What’s next for Jacksonville?

Fresh upgrades and bustling hotspots offer meeting planners new incentives in Jacksonville

By Megan Eileen McDonough

With a slew of cultural offerings at one’s doorstep—and nearly perfect year-round weather—it's no wonder companies are flocking to Jacksonville to host their biggest meetings and events. Last year was a particularly big year for renovations, upgrades and grand openings, which means that businesses can now better utilize these abundant outdoor, waterfront and rooftop spaces to their full potential.

Recently named one of the top 50 meeting destinations in the United States by Cvent, River City venues can accommodate 10 to 10,000 people, with plenty of world-class amenities that are conveniently accessible and affordable.

From large corporations to small organizations, there's a space for every group. Here’s a snapshot of Jacksonville's most noteworthy venues and attractions.

A brand-new look for hotels

Several of Jacksonville's major hotels and accommodations are undergoing various upgrades to better cater to both business and leisure travelers.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront has undergone a significant makeover this year. In addition to adding more meeting space to its property, it has added a state-of-the-art rooftop fitness center, river-themed decor throughout the hotel and a facelift to all guest rooms. Guests can expect new furnishings, new carpets, inspiring wall art and chic window treatments. The Hyatt will also be updating its rooftop pool for a more luxurious experience.

Guests at the Omni Jacksonville Hotel are in for a real treat, as its $9 million overhaul is now complete. All rooms boast new decor, beds, Keurig coffeemakers and other amenities. It has also unveiled a new club lounge that offers breakfast in the morning and evening snacks and services. For a decadent meal, head to the hotel’s restaurant, Juliette's Bistro, which was also recently upgraded. Decor is modern and sleek, with all new flooring, furniture and light fixtures.

The fresh upscale ambiance at the newly renovated Embassy Suites by Hilton Jacksonville Baymeadows is turning heads. The hotel just underwent a full $13 million makeover that included upgrades to all 277 two-room suites and bathrooms, including new carpeting and furnishings, and a complete overhaul and redesign of the lobby and atrium. Additionally, more than 7,000 square feet of meeting space was expanded upon and improved, and a new full-service restaurant, Chelsea’s, was introduced.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Jacksonville Riverfront, formerly the Crowne Plaza, just underwent a remarkable $12-million renovation complete with a gorgeously redesigned two-story atrium lobby, an upgraded 24-hour fitness center that overlooks the pool, and a brand new restaurant, St. John's Provision Co., to complement the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse onsite.

The Lexington Hotel and Conference Center Jacksonville Riverwalk, formerly the Wyndham, is currently incorporating major improvements like full upgrades to all guest rooms. The roof and all windows will be replaced, and a complete remodel of the pool area is also in the works. Expect outdoor water features and fresh landscaping as well. The Lexington is also looking to enhance its massive 35,000 square feet of meeting space, that includes the 10,000 square-foot ballroom that accommodates up to 800 people. Renovations are expected to conclude by late 2016.

The Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel is set to undergo a $7 million renovation spanning the entire property. Despite the size and scope of the project, renovations should wrap up by late 2016. Chef Antonio, who came to Jacksonville from Gloria Estefan's restaurant in Miami, now runs the Sheraton's restaurant, Bold City Grill.

New bites on the block

In the spring, Burrito Gallery will open a new full restaurant in Jacksonville Beach. This location, along with the Brooklyn Station location, will feature similar design elements except for the rooftop bar, which is exclusive to the Brooklyn restaurant. A new menu is still in the works but is sure to include Mexican staples like burritos, tacos and quesadillas, along with fresh salads and vegetarian dishes.

Slated for a late 2016 opening, the highly anticipated Hobnob on Riverside Avenue in Brooklyn, is set to launch an incredibly inventive menu combining "global inspirations with local intentions to create an eclectic mix of shareable appetizers and entrees." The restaurant and full cocktail bar plans to host unique events throughout the week, like celebratory Champagne toasts every Friday evening for happy hour.

Spearheaded by Michael Schmidt and Chad Munsey, the Bearded Pig will take over a 2,400-square-foot space on Kings Avenue. The duo envisions the new restaurant to appeal to a casual, barbecue-loving crowd. The menu is not finalized but there will be plenty of ribs, chicken, sausage and beef brisket for sure. If all goes according to plan, the Bearded Pig will open in September 2016.

Finally, satisfy your sweet tooth at Peterbrooke Chocolatier's new location in downtown Jacksonville. Similar to other companies, Peterbrooke Chocolatier is taking advantage of Jacksonville's growing Brooklyn neighborhood. Located in the heart of the city, there's no better place to splurge on delicious treats like gelato, frozen yogurt, chocolates, baked goods and coffee. Plus, this second location also has a space for events.

Unconventional venues

Jacksonville continues to be a top spot for conventions thanks to a wide variety of meeting spaces.

The Jaguars and the City of Jacksonville have teamed up for a series of major upgrades to EverBank Field. Among these improvements is a complete reimagining of the US Assure Club that includes a massive glass wall between the upper and lower clubs that’ll open up views to the field—thereby upgrading the capabilities of the club spaces. Also, a 5,000-seat amphitheater and a multipurpose covered outdoor flex field will be installed and used to host elaborate events such as concerts, in addition to those events taking place inside EverBank Field. The improvements are intended to draw attention to downtown Jacksonville as a popular destination for visitors and establish a world-class venue for meetings and events.

Business is brewing

For pre- or post-convention powwows, breweries are always a sure bet. Veterans United Craft Brewery in Southside Jacksonville is a smart choice for a casual potluck lunch where everyone brings their own snacks or a fully catered dinner with craft beer pairings. The refined taproom space can be reserved for larger gatherings as well as a separate, private room for more intimate affairs.

Downtown continues to be a hotbed for breweries on the horizon. Bold City Brewery—Jacksonville’s first craft brewery—is opening a new location next to the Cowford Chophouse, downtown’s new premier steak and seafood restaurant, currently under construction and set to open this summer. This adds to the new locations of Engine 15 and Intuition Ale Works, also opening Downtown in 2016. The new Bold City location plans to operate a fully functional test kitchen and a taproom where it will experiment with unique pairings.

For a full rundown of what’s coming next to Jacksonville, go to visitjacksonville.com and book your meeting or event to take full advantage of the kind of warm Southern hospitality you can enjoy #OnlyInJax.

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