Smart Meetings: Downtown Meetings: What's Old is New Again

By Chuck Kapelke

U.S. cities are revitalizing their downtown districts through adaptive reuse

When Teri Trinidad planned the opening reception for a conference in Baltimore, she selected American Visionary Art Museum, a unique gallery on the city’s downtown waterfront. While the location and art displays were the main draws, part of the appeal was the building itself, which in the early 20th century operated as a paint company and whiskey factory.

“The inside of the building—with the hardwood floors and trusses in the ceiling—is really very charming,” says Trinidad, director of finance, administration and conferences for the Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools. “When I’m looking for places to hold our events, I want to take people to places that are iconic to the city, places you couldn’t find someplace else. People thanked me for bringing them there.”

American Visionary Art Museum is just one example of the countless properties across the United States that have been brought back to life through adaptive reuse, through which old structures—warehouses, banks and even pawn shops, elementary schools, churches and mortuaries—have been renovated and turned into hotels, bars, restaurants and other venues. These properties are ideal for meeting planners, as they tend to have a built-in historic vibe that can make an event all the more memorable.

“Too many meetings happen in windowless ballrooms,” says Lane Velayo, C.A.E., CEO of Professional Fraternity Association, whose latest conference saw attendees visiting restaurants and breweries housed in former warehouses in Wichita, Kansas. “Our philosophy is to use the city as a backdrop for the experience. The adaptive reuse allows a city like Wichita that doesn’t have big skyscrapers to maintain its historic character while having something new and purposeful.”

Interested in bringing a little history into your next event? Here’s an overview of some of the adaptive reuse venues that planners can use in a variety of U.S. cities.


When Greg Kajiwara was asked to plan a conference for a global medical device company, he picked Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, the Depot, a hotel developed inside a historic railroad depot.

“We wanted something that wouldn’t feel like a cookie-cutter event,” Kajiwara says. “We were drawn to its charm and history. People appreciate it when you pick something unique. It creates excitement and buzz, and in the long run, the goal is to have an event that’s memorable.”

With 9,000 hotel rooms downtown, Minneapolis has plenty of adaptive reuse properties, including Hewing Hotel, inside a brick-and-timber building once used to distribute farm implements, and Aria, an event venue in the warehouse district.

“Our downtown is vibrant, compact and extremely walkable,” says Kim Insley, public relations and communications manager for Meet Minneapolis. “Best of all, there are plentiful and easy-to-use transportation options to our acclaimed restaurants, craft breweries and distilleries that spill from our downtown and into our diverse neighborhoods.”