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August 2013

More Than Sand and Surf at VA Beach

By Jennifer N. Dienst

Virginia Beach Convention CenterApart from its obvious assets — 35 miles of well-maintained coastline and a three-mile-long boardwalk that has been lauded by Travel + Leisure as one of “America’s Best Beach Boardwalks” — Virginia Beach has plenty to offer. For example, the city has more than a dozen sporting venues that have drawn events like the USA Field Hockey National Indoor Championships and the NHSCA National Wrestling Tournament. And every year, the city’s beaches host the East Coast Surfing Championships and North American Sand Soccer Championships.

We had a chance to see one of these venues up close on the first evening of our trip during a reception at the Virginia Beach Tennis and Country Club. The 23-acre facility was fresh off a recent renovation and expansion when it welcomed our group for cocktails and light bites in its new 225- seat restaurant and sports bar, which overlooks 10 indoor tennis courts. The new 94,000-square-foot facility, surrounded by 28 outdoor courts, is unique in that the state-of-the-art floor can be transformed to accommodate sporting events of almost any kind.

On the second day of our trip, our group experienced another state-of-the-art venue and possibly the destination's best asset for meetings: the Virginia Beach Convention Center (VBCC). Airy, with a refreshingly sleek and modern design that has earned it numerous architecture and design awards, the VBCC is as green as it is attractive, which had meeting planners singing its praises throughout the tour. The VBCC was the first convention center in the country to earn LEED Gold certification for Existing Buildings, and its 500,000 square feet of well-designed space features delightful touches like indoor ponds and an on-site garden that chefs from Distinctive Catering, a division of Centerplate, use daily in their food preparations. During our three-course lunch, we were treated to salads dressed with vinaigrette made with herbs straight from the garden.

The Virginia Beach CVB and VBCC also demonstrated how they take social responsibility as seriously as sustainability during a “One Beach, One World” marketplace event set up specifically for our group. The CVB-sponsored corporate responsibility program matches groups with local charity organizations for volunteering activities, donation programs, and more. Grabbing tote bags, our group made our way around the VBCC’s ballroom in musical-chair style, collecting items like sunscreen and soap from booths manned by representatives from local hotels, venues, and attractions that we wouldn’t have a chance to visit during our trip. When everyone in our group completed the cycle, we had assembled a few dozen bags filled with necessities that the CVB would later donate to tornado victims in Oklahoma and a local veterans organization.

Later in the day, we learned about the additions and improvements happening along the growing beachfront. Among them are the nearly complete 31Ocean, a mixed-use space with retail shops, offices, and restaurants, and the recently completed third phase of the Ocean Beach Club & Resort — the Oceanaire Resort Hotel, which provided accommodations for our group. Opened in 2012 with more than 8,000 square feet of meeting space, the hotel is popular for its infinity pool, fire pits, and 10th-floor lounge and sundeck that overlook the beach.

In all, the city offers 12,000 total hotel rooms, 3,500 of which are within 2.5 miles of the VBCC. Like its venues and attractions, Virginia Beach’s accommodations include both sides of the price spectrum, from affordable staples like the 266-room Holiday Inn and Suites North Beach to the amenity-filled 295-room Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

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