With the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop and the Tennessee River running through downtown, Knoxville has scenery to boast about. But the laid-back, unpretentious town offers more than a beautiful landscape. It was local before local was trendy, and that charm does plenty to attract meetings. Big convention spaces and meetings venues burst with character; the University of Tennessee adds a college-town vibe; and festivals celebrating everything from opera to tulips to biscuits let visitors experience the local flair.
The 500,000-sq.-ft. Knoxville Convention Center is located in World’s Fair Park and offers views of landscaped festival lawns, fountains and a man-made lake. It has 120,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 27,000-sq.-ft. ballroom, a 460-seat lecture hall and three boardrooms. In 2013, it achieved LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first convention center in Tennessee to earn LEED certification.
Accommodations are available within walking distance of the convention center. Directly adjacent is Holiday Inn Knoxville Downtown World’s Fair Park. It has 22 meeting rooms and 13,000 square feet of flexible space. Hilton Knoxville has 317 guest rooms and 14,000 square feet of function space, and Crowne Plaza Knoxville Downtown University has 15,000 square feet of meeting space. Each hotel is a short walk from Market Square District, Knoxville’s downtown area for dining and entertainment that buzzes with concerts, festivals and First Friday art gallery walks year-round, as well as a farmers market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Knoxville’s landmark 266-ft. Sunsphere offers the best views of the skyline as well as function space. Located on the structure’s sixth floor, the space has floor-to-ceiling windows with 360-degree views of the city and can be rented for events. Beautiful historic homes are ideal for planners seeking non-traditional meeting spaces. Consider Crescent Bend House & Gardens, an 18th-century Southern antebellum home named for its setting overlooking a crescent-shaped bend in the Tennessee River. There are five fountains, nine terraces and manicured Italian gardens on the property, which make for colorful outdoor events, especially during the city’s TulipTime festival. Each spring, the property blooms with more than 25,000 tulips.
Create some friendly competition among attendees at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, a center that honors female athletes and aims to promote the future of women’s basketball. Attendees can test their basketball skills on three different courts, a timed dribbling course, a passing skills area and a vertical leap challenge. Several areas can be rented for events, including The Urban Playground, which resembles a basketball court and has graffiti-covered walls, a chain-link fence and bleachers. It seats up to 100 at round tables and up to 250 theater-style.
Art and Soul
Knoxville is a draw for football fans (it’s home to the Tennessee Volunteers) and Southern foodies (the city has hosted the International Biscuit Festival for four consecutive years), but it’s also a burgeoning scene for live music. Monday through Saturday at noon, public radio station WDVX hosts a live performance show called Blue Plate Special at the Knoxville Visitor Center. The show is free and open to the public, and visitors are invited to bring a lunch and listen to artists perform bluegrass, country, folk and more.
Downtown, the historic Tennessee Theatre, which once served as a hot spot for fans of the silver screen, can be rented for events, receptions and meetings. Its Spanish-Moorish interior glows with intricate detailing, including French-style chandeliers and Italian terrazzo flooring in the lobby.
The Knoxville Museum of Art celebrates the art and artists of East Tennessee as well as exhibitions from around the world. This May, a permanent installation created by renowned sculptor Richard Jolley will open in the museum’s Great Hall. The installation, called “Cycle of Life,” is expected to be the largest figural glass assemblage in the world—measuring 185 feet tall and weighing more than seven tons. The entire facility is available for events, including the Great Hall, which can hold 350 for receptions, 170 in the auditorium and 300 in the museum’s outdoor gardens.
It’s easy for groups to escape the boardroom for the great outdoors, even if just for a lunch break. Within the city is Ijams Nature Center, a wildlife sanctuary and environmental education center encompassing more than 275 acres of protected woodlands and meadows, and the reclaimed Mead’s Quarry site. The area has seven miles of walking trails including a boardwalk along the river. Ijams Exhibit Hall houses a collection of animals native to East Tennessee in addition to environmental education. A number of seasonal events take place at Ijams, including concerts, owl prowls, canoe trips, plant sales and guided nature walks.