My visit kicked right off with a tour of the LEED Silver–certified center, and it was apparent that a lot of thought went into how the 91,000 square feet of new space would complement the rest of the facility. For example, its sleek new boardrooms come with fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling riverfront views to increase appeal to corporate groups, while the new wing of 32 breakout rooms allows the facility to host two or three groups simultaneously. There’s also an artistry to the design of the new meeting spaces, such as the riverfront-facing Centennial Ballroom, which has a wood-slat exterior that evokes Spokane’s tree-lined landscape. New outdoor terraces and patios give groups easy access to (and amazing views of) the neighboring Centennial Trail and Spokane Riverfront Park.
The city’s hotel inventory is evolving right along with the convention center. Currently, 3,300 hotel rooms fall within an eight-block radius of the facility, including the new, 716-room Davenport Grand, which was scheduled to open last month. When I arrived for a hard-hat tour a month prior to opening, the first person I saw was owner Walt Worthy, drill in hand, tackling a mess of projects in the massive lobby. He’s a hands-on owner, personally selecting everything from the art to the carpet in his hotel, and his sister properties — the Historic Davenport Hotel and the Davenport Tower (where I spent two very comfortable nights) — are mainstays in downtown Spokane.
Already, new retail and dining options are popping up in and around the Spokane Convention Center, especially in the East End. I met with Keith Backsen, Visit Spokane’s vice president of sales and services, for lunch at one such restaurant, Durkin’s Liquor Bar, a hipster-ish upscale diner that locals love for its inventive cocktails and burgers. “This has changed what groups we can go after,” Backsen said about the new development, adding that there are close to 150 new groups that the destination can now pursue. Another newbie on the block is Saranac Commons, a nearby marketplace of local shops and cafés that opened just a few weeks before my visit.
Because Spokane lies in the heart of the outdoor paradise that is the Pacific Northwest, groups also have plenty of incentive to get out of town. Which is exactly what I did one afternoon. After driving about 30 minutes east to Couer d’Alene, Idaho, I set out on an easy sunset hike around historic Tub’s Hill. Choose one of the multiple trails that snake up and around the hill and you’ll get a great workout along with plenty of tree-framed views of Lake Coeur d’Alene, a popular boating spot and home to the posh (and group-friendly) Coeur d’Alene Resort. Another solid option for hiking and rafting excursions is Riverside State Park — Washington state’s largest park, just 10 miles northwest of downtown Spokane.
Another worthy stop for groups just outside the city: Northern Quest Resort & Casino. Really a destination unto itself, the resort offers a full package of meeting space and amenities (250 rooms, casino, spa, AAA Four-Diamond steakhouse, and a constantly changing entertainment calendar). I spent my last evening there, indulging in a massage and a much-needed good night’s rest in the oversized Premier Suite (ideal for hospitality functions, too). I can’t imagine a better way to wrap up a trip in one of the Pacific Northwest’s most beautiful destinations.