Santa Fe: Artful Meetings in America’s Oldest Capital

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El Dorado Hotel & Spa
El Dorado Hotel & Spa

The art and architecture of Santa Fe, New Mexico lures a steady flow of mid-sized corporate groups seeking immersion with the city’s rich Spanish and Native American roots. Art isn’t an aside in Santa Fe. As one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and the oldest capital city, Santa Fe holds the third largest art market in the country. Whether downtown, perusing the 100 galleries that line Canyon Road, exploring one of the city’s 14 museums, or sitting in one of the ornate boutique hotel lobbies, you are always immersed in local art.

Over the course of a few days, we learned that the city of not quite 70,000 has 250 art galleries, 250 restaurants. It has also been the backdrop for many popular films including Young Guns, Crazy Heart and the Lone Ranger. Definitely explore the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum showcasing the artist’s love affair with Santa Fe’s landscape, ecosystems and architecture.

The city’s core is the square plaza, the oldest marketplace in the country. Native Americans sell authentic, handcrafted jewelry outside of the oldest public building in the country, the Palace of the Governors. On a guided geocaching tour led by Santa Fe Mountain Adventures, we saw the cell where Territorial Governor Lew Wallace hid from Billy the Kid. That was followed by a visit to Loretto Chapel’s miraculous staircase, built by an unknown carpenter in 1878.

Finding unique meeting destinations is a must for executives who are world travelers, says Shannon George Williams, director of programs for the Society of International Business Fellows. “Santa Fe’s vibrant art scene offers something for everyone in my group, from meeting local artists to strolling through the myriad of galleries boasting contemporary, Native American and traditional art. An eclectic cultural center in a beautiful setting ensures a successful meeting. Santa Fe fits the bill perfectly.”

CONFERENCE FACILITIES 

“Citywide conferences are possible,” says Christine Madden, director of sales for the Santa Fe CVB. “There are 1,400 guest rooms within the downtown historic corridor. The Santa Fe Convention Center hosts up to 2,000, with 40,000 sf of rentable interior meeting space including a 17,900-sf ballroom with 22’ high ceilings, an outdoor terrace and courtyard, and furniture and art pieces by well-known local artists.”

One of the newest areas for group functions is the Gallery District, which neighbors Santa Fe’s revitalized 10,000-sf Railyard District. Progressive cocktail receptions for groups up to 100 are popular in the galleries. One of my favorite activities was at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, where Executive Chef Tracy Ritter described Santa Fe’s spicy history with chili peppers and the three sisters of New Mexican cuisine, corn, beans and squash. We tasted such treats as Biscochitos, the buttery state cookie flavored with cinnamon and anise. The school’s two rooms are frequently used for demonstrations for 100 pax.

SANTA FE HOTELS

The 158-room Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza Hotel is the only branded downtown property in Santa Fe. The entire property, with exception to the three historic casitas, or extended stay villas, was recently taken down to the studs and rebuilt. Light renovations were given to the casitas located in a separate building that once housed horse stables.

“We get strong corporate business because they know the consistency they’re receiving with the Hilton brand,” says Suzanne Taylor, director of sales/marketing.

There are two Southwest-imbued restaurants: El Canon and Pinon Grill. Two ballrooms bind the old and new aspects of the hotel, including the 2,000-sf historic ballroom and a 3,100-sf space in the newly rebuilt section.

Dr. Gilles Widawski, president of Netzsch Instruments North America, chose Santa Fe for numerous reasons including its tucked away ambiance.

“Our group attends many international conferences,” he says. “A common comment we’ve gotten is that they’re tired of going to the same convention cities…. Santa Fe’s history and remoteness is a draw.”

The proximity of Eldorado Hotel & Spa to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a plus for groups wanting to capitalize on Santa Fe’s artsy vibe. The hotel’s renovated expansive lobby showcases art from seven galleries. The Eldorado has the largest amount of meeting space in town, according to General Manager Norbert Relecker.

“You can do a dinner for 150 guests on our Presidential Suite’s 2,000-sf patio with 360-degree views of downtown Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.”

The Eldorado has over 23,000 sf of space, including the rebuilt open-air Pavilion courtyard with seating for 400 banquet and 700 reception. During cooler seasons, the space can be enclosed and heated.

At Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa in the heart of the Guadalupe Railyard District, we enjoyed breakfast next to a teepee on a patio designed for 150 guests. While there, the governor of the Picuris Pueblo tribe blessed us as the soothing notes of a flutist floated in the air. The 4-diamond hotel with 7,000 sf of meeting space is the only Santa Fe property owned by Native Americans. The main 133-room hotel sits on three acres. The Pueblo-style Hacienda building is an exclusive 35-room addition that includes 24/7 butler service and a private lounge for dining and drinks. It was at the Hotel Santa Fe that our group first saw handicap lifts at the pool and hot tub.

La Fonda On The Plaza represents 90 years of history as a cultural destination, but it was time for a makeover,” says Ed Pulsifer, director of sales. Every floor was gutted and rebuilt with modern technology, while maintaining the 1920s architecture.

“About 70% of our business is returnees,” Pulsifer says. “We have the largest ballroom outside of the convention center at 6,500 sf, more than 21,000 sf of function space, 179 renovated rooms, a new rooftop Belltower Bar, and we are the only hotel directly on the historic plaza.”

What awed our group about the 4-diamond property was the newly-designed 3,000-sf terrace overlooking the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The potted flowers surrounding a large fountain, classic statues and rich mosaic tiling add elegance to cocktail receptions and dinners.

The 6-acre La Posada of Santa Fe Resort & Spa is justifiably nicknamed “The Art Hotel.” Art curator Sara Eyestone presides over more than 600 pieces selectively displayed throughout the 4-diamond property. Of the 157 rooms in the hotel, 119 are historic, retaining features such as traditional viga and latilla ceilings and kiva fireplaces. The hotel offers an exclusive Collectors Rate program with half rates and waived resort fees for each art purchase. Cocktail receptions for 180 are often held on the lawn, which can be tented for cooler nights.