Missouri 2015

Back in the days when travel was considerably more demanding, Missouri’s location made it an ideal place to convene before starting a westward journey on the Oregon or the Santa Fe trail, which began in Independence and Franklin, respectively.

delivering first-rate hospitality

These days, St. Louis and Kansas City are two of the biggest gateway cities, with groups staying to enjoy the local sites or dispersing to equally entertaining and historic destinations. What planners and attendees both appreciate is that they can get where they’re going without too much fuss and know that they’ll be well taken care of when they arrive. Because when it comes to hosting meetings, the Show-Me State still delivers.

St. Louis & Northern Missouri: An Overarching Welcome

Big things are happening around the Gateway Arch of St. Louis in the run-up to the iconic monument’s 50th birthday this October. The $380 million City-ArchRiver project, which began two years ago, is transforming the surrounding landscaping, adding a park that will link the area to the rest of downtown and expanding space at the Museum of Westward Expansion (currently closed). The project is expected to be complete by 2017. However, the arch, the restored Old Courthouse and riverboat cruises departing from the area all remain open and can host group functions.

The most prominent place to meet in St. Louis is the America’s Center Convention Complex, with 1.2 million square feet of space, including the 66,000-seat Edward Jones Dome, which has two additional special-event spaces. Next door is the MX—the Mercantile Exchange District—with dining, entertainment and shopping options. And opening late this year, the new 23,000-square-foot National Blues Museum offers a 100-seat theater.

The historic, elegant St. Louis Union Station has undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion of its meeting space; its Grand Hall can host groups of up to 600 and also serves as the lobby of the St. Louis Union Station Hotel (a DoubleTree property). Another improved property is the Marriott/St. Louis Airport, which is adjacent to Lambert-St. Louis International. Last year it benefited from a $20 million renovation of its guest rooms, lobby and 29,000 square feet of meeting space.

If your group’s a sporty bunch, St. Louis is going to excite attendees with all the possibilities: the 46,000-seat Busch Stadium (home to Major League Baseball’s Cardinals), which counts a conference center as one of its numerous event spaces; just to the north, Ballpark Village, which boasts a 34,000-square-foot event venue called Cardinals Nation that can accommodate as many as 10,000 people; and the 19,150-seat Scottrade Center, home of the NHL’s Blues.

Other city venues include the Peabody Opera House, with 20,000 square feet of space; the City Museum, with gathering space for up to 300 people; and the landmark, 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden, with three sites indoors and five outdoors. In Forest Park, the St. Louis Art Museum can accommodate groups of up to 480 and its new East Building includes a 100-seat restaurant that overlooks Art Hill. Also within the park is the St. Louis Zoo, with space for up to 10,000 attendees. In Clayton, just a few miles west of the park, the Hampton Inn & Suites Clayton/St. Louis-Galleria Area opened last fall with 106 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 50 people.

St. Charles, one of the oldest cities in the state, is proud of its travel heritage—including a claim to being the site of the first-ever interstate, circa 1956. Today St. Charles is still eager to welcome visitors and offers several event sites. The St. Charles Convention Center and connected Embassy Suites Hotel & Spa share 154,000 square feet of event space, including a 35,700-square-foot exhibit hall and a 16,200-square-foot grand ballroom. Also nearby are the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa, with 19,000 square feet of conference space; the Grand Opera House Banquet Center, with space for up to 200 people; and the new, 5,000-square-foot Old Stone Chapel & Ballroom.

Lewis and Clark—who at the time considered St. Charles to be the last “civilized” spot on their westward explorations—are celebrated at Lewis & Clark Heritage Days each May in Frontier Park and the nearby Lewis & Clark Boat House & Nature Center. Another outdoor option is the 5,510-seat T.R. Hughes Ballpark in nearby O’Fallon, which welcomes groups on its field, party deck or picnic area.

A hundred miles or so northwest of St. Louis is Hannibal, where the major meeting spaces are the Mabee Sports Complex, with 20,000 square feet of space; the 13,775-square-foot Admiral Coontz Armory; and the Quality Inn & Suites, with meeting space for up to 505. Attractions include an array of Mark Twain­–affiliated sites where the beloved writer passed his boyhood years.

Kansas City: Growing Experiences

Located near the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers is Kansas City, a port city established in the 1830s that has grown to become one of the state’s biggest metro areas. A new downtown streetcar project is under construction and expected to be ready by early 2016 when it will offer free rides between the city’s River Market and Union Station.

The city’s major meeting venue is the Kansas City Convention Center, which has 388,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 46,484-square-foot Grand Ballroom. In the last year it has hosted events for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association and the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Connected to the convention center is the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, which offers its own meeting space.

There’s also the Sprint Center, which can seat upwards of 18,000 people, and just south is the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which has event spaces for up to 1,800 people. Two blocks away, a new Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn dual-branded project is expected to open later this year with 153 and 104 guest rooms, respectively. A spot for particularly harmonious events is the American Jazz Museum, which can host up to 1,000 people.

Another possibility is the Crown Center, a downtown entertainment complex that is home to a Sheraton and a Westin sharing 150,000 square feet of event space (now with extra-fast Internet speeds). Farther south, in the historic Westport neighborhood, the new AC Hotel by Marriott opened in March with 123 guest rooms and three meeting rooms.

Just east, in Independence, groups can meet at a variety of attractions dedicated to former President Truman, who used to live in town. The Harry S. Truman Library & Museum has a 250-seat auditorium as well as other smaller meeting spaces, and the Truman Memorial Building, built in 1926, can accommodate up to 1,000 people.

Lake of the Ozarks & Jefferson City: Time for Work & Play

The Missouri Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the Missouri Economic Development Council and the Missouri Realtors have all brought recent meetings to the laid-back, central Lake of the Ozarks region, known as much for its post-meeting recreational options as its meeting facilities.

The Realtors’ one-day educational event in July drew nearly 250 attendees from throughout the state to the Lodge of Four Seasons in the town of Lake Ozark. Maria Davis, the group’s director of meetings and partner relations, said the resort’s meeting-space layout worked particularly well for the agenda. “The general session and breakout rooms were right beside each other, and on the way to our lunch venue, our participants had the opportunity to step outside and walk through the Japanese Gardens and enjoy the outdoors,” she said. The lake’s proximity also meant Davis could utilize outdoor options on the waterfront for receptions, dinners and small breakout sessions. “Not to mention the large yachts available for private events,” she said. “And if you time your event right, the sunsets can be a wonderful backdrop for your event.”

Davis also appreciated the “reasonable overall cost” of holding the event in the area and its appeal to members and their families. “The variety of activities offered, both for kids and adults, encouraged our attendees to arrive early or stay a day or two into the weekend. This allowed them to incorporate some family time along with their work time,” she said.

“And in any area that we consider for an event, I consider the local CVB as the area host since they are the face of the area or city. For Lake of the Ozarks, I think the CVB staff does a phenomenal job—relaxed, fun and always professional.”

The Lodge of the Four Seasons began a multimillion-dollar renovation project earlier this year but remains open, offering golf and a spa.

Another lakeside property in town that regularly welcomes groups is the Camden on the Lake Resort, which recently added a two-bedroom Master Suite, ideal for meeting planners requiring a personal office or hospitality space. The resort is where the Missouri Economic Development Council held its annual conference last year, with more than 150 people in attendance. Pat Amick, its executive director, praised the quality of the venue and the hospitality of sales staff and meeting-coordination staff. “Add that to a perfect location on the Lake of the Ozarks and you have a perfect event,” Amick said.

To the south, in Osage Beach, the 420-acre Tan-Tar-A Resort is currently undergoing a thorough renovation, including upgrades to its conference space. The transformation is expected to continue into 2016 but in the meantime, attendees can continue to enjoy an on-site water park, horseback riding, golf and a 150-passenger yacht. And 13 miles west, in Camdenton, a new lodge is expected to open soon at Old Kinderhook; plans include 84 guest rooms, a conference center for up to 250 attendees and a seasonal outdoor pool.

From the resorts of the Lake of the Ozarks, it’s a quick, 45-mile drive to the state capital, Jefferson City, where visitors can tour the mural-adorned Missouri State Capitol Building. The city’s main meeting spaces are the Truman Hotel & Conference Center and the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Convention Center.

Southern Missouri: Branson & Beyond

Visitors flying into Branson have increased options this year thanks to an additional four flights with Branson AirExpress—from Chicago, Denver, Houston and Austin, Texas. The local airport is just 10 miles south of this well-touristed city, known for its entertainment options. Those available for groups include Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, which can host up to 1,100 attendees for special events; the Welk Resorts Branson, home to a 2,300-seat theater; the 10,000-square-foot Splash-A-Torium water park, enticing for groups traveling with kids in tow; the 1880s theme park Silver Dollar City, with covered outdoor event facilities for groups; and a new family adventure area called Fireman’s Landing with six rides and four attractions. Spirited team-building activities can be held at Track Family Fun Parks, which has batting cages, go-karts, laser tag, mini-golf and now mining for 20 different precious and semi-precious stones.

When it’s time to get down to work, the 220,000-square-foot Branson Convention Center in the downtown Branson Landing entertainment district has various options including 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 23,000-square-foot ballroom and rooms for small sessions. And thanks to its picturesque position on Lake Taneycomo, it’s conducive to outdoor breaks for some fresh air and a short stroll. The closest hotels are the Hilton/Branson Convention Center and the Hilton/Promenade at Branson Landing.

When the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association was looking for a new site for its annual Bench-Bar & Boardroom Conference, it decided upon Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center, which is located eight miles west of downtown Branson on Table Rock Lake. The three-day event has been held here since 2013 and draws approximately 350 attorneys and judges.

“The vast majority of guests stay at the hotel, and for off-site activities, we included a golf tournament at the Pointe Royale Golf Course,” said Tracey DeMarea, its director of membership and communications. “The Chateau on the Lake offers exactly what we need in a conference venue, and as it sits right on Table Rock Lake, the views and surrounding areas are just beautiful.”

Chateau on the Lake Resort recently completed a renovation of its guest rooms and event space. It is scheduled to welcome back the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association this year as well.

South of Branson, near Ridgedale, the Big Cedar Lodge can host meetings of up to 1,000 attendees.

Springfield, 45 miles north of Branson, boasts the Springfield Expo Center, which has 112,000 square feet of event space. Across the street is the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, which has its own gathering space. The flagship Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World has an array of on-site spaces, including an art gallery and shooting ranges; it’s also home to the 250-seat Uncle Buck’s Auditorium and the Archery Hall of Fame. Next door is the White River Conference Center, which has space for up to 650 people in its 9,600-square-foot ballroom and several other smaller spaces.

Additional venues that welcome group events include Hammons Field, a downtown ballpark that can accommodate up to 8,000 people; two theaters that are just two blocks from each other—the 641-seat Springfield Little Theatre and the 1,130-seat Gillioz Theatre; and the historic Pythian Castle, which can host special events of up to 250. At Missouri State University, the JQH Arena can seat up to 11,000 people and, just south of the city center, the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center has gathering space for up to 150 people.

Show Me the Way

Missouri borders eight other states, so for regional association meetings, it stands to reason that you can count on a maximum number of delegates to be able to attend. Thanks to its central location and all manner of transportation options, attendees can conveniently navigate from one site to the next. Add in plenty of new and improved attractions, destinations that appeal with old-time entertainment and genuine hospitality and you’ve got a package that will sell itself.