Phoenix Rising

By Kristine Hansen

Phoenix’s reputation is shifting away from sprawling golf and spa resorts and deeper into hip, artsy neighborhoods. Nowhere is this truer than in downtown Phoenix, anchored by the Phoenix Art Museum, a new crop of hotels, condo projects dotting the skyline and a satellite Arizona State University campus (the mothership is in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix). And fresh off a major expansion within the last decade, the Phoenix Convention Center is poised to retain its position as a top venue in the Southwest but also cater to groups eager to latch onto the region’s buzz, all within a short walk.

Art galleries and hip cafés serving coffee and bistro-type fare are short strolls from event spaces, and downtown’s First Friday event is a showcase of the area’s new personality through exhibit openings, street performers and live music. Most of these venues are on Roosevelt Row.

Light-rail lines connecting travelers to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are even more enticing for meeting planners as downtown Phoenix evolves from a car-reliant culture into an urbanized area the likes of Los Angeles and Dallas—two other Southwest cities currently with thriving downtown cores.


This 104-room boutique hotel on Central Avenue, open since late 2016, is known for its innovative art—and all of it is for sale. (This includes a cheeky mural of Burt Reynolds sporting Britney Spears’s hair, on display behind the check-in desk.) An event space called The Gallery on the street level serves as an art gallery, showcasing some of the Southwest’s best visual artists, and can host parties up to 200 people, or be divided in half for groups between 30 and 100. The Studio, another space, holds 40 guests and can be opened to the outdoor pool area. Match Restaurant & Lounge’s outdoor dining space contributes to the burgeoning streetscape, and the bar in front of the open kitchen is one of downtown’s most sought-after reservations. The menu pulls in ingredients from local farms to create entrees such as crispy pork belly with sweet and sour butternut squash at the openall-day dining venue. Cocktails in the spacious lobby are a sweet spot for groups to launch an event, surrounded by artwork and conversationstyle seating.


As the largest fine art museum in the Southwest with a collection of more than 18,000 pieces of art, the Phoenix Art Museum’s downtown perch has evolved into a hub for events since its 1959 opening. Groups can book meetings in six different spaces, including a 300-seat theater or an intimate 2,500-square-foot gallery within the 285,000-square-foot museum, which has seen many expansions over the years. These include the 2006 additions of a sculpture garden, a modern art wing, updated lobby and expanded store. The largest event space is the 6,600-square-foot Cummings Great Hall, which seats 400 for a meal or 800 for a cocktail reception. The slightly smaller Greenbaum Lobby is just as glitzy, marked by Josiah McElheny’s glowing “Last Scattering Surface” sculpture as well as sunset views come dusk. The smaller 4,345-square-foot lobby space (flaunting sculpture-garden views) as well as Singer Hall (the newest venue, open since 2011) are two other options for groups.


While catering to many brides and grooms particularly because of its photo-worthy whitewashed exposed-brick walls, crystal chandeliers and concrete floors, The Croft’s industrial-artsy vibe can also work for a corporate event. It’s one of downtown Phoenix’s newest event spaces, open since 2015 in the Warehouse District. Owned and managed by Angela and Mark Karp—who know the Phoenix events scene through their event-planning business, Angelic Grove—the 10,000-square-foot space can hold up to 300 guests. The raw, industrial space perfectly frames views of downtown Phoenix which are stunning by day and by night. A group could begin a function with drinks on the elegant cocktail patio, with its twinkly string lights, living roomstyle furnishings and succulent wall. Fire pits can be brought in for chilly nights. Three more event spaces at The Croft offer even more flexibility, including the 1,000-square-foot Angelic Grove for meetings or breakout sessions, the 5,000-square-foot Cheshire (which can accommodate a dance floor and buffet tables) and The Abbey (its 3,000 square feet can easily connect to The Cheshire).


Since opening in 1972, the Phoenix Convention Center on North Third Street has welcomed groups for events, meetings and shows, particularly those on a large scale. Currently spanning 24 acres— seven more than when it debuted—the center underwent a threephase, $600 million expansion between 2006 and 2008. It now totals three buildings, labeled South, North and West. In the South building are two exhibit halls adding up to 82,000 square feet plus a ballroom and 18 meeting rooms. Two ballrooms, totaling 502,500 square feet of exhibit space and 81 meeting rooms are in the North and West buildings, which are connected. Many groups, especially large groups, like to book the convention center because it affords attendees the opportunity to squeeze a little fun into their stay nearby, such as catching a Phoenix Suns game at Talking Stick Resort Arena or an Arizona Diamondbacks game at Chase Field. Dozens of restaurants and performing-arts venues (like the Orpheum Theatre) are within a quick walk, too.


This dual hotel project—within a 19-story tower at Luhrs City Center, shouldered by two restored 1920s-era towers—debuted in May at the corner of Madison Street and Central Avenue. In addition to 320 hotel rooms, there is 6,000 square feet (spanning six spaces) between the two buildings dedicated to hosting meetings. Up to 270 people can fit in one of the Residence Inn’s spaces, with their two Encanto rooms combined providing the largest option. The property is ideal for companies hosting a training, as suite-sized rooms at the Residence Inn are set up for extended stays, with full kitchens and a daily breakfast buffet included in the room rate.


Riding the wave of co-working spaces trending around the country, Spaces One Renaissance Tower opened in One Renaissance Tower last December. Dubbed Arizona’s largest co-working space, the nearly 40,000-square-foot office space is linked to a company in Amsterdam. It’s a great spot for intimate brainstorming workshops or for leaders to meet off-site with meeting rooms, several desks and a 3,000-square-foot business club (the club is available to members only for an additional charge). Memberships to Spaces One Renaissance Tower start at $209 per month.


Exposed red brick walls, towering loft ceilings and retractable garage doors that open to the outdoors (perfect for spring and fall in the desert) makes Events on Jackson a popular venue to book. The 23,000-squarefoot space was once a produce warehouse and now has a solid second chapter in the city’s Warehouse District. A bar can be set up to host drinks and the outdoor courtyard features a living wall of grass. For events that include keynote speakers, panelists or performers, two “green rooms” are handy.

While based in Milwaukee, Kristine Hansen has fallen in love with Phoenix since visiting for the first time in 2006, followed by numerous trips, and loves to sip coffee at Lola in downtown Phoenix.