A tour of Wall Street right now includes checking out the protests

by Mac Lacy 10. October 2011 22:45

Protesters gathered at Zuccotti Park in New York for the Occupy Wall Street movement

Wall Street dominates the news these days for lots of reasons.  The market right now is searching for anything tangible it can hold onto that might spark a rally.  Economies in Europe are as fragile as anyone can remember and threaten to disrupt worldwide markets including our own. And the protesters that gather in nearby Zuccotti Park for Occupy Wall Street have sparked countless copycat efforts in other cities around the country.

Thus, it was a particularly opportune time to be in New York when my famiy went October 6-9, so my sons and I decided to take a walking tour of the Financial District with The Wall Street Experience.com.  We walked through a Wall Street that is now as much residential as it is investment banks.  Because of online trading, much if not most of the traditional trading on the floors of the exchanges has been replaced with paperless trades.  The beautiful old Greek Revival buiding at 55 Wall Street once used for the New York Stock Exchange is now Cipriani Wall Street, an entertainment venue for corporate outings and concerts.

When our guide told us the Federal Reserve housed more gold than Fort Knox, as Kentuckians we had to check his facts.  Alas, he was correct.

Personally, the gathering down around Zuccotti Park in the Financial District seemed rather inconsequential to me.  While there may be merit in some part of the messages being espoused here, it was hard to take the messengers too seriously in this environment.  Without getting too far into politics, I think it's safe to say that signs like "Weed, Not Greed" make it harder to consider the more substantive issues being espoused.  In the end, for my money, sleeping bags, hand-lettered placards, street vendors and photo ops for passersby are awfully easy to ignore.

Placards of all types are held up and passersby frequently stop to ask questions

A statue of George Washington stands in front of Federal Hall.   New York was the nation's capital in 1789.

A statue of George Washington stands

A cemetery stands at Trinity Church in the financial district with markers dating to the 18th century.  Alexander Hamilton was buried here after he lost a duel to Aaron Burr.

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New York

From the Capital Hotel to the River Market--A treat for the senses

by Mac Lacy 30. September 2011 01:39

Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Gretchen Hall, far left in doorway, and other Little Rock representatives welcomed delegates to the River Market event

Delegates to the Small Market Meetings Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, were treated to a wonderfully--executed destination dichotomy the second day of the event.   Following an afternoon of sightseeing, they were swept off their feet at a reception at this city's historic Capital Hotel.   This graceful old hotel has been meticulously renovated and delegates were enthralled by its approachable elegance. 

After an hour or more of drinks and hors d'oeurvres in its upstairs lobby and adjacent balcony, they barely had time to go to their rooms before a boisterous high school band met them head-on in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and marched them down the street a few blocks to this city's restored River Market.  This colorful old indoor market has a distinctly Mediterranean feel about it and dozens of small eateries and retail shops line its walls, creating the feel of a middle eastern bazaar. 

In this delightful juxtaposition of settings, delegates relaxed and danced to the sounds of a local blues band, feasted on more foods and had open bars throughout the complex for their enjoyment.  It was as if Little Rock wanted these meeting planners to experience everything it had to offer from A to Z in one afternoon and evening of mind-blowing entertainment.  And it worked!

Blues rifts filled the River Market while delegates enjoyed one of Little Rock's most eclectic downtown scenes

A few of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota delegation took in the fun at Little Rock's River Market

Small Market Meetings editor Vickie Mitchell, left, talked with SMM Conference CEO Joe Cappuzzello and Little Rock CVB CEO Gretchen Hall

A gorgeous afternoon on Little Rock's Big Dam Bridge

by Mac Lacy 30. September 2011 01:18

Little Rock's Big Dam Bridge is a huge draw for runners, walkers, bicyclists and nature enthusiasts

As delegates to our Small Market Meetings Conference enjoyed a fascinating tour of Little Rock's sights that wrapped up with a reception at the historic Capital Hotel, I took a couple of hours off and went for a walk at this city's favorite outdoor recreation spot, the Big Dam Bridge.  Opened in 2004, this mammoth bridge crosses the dam on the Arkansas River a few miles northwest of the city.  Another pedestrian bridge across the river in downtown Little Rock was to open the week of the Small Market Meetings Conference.  A 14-mile loop now exists between the two bridges for bicyclists and walkers.

The day I was there, dozens of bicyclists, runners and walkers crossed the bridge in both directions as I walked it.  A track team of maybe 20 young men and women from a nearby university ran across as well.  I followed the trail across the bridge and up into the woods that line this scenic river.

This was my second trip to Big Dam Bridge and this time I had enough time to really get the feel of this Arkansas outdoor icon.  At its zenith, it rises 90 feet above the river and features eight observation points.  Little Rock is a town filled with outdoor enthusiasts and they flock to Big Dam Bridge.  But they enjoy downtown nearly as much.  From my perch in the Peabody Hotel, each morning I could see many joggers and bicyclists getting their time in on the trails that line both sides of the the river in this scenic city.


A 14-mile loop trail connects downtown Little Rock with Big Dam Bridge

I watched as runners and bicyclists disappeared into the Arkansas countryside on this scenic trail

Looking westward on the bridge away from Little Rock, Arkansas's Ozark Mountains begin to rise in the distance

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2011 Small Market Meetings Conference

Small Market Meetings Conference opens at Clinton Presidential Library

by Mac Lacy 30. September 2011 01:02

A high school band and drum corps welcomed delegates to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library for the opening event of the 2011 Small Market Meetings Conference

A beautiful evening gave way to a spectacular event as the 2011 Small Market Meetings Conference got underway in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 26.  Roughly 225 delegates including more than 100 meeting planners from 23 states gathered for the second annual conference that is designed to highlight second and third-tier cities and distinctive smaller venues across America. 

Delegates were transported from their host hotel, the Peabody Hotel in downtown Little Rock, to the internationally-acclaimed William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library that sits prominently on the Arkansas River in this revitalized downtown.  Only three days later, the former President and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would be in Little Rock to observe the 20th anniversary  of his first announcement speech for his candidacy for President at the Old State House in this Arkansas capital city. 

Delegates toured the library and were treated to a rare privilege--almost all were photographed in the resplendent replica of the Oval Office that is housed at this impressive library.  Following an ornate reception, they dined in the facility's ballroom and were treated to a jazz concert and dancing.

A place setting in the library reflects the grandeur of a state dinner in the White House

Delegates poured over thousands of documents, photographs and other types of memorabilia from the Clinton Presidency

The event concluded with a surf and turf dinner and dancing to a jazz ensemble compliments of The Clinton Library, the Little Rock CVB and the Arkansas Dept. of Parks and Tourism

Looking ahead to 2012 from Midway's Railroad Street

by Mac Lacy 8. November 2010 18:58

On Friday, November 5, we took our annual editorial planning retreat back to Midway, Kentucky, a delightful little town that sits between Frankfort and Lexington in horse country.  Our retreats are always in late fall and have been held in places like Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill and the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Labrot and Graham distillery near Versailles in Woodford County, and Holly Hill Inn near Midway. 

We work two years ahead, so this year's retreat involved planning for the 2012 editorial calendars for four publications and four websites.  The biggest single item on the table this year was our upcoming re-design of Going On Faith, our bi-monthly publication for the faith-based travel market.  We're taking it from a small tabloid size to a standard magazine size and our re-design team introduced some exciting graphic ideas to the rest of us at this retreat.  Last year, we did essentially the same thing for our re-design of The Group Travel Leader, and we agreed to some major innovations to our website that became reality this year.

Our meeting was held at Bistro La Belle, marking the third time we've done it at this distinctive restaurant on Railroad Street.  Owner Laura Wolfrom gives us a room to meet in and has her chef prepare breakfast items like quiche and muffins and a plated lunch that this year included chicken breasts served over grits with tomatoes and parmesan cheese garnish.  We had a bread pudding with bourbon sauce for dessert.

Wolfrom told me that her restaurant was packed each evening during the recent FEI World Equestrian Games that took place only a few miles away at the Kentucky Horse Park.  Midway was perfectly positioned for this international event, its boutique shops, cafes and restaurants all serving to offer up an eclectic hangout for event-goers with time on their hands between sessions.

Standing at left, Laura Wolfrom, owner of Bistro La Belle, checked in on our group at lunch

Bistro La Belle is one of several distinctive restaurants on Midway's Railroad Street


Next door, Wonderland Book Cafe awaited its lunch crowd

In addition to bread pudding with bourbon sauce, we had an option of vanilla ice cream with an almond wafer

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Life is grand on Alabama's gulf coast

by Mac Lacy 15. October 2010 00:49

When we pulled into the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama on a Sunday afternoon, there were three wedding parties set up on the grounds. As it turns out, this is the place to get married on Alabama's Gulf Coast. Leon Maisel, president of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me the next day that his own daughter will marry there at the end of the month.

My wife, Kim, and I had come down for a few days of pleasure and business. We had planned originally to go to New Mexico, but after the oil spill, we both knew Santa Fe could wait. We wanted to come to the Gulf Coast and I had been to the Grand a few years earlier, so I knew just the place to stay. This venerable old hotel and resort grace a point off the coast where the sun sets every day into Mobile Bay.

For several days, we'd get up early for coffee, go for a walk/run on the grounds, head into Fairhope for some shopping or lunch, relax by the pool and watch the constant flow of ships in and out of Mobile Bay. And we discovered a lunch stop in Fairhope, MaryAnn's Deli, and a dinner spot in Point Clear, the Wash House, that should be on anyone's list while in this area.

"Everyone in America needs to know how important this bay is to this country," Ron McConnell told me at dinner one night. "Most of the fish in the Gulf of Mexico come into this bay to spawn. The ecological system here is irreplaceable."

After a summer of crisis management, media scrutiny and general upheaval, this pristine part of America has regained its graceful southern pace. Meetings and receptions were being held on the grounds, brides were having the weddings they had dreamed of, and pelicans were skimming the bay in search of a meal. The Alabama Gulf Coast and the Grand Hotel are again enjoying grand times indeed.

A landscaping employee tends to the resort's immaculate grounds


Monarch butterflies by the hundreds rest at the resort before moving on to Mexico for the winter

Massive live oaks grace the grounds at Point Clear's Grand Hotel

The resort's beach offers bicycles and kayaks for guests

A bayside evening reception gets meticulous planning from hotel staff


A solitary pelican surveys his world at sunset on Mobile Bay

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Alabama Gulf Coast

Find time for Foley and Stacey's Rexall Drugs

by Mac Lacy 14. October 2010 02:53

From our homebase at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, we made a daytrip today down the coast and inland a bit to Foley, Alabama. Someone had told us to check out Stacey's Rexall Drugs, and to maybe do a lunch stop there.

It sounded like our kind of place. There is a huge Tanger Outlet in Foley, so the idea of heading that way had even additional merit to Kim. We made our way down there in a half hour or so and I dropped her off at the Ann Taylor store, one of maybe 50 stores in this complex.

I headed over to Cracker Barrel for a cup of coffee since it was mid-morning and I had a bit of time to kill. I met a couple there, Mark and Nina Will, who live in Fairhope. Mark is an artist--he works in acrylics and paints sunsets from the area.

The sun sets directly over the bay from Fairhope and Point Clear, so he has his pick of dozens of gorgeous landscapes a year, I'm sure. I asked him if he had a website he'd like to include in this blog for his art and he smiled and said, "No. I gave all that up when I retired from my real job. People find me anyway."

I picked Kim up about 12:30 and we headed to Stacey's Rexall Drugs back in mid-town Foley. When we sat down, one gentleman next to us was having an ice cream cone and a table of four were doing the same in the corner. We ordered sandwiches--Kim had the egg salad that had been recommended highly to us, and I had tuna salad. I asked the table of four if they minded if I got a shot of them and they said to feel free.

"We all go to church on Wednesday and then come down here and have an ice cream cone for lunch," said one woman.

"Every week?" I asked.

They all nodded yes. After our sandwiches, we ordered a Turtle to split. It's made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and caramel syrup and pecans. This iconic drugstore and soda fountain is the oldest in Baldwin County and dates to 1929. Next time, we'll make it for breakfast--coffee's only 10 cents a cup.


A father and son from Tuscaloosa played checkers as they waited for a table

Fairhope artist Mark Will and his wife, Nina, had breakfast in Cracker Barrel in Foley

These two couples from Foley have ice cream cones for lunch at Stacey's Rexall Drugs every Wednesday after church

Stacey's Rexall Drugs has been in business in Foley since 1929

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Alabama Gulf Coast

An October getaway on the Alabama Gulf Coast begins with golf

by Mac Lacy 13. October 2010 04:17

I was invited to join a good friend, Ron McConnell, and others from the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau for dinner and a round of golf during their annual Slice and Hook program for meeting planners during a getaway to the Alabama Gulf Coast.

We joined their group of 20 or so meeting planners for dinner at Felix's Fish Camp overlooking Mobile Bay. These planners from across the country who were in town to do some fishing, play golf and check out the meeting facilities in the Mobile area. I took the chance to reacquaint myself with two downtown properties that handle a lot of the city's convention delegates, the Renaissance Riverview Plaza and the Renaissance Battle House Hotel and Spa. The Riverview has been completely remodeled in the past several years and the Battle House was a restoration of one of Mobile's grand old hotels. They both look great and give Mobile more than 600 first-class rooms across from its convention center.

I played golf with the group the next day at the Falls Course at Magnolia Grove, on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. I joined Ron, Bill Tunnell with the U.S.S Alabama battleship, and Kent Blackinton, the general manager of the Riverview Plaza. Paul Martino, the director of golf there, told me they have just re-opened the Falls course after extensive redesign. The Crossings course was also re-designed and in total, $12 million has been spent making these two layouts a bit more friendly to average golfers. They're still exceptional, but there are fewer shots into elevated greens. The greens are also larger and have less undulation.

We had our BankTravel Conference here in 2006 and it was good to see so many of the industry people who worked to make that meeting a success.

The Falls Course at Magnolia Grove included gorgeous fall-colored marshes on many holes

Bill Tunnell putted while Ron McConnell and Kent Blackinton looked on

The 18th on Crossings features a new lake since its re-design

We joined the Mobile group for a dinner at Felix's Fish Camp on Mobile Bay

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Alabama Gulf Coast

Equestrian Games were an international hit

by Mac Lacy 12. October 2010 01:56

On Friday, October 8, my wife, Kim, and I took the afternoon to enjoy the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.  Throughout the course of the week, the games had been drawing increasingly large crowds as equestrians from dozens of countries around the world joined fans from those countries and America at the Kentucky Horse Park for the two and half week event.  We rode over in the elaborate shuttle system from downtown Lexington that carried thousands of fans over the course of the event to the front door of the huge complex.

We arrived in time to stroll through the trade show and Kentucky Experience pavilion for an hour or so before heading over to the Driving Stadium to catch the finals of the dressage event for driving.  This sport involves carriages and wagons pulled by four horses who are driven by world-class horsemen and women.  We watched as six finalists took their teams through a series of maneuvers before a full stadium of fans and five judging stands.  A team from Australia was clearly the best to even us--novices in every sense.  When they finished the stadium erupted in applause.

After the event, we headed back to the Kentucky pavilion to enjoy the beer tasting station offered by Alltech's Kentucky Ale brands and listened to two musicians with guitar and dulcimer.  We found some Christmas ornaments and one full-blown gift for a friend's three-year old son--a pair of Justin boots that he'll probably be able to wear for all of two or three months before he outgrows them.

I told several friends that this event, when coupled with the Ryder Cup just two years earlier in Louisville, has stamped Kentucky as a major destination for thousands of new fans and friends across the world.

The Makers Mark Visitor Center was a popular stop

Equestrian toys and models were on display in the event trade show

A huge mural adorned the event's primary stadium

A team performed in the finals of the Driving Dressage competition

Many visitors took the opportunity for a bourbon or beer tasting in the Kentucky Experience pavilion



It was all business, that is, until it was time to relax

by Mac Lacy 8. October 2010 01:37

Play hard?  No problems there.  Especially in a city that was getting its groove on at its annual Red River Revel festival, one of Louisiana's biggest and baddest music and arts events.  The entire delegation was taken to the festival, treated to all they could enjoy in the way of regional foods and beverages and was given ringside seats to some great Louisiana blues music.  The evening was one no one will forget.

"Wow!  The Red River Revel was everything we'd heard it would be for our delegates," said conference CEO Joe Cappuzzello.  "Stacey Brown, Dianna Douglas, Kim Brice and their entire staff went over the top in bringing our meeting planners and destinations to this great event.  And when you add their superb opening evening dinner, Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau really did themselves proud."

In addition to Shreveport's signature evening events and hospitality, delegates enjoyed hosted breakfasts and lunches, marketplace refreshments, welcome receptions and more. 

"I don't think the entertainment could have been any better," said conference partner Herb Sparrow.  "It was very important that our inaugural conference set the bar high in that regard and Shreveport and their partners did their part.  I think the word of mouth coming from this conference will be very positive and will enable us to move into our second year on a very strong note."

Social marketing speaker Lesley Kyle, right, previewed a sponsor's material before delegates arrived for a meal

The Gemini Cruise Mardi Gras Museum was a hit during Shreveport's sightseeing tour

Delegates in custom T-shirts took time to shop for fine handcrafts at the Red River Revel

Delegates took a moment to pose with conference partner Herb Sparrow at Red River Revel

Shreveport's Red River Revel was a smash hit with delegates

Conference partners Charlie Presley and Joe Cappuzzello shared a moment with Dianna Douglas, far right, and others at the Red River Revel

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2010 SMM Conference

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