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College Road Trip: Southern Charm

By Selena Fragassi


If you’re looking for a little southern hospitality for your next meeting or event, these five venues are a sweet tease of what awaits. 

From North and South Carolina to Georgia, Virginia, and Florida, there’s something to be said about meeting in the South. It’s a place where history and attractions collide and nature is at your doorstop—and as these five venues show, it’s a place where you can find true southern hospitality for every meeting, conference, and event.

Florida Gulf Coast University (Fort Myers, FL)
Having just opened in 1997, groups won’t find much of anything “old school” at Florida Gulf Coast University besides its idyllic preserved surroundings. “We are able to offer very new, modern facilities in a really natural environment,” says Ruth Rodrigues, director, campus reservations and records management of the sprawling campus that’s set on 800 acres, half of which have been kept in their natural state. Guests can take it all in while traversing five miles of nature trails and boardwalks.

As such, FGCU was thoughtful in the design of its buildings, such as creating a 15-acre solar field to power three of its largest academic buildings and achieving Silver LEED certified status for Osprey Hall located in the campus’ “resort-style” South Village where buildings have solar water heaters and parking for energy efficient cars. The campus’ Northlake area is another option that’s on the waterfront with a man-made beach. Each of the 3,000 total beds comes with a private bedroom, a key feature that led to college ranking site Niche naming the university to its list of the 10 campuses with the best residence halls. Accommodations are available from May to August and can be reserved through the certified One-Stop Shop conference department.

During the academic year, day meetings are a great option with accommodations at eight hotels, “just five minutes away,” says Rodrigues. She recommends the Wine Tech Lab, modeled after the Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley campus and the interactive Client Health Education Center as two unique options for smaller meetings and events. A ballroom and lecture halls are also available.

Georgia State University Housing (Atlanta, GA)
One of Georgia’s peachiest areas is, of course, Atlanta—and one of the prime places to be if you want to experience all the city has to offer is Georgia State University. “Our entire campus is in downtown Atlanta,” says Donata Davis, assistant director for housing and conferences. The campus is in between two MARTA public transportation stops and housing is adjacent to bus and street car lines so guests can get to attractions like the Atlanta Convention Center, Centennial Park, and the Coca-Cola Center with ease. “It’s a completely walkable area, and we have our own Panther Shuttle that goes all around downtown, too,” furthers Davis.

Though perhaps the biggest benefit GSU provides to summer conferences is an affordable housing option in the busy metropolitan area. “We often work with larger groups that have overflow,” says Davis, providing an example of how the university housed 1,600 participants for the 50,000-person Alcoholics Anonymous conference held off-site last year. The campus currently has 2,500 beds, but that will expand to 4,200 with the opening of a new high-tech residence hall this fall.

The Student Center is GSU’s “central hub” that Davis and her team partner with for on-site meetings. “It has a number of conference rooms, ballrooms and auditorium that they provide if available,” she says, also noting that her team works with local venues to help accommodate day meeting space. As well, the One-Stop Shop is known for their full-scope event management services. “If you are an out-of-state client we can assist you with the full planning and logistics of any events here in Atlanta, on-site or off-site.”

The College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA)
History repeats itself in many unique ways at this college. Not only is it the second oldest institute of higher learning in the country (just behind Harvard), but it’s also the nation’s only royal charter school. “We were founded by a charter of King William and Queen Mary of England in 1693,” says Mariellynn D. Maurer, director of conference services.

The College of William and Mary is also the alma mater of Thomas Jefferson and is directly across the street from Colonial Williamsburg, “the country’s largest living history museum; they focus on reenacting the 18th century,” says Maurer noting that the college works with them to provide tours and other features. “You can have ‘Jefferson’ be a speaker at your welcome session or have a fife and drum corps at your closing banquet.” The college also offers day trips to historic plantations and Washington, D.C., about three hours away.

Yet not everything is stamped in time here. The pedigree is also met with modern spaces and amenities including a beautiful, 2,000-seat outdoor amphitheater and a certified One-Stop Shop that offers full registration services. “We also have a big focus on sustainability and having buildings that are not only state-of-the-art but also are environmentally kind,” says Maurer. A number of them are LEED certified, which the college hopes to continue with a new science center opening in August with a greenhouse on the roof and an integrated wellness center that will also break ground this year. The college also just purchased a nearby hotel with plans to turn it into a residence hall. Says Maurer, “There’s a lot coming in the next few years.”

University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC)
Southern charm is a part of everyday life at this bustling campus located in South Carolina’s capital city. “Because our campus is so large we have visitors here daily, and we are very welcoming,” says Kate Shelton, director of continuing education and conferences, which is a certified One-Stop Shop. “We appreciate them being here and want to include them in our campus. Hospitality is what we are all about.”

That includes sharing many of the university’s notable spaces such as traditional classrooms and auditoriums as well as the Russell House Student Union (with a ballroom seating up to 600) and multi-purpose Campus Room for up to 400 that can be divided into two salons. There’s also The Colonial Center with an 18,000-seat arena and a revolving restaurant on the 18th floor of one of the campus’ residence halls. “We boast everything from historic architecture to very modern buildings, quaint meeting space to large arena seating,” says Shelton, noting the most exciting development is the new Carolina Alumni Center that opened last fall decorated with the official Gamecocks mascot motif. “You really get the spirit of our brand and hospitality there.”

The university’s location is also ideal, centrally located in the state and close to the coast and the mountains. “We can offer a lot of great resources for groups from the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden to a great state museum and the Columbia museum of art,” some of which are in walking distance, says Shelton. “We work closely with our clients to ensure everything goes smoothly. We really want them to have a very successful program.”

Western Carolina University (Cullowhee, NC)
For the second year in a row, this lush campus (located in the Appalachian Mountains, 50 miles from Asheville) has been voted “best outdoor adventure school” on the east coast by Outdoor Magazine. As Director of Conference Services Devon Nease explains, the university even has its own year-round adventure group called Basecamp Cullowhee so that visitors can explore all the nature that is right at its backdoor. “We can take folks on guided tours of whitewater rafting, rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, camping, caving, and backpacking; anything you can think of to do outdoors we have the equipment and staff to make it happen.”

There are some great indoors at WCU, too, including 50 smart classrooms and meeting rooms. Notable options include the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center with a 900-seat, state-of-the-art theater and lobby for breakout sessions and registration. “It’s one of the nicest theaters in the North Carolina system,” says Nease. There’s also the Ramsey Center, an 8,000-seat arena that can be broken down to host as few as 200 people and the attached Ramsey Concourse with exterior patios for cookouts and tented events. Soon, a new 400-bed, mixed-use residence hall with dining and retail options will also be unveiled adding to the capacity to host up to 3,500 guests overnight.

“Groups especially like coming here in the summer because our climate is very attractive,” admits Nease, thinking ahead to next season. “Some come here just to get away to a place that is not crazy hot or humid.”

Get Connected

Florida Gulf Coast University
Fort Myers, FL
(239) 590.1426

Georgia State University Housing
Atlanta, GA
(404) 413.1994

The College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, VA
(757) 221.4084

University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC
(803) 777.9444

Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC
(828) 227.3024