Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2014

NYC Outer Boroughs Woo Planners

By Corin Hirsch

The Aloft Brooklyn roof deck offers commanding city views.

On Saturday nights more than a century ago, Brooklyn’s Duffield Street used to fill with people catching silent films at the 900-seat Duffield Theater. The narrow street was the epicenter of downtown Brooklyn’s bustling theater district. While the Duffield and surrounding theaters may be gone, vestiges of the area’s past adorn the 128-room Hotel Indigo, also on Duffield Street, where a vintage stage light and red-velvet seats decorate the lobby and theatrical trompe l’oeil photographs pepper the rooms and hallways.

With 128 rooms, the boutique Hotel Indigo is the smallest of a trio of properties that have opened on the block in recent years — and whose staffs hope to woo meeting and event planners from Manhattan, a 10-minute train ride to the west. “[InterContinental Hotels Group, which owns the Indigo, is] very adept at creating a sense of place in each of the hotels they open,” said Tom Gunderson, area sales director for the Real Hospitality Group (RHG). He was talking with a group of meeting planners over breakfast in the narrow, brick-lined Brooklyn Brewhouse, on the ground floor of the Indigo. Such is the fraternity between the Hotel Indigo, the 321-room Sheraton Brooklyn, and the 167-room Aloft Brooklyn — all on Duffield Street, and all repped by RHG — that guests for large events are divvied up between and among all three properties.

Indigo_lobby
The Hotel Indigo is one of the newest boutique hotels in the outer boroughs.

The 10 planners (and Convene) were on a fam trip organized by NYC & Company in late April — a two-and-a-half-day tour of Brooklyn and Queens, whose cultural and culinary riches are well-known to New Yorkers but sometimes languish in the shadow of Manhattan. Hannah Lee, director of sales for the Sheraton Brooklyn, told the group that meetings held in Brooklyn can cost 30 percent less than those in the borough next door — and that the nearby 2/3 train can deliver guests to Times Square in 20 minutes.

Although the planners came from diverse sectors — education and finance, association and third party — they all gushed over Hotel Indigo’s red-velvet-accented rooms. Across the street, Aloft Brooklyn’s rooftop lounge offered sweeping views of Manhattan and Brooklyn, including the nearby Barclays Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music. On the ground floor of the adjacent Sheraton, some of our group admired the 4,300 square feet of meeting space, which somehow still seemed brand-new, even though the hotel opened three years ago.

Three more hotels awaited our group, all of them in Queens. Two were near JFK International Airport — the Radisson Hotel JFK Airport, with 385 rooms and six meeting rooms, including a Grand Ballroom; and the recently opened Crowne Plaza JFK Airport, with 330 rooms and upper-floor meeting spaces overlooking the airport.

The third property was the LaGuardia Airport Marriott, with 432 rooms, 26 meeting rooms — and full-on Queens warmth. The staff’s children were in the house for “Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day,” and shouted greetings as we arrived. In a meeting room down the hall, Tarot card readers were assembled for their annual meeting. On the ground floor, the catering staff laid out a multiethnic lunch — dumplings, chicken Milanese, fried rice, steak with chimichurri — while General Manager David Salcfas shared that one-third of the hotel’s staff had worked there 25 years or more, and that some airline crews based at JFK travel to his hotel for their overnight layovers.

One planner confided that airport hotels can be a “difficult sell” to the international clients who travel to New York for the Manhattan experience. But she and everyone else were charmed by the close-knit Marriott staff, as well as by the brassiness of our redheaded tour guide — Susan Birnbaum, of Susan Sez. The native New Yorker plied us with feta cheese, Sicilian pizza, Greek cookies, and Middle Eastern–style baklava during an hour-long tour of Astoria, Queens. “Don’t faint when you see the olive bar,” she warned as we stepped into a Greek market. The clamorous deli was a contrast to the sleek spaces at Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, whose lobby is so pristinely white that red wine isn’t permitted at events.

“We wanted to showcase what the boroughs can offer,” said Alexandra Maiman, an NYC & Company sales manager. “The boroughs are exploding with new and exciting things right now, and they can also be a great value to planners who want to come to New York City but can’t afford Manhattan.”

Over dinner that evening at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Winery — which has its own brick-lined, barrel-filled event space — the planners talked about the following day’s visits to the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Not a single one said “fuhgeddaboutit” — but it was only a matter of time.

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