These days, with the proliferation of e-mail, texting, Tweeting, websites like GoToMeeting.com and video conference calls, it’s nice to know there are companies and organizations that still see the value of face-to-face communications. For this group, New Jersey offers plenty of quality facilities where meetings, conferences, film screenings, seminars and other gatherings can be hosted.
The Hyatt Regency in Jersey City has 20,000 square feet of meeting space that can be broken down into as many as 13 small rooms, while boasting spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline from almost any of its 350 guestrooms. Director of Sales John Pursel adds, “We have our own A/V department and it can respond to anything, based on the needs of the meeting. It’s wireless Internet access that most meeting clients require.”
“Our service levels make us unique,” Pursel argues, “and our views of the Manhattan skyline make us interesting … we’re nine stories, right on the pier.”
Meanwhile, as part owner of The Wilshire Grand Hotel in West Orange, General Manager Ed Reagoso takes customer service very personally. Reagoso’s background includes 25 years managing a wide range of hotels, including Residence Inns, Hampton Inns and Ramada Inns. At one point, he oversaw operations at 50 East Coast hotels.
“For me, the independent boutique hotel has become a flag-waving mission,” he says.
“I enjoyed working for the big box brand hotels, but I really didn’t get a feel for what this business was all about until I started managing a boutique hotel,” Reagoso adds, acknowledging his partner David Weiss as among the savviest businessmen with whom he has ever worked.
Located at 350 Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, the facility has hosted meetings for Novartis, the Association of Property Owners and other organizations. Reagoso says The Wilshire Grand can accommodate 4 to 450 for meetings, has 89 rooms and 13 suites. The entire facility is WiFi-enabled, with a cable company signal as a back-up. Prices for guestrooms vary from $169 to $219, depending on occupancy and local demands. He adds: “We offer some attractive Expedia rates and are one of the few New Jersey hotels to recieve the 2014 Expedia Insider Select Hotels award.”
As for meeting space, The Wilshire Grand can accommodate U-shape, theater-style, conference, dining or any other creative set-up required by guests with each function space featuring free WiFi with speeds up to 50 Mbps, Reagoso says.
Asked how the hotel is coping with the remnants of the Great Recession, Reagoso argues the recession caused a paradigm shift for every hotel in the state as well as the country.
“Meetings are now smaller and more intimate with an appropriate focus on budget. We have become specialists in designing menus, meeting offerings and pricing for any size meeting,” he says. “This was a must-do for this new era of business.” In 2015, Reagoso says he and his partners expect to be slightly ahead of last year in terms of income and revenues.
Asked what makes the The Wilshire Grand unique, Reagoso points out his facility is an environmentally friendly hotel. At meetings, no plastic bottles are used and most items can compost within 18 months. The Wilshire Grand also has a Yappy Yard where dogs can run freely in a secured, landscaped area.
Reagoso argues that in this economy, hotels that haven’t done a renovation are putting themselves in a bad position.
“However, there are a lot of nice hotels out there with clean bathrooms and clean floors, etc. But frankly, if you don’t have guests who are greeted by friendly people who really mean it, all those other amenities just go up in smoke,” he says.
The Wilshire Grand also partners – with shuttle vans – with the many private country clubs on a stretch of Route 280 in West Orange and surrounding towns for wedding parties and other celebrations that involve consumption of alcohol.
Birchwood Manor, Whippany, long a place for gatherings of the New Jersey Jazz Society for concerts, has eight main rooms of various sizes totaling more than 32,000 square feet, reports director of marketing Michelle Korzen.
“The Grand Ballroom, which is 11,088 square feet, can be divided in half. The Jefferson Ballroom, which is 6,750 square feet, can be divided into thirds. Each of these ballrooms features concrete-reinforced show floors that can accommodate heavy displays and automobiles for trade shows, and are equipped with easy tailgate-loading entrances. The ground level exhibition space can fit 165 – 8’x10’ booths.”
Birchwood Manor also boasts plenty of smaller spaces from which to choose, Korzen says.
“For example, a client may need to hold simultaneous meetings and seminars in several rooms during an exposition, or they may need a room for their gift basket auction, separate from their dining room; or they may have an all-day symposium ending with a private cocktail party. We have held kickoffs, new product launches, multiple-day trade shows and all kinds of meetings of various sizes,” she says.
The Grand Ballroom can hold up to 1,500 guests theater-style, food service is catered and customized for events and all A/V equipment is state-of-the-art. In general, Korzen says, “Our meeting clients like having unlimited setup options and excellent flow from room to room.”
Korzen says there’s been a change in corporate business over the past few years.
“Many small meetings are now being held at the workplace, but for us, because we are such a large facility, we can easily handle the larger events for hundreds of guests,” she says. “This has given Birchwood Manor an edge.”
Birchwood Manor partners with local hotels and offers shuttle vans to and from nearby hotels.
Delivering a rich history as one of the “go to” meeting places in the state is the 180-room Best Western Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, which opened in 1916 and boasted President Woodrow Wilson as one of its first meeting attendees. Throughout the decades, the facility, which has a total of 22,000 square feet of event gathering space, was host to Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and John F. and Robert F. Kennedy. Most recently, it hosted 1,300 guests for the mayoral inaugural ball of Newark’s Ras Baraka and, this past November 4, saw Senator Cory Booker celebrate his re-election to the US Senate. Aside from politicians, the hotel is used by Newark businesses (small and large) and organizations, including PSE&G, Prudential, the Newark Regional Business Partnership, Rutgers University, the Greater Newark Visitors Bureau and other entities.
Centrally located in the state, with access to major highways, a short drive to Newark Liberty International Airport and within walking distance to Penn Station and PATH trains to Manhattan, the hotel is also a meeting destination for businesses in the rest of the state, New York City and the rest of the country and world.
For large events, the facility offers the 14,000-square-foot Tri-State Room, which can be broken down into three smaller units of 4,000 square feet each (there is an attached 2,000 square feet of pre-function space). There is also the 4,200-square-foot Crystal Ballroom, which includes an 884-square-foot dance floor. Additionally, there are six smaller meeting rooms, each 456 square feet, which can be combined into three larger rooms of 912 square feet, each.
The Berger Organization purchased the hotel in 1983 and, throughout the years, has revitalized the facility through numerous renovations of meeting spaces and guestrooms.
Miles Berger, chairman of the Berger Organization, LLC, adds that the facility offers the latest in audio visual technologies via a handful of vendors who supply clients with the latest in state-of-the-art equipment. Additionally, the hotel’s banquet department and full kitchen staff prepare meals for all types of functions. For a cozy dinner, perhaps before or after a show at the nearby New Jersey Performing Arts Center, guests can take advantage of the diverse fair at Maize Restaurant, located on the ground level of the hotel.
The Berger Organization will soon begin a $12-million-to-$13-million renovation of the St. Francis Hotel (formerly the Carlton Hotel) in Newark, which will reopen as a 100-room TRYP by Wyndham property. TRYP is a European brand that has just one US property under its name, located in Manhattan. According to Berger, “the concept is geared towards families, so there will not be a lot of meeting and ballroom space, but an area in the lobby can be closed off and used for small functions.”
For meeting planners who want to combine golf with business, Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club off Route 78 in Bedminster makes an excellent choice. Tom Hurley, general manager at the facility, has a long background as general manager at several other prominent private golf club/restaurant operations in New Jersey, including Cherry Valley Country Club in Skillman and Spring Brook Country Club in Morristown. “We can accommodate a range of events from small to large, including business meetings, weddings and parties,” he says, adding that the large ballroom is popular for weddings and is built right into the facility’s clubhouse.
“We don’t yet offer overnight accommodations here at Fiddler’s Elbow, although we are contemplating this amenity for the future,” he says.
Fiddler’s Elbow has three outstanding, championship-length golf courses, and is the only 54-hole facility in the Garden State. All three courses – Meadow, River and Forest – are certified by Audubon International with environmentally friendly designations.
“We’re about to undergo a facelift that will bring about new floor and window treatments, lighting and upgraded interior design. It includes a beautiful outdoor patio adjacent to the ballroom which is popular for cocktail receptions with incredibly beautiful views of the courses and property,” Hurley says.
This winter, Fiddler’s Elbow is constructing a new conservatory to use as a pre-function space, which will also offer incredible views of the surrounding golf courses.
The clubhouse’s second floor has already undergone renovation work. That area has no less than four meeting rooms, which can be configured in various ways, serviced by Fiddler’s Elbow culinary and events teams.
“Clients appreciate the attention to detail that you would expect at one of the finest venues in the world,” Hurley says. “And now our facilities match our service as we complete Phase II of a three-phase facilities upgrade. All of our primary dining and event spaces have been recently upgraded and we have added new venues poolside at our brand new, state-of-the-art aquatics facility.”
He adds that while rates are under review, “we are flexible and accommodating, and I truly believe that our culinary team, led by Chef Michael Weisshaupt, offers special, often customized, menus for each event. The greatest compliment I hear over and over during events is that our chef is accommodating and his food is unique.”
Despite the renovations that will go on this winter, Hurley says “business is booming for us. We have achieved steady growth since 2009, and with our commitment to excellence in staff, service and amenities, we expect this part of our business will continue to grow as our master plan rolls out.”
Ocean Place Resort & Spa, Long Branch, completes a $20-million renovation featuring 255 spacious South Beach inspired guestrooms, each with 42” HD flat screen TVs, stainless mini-fridges and private balconies, as well as “fresh white linens with bursts of color atop pillow-soft beds.”
Meanwhile, other amenities include new indoor and outdoor pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, convenience store, business center, complimentary Wi-Fi and seasonal private beach access with towel, chair and umbrella service. Seaview Restaurant & Lounge, the resort’s newest restaurant, offers chef-crafted coastal cuisine with sea views and an exclusive drink list of craft beer and specialty martinis. Meanwhile, the resort boasts more than 100,000 square feet of versatile indoor and outdoor event space. Indoor space includes 26 meeting rooms, including two 10,000-square-foot ball rooms with 18-foot ceilings and a beautiful pre-function foyer. The North Jersey Coast Transit train line and Sea Streak Ferry provide swift, direct access from Manhattan and Newark Liberty International Airport.
Two Years After Sandy
By Robert Hilton, Executive Director, Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau
Two years after Superstorm Sandy, we see a very different shore than we did before. Not only have we rebuilt bigger and stronger, the culture of the shore has brought a renewed sense of community, teamwork and a feeling of pride for a job well done.
New Jersey’s tourism industry is critical to business owners throughout the state. In 2013, it generated $35.9 billion of state GDP (6.9 percent of the entire state economy), with visitor spending increasing by 1.3 percent. Based on what we saw this past summer, we are projecting an increase in visitor spending of 4.3 percent in 2014. In addition, the number of visits by tourists is projected to have jumped to 89.1 million visits in 2014, from 87.2 million visits in 2013.
Construction and investment in tourism-specific facilities jumped by 24 percent in 2013. Housing continues to be rebuilt and there was strong demand for rental properties this summer. All of the boardwalks are open and a vigorous beach replenishment effort allowed millions of new visitors to experience what Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi have been singing about for years. Towns in the northern shore counties like Red Bank, Asbury Park, Belmar and Point Pleasant were among the top destinations.
The Seaside Park community offers a great example of resilience; with a number of business owners pulling together to make a comeback. The devastation of Sandy, in conjunction with the damage from the infamous boardwalk fire, brought about an understandable, but overwhelming level of concern for so many. Community leaders and business and home owners worked together to create a strategic plan that would win back visitors to this once thriving community. As a result, jobs are being restored and businesses are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Seaside Park made an amazing recovery and received the JSCVB 2014 Big Wave Resilience Award, which honors “an organization or individual that continues to grow and become stronger in the wake of continual challenges.”
We continue to move forward in planning exciting year-round programs that attract visitors and crowds beyond the summer months. As a Destination Marketing Organization, the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, in conjunction with people, places and attractions within Monmouth and Ocean counties, has worked hard this past year to bring together and cultivate new visitor experiences, that will draw visitors from anywhere in the world.Related Articles: