Imaginative Venues in New York State Elevate Group Gatherings

March 27, 2020

My first Meetings Today story, published in August 2004, covered the revival of New York’s Catskill Mountain region for groups. Renaissance anchors of the time included the redevelopment of the 1969 Woodstock festival site into Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which then opened in 2006, and the Roxbury Motel, which made its buzzy debut that July. 

The latter was the vision of Gregory Henderson and Joseph Massa, who left Wall Street and Broadway behind for the Catskills. Pursuing a new direction in hospitality, they purchased the rundown Roxbury Motor Lodge in the historic Delaware County town of Roxbury.

“Our realtor just wanted a quality inn for the area—nothing crazy,” Henderson recalled.

Celebrated as “Pied Pipers” to this day, the couple had their own plans for transforming the 1963 relic of Roxbury’s tourism heyday.

“Imagine if Alice in Wonderland married Willy Wonka and set up residence in Oz,” is one description of the Roxbury experience.

First was the Roxbury Motel, their homage to mid-century tourism featuring 11 rooms themed after ’60s and ’70s movies and TV shows.

Three successive expansions added new wings with more themed rooms, a conference facility and stand-alone Indiana Jones-inspired Archaeologist's Digs cottage. Soft-launched in late 2019, their fourth update, Roxbury at Stratton Falls, pays architectural homage to fairytale villages.

Five years in development, the multimillion-dollar project was “consuming, even overwhelming” according to Henderson. But, he emphasized, “that’s the price of passion.”

Daring to dream is a defining New York quality, making the Empire State a cradle of imaginative venues and experiences for a wide range of group encounters.

Albany and Saratoga

Albany’s long-sought convention center dream finally came true with the March 2017 opening of the Albany Capital Center.

Creating Upstate New York’s largest group facility as part of the four-venue, 159,000-plus-square-foot Capital Complex, the contemporary 82,000-square-foot, two-level center quickly found broad-based appeal with groups.

“I believe that 2019 was our best year yet for bookings, numbers and overall finances,” said Director of Sales Shannon Licygiewicz. “To date, we have hosted 539 events, including 258 meetings, 54 sporting events, 45 conventions and 14 tradeshows.”

Photo: Albany Capital Center; Credit: Albany Capital Center

In nearby Saratoga Springs, signature legacies include horse racing and 20th century fame as “Queen of the Spas.”  

Saratoga Casino Hotel features racing excitement and event space. The event-capable National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame reopens this summer following renovations.

Multiple venues within the national landmark—2,300-acre Saratoga Spa State Park—include the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and 1935 Gideon Putnam Resort, offering 12,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space, meeting space and the historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa. 

Other heirlooms include the 1860 Canfield Casino, Yaddo Gardens, and recently restored Victorian-era Adelphi Hotel.

The Adirondacks

Forty years after United States men’s hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, plans are underway for the $100 million renovation of the Olympic Center.

The connected LEED Gold-certified Conference Center at Lake Placid offers 90,000 square feet of flexible space, including 12 breakout rooms and a 9,000-square-foot ballroom—and a chance for groups to be within striking distance of one of America’s most memorable sports moments.

[Related: 8 Upstate New York Meeting Locations]


Crowned “The Young Lion of the West” in the 1800s as the nation’s first boomtown, Rochester is roaring again amid an energetic ongoing renaissance and set of milestone anniversaries in 2020.

These include the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted U.S. women the right to vote. Year-long commemorations include an exhibit at the group-capable Rochester Museum & Science Center.

The year 2020 marks the 200th birthday of suffragist leader Susan B. Anthony, whose national historic landmark home in Rochester also celebrates 75 years as a museum, where planners can organize tours and rent venues within like the Carriage House for up to 45 people.

(Photo: The Susan B. Anthony House & Museum, Rochester; Credit: Courtesy of Susan B. Anthony House & Museum)

Incorporating an Underground Railroad site and the church that hosted the funerals of Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Hochstein School of Music and Dance turns 100 this year. Rentals include the 857-capacity Performance Hall.

Another national treasure in Rochester is the George Eastman Museum. Celebrating the Kodak founder’s life, the world’s oldest photography museum is slated to complete a new visitors center and education pavilion this summer.

The Strong National Museum of Play is also adding some new features, progressing on a new 90,000-square-foot museum wing. The museum is nationally recognized as a “the ultimate play destination,” and new additions like a new high-adventure ropes course and interactive outdoor play garden will enhance that reputation. The expansion forms part of the new walkable mixed-use Neighborhood of Play.


Rochester triangulates the 9,000-square mile Finger Lakes region, along with Syracuse to the east and Elmira-Corning to the south. 

Syracuse has been a cradle of innovation since Erie Canal days. The Salt Museum celebrates the city’s founding industry and makes for an enlightening group tour, which can be followed by an event under one of the nearby pavilions.

Other group-ready Syracuse showcases include the Erie Canal Museum; Everson Museum of Art, housed in a career-launching 1968 structure from world-renowned architect I.M. Pei.; and Museum of Science & Technology.

Finger Lakes

Native American legend holds that the hand of the Great Spirit created the 11 ancient Finger Lakes as a blessing on the land.

This magical region includes 1,000-plus waterfalls and Wine Country excursions that will impress any group. The pioneering Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Finger Lakes Cheese Trail are all popular draws, and the whole region houses more than 1,864 hotel rooms and 201,630 square feet of flexible meeting and event space.

Buffalo and Niagara

Following nearly $1 billion in recent tourism-related developments, Buffalo has fresh appeal as the Queen City of the Great Lakes. Grand architectural works remain a major group calling card, from Frank Lloyd Wright’s freshly restored 1907 Martin House Complex to Eliel and Eero Saarinen’s acoustically perfect 1939 Kleinhans Music Hall.

The national landmark Richardson Olmsted Campus is a Buffalo icon. It originally opened in 1880 as an insane asylum. Following a nearly $100 million transformation, a portion of H.H. Richardson’s Romanesque buildings and Frederick Law Olmsted’s grounds are now Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center, which houses 88 rooms and 20,000 square feet of conference space, and where groups can marvel at the architecture and history from within.

Buffalo’s parks offer imaginative spaces for events, too. Rentals within Buffalo’s 850-acre park system include the Victorian-era greenhouses at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. The entire garden can be rented for large evening events, and any visit can be paired with guided one-hour docent tours.

Detailing Buffalo-Niagara parks can’t go without mentioning its most famous, and the nation’s oldest—circa 1885—Niagara Falls State Park, which is open year-round and has miles of hiking trails and plentiful attractions such as the Observation Tower and Top of the Falls Restaurant, the latter of which can host group banquets.

[On Topic: Buffalo Unexpected Meetings Surprises]

5 Grandiose Escapes for Small-Group Getaways

In 2014, Gregory Henderson and Joseph Massa undertook the fourth expansion of their wonderland Roxbury concept in the Western Catskills. The project began with their purchase of Stratton Falls, the original town center from the 1700s, and adjoining 1848 hilltop Italianate mansion.

Five years later, and The Roxbury at Stratton Falls is a reality. No wave of the magic wand created their “forest-resort” fantasy, though. Rather, it took the couple’s relentless perseverance and a dedicated construction team to realize their vision.

Selectively available for partial or full off-season and mid-week buyouts, the complex sets a new standard for unique and authentic venues. Descending to the base of the 50-foot namesake cascade, an expertly crafted new trail system features whimsical observation decks and benches ideal for meandering breakouts.

The reborn mansion has seven luxurious rooms named after founding Roxbury businesses. Fetching, too, are eight new-build themed Tower Cottages. These fairytale sanctuaries include Galileo's Gate, with a rooftop stargazing observatory; Dracula’s Fangs; and Terrazza of the Titans. Slated for this summer, the Crooked Cabana outdoor pool and spa facility adds to the splash.

The Roxbury at Stratton Falls is just one of many fantasy retreats across the Empire State. Here are four more to consider for small group getaways.

Mohonk Mountain House

The timeless 1869 Mohonk Mountain House in the Hudson River Valley includes versatile rentals like the private Grove Lodge. Its historic main dining room features panoramic Catskill Mountain views, with “Mindful Meetings” among multiple unique programming options.

Photo: Mohonk Mountain House is a magical small group getaway in the Hudson River Valley; Credit: Mohonk Mountain House

Otesaga Resort Hotel

Named after the Iroquois expression for “a place of meetings,” Cooperstown’s 1909 Otesaga Resort Hotel offers 30,000 square feet of space in 14 rooms, including a 2,600-square-foot ballroom. Amenities include the Hawkeye Spa and lakeside 18-hole Leatherstocking Golf Course.

Belhurst Castle

This acclaimed event-capable Romanesque Revival charmer at Seneca Lake’s picturesque northern tip offers multiple options for meeting and event spaces, like its cozy library for 14, The Porch for private dining for up to 40, and two large ballrooms that can fit 250 and 160, respectively. Other nearby Finger Lakes charmers worth exploring include storybook Inns of Aurora on Cayuga Lake; Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park near Rochester in Canandaigua; and award-winning Mirbeau Inn and Spa in Skaneateles near Syracuse.

Boldt Castle and Singer Castle

New York State continues to charm with its many event-ready castles. Two Thousand Islands’ fantasies include turn-of-the-century Boldt Castle on Heart Island, originally built by George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City; and Singer Castle on Dark Island, which is 100 years old and has picturesque gardens and a terrace for outdoor events.

New York State CVB Information (2020)

Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau | 518.563.1000

Adirondack Regional Tourism Council | 518.597.3588

Cooperstown/Otsego County Tourism | 607.322.4046

Destination Niagara USA | 716.282.8992

Discover Albany | 518.434.1217

Finger Lakes Visitors Connection | 585.394.3915

New York State Division of Tourism | 800.CALL.NYS

Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism/Lake Placid CVB | 518.523.2445

Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau | 518.584.1531

Steuben County Conference & Visitors Bureau | 607.936.6544

Visit Buffalo Niagara | 716.852.0511

Visit the Catskills | 800.355.CATS

Visit Syracuse | 315.470.1910

Visit Rochester | 800.677.7282

1000 Islands International Tourism Council | 315.482.2520

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.