On the cusp of hosting its highest number of convention attendees in a single year (422,000 delegates), Denver is peaking as a destination for meetings and events. New development means the numbers should continue to grow for the foreseeable future, led in part by faith-based planners.
The Mile-High City is no stranger to esteemed guests, having hosted Pope John Paul II for World Youth Day in 1993 as well as the 2008 Democratic National Convention that propelled Barack Obama to become the country’s first African-American president. “This modern city of Denver is set in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Rocky Mountains as if to put the work of human hands in relationship with the works of the Creator,” the pope said during his address to a crowd of more than 90,000 during his visit.
Faith-based groups have come to see firsthand what the pontiff was talking about. The Jewish Federations of North America, Church of God Ministries, LifeWay Christian Resources, Denver Church of Christ and Women of Faith have each brought at least 3,000 attendees to Denver in the past three years.
Its combination of affordability and accessibility is attractive to planners, in terms of ease of navigating the city and also for off-site activities enhancing multiday events. “There’s so much to do within a short distance,” says Nancy Butterfield, program and events coordinator for Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church. But remember to stay hydrated when acclimating to the altitude, warns Butterfield. “Water is very important to any meeting attendee,” she says.
Here’s a glimpse at some of what is drawing droves of meetings to Denver.
The Denver area is home to many large churches appealing to groups of myriad denominations. Trinity United Methodist Church—Denver’s oldest church—includes the famed Roosevelt Organ (shown above), dating back to the current location’s opening in 1888. The organ is one of the largest American-built organs from the 19th century that’s still in operation, and it’s valued at more than $2 million. The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which was completed in 1911, is another standout venue. The U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel, an hour south of Denver in Colorado Springs, is a popular attraction, drawing more than 500,000 visitors per year.
Airport and Beyond
Nearly 1,600 daily flights come in and out of Denver International Airport, the fifth busiest airport in the country and a hub for Frontier, Southwest and United Airlines. The transit hub is also a bargain, ranking cheapest among the top five airports according to cheapflights.com’s Annual Airport Affordability Index. Discount carrier Frontier Airlines, based in Denver, added four new routes from its home city this summer and is planning to debut a nonstop flight to Miami in December. Earlier in 2014, Southwest launched 15 new flights from Denver to Dallas. The airport will become an attraction in and of itself in 2015, when a three-pronged project adding a 519-room Westin hotel and conference center, a public transit center including commuter rail, light rail and buses, and an 82,000-sq.-ft. plaza is scheduled to be completed.
When in Rome, you’re supposed to do as the Romans do: Eat lots and lots of pasta. In Denver, do as the Coloradans do and ride a bike or take a hike on part of 850 miles of trails that are part of the country’s largest park system. The American Fitness Index ranks Denver as the fourth healthiest metro area in the country. Boatloads of companies offer rafting among the region’s famed rapids, and there’s no better state for skiing. Climbing the Rockies makes for a good teambuilding exercise or retreat.
More than Peyton’s Place
Two years ago, Peyton Manning added some serious star power to Denver’s pro sports scene. Last year, the quarterback led the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl (the city and team are hoping for a better result this season). If football isn’t your thing, Denver is also home to teams in each major sport, including the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies and Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids. The area is also a lacrosse hotbed, hosting two pro teams (the Colorado Mammoth and Denver Outlaws) and the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship.
Room to Grow
One aspect of Denver’s impressive convention numbers is that its room occupancy has continued to rise even as more hotels have opened. In 2014, Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center opened in the historic Colorado National Bank building (the old vaults were converted to meeting rooms), and the Denver Marriott Westminster at Church Ranch and Crawford Hotel also debuted. In total, Denver has 42,000 guest rooms, many within walking distance of major meeting venues like Colorado Convention Center and Pepsi Center, and the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian walkway with dozens of restaurant and shopping options that’s adorned with nearly a million lights.
Union Station Renovation
Denver’s historic Union Station was retrofitted this summer into a major transportation hub. An underground, 22-bay concourse serves 16 buses, including a Metro Ride program providing free service weekdays during peak hour. Amtrak, light rail and commuter rails run through the facility, which also includes the new Crawford Hotel, restaurants and retail options. Officials estimate 200,000 people will use Union Station by 2030.
Bless Your Art
Denver Performing Arts Center, encompassing four square blocks in downtown, is the second largest facility of its kind in the country. It has 10 venues with seating for up to 10,000 guests, and can be rented for private functions, events and meetings. Groups can also catch a performance of a touring Broadway show there.
Nancy Butterfield, program and conference events coordinator for Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church, shares her Denver favorites.
Event Venues: Denver Marriott Tech Center and Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
Hotel for Groups: Brown Palace Hotel—it’s popular with presidents and is supposedly haunted.
Dining Spot: The Fort Restaurant—it looks like a Western fort, and serves rattlesnake eggs and bison.
Underrated Attraction: Tiny Town & Railroad—it’s a neat little venue with more than 100 miniature buildings and a mini railway.