Midsize City, Maximum Appeal: Memphis
Meeting planners find an impressive package of conference facilities for up to 10,000 people at the heart of Memphis. Just 12 miles from the airport, the Memphis Cook Convention Center measures 350,000 square feet, including 190,000 square feet for expos overlooking the Mississippi River, 74,000 square feet for meetings, a 28,000-square-foot ballroom, and the 2,100-seat Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. A sky bridge leads to the newly rebranded Sheraton Memphis Downtown, which offers 600 accommodations and another 12,000 square feet of meeting space. In total, the city’s 22,287 hotel rooms include 4,117 within a mile of the center.
First-class hotels, world-class performing arts, and more than 100 multicultural festivals draw people to Memphis from all over the world. But for many, the greatest attraction of all is to see the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll—and to savor the wood-smoked barbecue and emerging New South cuisine that’s drawing raves. This is all the more enticing when paired with great value—which is why Travel + Leisure named Memphis among the top five cities in the nation for affordable getaways. The CVB says the cost of a visit averages about half of most other major cities.
Beale Street rates as the city’s No. 1 attraction. It fairly overflows with treasures like BB King’s Blues Club and the Rum Boogie Cafe, W.C. Handy Performing Arts Park, First Baptist Church Beale Street—the city’s oldest African-American congregation—the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, National Civil Rights Museum, and Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum.
It also features the Burkle Estate, once a key stop on the Underground Railroad, and the Pink Palace Museum, the former mansion of Piggly Wiggly supermarkets founder Clarence Saunders now filled with history and science exhibits, a planetarium, and an IMAX Theater. Of course, the city’s most popular home-turned-museum is Graceland, where legions of the faithful thrill to see the mansion and its Jungle Room, the Chapel in the Woods, and the Elvis Presley Car Museum.
Beale Street’s entertainment district closes to vehicles at night, the better to show off more than 30 clubs and restaurants filled with everything from live blues to rock, jazz, R&B, gospel, and everything in between. Many of the clubs have no cover charge, and some even have street-side windows for drinks to go. Be forewarned: jam sessions often to go deep into the night.
The Smithsonian Institute and National Museum of American History teamed up to create the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, set on Beale Street across from the FedEx Forum. Interactive exhibits take viewers from the days of field hollers and sharecroppers to the heyday of Sun Studio, Stax, and Hi Records through the global influence of Memphis music today.
No event or meeting will ever be the same after experiencing any one of the four event spaces available at Graceland, home of The King. A private tour of two new exhibits gets everyone in the mood: Elvis: Live from Las Vegas and Elvis’ Hawaii: Concerts, Movies, and More!
Airport: Memphis International Airport (MEM)
Rooms in Town: 4,117 (22,287 metro)
Gold Certified: Sheraton Memphis Downtown, 600 rooms, 12,000 square feet of meeting space; Hilton Memphis, 405 rooms, 30,000 square feet of meeting space; The Westin Memphis Beale Street, 203 rooms, 9,000 square feet of meeting space
Civic Venue: Memphis Cook Convention Center
CVB: Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 901.543.8333 www.memphistravel.com