant 18,000-square-foot Rollins Center ballroom accommodates conventions, corporate meetings, banquets, weddings and celebrations of many kinds.

The Mid-Atlantic Tent Renters Association (MATRA) held its annual conference and trade show last November at Dover Downs, the fifth time it has done so. “This group really likes the clean, modern guest rooms and the great views some of the rooms have of the horse and NASCAR tracks—and the property is ideal for setting up the tents needed for the conference,” says Michael Tannen, CSEP, president of T-Team Management and planner for the event. “The space really works for MATRA and the members like the helpful staff.”

If you’re looking for team-building activities, Dover Downs offers Monster Racing Excitement—the opportunity to either drive or ride in an authentic stock car on Dover International Speedway’s “Monster Mile.” Another team-building option is DelMarVa Board Sport Adventures, which offers paddleboarding and windsurfing excursions in locales including Lewes Beach and the Delaware Bay.

“Delaware’s capital region has something to offer most meeting attendees from associations, corporate or government entities,” says Kimberly Bailey-Thomas, director of sales at Kent County & Greater Dover, Delaware Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We feel that our location in the mid-Atlantic region sets us apart as a perfect destination mixed with charm, convenience and savings for the attendee.”

As an added enticement, the CVB is now offering a $5,000 transportation incentive for groups who might need extra support to get their attendees to the destination. It is the CVB’s way of giving back to meeting planners who are looking to save, says Bailey-Thomas.

Two unique venues ideal for meetings are the Air Mobility Command Museum, located at Dover Air Force Base, and Pizzadili Vineyard & Winery. The museum hosts meetings, conventions, reunions and military functions of all types. Picturesque fruit trees dot the landscape at Pizzadili, an idyllic setting for large groups. A pavilion on the property seats 400, and wine tastings and winery tours are available.


Wilmington

Gold Ballroom
Gold Ballroom, Hotel du Pont, Wilmington, Del.

Situated in the heart of the mid-Atlantic region, along the I-95 northeast corridor, Wilmington offers more than 6,500 hotel rooms in independent, historic and name-brand hotels, as well as 300 meeting rooms of all sizes and types. This makes finding the right venue for your group easy.

Sara Garnett, director of sales at the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, says, “In our area, hotels and meeting facilities proactively target smaller groups; in other cities, those groups tend to get lost in the crowd. We cater to smaller meetings and make them feel important while they are here.

“Wilmington is not a huge city, but it has all the amenities and attractions typical in a large urban area at a substantially lower cost, and all are very accessible,” she adds.

As it has done in past years, the CVB is also offering a transportation incentive for groups or planners booking a minimum of 100 room nights in a member hotel in New Castle County. (Check to see if funding is still available.)

Some new venues worth taking a look at debuted last year. In April 2011, World Café Live at the Queen opened in downtown Wilmington. The former movie theater has been totally restored and now functions as a venue for live entertainment. It can accommodate 200 seated or 500 standing and also houses an upscale 160-seat restaurant, as well as a separate meeting space, the Olympia Room, which provides flexible seating for 120 and overlooks the LOMA District on Market Street.

In December, Sheraton Wilmington South Hotel debuted. The $24 million hotel, located off I-95, features 191 spacious guest rooms, more than 9,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and an open-air restaurant serving fresh American cuisine.

In the historic village of Odessa, about 25 miles from Wilmington, Cantwell’s Tavern in the Brick Hotel also opened in December. Period furnishings from the 18th and 19th centuries, many crafted by Delawarean cabinetmakers, silversmiths and artists, grace the elegant property. With the capacity to seat 50 in its private banquet room, as well as larger gatherings outdoors in the warmer months, Cantwell’s functions as both a restaurant and an event venue.

Southern Delaware

This region features numerous quiet beaches and is an easy two-hour drive from Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. Attendees can visit historic seaside and riverside villages, browse in shops and dine on tasty cuisine. And what could be more atmospheric than meeting with a view of the Atlantic?

The Atlantic Sands Hotel & Convention Center on Rehoboth Beach has 10,000 sq. ft. of flexible oceanfront event space in eight separate rooms. Cocktail receptions can be hosted poolside or on the rooftop for up to 200 attendees. The Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, also on Rehoboth Beach, can accommodate groups of 15–100.

At The Bellmoor on Rehoboth Beach Inn and Spa, the Magnolia Garden and Fountain Courtyard offer a tranquil setting for social or business events. The indoor space can accommodate 36–125 guests.

Other meeting facilities within walking distance of lodging include Ruddertowne Baycenter in Dewey Beach. The venue offers three meeting rooms overlooking Rehoboth Bay, the largest of which can hold 800 attendees.

In Lewes, the Nassau Valley Vineyard is a scenic locale for events. Function spaces include a lawn area, two event centers and a gallery with local artwork and glass viewing stations of the property’s wine cellar.

Main image: Boardwalk at dusk, Atlantic City, N.J., courtesy of Atlantic City CVA

 

CVB Resources

Delaware

New Jersey

Name of the Game

If you’ve played Monopoly, you’re familiar with the premium properties Boardwalk and Park Place. But did you know the game’s street names came from Atlantic City? According to The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May by Jen Miller, a Philadelphian named Charles Darrow went to Atlantic City to find work. When he returned home still unemployed, he created the game now known as Monopoly using Atlantic City landmarks as inspiration.

Darrow offered the game to Parker Brothers, but the company said no, so he made 5,000 sets with the help of a friend and sold them to a Philly department store. They sold out, so Parker Brothers took another look. Since 1935, the first year of the Parker Brothers edition, more than 275 million Monopoly games have been sold.

Some of the streets from the game either no longer exist or have been renamed. Illinois Avenue became Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the 1980s. And the spot where St. Charles Place, an avenue filled with exclusive homes, once resided is today a parking lot for the Showboat Hotel & Casino.

Despite some changes, all these years later the game remains a source of local pride. Last September, for example, Bally’s Atlantic City constructed a large outdoor replica of the game board, complete with oversized dice, green houses, red hotels and game pieces including that iconic silver car.

GETTING THERE

  • –Atlantic City International Airport (ACY) is about 13 miles from Atlantic City.
  • –Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is about 80 miles from Wilmington and Dover.
  • –Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) is less than five miles from downtown Newark.
  • –Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is a little over 20 miles from Wilmington, 70 miles from Dover and about 40 miles from Trenton.

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