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Any season is a good reason to meet in Jax!
By Eddie Velosa
For business travelers, meeting planners and event organizers, Jacksonville highlights most of the First Coast when it comes to vocational versatility, venues and value, and, dare we say it, vacationing. After all, mixing in a little pleasure with business is encouraged when you’re in the River City. Some of Jacksonville’s most inviting characteristics are certainly the elements: the fresh, clean air, the blue Atlantic shoreline and the almighty sunny climate. But did you also know that Jacksonville boasts the largest urban park system in the whole United States? When you throw in more than 80,000 acres of lush parkland and green space, it’s no wonder why conducive meeting spaces like downtown’s Hemming Park and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park play host to numerous events throughout the year. This is one of the reasons why Jacksonville was recently named one of the top 50 meeting destinations in the United States by Cvent, a Virginia-based software company that specializes in meetings management technology. Especially in these warm winter months, Jacksonville has seen the utilization of its vast and natural open space for corporate outings fast become a seasonal trend.
And with year-round weather that’s the envy of any metropolitan city—and a checklist of outdoor meeting places that welcome receptions overlooking the river or the ocean—the incomparable Florida gem continues to be a hotbed for flourishing startups and forward-thinking companies that want to break for business in the winter, spring, summer or fall.
So let’s take a look at some of the ways businesses can innovate how they bring their employees, customers and clients together along the water—for some good-natured conviviality and esprit de corps—in what is considered one of the most vibrant cities on the East Coast.
With the warm Florida weather intact, groups can plan elegant cocktail hours, dinners and receptions on the rooftops and terraces of Jacksonville’s best hotels, restaurants and bars, many of which sit perched along the St. Johns River.
The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront (less than two miles from the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens) accommodates all types of functions and special events with 116,000 square feet of flexible meeting space that includes more than 20,000 square feet of balconies—all with unobstructed views of downtown Jacksonville, the Main Street Bridge and the St. Johns River. Events can host up to 450 guests for a seated banquet or 600 guests for a cocktail reception on the River Terrace, and up to 980 total guests on the River Deck Balconies.
Another main draw is the newly renovated DoubleTree by Hilton Jacksonville-Riverfront (formerly the Crowne Plaza) on the Southbank Riverwalk. Its 12,000 square feet of event space includes the extravagant 4,500-square-foot Duval Ballroom (approximately 350 for dinner or 400 for a reception) and a spacious pool deck that accommodates up to 350 guests and boasts unparalleled views of downtown from across the river. There’s also a Ruth's Chris Steak House on site.
Transitioning from the all-inclusive convenience of convention hotel accommodations to the invigorating spirit of downtown’s eclectic bar and restaurant scene, we take a stroll across the Main Street Bridge along the Jacksonville Riverwalk to the corner of Margaret and Oak streets. Here is where you’ll find Black Sheep Restaurant, one of downtown’s few rooftop bars that offers full views of the St. Johns River and the historic Five Points. Inside the upscale three-story building is a spectacular outdoor patio space perfect for corporate and networking mixers, as well as private sit-down dinners for up to 24 people.
Upholding the energized downtown ambiance is the new 3,500-square-foot, two-story Burrito Gallery location situated inside Brooklyn Station on Riverside Avenue, featuring a 1,200-square-foot rooftop bar area with elevator service to the top. The original Burrito Gallery opened 10 years ago on Adams Street (also in downtown), but the new location promises to bring a trendy urban flare to the burgeoning Brooklyn neighborhood.
As we make our way closer to shore, Marker 32, last year’s OpenTable Dining Choice award winner, awaits quaintly nestled on the visually stunning Intracoastal Waterway. Despite the astute recognition, the family-owned-and-operated restaurant is considered locally to be ”Jacksonville’s best-kept secret since 1992,” serving up fresh local seafood to year-round patrons for the past decade and a half. The second-floor dining room doubles as an observation deck—bringing amazing sunset views above the glistening marina waters to life—and is prime for private functions of 25 or more people.
Sticking with sensational seafood as a River City staple (and the same duo who brought you Marker 32), The Fish Camps offer some of northern Florida’s most prized pescatarian platters. With waterside locations in Ponte Vedra and Neptune Beach, the newest location on the banks of Julington Creek blends a casual vibe with a sociable setting. The outdoor patio showcases mesmerizing marina sunsets complementing the camp’s Southern fare worthy of northern Florida’s finest.
Jacksonville is always a good idea—and always good business. For more ideas on planning meetings, business trips or corporate events, go to visitjacksonville.com/meetings.
Local Expert Guest