Once Dependent on Tourism, the Sunshine State Now Thrives on Food, Fun and Facilities
By Thomas Rynne
If you haven’t been to Florida in a while, things may seem a bit different.
Florida’s grown up. It’s now the third most-populous state, with a population approaching 22 million. Once subject to a feast-or-famine economy mostly dependent on the tourist trade, Florida’s now characterized by reborn cities with thriving downtowns.
Miami used to be a low-rise city, where the sidewalks were said to “fold up” after dark. It is now a world-class metropolis, boasting one of the most impressive skylines in America.
Jacksonville’s downtown has been energized by its Riverwalk and the historic neighborhoods surrounding it. Tampa has also revived its downtown, with a Riverwalk connecting hotels, restaurants and office buildings. Across the bay, St. Petersburg, once in decline, is now a lively city filled with youthful entrepreneurs and innovators.
Wherever you go in Florida, you’ll find excellent meeting hotels and resorts.
The Palm Beaches
It wasn’t too long ago that Palm Beach County was mainly agricultural, and its core city, West Palm Beach, had fallen on hard times. But times are no longer hard.
Palm Beach County is now home to 1.5 million people, and reborn towns like Delray Beach, with a downtown that’s been recognized as one of the coolest in America. And now West Palm Beach is a shiny example of urban rebirth, with popular entertainment and shopping districts and a vibrant downtown.
The hotel scene is a lively one. The Ray Hotel is set to open in Delray Beach in mid-2019, with 143 guest rooms, a rooftop restaurant and an elevated, glass-enclosed event space for up to 300 attendees. This November, the Banyan Cay Resort & Golf will open in West Palm Beach with 150 guest rooms and more than 15,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Boca Raton Mandarin Oriental is set to debut in 2020, with 158 guest rooms, a 4,500-square-foot ballroom and a variety of flexible conference rooms.
The Five-Star, Five-Diamond Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach re-opened in November, after an extensive renovation that included its 196 guest rooms and 21,128 square feet of meeting space.
Offsites are expanding, as well. The iconic Norton Museum of Art is closed due to a $100 million expansion. When it re-opens in February, it will have an additional 50,000 square feet — much of dedicated to meeting and event spaces.
In Palm Beach County, even transportation’s booming. The new Brightline intercity express railroad connects West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and, in only two hours, to Orlando.
Just north of West Palm Beach, in Stuart, discover a compelling mix of style and substance at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina. Located in the sunny enclave of Hutchinson Island, the hotel offers luxury accommodations in the main resort or the beachfront Sandpiper Tower suites and resort amenities, such as an 18-hole golf course, fitness center, a private marina, three pools and several dining options. Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina is also a top meeting venue, boasting more than 30,000 square feet of flexible event space. Area attractions include Johnathan Dickinson State Park, the largest state park in Southeast Florida, and historic downtown Stuart, home to more than 50 locally owned shops and restaurants.