Tennessean Hotel transforms suite into luxury micro wedding venue amid pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic started just as couples everywhere were prepared to say "I do." With so many people worrying about contracting the virus or it spreading at their parties, especially with at-risk relatives, The Tennessean Hotel in downtown Knoxville wants to help.

The staff at The Tennessean stepped up to serve couples, their families and friends by turning the hotel's Governor's Suite into an intimate wedding space. The 1,646 square-foot luxury suite includes everything for up to 30 guests to enjoy weddings and parties in relative safety and in style.

Of course, things look different than before the pandemic, but that isn't stopping Erica Greene-Johnson, director of The Tennessean's catering and convention services, from giving events a touch of elegance.

Workers physically distance, wear masks, sanitize frequently and check guests' temperatures at the door. Although couples may not be able to invite everyone they hoped for, Greene-Johnson is dedicated to involving family and friends who can't be there in ways that are special to the hosts.

"When we entered the pandemic, we needed to see what we could do to assist our guests," Greene-Johnson told Knox News. "We found that many people were searching for something small so that they could carry on with their plans safely. A micro wedding venue was the answer."

Helping couples cope

The Governor's Suite has been used for an array of events in the past – from corporate retreats to a Thanksgiving getaway without the mess. However, when the virus threatened to cancel wedding receptions, the Tennessean staff reimagined the space for small celebrations.

Greene-Johnson is the only point of contact for couples planning an event at the suite. The one-on-one consultation allows for easier decision-making and expert attention to detail. Greene-Johnson and her team are able to move quickly for couples who have already had a challenging time coordinating a new date and making changes to the guest list.

"We will do whatever it takes to ensure couples can have the wedding they deserve, especially now," Greene-Johnson said. "Just because an event is small doesn't mean it matters any less."

A suite space

Greene-Johnson said the hotel's goal is to provide a high-end venue with a "homelike" feel for couples and their guests. From the suite, guests overlook World's Fair Park through wall-to-wall windows, and everything at the stay, including crystal dishes, is there for guests to use.

"We want the suite to be a home away from home for our guests," Greene-Johnson said. "Things can be rearranged for their big day, but they can also relax while getting ready, staying overnight and dining with their wedding guests."

Couples have options to fit their wedding wants and needs. Several staff members are prepared to serve custom menus, set up seating arrangements, check coats and more.

Couples have access to an eight-seat dining room table where they can hosts bridal lunches or departure brunches for their guests. The large main area comes with a fireplace, baby grand piano and décor based on the package couples purchase. The master bedroom and powder room are perfect for pre-wedding prepping.

"There's a lot we can do for guests in this space," Greene-Johnson said. "The suite can bring people closer together, but it's also conveniently located in the hotel and downtown if guests need to get some fresh air."

An all-inclusive 'I do'

Greene-Johnson and The Tennessean staff understand how stressful event planning amid a pandemic can be, so two Governor's Suite event packages are available.

"They have a lot of decisions to make, so we have done our best to encapsulate everything couples need for a wedding or celebration under one roof," Greene-Johnson said.

The Tennessean partners with local vendors like Always in Bloom and All Occasions Party Rentals to provide floral arrangements and decorative elements on the day of the event. Guests can build a customized menu of food and beverages for a separate charge.

The "Tennessean" package includes basics like tables, linens and chairs. The "Iris" includes other décor like a golden arch, formal table settings and more.

"It's nice to help and be helped by other local businesses," Greene-Johnson said. "Everyone wants to give our guests the day they deserve, and we all need the support after this year."

Dates are filling up quickly at The Tennessean, and some 2021 events have already been planned.

"We're lucky to say that our team has been resilient and strong," Greene-Johnson said. "We've bounced back and are so excited to help guests safely get away and celebrate when they're ready."

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Allie Clouse

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

Published November 20, 2020