Show Me the Spotlight

Associations can easily find the right stage for events in the Show-Me State. The klieg lights of Branson’s theaters, the towering Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the knockout sites of hometown ballparks all serve as charming hosts for visiting groups.

Missouri may not be the largest of states, but it’s certainly big on hospitality. Groups of all sizes are embraced and shown considerable attention. From musical extravaganzas to all-star sports, Missouri offers its visitors a generous selection of entertaining choices.

St. Louis & Northern Missouri: great gatherings

An image that first springs to mind when picturing Missouri is the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. From September through May, events can be held within the attraction, which is set to revamp after the completion of CityArchRiver 2015. This $380 million renovation project of the surrounding grounds is expected to add more event spaces.

Several nearby downtown properties have recently undergone improvements, too. Last spring, the landmark St. Louis Union Station began a $25 million renovation that is expected to expand meeting space—it currently offers 100,000 square feet—and improve its retail area and Grand Hall. Updated hotels with meeting space include the Crowne Plaza/St. Louis Downtown; the Drury Inn & Suites/Convention Center, located atop Union Market; and the Hilton/St. Louis Downtown at the Arch.

The America’s Center Convention Complex, the hub of the city meetings scene, has 1.2 million square feet of space including the 67,000-seat Edward Jones Dome. Groups that have met here in recent years include the American Foundry Society, the American Institute of Steel Construction and the St. Louis Regional Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Adjacent to the convention center is the Mercantile Exchange District with dining, entertainment and shopping options. It is expected to add the 23,000-square-foot National Blues Museum in 2015.

Baseball fans can gather at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals of Major League Baseball play. The stadium can seat more than 46,000 people with additional small, special-event spaces. Just north of the stadium, the first phase of Ballpark Village, a 10-acre development, is expected to open on March 27 with a three-level, 30,000-square-foot venue, Cardinals Nation. It will house the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum and the Budweiser Brew House, a restaurant with a 320-seat rooftop event deck looking into the stadium.

A few blocks away, groups can meet in the 19,150-seat Scottrade Center or at the nearby 3,100-seat Peabody Opera House. Farther west, in Forest Park, is the St. Louis Art Museum, whose East Building opened last summer with 200,000 square feet of additional space that includes a 100-seat restaurant. The museum can now host groups of up to 480. Also within the park is the St. Louis Zoo, which can be rented out for events in the thousands.

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, northwest of downtown, has more than 250 daily departures. Several renovation projects are underway in Terminal 1, and the neighboring St. Louis Airport Marriott is upgrading its guest rooms and public spaces, a $20 million project that is expected to wrap up later this year.

In Saint Charles, northwest of St. Louis on the Missouri River, the 1 million-square-foot Streets of St. Charles mixed-use development opened last year with dining, shopping and entertainment options. The Saint Charles Convention Center and attached Embassy Suites Hotel & Spa offer a combined 154,000 square feet of event space, including a 35,700-square-foot exhibit hall and a 16,200-square-foot grand ballroom. Other options include the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa, the Grand Opera House Banquet Center, with space for up to 200, and the new 5,000-square-foot Old Stone Chapel & Ballroom.

Frontier Park hosts the Lewis & Clark Heritage Days celebration each May. The Lewis & Clark Boat House & Nature Center provides educational exhibits and river views. And the 5,510-seat T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon welcomes groups on its field, party deck or picnic area.

Organizations that have recently met in the St. Charles area include the Missouri Foundation for Health, the National Procurement Institute and the Greater St. Louis Dental Society, which brought 2,200 attendees to town last year for the Mid-Continent Dental Congress. Meg Shannon, the group’s executive director, said that the “bright, spacious” convention center and the city’s proximity to the international airport were two of the reasons the organization chose St. Charles as its host destination.

Greater Kansas City: Building on Success

In Kansas City, a two-mile downtown streetcar line is under construction and is expected to open in mid-2015 with 18 stops. Downtown venues include the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, with spaces for up to 1,800 people, and the American Jazz Museum, which can host groups of up to 1,000 people.

For large meetings, the Kansas City Convention Center has 388,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 46,484-square-foot Grand Ballroom. The Sprint Center can seat upward of 18,000 people.

The convention center is connected to the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, which has a new lobby. The downtown Crown Center is an entertainment complex that’s home to a Sheraton and a Westin hotel, both of which benefited from a $22 million renovation last year and share 150,000 square feet of event space. And in the shopping district Country Club Plaza, the Hotel Sorella opened in November complete with a rooftop pool area with fire pits. West of town, the Kansas Speedway has 50,000 square feet of meeting space, and Sporting Park can seat up to 25,000 people.

Kansas City keeps attracting more groups as its accommodation options increase. Recent guests include the Rural Broadband Association, the Association of American Colleges & Universities and the School Nutrition Association. In November, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association celebrated its 25th annual convention at the Marriott Hotel with 1,250 attendees. Off-site events were held at the historic, 3,573-seat Midland Theater, with other late-night activities in the Power & Light District.

“Things were affordable and, despite the city being small compared to other tier-one cities the group has been to, it had a lot of attractions and activities to offer,” said Maria Volpe-Viles, the association’s event planner. “Our tours to the various museums were sold out, and people truly enjoyed learning about a destination they knew very little about.”

Just east of Kansas City, in the town of Independence, groups can meet at a variety of attractions dedicated to former resident President Harry Truman. The Harry S. Truman Library & Museum has a 250-seat auditorium and other smaller meeting spaces. The Truman Memorial Building, built in 1926, can host up to 1,000 people, and the newly renovated Truman Courthouse is now home to an art museum and the Independence Visitors Center.

Jefferson City & Lake of the Ozarks: Capital Delights

A state capital, like Jefferson City (or just plain “Jeff City”), tends to be ideally set up for visiting association meetings as it contains all the event facilities, lobbying possibilities and first-class transport links one would expect in the local seat of power. Many groups tour the Missouri State Capitol Building, whose stunning interiors feature the famous Thomas Hart Benton murals. Two of the capital’s major event spaces are the Truman Hotel & Conference Center and the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Convention Centre.

An hour to the southwest is Lake of the Ozarks, a watery recreation wonderland that can cater to groups on retreat. In Lake Ozark, the Lodge of Four Seasons includes golf and a spa. Camden on the Lake has added 4,000 square feet of function space. The Shawnee Bluff Vineyard opened last year just 10 miles from its winery with a concert stage and room for small events. In the nearby town of Osage Beach, the Inn at Grand Glaize has newly renovated guest rooms, and the 420-acre Tan-Tar-A Resort has a water park, horseback riding, golf and a 150-passenger yacht. About 15 miles farther south, in Camdenton, upgrades are underway at the Old Kinderhook Golf Course. The new Lodge at Old Kinderhook with a divisible ballroom for up to 250 is expected to open late this year.

Southern Missouri: In the Limelight

Visitors are attracted to Branson’s entertainment, and meeting planners have come to rely on the city’s professional convention capabilities. Organizations that have recently held functions in Branson include the Missouri Bankers Association, the Missouri Dietetic Association, the Missouri Concrete Association and the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

At Branson Landing, a downtown entertainment area on the shores of Lake Taneycomo, the 220,000-square-foot Branson Convention Center offers 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 23,000-square-foot ballroom and small breakout rooms. Its closest hotels are the Hilton/Branson Convention Center and the 242-room Hilton/Promenade at Branson Landing.

A trip to Branson, most famous for its musical and theatrical extravaganzas, would not be complete without a visit to the 970-seat Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater or Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, which can host up to 1,017 attendees. Groups with a historical bent might prefer the Titanic/Branson, a museum with flexible event space, historical artifacts and a new gallery on the lives of the ship’s band members.

Ten miles west, near Table Rock Lake, the Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center can host groups of up to 3,000. The property is undergoing a renovation of its meeting spaces and guest rooms, which is expected to be completed later this year. To the south is Big Cedar Lodge near Ridgedale, which can host meetings of up to 1,000 attendees and offers many recreation options.

Forty miles north of Branson is Springfield, the state’s third-largest city. The 112,000-square-foot Springfield Expo Center is across from the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center.

Another draw for event organizers is the flagship Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, a 300,000-square-foot site with shooting ranges, a boat showroom and the 250-seat Uncle Buck’s Auditorium. 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.

Hammons Field, a downtown baseball facility, can host groups of up to 8,000 people. Two nearby theaters—the 641-seat Springfield Little Theater and the 1,130-seat Gillioz Theatre—also welcome group events. Adjacent to Evangel University, the historic Pythian Castle can host up to 250 people. At Missouri State University, the JQH Arena can seat up to 11,000 people. Just south of the city center, the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center has gathering space for up to 150.

Ozark Empire Fairgrounds is the site of the annual Mid-America Street Rod Nationals Plus, which has been held in Springfield for the last 19 years. “In 2013, we had more than 2,000 registered participants with their cars in Springfield, and the total headcount over the weekend was more than 13,000,” said Mike Chrispyn, the group’s special events director. “On Friday and Saturday nights, people line both sides of Glenstone Avenue for a mile to see our parade of cars.”

Chrispyn said there are several reasons the association likes Springfield. “First, the city welcomes our crowd. The Springfield CVB is wonderful. Everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at the CVB has always gone out of their way to make our event feel at home and make it successful.” Chrispyn also praised the staffs of both the DoubleTree by Hilton and the fairgrounds. “With an event of this size and with the number of people it brings, there can be some last-minute needs, and no matter how big or little those needs are, the staff always takes care of them,” he said.

Another group familiar with Springfield is the Missouri Local Government Employee Retirement System, which has been holding its annual meetings in town for almost two decades, according to Bob Wilson, its assistant executive secretary. “The City of Springfield and the University Plaza Hotel are incredible hosts; Sue Martin with University Plaza was with us from day one and took our group as her own,” he said.

Group Mentality

No matter the destination in the Show-Me State, convention venues and hotels in Missouri are sure to pull out all the stops to impress visiting attendees. From the shining sights of St. Louis to the musical hits heard in Branson, associations can experience well-rounded programs that appeal to all attendees.