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Hilton Orlando adding large outdoor event area (Orlando Sentinel)

By Sara K. Clarke, Orlando SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 05--The Hilton Orlando is the latest local hotel to add outdoor meeting space, breaking ground Tuesday on a $2.1 million project to be known as the Promenade.

The 4-year-old convention hotel, next door to the Orange County Convention Center, said it will turn more than 2 acres of grassy space near its ballroom into a 50,000-square-foot outdoor venue capable of accommodating as many as 3,000 people.

Designed by landscape architect Jeff Sugar of Orlando-based ITEC Entertainment, the space will be divided into four distinct areas surrounded by gardens, water features and a fire pit. The space is to the west of the hotel, along International Drive.

"It's really taking an area that is grass real estate today and turning it into something dynamic," said Doug Gehret, general manager of the 1,417-room hotel. "Meeting planners are looking for flexibility in their space and to incorporate the wonderful outdoors and climate of Florida -- it's [been] very well-received."

Outdoor event space has been a bit of a trend recently among hotels in Central Florida's tourist zone. Recent renovations at the sprawling Gaylord Palms in Osceola County included a 10,000-square-foot "event lawn" that can accommodate a reception for 1,100 people. The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, which opened in 2009, offers a 22,101-square-foot lawn that can host a reception for more than 2,300 people, and an outdoor island that can accommodate 1,102 guests.

Gehret said he hopes the Hilton Orlando's venue will be available for use by Oct. 1, and noted that initial customer feedback has been "through the roof."

"No surprise -- everyone loves to be outside in Orlando," he said.

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