Despite the lack of a hotel, tourism planners find downtown venues to host groups
Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ gets asked to host events frequently. Its building at 15 W. Church St. regularly hosts services along with meetings from a variety of different community groups, but meeting space is tight. “Our social room space has been inadequate for a long, long time,” says the Rev. Dr. Barbara Kershner Daniel.
After years of fundraising, the church hopes to begin construction this fall on a 9,000-square-foot addition to feature a community meeting center, commercial kitchen, foyer and nursery. “We were trying to decide how big” seating-wise to make it, she says. “For us, 300 was going to be too big for our needs as a church, but we thought, ‘You know, there’s not that many spaces in (Downtown) that hold more than 150 people.’ If we have a space that can hold 250 or over 200 we hope that will be a space the community can use.”
Despite Downtown Frederick not having a hotel or conference center, tourism planners have been able to land conventions, groups and business meetings because of the treasure trove of unique facilities already in the area. “I think it is a matter of how creative you can be and that is how we have helped put together conferences for folks in the past,” says Becky Bickerton, sales and marketing director for the Tourism Council of Frederick County. “It’s just being creative, looking at the group, looking at the number of attendees and looking at the venues.”
One strategy the council has employed is moving a conference around Downtown using multiple venues. “Folks go from site to site and move around, which is great because they get to see different parts of Downtown,” Bickerton says. “They get to be inside different buildings and see different venues and that has worked really well in the past. …The great thing is … [attendees] are walking by the shops and the restaurants” that they may want to look at later. “I think people enjoy getting out and seeing different things.”
When groups are trying to find cities to host a conference or meeting, they’re usually looking for a place that can offer their attendees something different and provide a special experience. “The folks who are organizing conferences want you to learn something but they also want you to have a good time and give it good reviews and come back [to the conference] again and again, so for those conferences looking for that uniqueness, Downtown Frederick has that and really can offer that well,” says Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership.
Planners want attendees “to be able to walk out the door and have shopping, dining, museums, those types of opportunities right within walking distance,” Bickerton says. Carroll Creek Linear Park, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and dozens of locally owned shops and restaurants make Downtown Frederick appealing to planners. “We’ve got history. We’ve got shopping, dining,” she says. “Really you can experience it all in Downtown Frederick.”
However big or small your bank account, there are venues to fit your price range. “One of the really nice things about Downtown Frederick is that there are a variety of price points and there is great food at [or very near] each of those price points, so that’s a big sale point,” Norman says.
Walkability also makes Downtown very appealing, according to John Healey, executive theater manager for the Weinberg Center for the Arts. “You park your car in one space and you can walk to” restaurants, antique shops and historical sites. “You’ve got a great downtown that offers a lot to the visitor when they are at a conference.”
Norman enjoys seeing the additional foot traffic and seeing new faces. “The Downtown Frederick Partnership, the Tourism Council and many other partners in the city are anxious and happy to work with folks to help make (their event) possible,” she says. “We are a resource and we are here to help make it happen.”
WHERE TO GO
Many people think of the Weinberg Center as a venue to see nationally-known performers, hear concerts and see a timeless movie, but it can also host your next large event as well. “We have somewhat unique flexibilities,” says Healey. “If you are going to come into the Weinberg Center, unlike other conference centers, you pretty much get the entire building. … We offer the full theater with PowerPoint projection on our big screen and then you have our outer lobbies for lunches and meals. …We try to be as flexible as possible with the size of the group that is coming in.”
The venue has the ability to seat up to 1,000 people and access is easy for groups because buses may unload behind the theater on Citizens Way without disturbing West Patrick Street traffic. “People don’t even know sometimes that we are having all-day conferences,” Healey says. “Of course, the businesses know at lunch time. The coffee shops especially know at several points in the day because they are suddenly flooded with” attendees.
Another unique aspect to the Weinberg is not only can it host the meeting during business hours, but it may entertain guests in the evening, as well. They can watch a movie that’s already showing or choose a silent movie and listen to the music of the theater’s famed Wurlitzer organ. “We don’t promote the Weinberg Center as a huge conference center just because we usually are pretty busy, but we will do conferences on an as-needed basis especially during the week,” Healey says.
Restaurants like Brewer’s Alley, JoJo’s Restaurant and Tap House, Ayse Meze and Nido’s are all popular choices for holding events for small and medium-size groups.
The Delaplaine Visual Arts and Education Center, known for its classes, workshops and art exhibits, is also a great spot to host a meeting. “We try to pay a lot of attention to the details so that it makes it an easy day for the attendees and the planners,” says Marilyn Orsinger, the Delapliane’s director of facilities and rentals. With a parking garage close by and Carroll Creek just outside their door, “we are really in the thick of things and it’s really accessible.”
Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ hopes to have its $4 million addition, located under the current parking lot, completed by the end of 2016. “We have just gotten tremendous support from the City, from the Downtown Frederick Partnership, from the Frederick County Bank,” Kershner Daniel says.
“You name the people, they have been incredibly encouraging. …We hope [by building this new addition that] it sends a signal that we are a healthy Downtown historic church and we want to be part of the continuing revitalization of Frederick. We also hope that we will be a space that people will seek out to use. This isn’t just about our church. This is a new space that we want to share” with the community.
A DOWNTOWN HOTEL, PLEASE?
Despite critical need in Downtown Frederick, a proposal to build a hotel and conference center at the site of the former Frederick News-Post building in the 200 block of East Patrick Street was given none of the requested $15 million in state funding for the project this fiscal year.
Becky Bickerton, Tourism Council of Frederick County’s director of sales and marketing, says she regularly attends shows that cater to meeting planners. “I am out there selling Frederick as a meeting destination and having a hotel downtown would be very attractive to meeting and convention planners, for sure,” she says. “Having a hotel Downtown would be a great addition. Certainly it would provide an even larger space in Downtown where we could attract larger groups. But we can still do [those events now], just in a different way.”
Having a hotel could open the door to hosting slightly larger groups, says Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership. “Being able to have everything under one roof is a lot easier for the conference planner, and the nice thing is you still have access to the great shopping and dining, which is what folks are looking for,” she says.