by Melanie Wynne | April 01, 2017

Ideally located in the heart of the Midwest, Missouri is a convenient meeting point for much of the country. The state proudly celebrates the finer arts, as well as the six B’s that many locals will tell you make up the best in entertainment: baseball, barbecue, beer, bebop, blues and Branson.

Further, groups can gather amid rolling hills or waterfalls, lakes and riverbanks. Attendees will be delighted by all that the Show Me State has to offer.

Kansas City: Booming With innovation

Missouri’s largest metro area, Kansas City, features a new streetcar, affordable event sites, a great lineup of sports teams and rich arts and culinary scenes. It’s no surprise that both new and returning conventions continue to turn to this vibrant hub for meetings.

Two non-profit organizations—Enactus and the Privilege Institute—are expected to respectively bring 13,500 and 1,800 attendees to Kansas City in April, and the fragrance company Scentsy is scheduled to arrive in July with 7,000 of its consultants.

Downtown and just a few blocks from the Financial District, the city’s main venue for meetings and expos is the Kansas City Convention Center, which features 388,800 square feet of column-free exhibit space and a connected, 46,484-square-foot Grand Ballroom. Two blocks away, a dual-branded Courtyard and Residence Inn opened last year with 153 and 108 guest rooms, respectively, and meeting space for about 200 people.

The convention center is also within walking distance of the Power & Light District, the Sprint Center and the Hilton President Kansas City. In January, following a $20 million renovation, the Art Deco–style Hotel Phillips Kansas City reopened as a Hilton Curio property with 216 guest rooms, nine meeting rooms (the largest able to host up to 200) and an underground speakeasy.

Downtown cultural spaces that welcome group events include the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the American Jazz Museum. The National World War I Museum & Memorial, which on April 6 will host a centennial commemoration of America’s entry into that war, has indoor and outdoor event spaces.

Getting around downtown is now easier with the free Kansas City Streetcar, which debuted last May. The two-mile route offers 16 stops from River Market North, south through the Financial District and Power & Light District and onwards to Union Station.

South of downtown, the 15-block Country Club Plaza is home to the Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza, which completed a full redesign in 2016 and features a concierge level and event space for up to 600. The nearby InterContinental has newly renovated guest rooms and event space for up to 1,200.

And on the southeast side of town, groups with sports fans might host a function at Kauffman Stadium or the adjacent Arrowhead Stadium.

Ten miles east, Independence offers attractions dedicated to former President Harry S. Truman. Groups can utilize the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum and the Truman Memorial Building.

St. Louis & Northern Missouri: A View of the Future

In St. Louis, construction continues on the national park surrounding the famed Gateway Arch. The $380 million CityArchRiver project is expected to be fully complete by year’s end, but the Arch grounds and Kiener Plaza are on track to reopen this month and next, respectively. Last November saw the opening of a new pathway from the Laclede’s Landing entertainment district to the Arch and 7.5 acres of new parkland, which includes an amphitheater and lawn space. Nearby attractions that welcome groups include the Old Courthouse, with new exhibits, and Gateway Arch Riverboats.

Less than a mile from the Gateway Arch is the America’s Center Convention Complex. It features 502,000 square feet of exhibit space, the 67,000-seat Dome and the 1,400-seat Ferrara Theatre. The adjacent Mercantile Exchange district (or MX) is home to the 23,000-square-foot National Blues Museum, which opened last April with a mixing booth, a 100-seat theater and event space for up to 150.

Following a $40 million renovation, the St. Louis Union Station Hotel reopened in September as a Curio Collection by Hilton property. The hotel now has 48 train-themed guest rooms and 100,000 square feet of event space.

In other hotel news, the Holiday Inn/St. Louis Downtown-Convention Center completed a renovation of its guest rooms, public areas, pool deck and fitness center last year. The Ritz-Carlton/St. Louis instituted a kitchen-composting program in 2016 as well as the option of sustainable seafood choices for special events. It also now has an on-site kosher kitchen. Other popular picks include the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel, which finished a top-to-bottom renovation in 2015, and the Four Seasons/St. Louis, located within the Lumière Place Casino complex. For sports fans, notable venues include the Busch Stadium, Ballpark Village and the Scottrade Center.

Several sites in Grand Center, an arts and entertainment district in Midtown, can host events, including the Contemporary Art Museum, Powell Symphony Hall, the Fabulous Fox Theatre and Jazz at the Bistro. Other venues include the Peabody Opera House, the City Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

West of downtown, the Loop neighborhood has welcomed back its historic trolleys, gone since 1966. In nearby Forest Park, event venues include the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Zoo and the St. Louis Art Museum.

Just northwest of St. Louis is St. Charles, which welcomes associations with the St. Charles Convention Center and the connected Embassy Suites. Other notable venues include the Frontier Park, the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa, the Grand Opera House Banquet Center and the Old Stone Chapel & Reception Hall.

A little more than a hundred miles upriver from St. Louis is Hannibal, housing major meeting spaces such as the Mabee Sports Complex at Hannibal-LaGrange University, the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center and the Quality Inn & Suites.

Springfield: Queen City of the Ozarks

Springfield has a great deal to offer associations. The Springfield Expo Center features 112,000 square feet of event space and meetings of up to 650 can be held at the White River Conference Center. From there it’s a quick walk to the original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.

The Ramada Plaza Hotel & Oasis Convention Center has been reflagged as an Ascend Hotel and renamed the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center. All guest rooms have been updated. The Heart of America Dairy Expo has been held at the Oasis for the last five years, and according to David Drennan, expo sales manager and executive director of the Missouri Dairy Association, the property’s “outstanding staff really know the drill and go the extra mile.” He also noted the venue’s large, single-level overhead door and rubber mats that allow trade-show equipment to easily be transported in a straight line—both selling points that inspired six additional exhibitors to attend the event in 2016.

Drennan further lauded the Oasis for its proximity to Interstate 44, as he’s not a fan of “going here, there and yonder” in search of a venue or for good food. Of the latter, he recommends that groups visit Hemingway’s Blue Water Cafe restaurant at the Bass Pro Shops and Lambert’s Cafe in nearby Sikeston.

Several new meeting hotels are under construction north of downtown: a Fairfield Inn & Suites that will feature convention space and connect to the existing DoubleTree by Hilton/Springfield, a SpringHill Suites by Marriott, a Holiday Inn Express, a Home2 Suites and VIB by Best Western. Also on the north side of town is the 76-acre Ozark Empire Fairgrounds & Event Center.

The famous Route 66 was named in Springfield in 1926, and in June 2016, the city became home to the Route 66 Car Museum, featuring more than 60 rare automobiles in a 20,000-square-foot space that’s available for events. And while St. Louis is known for Anheuser-Busch’s headquarters, it’s Springfield’s craft-beer scene that’s getting hopped up. With the recent debut of the Lost Signal Brewing Company, Springfield now has four local breweries—all with tasting rooms for private events.

Lake of the Ozarks: A Reservoir of Success

With 1,150 miles of scenic shoreline, the Lake of the Ozarks is a popular central Missouri destination for boating, fishing and association gatherings for groups that include the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers and the Missouri Assisted Living Association.

In the town of Lake Ozark, the Country Club Hotel & Spa is currently undergoing a $2.6 million renovation of its guest rooms, meeting spaces, public areas and swimming pools; following its completion, the hotel will be reflagged as a Radisson. Nearby, the Lodge of Four Seasons can accommodate groups of up to 1,600. Four miles away, the Camden on the Lake Resort, Spa & Yacht Club offers event space for up to 700 and, as of May, its lakeside H. Toad’s Bar & Grill will be reopened as Toad Island.

In Osage Beach, the Inn at Grand Glaize completed a refresh of its décor last year and now sports newly carpeted and painted guest rooms and meeting spaces and new lobby furniture. Five miles west, the Tan-Tar-A Resort has conference space for up to 3,500.

Just north of Ha Ha Tonka State Park, in Camdenton, the Lodge at Old Kinderhook Resort welcomes groups with conference space for up to 250.

Branson: Putting on a Great Show

Imagine a more wholesome version of Las Vegas surrounded by rolling hills, lush woodlands and craggy mountains, and you’ve got Branson, the ideal place for Midwest associations to combine work and play.

According to Richard Telthorst, president of the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association, “Branson is an excellent venue for any group conference—lots of outstanding hotel choices and family-friendly entertainment options and a CVB that puts customer service above everything else. We’ve been taking our summer event to Branson for years. Our members just love it.”

Last summer, the Ferris wheel from Chicago’s Navy Pier was moved to Branson and is now called the Branson Ferris Wheel. The downtown Branson Landing entertainment district on Lake Taneycomo is home to the 220,000-square-foot Branson Convention Center. The Hilton/Branson Convention Center and the Hilton/Promenade at Branson Landing are both just steps away.

The $100 million Branson Forward project continues to transform five miles of Highway 76 into an interactive entertainment corridor. Large gatherings can be held at venues such as Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, the Welk Resort Branson, the Splash-A-Torium water park and the Silver Dollar City theme park.

Two unique off-sites provide spectacular views of the Branson area. Your group can take Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zipline from Branson Landing to the Sky Deck way up on Mount Branson. Or they can head to Sycamore Creek Family Ranch, located on a cliff overlooking Lake Taneycomo. West of downtown Branson are several resorts including the Westgate Branson Woods Resort and the Thousand Hills Hotel & Golf Resort.

On the shores of Table Rock Lake, the Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center offers event space for up to 3,000. Late last year it refreshed the décor of its smaller meeting rooms and all guest rooms. Ten miles south, in Ridgedale, is the Big Cedar Lodge with meeting facilities for up to 1,000. In May, it will introduce a new short golf course.

Another 15 miles west, in Lampe, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park features 10,000 acres of woodlands. Features of this nature-education complex include the Hope Wilderness Chapel with seating for up to 120, an on-site restaurant built on Indian Creek, a fly-fishing school and team-building activities.

Showcasing Its Best

Whether attendees love jazz or country, sports or the arts, amusement parks or the great outdoors, Missouri has them covered. With a warm embrace of its storied past and a firm grip on its promising future, Missouri will bring out the best in association groups.