“If we can get planners here on a site visit, they’re always surprised and fall in love with us,” says Sarah Rowan, senior director of sales for Visit Knoxville. It’s no wonder faith-focused meeting and conference planners are catching on. Seemingly overnight, Knoxville, Tennessee’s downtown district is seeing historic renovations keeping people in the city after business hours. Down on Gay Street, the historic Tennessee Theatre’s auditorium seats 1,600 and grand lobby holds 500, while the nearby Bijou Theatre seats 700 and has seen performers such as the Marx Brothers and Houdini on its stage. Both still host traveling music acts, and can now be rented for events, conferences and keynote speakers. Additionally, the old-timey riverboat dubbed the Star of Knoxville “is a terrific place to have a sunrise service and stay a little warmer,” adds Rowan.
Something Old, Something New
> Built in 1903, the Historic Southern Railway Station has five event spaces including Blue Slip Winery, where original architectural features like corbel-stepped gables and coffered ceilings lend an authentic vibe. In-house catering is available, but outside vendors are allowed.
> The Standard’s exposed brick walls and wood-beam ceilings remind guests of its 1930s roots as a glass-manufacturing company. Renovations a few years ago outfitted it with a catering kitchen, private staging area and large patio.
> Retro-chic Ye Olde Steak House opened in 1968 and hasn’t changed much since. Its portions are as enormous as its dining room (several private event spaces are available too), which has welcomed celebs, from “Man v. Food” host Adam Richman to Toby Keith.
> Ijams Nature Center sits on a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary only five minutes from downtown. The venue consists of a welcome center with a 75-person meetings facility, a covered pavilion perfect for worship services, a tent pad, terraced gardens and a sprawling lawn. Bike and canoe rentals along with teambuilding activities are also available. In spring 2015, it opened the Ijams Crag, Knoxville’s first outdoor rock climbing area.
> The contemporary Knoxville Museum of Art houses the world’s largest figural glass installation, created by Richard Jolley, a glass sculptor from nearby Oak Ridge. Across the street from the convention center, this venue is especially impressive for nighttime events because the lighting is stunning. While it first opened in 1990, a $12 million campaign for renovations and additions was finished in spring 2015.
Photo credit: Bruce McCamish