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A Meeting Planner in Jacksonville

A review of this northeast Florida city through the eyes of a conference pro

There are a lot of reasons I really like Jacksonville, Fla., and my groups are taking notice of it as well. Compared to most destinations on the water, Jacksonville provides a great value to attendees. For years, it was known as a military town, but now it has more than 60 regional corporate headquarters and is a powerhouse in the medical field, employing over 70,000 people in the healthcare space. The Mayo Clinic continues to expand there, and MD Anderson just built a stunning new campus. Interestingly, by area, Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental U.S. (the city and county merged operations in the late 1960s), and its deep-water port is one of the busiest in Florida. 
The downtown area sits on the placid banks of the north-flowing St. Johns River, the longest in Florida. Seven steel bridges cross the river, making it feel a bit like Pittsburgh at times. Many hotels have commanding river views, some from the meeting space as well.

HyattJacksonville.jpgAn outdoor terrace at the Hyatt Jacksonville

The Hyatt Regency is the largest hotel in the city, with over 110,000 square feet of meeting space and 951 guest rooms. Its 28,000-square-foot ballroom has a stunning 14,000-square-foot pre-function space that overlooks the St. Johns, but my favorite spaces are the River Terrace rooms (and others on the third and fourth floor) with terraces looking out over the river. Perfect for small- to mid-sized groups, these rooms are set apart from the ballroom, making them feel very private. All the meeting space is getting new carpet in 2019. The hotel’s guest rooms are warm and comfortable, and the vast majority have river views. The lobby is brand new and gorgeous, with a huge 24-hour market that serves sandwiches, salads, drinks, and snacks. This makes it easy to grab something quick and filling, avoiding the delay and intrusion of most room service. They also have a Morton’s in the lobby and a really great open-concept bar.

On the same side of the river as the Hyatt is the Omni Jacksonville, a 354-room hotel with excellent meeting space for about 200 people. The ballroom is 7,000 square feet, with ample breakout rooms on the same level. It’s a very nice hotel, with a lot going for it, and although it’s a little more set back from the river than the Hyatt Regency, many rooms have nice river views.

On the other side of the St. Johns are two hotels that would work perfectly for more value-conscious groups. The Lexington Jacksonville has 322 rooms and about 35,000 square feet of well laid out meeting space. Its largest room is just over 10,000 square feet. The hotel is right on the Riverwalk and river taxis dock just outside. Less than a half mile down the Riverwalk is the 293-room Doubletree Jacksonville. It offers about 12,000 square feet of space (5,000 of that is the ballroom) and a Ruth’s Chris Steak House on the property. Both hotels are within walking distance of several other good restaurants.

Lexington.jpgLobby of the Lexington

Beyond the River
As much as downtown revolves around the river, you are only about 15 minutes from several beaches and some truly great golf courses. One hotel I would highly recommend that sits directly on the beach is One Ocean. This 193-room (all ocean view) luxury resort is stunning and has some amazing event spaces in addition to its 3,800-square-foot ballroom. The Azurea restaurant is sublime, and the outdoor terrace overlooking the ocean is impressive. 

One Ocean.jpgAzurea at One Ocean

Fifteen to 20 minutes from downtown Jacksonville is the Sawgrass TPC golf course, home of the famous 17th “island” hole. This course hosts the Players Tournament every year, which has one of the largest purses of any U.S. golf tournament.

Within the confines of downtown, or just a few minutes away, Jacksonville offers world-class art museums, gardens, a science museum that just announced a $70 million expansion, an award-winning zoo, and a plethora of exceptional architecture. There are houses and churches built in all architectural styles, coexisting nicely among the more modern buildings. The Jacksonville International Airport is a 15- to 20-minute drive from downtown and has ample flights to all major U.S. airports. It is very easy for attendees to fly in and be in their hotel quickly. The airport has 20 gates, and is a breeze to navigate.

One of the unique and impactful organizations in Jacksonville is ReThreaded, an organization that assists, empowers, and employs women escaping human trafficking. It turns products originally meant for landfills into beautiful works of functional art. For groups meeting in Jacksonville, there are volunteer opportunities available. For groups anywhere, ReThreaded can be a source for lanyards, attendee giveaways, and more, with the money going to this excellent cause.

Hotel photos courtesy of Timothy Arnold, CMP, CMM

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