The last time Cleveland hosted a presidential convention, Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office. That the Republican National Committee chose the city to host the 2016 convention is a testament to its ongoing success. Between the RNC’s announcement and LeBron James’ decision to return 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 new 600-room Hilton under construction adjacent to the center is slated to be completed in 2016. Nearby, the East Fourth Street entertainment district has a vibrant nightlife scene and is home to some of the city’s best chefs and a percolating food scene. For the first time in a long time, people are moving into the city rather than away from it; Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown recently traded his suburban setup in Avon to move to the city’s Mill Creek neighborhood.
Cleveland has long had a bit of an underdog, self-doubting nature to it, but not anymore. Competing neck-and-neck with Dallas to host the GOP Convention gave the city something to cheer about even before it won the bid. Few cities have had the same string of good news in the past year that Cleveland has, and it’s ready to ride that wave for the foreseeable future.
1 Of 7
Dubbed “The South’s Red-Hot Town” earlier this year by Time magazine, Nashville is undergoing the type of growth and cultural boom few modern American cities have seen or can replicate. And the news is spreading quickly.
Four of the country’s top travel publications put Nashville on their lists of top places to visit this year. What do Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s and The New York Times see in this once-quiet town beyond its honky tonks and music studios? Commerce built on culture, that’s what. Time’s Jon Meacham, who moved his family from New York to Nashville, detailed some of the city’s high notes in his article: Nashville has the greatest employment growth of all large cities following the recession, the cost of living is hard to beat and foodies are finding a comfortable home there. But more than that, Nashville has an identity, character and culture people sense from the moment they arrive. It’s unfussy but getting sophisticated. It’s hip and nerdy at the same time. It’s famous for country music, but welcoming of all types of musicians and songwriters.
Let’s not forget what Nashville’s given meeting planners in recent years: A new convention space—Music City Center—and the adjacent Omni Nashville, which opened earlier this year, both to stellar reviews.
2 Of 7
There’s a reason Austin topped the Forbes list of America’s Fastest Growing Cities. In 2013, population in the Texas capital grew 2.5 percent, and unemployment sits at a low 4.8 percent. On paper, it’s not surprising that Austin continues to grow in popularity. It has great weather, abundant job opportunities, one of the nation’s best state universities and a world-famous music scene. But it’s Austin’s lesser-known attributes—its sustainability initiatives, consistent urban investment and business-friendly attitude—that continue to attract new residents and visitors in droves.
Take the new 1,500-acre Circuit of The Americas sports and entertainment complex in southeast Austin. Built primarily to host Formula One racing and attract an international audience, the facility helped Austin land ESPN’s Summer X Games for the next four years. The first X Games took place in June, and Austin fought for the hosting spot against big players like Chicago, Detroit and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Austin’s biggest problem right now isn’t that event planners don’t want to meet there. It’s that the city can’t accommodate larger conventions because its 6,000 hotel rooms lag behind other destinations. The city and investors are working to remedy this. Currently two major hotels with more than 1,000 rooms, JW Marriott Austin and Fairmont Austin, are under construction, and two smaller hotels, Hotel ZaZa and Hotel Van Zandt, are in design and construction phases. Additionally, Hyatt purchased the city’s historic Driskill Hotel this spring and plans to invest $8 million in renovations.
3 Of 7
“Star Wars” creator and filmmaker George Lucas made what he called a difficult decision in June to build the forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on a 17-acre site on Chicago’s lakeshore instead of his hometown of San Francisco, which also vied for the attraction. The museum will be built between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, close to the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. A number of factors went into Lucas’ decision, but one is the fact that Chicago attracts close to three times more visitors annually than San Francisco does, according to the Chicago Tribune. In 2012, Chicago welcomed more than 46 million people, many of them convention attendees.
During the summer, the lakefront area is Chicago’s biggest attraction, and it continues to grow in popularity. Millennium Park, featuring the Cloud Gate sculpture (better known as The Bean) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The outdoor park is a collection of specific courtyard spaces including world-class art, music venues, gardens and more.
Major hotels near Millennium Park include Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, InterContinental Hotel Chicago and one of the city’s newest properties, Radisson Blu, which sports an innovative exterior design inspired by the natural waves of the waters of Lake Michigan. More hotels fill the space near McCormick Place, including the adjacent Hyatt Regency, and an additional 6,000 hotel rooms are in some stage of development across Chicago, including a 1,200-room Marriott convention hotel going up west of McCormick Place. It will open in late 2016. In short, Chicago is a force to be reckoned with.
4 Of 7
“Boomtown” perfectly describes Calgary, Alberta, in Canada, with its energy and oil industries spurring development citywide. A number of its major attractions are undergoing renovations after the Bow and Elbow Rivers overflowed in 2013, damaging venues like the Calgary Zoo (shown). Known for its sports venues, Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, and a large number of the nation’s international competitors come from or train in the region.
5 Of 7
Downtown Los Angeles has seen a major resurgence in recent years, evidenced by its spot at No. 5 on The New York Times’ list of top places to go in 2014. It’s home to the NHL champion Kings and Staples Center, but downtown Los Angeles has been transformed from a place to go just to watch sports. Its burgeoning food scene, most notably the fantastic Grand Central Market with 30 local vendors selling L.A. famous fare, is one of the top reasons to visit now. Event planners will note hotels dot downtown, which feels more like a neighborhood rather than a concrete mess of high-rises.
6 Of 7
One of Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast cities, St. Petersburg isn’t relying on its beach town reputation to attract visitors. Rather, it’s investing in business and infrastructure to entice a younger generation of visitors. A growing presence of local craft brewers including Green Bench Brewing Co. and Cycle Brewing are helping the city’s cause, and a redeveloped waterfront and the addition of an architecturally stunning Dali Museum (shown) are wooing event planners and visitors alike.
7 Of 7