City Spotlight: Columbus, Ohio

|Columbus skyline with Nationwide Arena
Ohio always has its moment in the spotlight when the entire country tunes in every four years to see whether it turns red or blue on the electoral map. The state has chosen the winner of the presidential race for the past 11 elections, and its cities certainly see a lot of traffic during the campaign from politicians wooing prospective voters. That exposure might help explain some of the growth in overall visitors to the Buckeye State, which reached an all-time high in 2011 and will likely be surpassed when 2012 numbers comes out. Many of those visitors landed in Columbus, the state capital, which continues to reinvent and reimagine what it can offer visitors and meeting planners. It’s a revitalized and walkable city that’s fostering a creative class of restaurateurs, artists and entrepreneurs. Despite being the largest city in the state and home to The Ohio State University, Columbus has remained the best-kept meetings secret among planners for the last few years. But with its recent developments and placement on best-of lists, the word is out: Columbus is finding its groove. NOW OPEN: HILTON   In 2011, Columbus saw more than 2 million meeting attendees at almost 600 events. A growing interest in meetings created a need for a new meetings hotel, and in October, the Hilton Columbus Downtown [1] added 532 guest rooms to the city’s inventory. The effortlessly modern hotel is attached to the Greater Columbus Convention Center by a handsome glass skywalk [2], bringing the total number of rooms attached to the center to 2,100. The hotel has 31,000 square feet of adaptable meeting space, providing planners with a versatile canvas to produce high-luxury events or executive luncheons. Since 2008, area hotels including the Hyatt Regency and The Westin have spent more than $63 million on renovations. TOP 10 TOWN Columbus has garnered some excellent recognition in recent years. In 2010, RelocateAmerica named it one of the top 10 most affordable cities in the country in which to live. Last year, Creative Cities International ranked Columbus No. 8 among American cities for its creative vitality. And National Geographic Traveler included the city’s festivals, farmers markets and outdoor adventures as reasons why it’s one of the top 10 destinations worldwide for a fall getaway. Time magazine named Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams [3], which has seven stores in Columbus and two more in the works, the best ice cream in America. The artisanal, handmade treats include flavors such as sweet potato with torched marshmallows, Bangkok peanut, Queen City cayenne and salty caramel. “Jeni Britton Bauer,” writes Time, “has never done anything but work on ice cream, think about ice cream and take ice cream to places where it has never gone.” THE ART OF THE CITY Jeni Britton Bauer is just one of a crop of smart, business-savvy artists and creators who have found a home in Columbus. Within a few blocks of the convention center, visitors can stumble into the North Market [4], an indoor/outdoor public market featuring green grocers, fishers, bakers, candy makers and coffee producers. More than 30 local artisans and producers have small booth areas inside the market, giving meeting attendees an opportunity to support local business and try something other than fast food during meeting breaks. Just beyond the North Market is the Short North Arts District [5], which is busy from sunup to sundown. The pedestrian-friendly avenue is brimming with art galleries,  coffee shops, local restaurants, boutiques and specialty shops. This isn’t a place built simply for visitors, either. On any given evening, restaurants are filled with locals, meeting attendees, college students, families and friends enjoying a night out in a safe, mushrooming, friendly area of town. MEANING OF COMMUNITY There’s an independent streak to Columbus, evident in all the entrepreneurs who have made roots in the city, but together, they’ve created a real collaborative community. They helped create Columbus Commons [6], a nine-acre outdoor park downtown with walking paths, a cafe, a concert pavilion, gardens and other outdoor space where people can gather for events. The area also includes The Scioto Mile [7], a one-mile riverfront boulevard that opened in 2011 along the Scioto River. It has gardens, children’s play areas and a 15,000-sq.-ft. interactive fountain.