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Downtown, Reborn

Everyone has visited a downtown that looked more like a ghost town. Boarded-up buildings, few people and nothing of interest within walking distance will drive your group away from a downtown with one glance.

However, over the past decade, many cities have invested in downtown revitalization projects that have attracted residents, which in turn brought in local restaurants, hotels and attractions.

Now, a new picture is emerging at downtowns across America, including Pittsburgh; Denver; Nashville, Tennessee; Des Moines, Iowa; and Greenville, South Carolina. A stroll through these downtowns awakens your senses with sounds of live music, smells of freshly prepared cuisine and views of inviting public parks.

In any of these five downtowns, you can drop off your faith-based group and set them loose for safe and innovative fun.


Decades ago, Denver’s downtown shut down at 5 p.m. when workers left the city. Since then, however, the downtown has blossomed with residential areas for workers, making the area bustling with activity all day, night and year. This development has long encouraged visitors to feel comfortable exploring the city’s core.

“The faith-based market is one of the largest markets I have,” said Tim Litherland, director of sports and specialty markets for Visit Denver. “For these groups, safety is key. Denver’s large resident base in the downtown area creates a very safe environment.”

By the end of 2017, the city is slated to have 10,000 hotel rooms ranging from budget to high end. Visitors don’t worry about vehicles, since they can walk out of their hotels and hit numerous attractions and restaurants.

The pedestrian-only 16th Street Mall spans a large section of the downtown, with a shuttle available for those who’d rather ride. Groups can also shop at the nearby Larimer Square, a revitalized historic district, or enjoy natural space along the Riverfront Park and its connecting Millennium Bridge.

“The downtown continues to change,” said Litherland. “We have a lot of activities for families, hotels and hundreds of dining options.”

Top downtown attractions: The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is the second-largest performing arts center in the country, with 10 stages and a variety of types of shows.

Groups also flock to the sprawling Denver Art Museum, which features more than 68,000 diverse works from across the centuries and the globe.

Group-friendly downtown restaurant: For the group that can’t agree on dinner, Avanti F&B offers seven restaurant concepts within one modern-day food hall space.     


Des Moines, Iowa

A collection of dilapidated, run-down buildings stood slated to be torn down in Des Moines’ Historic East Village. A group of business leaders stepped in to transform the buildings into a lively district filled with fine dining, eclectic retail and antique stores.

This resurgence story is just one of the many happy endings that landed downtown Des Moines a spot on Fortune magazine’s top five “up-and-coming downtowns” in 2014.

“Our downtown has exploded in the last five to six years with housing,” said Greg Edwards, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have 20,000 people residing downtown, many of whom are young — in their 20s and 30s age group — who really enjoy a vibrant downtown scene.”

The capital city boasts a plethora of public green space, including the Principal Riverwalk, which follows the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers for a landscaped and artistic breath of fresh air. The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park also offers an outdoors escape, with 28 works of art scattered across a four-acre park.

Groups can explore the high-rise buildings in the core of downtown or the nearby East Village Area for its architecturally impressive government buildings and diverse shops.

Top downtown attractions: The Science Center of Iowa houses hands-on exhibits, theater and live science demonstrations, as well as a 50-foot-high planetarium.

For a glimpse into Iowa’s past, the State Historical Museum of Iowa displays exhibits on Iowa’s years before statehood, its role in the Civil War and other historical contributions.

Group-friendly downtown restaurant: For an American take on classic French cuisine, Django offers fine dining, an interactive chef station and artisan cheese plates for groups.