As Wilmington’s downtown riverfront district continues to evolve, it also continues to attract more attention, insiders say. A new addition to the area – in what has been named the Convention District – is the recently opened Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront.
Connected to the Wilmington Convention Center, the 186-room all-suite property (located at 9 Estelle Lee Place) not only adds to the city’s northern riverfront skyline, it’s also helping add to the city’s bottom line. In part, it’s the additional inventory of hotel rooms that’s enticing convention groups once too large to accommodate.
“I know for example one that was larger than could ever fit here [before] was the NC Realtors association,” said Melissa Fallis, the director of sales and marketing for Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront. “They are having their convention this fall that is going to be a Convention District-wide one, so they’re using the convention center, us and then the other three downtown hotels [in the area] too.”
The NC Realtors’ convention, scheduled for Sept. 16-18, is expected to draw nearly 1,000 attendees, according to the group.
The three hotels Fallis referred to are the Courtyard by Marriott Wilmington Downtown-Historic District, Hampton Inn Wilmington Downtown and Hilton Wilmington Riverside. The latter is undergoing a Hilton rebrand to become the Hotel Ballast Wilmington, which also involves an $8.5 million renovation.
During its first month of operation, the Embassy Suites hosted guests for the 56th National Sweet Potato Convention, Jan. 21-23. The U.S. Sweet Potato Council held its 2017 convention in San Diego. In Wilmington, 600 people attended this year’s convention, for an estimated economic impact of $1.6 million, according to the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Embassy Suite’s location next to the Wilmington Convention Center is also enticing to convention groups that once looked elsewhere, officials said. Prior to the hotel’s opening, the center lacked an adjoining accommodation, potentially costing the city lost revenue.
That proximity is “paramount to [convention] groups who don’t want to walk,” said Elaine Tricarico, senior sales and marketing manager of the Wilmington Convention Center. “We’ve hosted conventions without the Embassy [Suites], but I’d say there’s been more of an interest with other, larger groups to come to the area now, with the Embassy inventory.”
Like Tricarico, Fallis noted the center’s increased allure thanks to the attached hotel. “Because we’re right here, people can walk right through,” she said. “We’ve got a covered walkway that’s literally 15 feet from the convention center doors.”
While the Wilmington and Beaches CVB has seen an uptick in leads for convention groups considering coming to the Port City, Fallis said, the Embassy’s room bookings are instep. What’s more, as of press time, the hotel had only been open for about three weeks.
“Since the doors opened on the 31st of December our lead volume has probably quadrupled,” Fallis said.
The building – which features floor-to-ceiling views of the Cape Fear River; on-site restaurant Steam, with a farm-to-fork menu; contemporary décor; and a coming rooftop bar – also has its own meeting spaces. Among them, a nearly 3,000-squarefoot, river-view ballroom, a 550-square-foot “Marina Room” that looks over the Port City Marina and an executive boardroom.
“So what we’ve been able to do is we have a quite a few conventions that are using the convention center but they needed some extra space too, for break-out rooms or a meal, so they’re using us and the convention center because of our proximity,” Fallis said. “Our ballrooms basically face each other – it makes it very convenient, so a lot of convention [bookings] we have are doing that, using both spaces.”