Where to Plan Now: North America

By Libby Hoppe, December 10, 2014

Oakland, California
Things are looking up in Oakland, thanks in part to a new attitude at the convention and visitors bureau. Alison Best took the reins in fall 2012 as the CVB’s president and CEO, and she’s since made generous efforts to improve the reputation of the DMO and the city. In 2014, Oakland unveiled its new brand—Visit Oakland—and joined the ranks of leading CVBs by earning accreditation from DMAI’s Destination Marketing Accreditation Program. In August, it celebrated the graduation of its first “I am Oakland” class, a group of 150 business owners and leaders who completed the city’s first official destination training program aimed at creating local ambassadors in hospitality. City officials are focusing on the importance of tourism, and that’s nothing but good news for event planners in terms of customer service and recognition that your business matters.

The CVB is turning over a new leaf at the same time the city is establishing itself as one of the country’s leading cities for food, music and arts. Its arts reputation has grown so quickly, in fact, it’s earning nicknames like “Brooklyn by the Bay.”

For meetings, Oakland touts its compactness and easy airport access. Oakland Convention Center has 89,000 square feet of event space. A number of attractions also double as off-site event venues, including Oakland Zoo, Oakland Aviation Museum, Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland California Mormon Temple and the historic Fox Theater (above), which reopened in 2009 and has seen a parade of burgeoning and established musicians since.

Oakland’s accolades continue to grow. It’s been called a city on the rise, most exciting city in America and one of the top five hippest towns in the country. And it’s not lost on us that San Francisco magazine—a leading publication in the Bay City—dedicated an entire issue this year to its revitalizing neighbor Oakland for the first time ever.

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Chattanooga, Tennessee
Every year, Barna Group conducts a study in partnership with the American Bible Society to survey American cities and provide a geographical portrait of spirituality in the United States. In 2014, Chattanooga topped Barna’s list of 100 most Bible-minded cities, edging out Birmingham, Alabama; Roanoke, Virginia; and Springfield, Missouri. For faith-based event planners, that’s useful information to include in marketing campaigns.

But Chattanooga has landed on other noteworthy lists for its varied and diverse culture. Chattanooga Market, a seasonal market with more than 130 local artisans and products from 50 area farms, made Frommers’ list of the top 10 public markets in America. In 2012, The New York Times named Chattanooga one of the top 25 places to visit because of, among other things, its $120 million 21st Century Waterfront Plan and revitalized districts like Warehouse Row. Finally, Outside magazine voters chose Chattanooga as the “best town ever” in a cover story.

The city continues to make investments in its culture and lifestyle draws for visitors and residents. Chattanooga Choo Choo (shown), the city’s largest hotel, will add a comedy club, an on-site event venue, two new restaurants and retail space as part of an $8 million renovation and restoration project. Eleven hotels either opened or underwent renovations in 2012 and 2013, and a dozen restaurants opened last year alone. The city Walter Cronkite once dubbed “the dirtiest city in America” is now embracing its new identity of Gig City, stemming from its impressive fiber-optic network with Internet speeds of one gigabit per second that’s attracting attention from tech communities.

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Cleveland, Ohio
The last time Cleveland hosted a presidential convention, Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office. The Republican National Committee’s decision to host its 2016 convention in Cleveland is a testament to the city’s ongoing urban resurgence. Between the RNC’s announcement and LeBron James returning home to play for the NBA’s Cavaliers, Cleveland has had a good run that’s been years in the making.

In 2010, the city embarked on the ambitious project of building the new $465 million Cleveland Convention Center and Global Center for Health Innovation, which was completed in 2013. The facility has impressive technology capabilities thanks to an underground systems network, and a 600-room Hilton under construction adjacent to the center is slated to open in 2016. Nearby, the East Fourth Street entertainment district has vibrant nightlife and is a percolating food scene home to some of the city’s best chefs. In a sign of the times, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who traded his suburban setup in Avon to move to Cleveland’s Mill Creek neighborhood, is leading a trend of people moving back into the city.

Cleveland has long had a bit of an underdog, self-doubting nature—but not anymore. Competing neck-and-neck with Dallas to host the GOP convention gave Cleveland’s residents something to cheer about even before winning the bid. Few cities have had the string of good news in the past year that Cleveland has, and it’s ready to ride that wave for the foreseeable future.

Photo credits: Visit Oakland; Photographic Services State of Tennessee; Brad Feinknopf

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