December 2014

History and hospitality align in Richmond, Va.

by Jeff Heilman

The original Richmond (after riche-monte, French for “strong hill”) is in North Yorkshire, England, founded around 1071. The second, established east of London in 1485 on a bend of the River Thames, inspired the naming of the third, Richmond, Va.

Take a group tour to Libby Park in resurgent Church Hill, the city’s oldest neighborhood, where along with the towering Monument to the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors there’s the “View That Named the City.” In 1737, this is where William Byrd II, raised in London, saw a dogleg comparable to the Thames in the James River below, and gave the city its name.

There are more than two dozen Richmonds in the U.S., but none can claim the legacy of Virginia’s capital city. Discovered by English explorer Christopher Newport in 1607, Richmond’s place in American history alone makes it a singular place to meet. Add one of the nation’s hottest food scenes, dynamic art and culture, time-capsule neighborhoods and great outdoor options, plus Virginia’s largest convention center and 18,000 rooms across all price points, and you have the complete group package, wrapped up in welcoming Southern hospitality.

5 Fantastic Off-Sites

American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar

Opened in 1837, the once mighty Tredegar Ironworks produced artillery and more for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Five surviving buildings provide a backdrop for outdoor gatherings at this national landmark on the James River, which includes the exhibit-rich American Civil War Center. The Museum of the Confederacy is relocating to a new $30 million facility slated to open in July 2016.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

In 1895, New York-born entrepreneur Lewis Ginter debuted his still-fabulous Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond. That same year, he bought land in neighboring Henrico County. Eight decades later this scenic spot was transformed into gardens. Featuring a dozen intimate themed environments, a conservatory and more, this lovely site accommodates a range of functions.

The Valentine

Founded in 1898, Richmond’s oldest private museum houses 1.6 million objects spanning 400 years of the city’s history. Formerly the Valentine Richmond History Center, the rebranded treasure was unveiled in October following a multimillion-dollar renovation that connected its national landmark 1812 John Wickham House with three previously shuttered 19th century row houses. Offering versatile indoor and outdoor function space, the Valentine offers some 340 guided programs.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

This Museum District anchor is made to measure for groups. Opened in 1936, the original English Renaissance-style building has since been integrated with modern upgrades to create an artful arcade of more than 20,000 works. Along with tours, VMFA hosts functions for up to 2,500 guests, with sumptuous individual spaces that include the Cochrane Atrium, Marble Hall, Amuse Restaurant and historic Pauley Center.

Virginia War Memorial

Originally authorized in 1950 to commemorate Virginia’s World War II heroes, this poignant site, forestalled by the Korean War, was dedicated in 1956 to honor the fallen of both conflicts. Offering breathtaking James River and city views, the Memorial accommodates indoor and outdoor functions ranging from small business meetings to receptions for up to 1,500 guests.

“Located within one day’s drive of half the U.S. population, the Richmond Region’s convenience, accessibility and affordability make it one of the mid-Atlantic’s most desirable meeting destinations,” says Kristin McGrath, vice president of sales and services for Richmond Region Tourism, adding that “the sheer size and central location of the Greater Richmond Convention Center make it a stand-out choice for convention and meeting planners.” According to McGrath, customer service is a top priority at the convention center.

“We recently added a convention services director position, a new function that allows us to offer not just more services, but also a higher quality of service,” McGrath says. “We want to demonstrate to clients our commitment to providing the absolute best experience possible for meetings and convention organizers and attendees.”

For anyone stuck on perceptions of staunch “Old Dominion” Richmond, think again. RVA (the city’s popular local brand) is eclectic, artsy and fun—and open for all groups.

In September 2014, the bureau launched “OutRVA,” its official tourism campaign welcoming LGBT visitors. The same month, Governor Terry McAuliffe, a major supporter of LGBT initiatives, became the state’s first standing governor to speak at Virginia Pridefest, held here on event-capable Brown’s Island. As Richmond gears up to host the preeminent World Road Cycling Championships in September 2015, all delegates will find a veritable gift bag of choices.

“Offering widespread off-agenda options for fun, food and adventure, Richmond is one of only three U.S. destinations to be named a Frommer’s Top Destination for 2014, while our vibrant outdoor, craft beer and culinary scenes have made national headlines,” McGrath says.

Recently named “The Next Great American Food City” by Departures magazine, foodie lures include smaller group choices such as Chez Foushee, L’Opposum, Max’s on Broad, Pasture and Can Can Brasserie.

Among hotel highlights, convention district anchor Hilton Garden Inn is converting to the full-service Hilton Richmond Downtown. Targeting completion by August 2015, the transformation will include approximately 20,000 square feet of space.

Scheduled to open this month, the new dual Marriott-branded Courtyard and Residence Inn Downtown Richmond provides a convenient base in historic Shockoe Slip, while another double-act, Hampton Inn & Suites and Homewood Suites, will open steps from the Virginia State Capitol this summer. The art-focused Quirk boutique hotel, meanwhile, is slated to open this fall.

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