A crossroads in the South, halfway between Nashville and Atlanta, Chattanooga lies at the perfect junction for a corporate retreat or convention, sitting at the intersection of three major Interstates, I-24, I-75 and I-59. Recessed into the Appalachian Mountains, and situated on the banks of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga also has a panorama of beauty.
The city was a strategic stronghold during the Civil War. Grant made a name for himself with his maneuvers in Chattanooga, and Sherman advanced through Chattanooga on his march to the sea. And although the city has grown at a fast pace over the last 20 years, it has maintained its southern spirit and hospitality.
The downtown area features world-class art, shopping, nightlife and dining. With the recently resurrected Riverwalk spanning 13 paved miles, Chattanooga’s accessibility and beauty have grown together. The free electric shuttle that connects Chattanooga’s two banks also connects the Chattanooga Convention Center to over 2,000 hotel rooms, makes planning a meeting logistically easy and cost effective. And the city’s moniker “The Gig City,” is not for naught, as over 150,000 businesses and homes, including the hotels and the convention center, have Wi-Fi speeds of up to one gigabit per second.
Chattanooga’s convention center offers groups 100,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space all on one floor and 19,000 sq. ft. of divisible ballroom space. Certified by Tennessee’s Green Hospitality Program, the center makes use of natural light and boasts in-house farm-to-table service that provides fresh ingredients. Even the center’s coffee is locally grown. And the city-operated electric shuttle provides yet another environmentally conscious choice for groups.
The University of Tennessee has partnered with the Chattanooga Convention Center for an annual state conference that is traditionally held in Nashville. “We were not able to secure the state rate in Nashville, so we had to consider other options. We looked at many cities and found that Chattanooga was a great location for pricing, activities and convenience for our attendees,” says Kristie Wright, MS, CGMP, Program Administrator for the University of Tennessee Center for Literacy, Education & Employment. Wright adds that the convention center’s layout made it easy for the 400 attendees to get around between sessions.
All of the major hotels are proximate to the convention center, including the 343-room Chattanooga Marriott Downtown (attached to the convention center; 10,212 sq. ft. of function space) and the four-star, 199-room Chattanoogan Hotel (25,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space). In fact, as F&D staff toured the Chattanoogan, we were met with the unique mixture of quaint charm and state-of-the-art luxury that is to be found in much of the city.
Chattanooga’s lodging options are expanding. A 261-room Westin opened in October as part of an $88 million project that will feature the high-end restaurant Shula’s Steak House, cobblestone streets for pedestrians, festival and event space, and much more. The hotel offers 6,800 sq. ft. of function space. In 2018, a variety of smaller properties will debut, including brands such as Hampton Inn, Hilton Tru and SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
Wright found the CVB, Meet Chattanooga, to be very accommodating, providing “coupon books, city guides, etc., that we stuffed into conference bags. They also gave mini MoonPies that were a major hit!” While there were no arranged group activities for the University’s annual state conference, “on our registration website we provided a tab with links to the many, many things to do in Chattanooga.”
Indeed, Chattanooga is far from a “strictly business” destination for meeting groups. Attendees can visit the city’s unique and treasured attractions, including the Bluff View Art District and the Tennessee Aquarium. The latter offers two buildings for rental by groups of 20 to 2,000: The River Journey and the Ocean Journey. The Aquarium’s 385-capacity IMAX 3D Theater together with the Great Hall is ideal for a presentation or keynote address. A new and intriguing offsite venue is the Songbirds Guitar Museum, which features a rotating collection of more than 500 rare vintage instruments, including some of the most exclusive guitars in the world. The museum can be booked for special events.
Groups who enjoy the outdoors during their free time can also visit Miller Park, located in the downtown Innovation District. The park is undergoing an $8.5 million renovation through July — just another example of Chattanooga’s commitment to remaining one of the most charming small cities in the South.