Revitalized Downtown San Jose Offers Traditional and Modern Meeting Spaces

February 18, 2020

In the past year, San Jose has seen a significant amount of expansion, rebranding and new growth — including plans for a new Google campus that could house up to 25,000 employees — but it isn’t leaving its history behind. From the San Jose McEnery Convention Center to hotels, arenas, auditoriums, mansions and a wide variety of unique spaces and attractions, the city boasts a plethora of historic and modern venues for event planners to choose from.

“When you think of San Jose, you think of innovation, robots meeting you at the airport and futuristic offerings,” said Matthew Martinucci, vice president, sales and destination services for Visit San Jose. “That is all true, but it is also a city of rich history, arts and culture, and it is this combination that allows us to provide a variety of surprising and unique meeting venues.”

The greater San Jose area offers more than 4,000 sleeping rooms — 2,200 of which are located downtown. Located less than five miles from the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, the downtown area is also easily reachable via the VTA Light Rail and Caltrain via the free DASH shuttle.

San Jose Convention Center

The central location of San Jose McEnery Convention Center (most often referred to simply as the San Jose Convention Center or SJCC) allows planners and attendees to take advantage of nearby hotels, theaters and auditorium space for affiliated meetings.

The facility features 520,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including three exhibit halls, two ballrooms and 43 meeting rooms. Its three exhibit halls contain 143,000 total sq. ft. of exhibit hall space, and can be combined to offer 165,000 sq. ft. of contiguous space that can hold up to 1,000 10x10 booths. Opened in 1989, the venue was renovated and expanded in 2013. In recent years, it has hosted high profile tech events including the annual Apple Worldwide Developer Conference and Facebook F8, and the NHL Draft Fan Fest. 

San Jose  

Food and beverage is an important part of any event, and SJCC offers an extensive catering menu. The majority of food and beverage options are sourced locally, and customizing menus for meetings is one of the key focus areas for newly-appointed Executive Chef Michael Riddell. Chef Riddell, who has more than a decade of experience at Porta Blu and the Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay, was brought on board this month to oversee banquet and catering options for SJCC as well as the San Jose Theaters (San Jose Civic, Montgomery Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, and California Theatre). 

For groups wanting either additional meeting space near the convention center or smaller standalone meetings, the San Jose Marriott and San Jose Hilton flank the convention center, and Fairmont San Jose and Westin San Jose are just a short walk away. 

The elegant Fairmont San Jose can easily host large meetings completely in-house. The hotel was built in 1987, with the aim of bringing new business to the downtown area, and its 13-story annex was completed in 2002. Fairmont San Jose offers 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space across 22 rooms, and has 728 guest rooms and 77 suites. Its Imperial Ballroom can hold up to 1,200 theater-style or 3,200 for a reception. 

Signature guest rooms and suites offer private patios with access to the hotel’s rooftop pool, which is open seasonally. Guests can also take advantage of the property’s fitness center. Restaurants onsite include McCormick & Schmick’s, The Grill on the Alley, The Fountain, and Bijan Bakery and Café / Bijan Wine Bar. The buffet at the Fountain has everything from sushi to petit fours — and even honey from the hotel’s rooftop hives — so be sure to go in hungry! The Fairmont San Jose’s lobby is in the midst of a refresh, but The Fountain is still open each evening for dining.

Historic Buildings and Museums

San Jose

There are four theaters near the convention center. A designated city landmark, the 2,850-seat San Jose Civic theater originally opened in 1936. As the San Jose Civic Auditorium, it served as the city’s original convention center, went through a three-year renovation to reopen as City National Civic in 2012, and returned to its original name in May 2019. The Center for the Performing Arts seats 2,608, the 1920s California Theatre seats 1,122, and the smaller Montgomery Theater seats 468. All of these venues are options for indoor and outdoor events, receptions and town hall-style meetings.

The newly opened San Jose Armory refreshes another historic building for event use. Completed in 1934, the Spanish Revival-style building was an armory originally owned by the California Army National Guard. Its 15,000 sq. ft of meeting space offers an attractive option for groups wanting a unique space.

The San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation, often used by groups for special events, rebranded in 2019 as The Tech Interactive, a name that better portrays its mission, according to officials. "Our new name is a reflection of who we are and the experiences we've become known for," said the museum’s President and CEO Tim Ritchie. "The Tech Interactive has long been a place where people learn by doing, and now we have a name that says that to the world."

Going Beyond Downtown

There are many venues available for meetings and events not too far from the downtown area, including arenas such SAP Center and Avaya Stadium. For smaller groups that prefer to keep everything under one roof in a different setting, Hayes Mansion and Hotel Valencia offer unique alternatives.

San Jose

The charming and historic 214-room Hayes Mansion offers 33,000 sq. ft. of IACC-certified meeting and event space within 24 meeting rooms of varying dimensions, including a 6,600 sq. ft. ballroom and outdoor spaces that are perfect for receptions. The property, which is located eight miles south of downtown San Jose, is currently undergoing a $20 million transformation into a Curio Hilton, with a target rebrand date of Apr. 1, 2020.

Santana Row, San Jose’s popular shopping, dining and entertainment area, is five miles west of downtown. Hotel Valencia is the only hotel located on Santana Row. The boutique property features 4,000 sq. ft. of space that includes gorgeous options for small meetings and events, including an outdoor courtyard and a rooftop that can hold up to 100 guests. Guests can stay in one of the hotel’s 215 rooms and 17 suites.  

A bit further afield, Testarossa Winery in nearby Los Gatos has lovely outdoor space for small receptions, and private dining areas including a wine cave where you can sip on the winery's Pinor Noir and Chardonnay.  

For more information on meeting in San Jose, go here.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.