There's a lot happening in the South Central states of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma that should be of interest to religious meeting and convention planners.
St. Louis, Branson, and Kansas City are building, growing, and stretching their destination muscles, with a plethora of dramatic projects rapidly moving from the drawing boards to reality.
Kansas City, for example, will be drastically different by 2007 as a downtown entertainment district — the Power & Light District — as well as the new Sprint Center arena and Kansas City Convention Center ballroom, create magnificent architectural additions to the city's art-deco skyline.The visitor experience will be enhanced with more restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. More than $3 billion in construction is taking place in the city's downtown urban core.
The biggest new venue in Missouri opens April 10: Busch Stadium, new home of the St. Louis Cardinals. The new ballpark will have suites and areas for groups to entertain.
Downtown St. Louis in general has been re-energized with the addition of dozens of restaurants, many with private dining rooms. Planned to open in 2007 is The Bottle District just west of the America's Center convention complex. The $200 million entertainment complex includes a Grand Prix Speedways Formula 1 Kart track and restaurants, including the Rawlings Sports Grill.
Branson continues to push past its once narrow definition as a country music alternative to Nashville with attractions that broaden its appeal to families and meeting planners looking for a range of options in a concentrated, comfortable locale. This year marks a new development record for the Branson/Lakes Area with the addition of the $420 million Branson Landing in downtown Branson. At the heart of the Landing is a town square large enough to accommodate 5,000 guests for festivals and music events and featuring a $7.5 million spectacular attraction that synchronizes water, light, sound, and fire. Also new in Branson are the Grand Exposition at Silver Dollar City theme park and Titanic: The World's Largest Titanic Museum Attraction, available for group meetings and other special events. Plus, Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater and Grill present the music, the rock legends, the cars, and the lifestyle of the 1950s and '60s.
In Arkansas, transportation has been the focus in the Little Rock area. The River Rail Trolleys travel over approximately 2.1 miles of track through downtown North Little Rock and Little Rock. Powered by overhead wire, the trolleys link Alltel Arena, Statehouse Convention Center, the River market, Argenta Historic District and neighborhood restaurants, and both chambers of commerce. Expansion of the route to include the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer International is under way.
The 125,000-square-foot JOHN Q. HAMMONS CONVENTION CENTER in Rogers is under construction and scheduled to open this June. It will connect to the EMBASSY SUITES HOTEL, a 248-unit property with 25,000 square feet of meeting space. Construction of a new tower of 152 suites and a full-service spa in the hotel should be complete in July 2007.
In Springdale, the 206-room HOLIDAY INN & NORTHWEST ARKANSAS CONVENTION CENTER HOTEL has 49,000 square feet of flexible space, banquet space for 3,000 guests, and 23 breakout rooms.
Beginning March 24, ALLEGIANT AIR will offer nonstop flights on 150-passenger jets between Topeka's Forbes Field and Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport on Fridays and Mondays.
The 110,000-square-foot KANSAS EXPOCENTRE in Topeka had a $3 million tune-up in 2005.
The TOPEKA RAMADA completed a $3 million renovation, including public spaces, guest rooms, and restaurant renovations, and added an indoor pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, and exercise room.
The HILTON CONVENTION CENTER COMPLEX in Branson will stand two stories high and offer guests 220,000 square feet of flexible space. The first level consists of a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall that can be divided into two sections, as well as a 23,000-square-foot ballroom. The second level has five meeing rooms. The center can accommodate up to 7,500 attendees. Convention guests who stay at the companion HILTON CONVENTION CENTER HOTEL or the HILTON PROMENADE AT BRANSON LANDING will be able to use a single wireless package at the convention center and their hotel.
THE RADISSON HOTEL BRANSON and THE GRAND PALACE have partnered to host meetings. Adjacent to the 472-room Radisson Hotel Branson, The Grand Palace — with its 3,8111-seat auditorium and stage — complements the hotel's 15,00 square feet of meeting space. The Grand Palace has a beautiful domed lobby enhanced by double winding grand staircases, and a surrounding mezzanine level for receptions and special events.
College of the Ozarks opened the 97,000-square-foot, four-story KEETER CENTER, which houses a new restaurant, meeting and conference space, lodging rooms, and classrooms.
JOHN Q. HAMMONS CONVENTION CENTER in Joplin completed a lobby remodel in August 2005.
In Joplin, the 69-room ECONOLODGE INN & SUITES opened in2005, the 83-room CANDLEWOOD SUITES opened in February, the 96-room HILTON GARDENS will open late this year, and a 144-room RESIDENCE INN opened in March.
LAMBERT-ST. LOUIS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT is expanding. A runway is being added, the terminal will be upgraded, and a new restaurant and retail stores will open. The new runway expands Lambert's airfield capacity by up to 51 percent.
THE KANSAS CITY MARRIOTT DOWNTOWN, the city's largest convention property, begins a multimillion-dollar renovation in April. The initial phase, scheduled for completion in 2007, includes renovation of all 573 guest rooms in the Marriott Tower. The second phase, renovation of all 410 guest rooms in the historic Muehlebach Tower, will follow.
In December, President Bush signed a bill containing language that exempts Missouri from federal restrictions on Dallas' Love Field airport. This will make it possible for SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, the signature carrier at Love Field, to begin nonstop jet service from Dallas to Kansas City and St. Louis.
In 2002, Kansas City voters approved an increase in local hotel and restaurant taxes to fund $135 million in improvements to the KANSAS CITY CONVENTION CENTER. The completion of the $22 million meeting-room and pre-function renovations marks the end of the first phase. The second phase, which includes the addition of a 46,450-square-foot ballroom over Interstate 670, will be completed in 2007.
Visitors to Kansas City have a new and speedy way to get around town. MAX, Metro Area Express, began operation in July 2005. The rapid transit bus line connect the River Market, downtown, Crown Center, and the Plaza.
On the eastern edge of Kansas City's new entertainment district, the $250 million, 18,500-seat SPRINT CENTER arena will open in 2007. As part of the project, the Kansas City — based National Association of Basketball Coaches will open a National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
John Q. Hammons Hotels Inc. plans to build the RESIDENCE INN BY MARRIOTT KANSAS CITY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, a 150-suite hotel, near Kansas City International Airport. It is expected to open late this year.
The TULSA CONVENTION CENTER has a 102,600-square-foot exhibit hall, 23 meeting rooms, an 8,900-seat arena, and an executive conference room, and has added new flooring and wall finishes throughout the second and third levels.
Ask the CVB
BENTONVILLE ADVERTISING & PROMOTION COMMISSION
(800) 410-2535; www.bentonvilleusa.org
Total Hotel Tax: 13%
HOT SPRINGS CVB
(800) 922-6478; www.hotsprings.org
Total Hotel Tax: 13.5%
LITTLE ROCK CVB
(800) 844-4781; www.littlerock.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11.5%
(479) 636-1240; www.rogerslowell.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13%
GREATER HUTCHINSON CVB
(800) 691-4282, (620) 662-3391
Total Hotel Tax: 14.05%
(800) 235-1030; www.topekacvb.org
BRANSON/LAKES AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND CVB
Total Hotel Tax: 12.475%
INDEPENDENCE TOURISM DEPARTMENT
(800) 748-7323, (816) 325-7111
Total Hotel Tax: 13.725%
(800) 657-2534; www.visitjoplinmo.org
Total Hotel Tax: 11.225%
KANSAS CITY CONVENTION & VISITORS ASSOC.
(800) 767-7700; www.visitkc.com
Total Hotel Tax: 14.855%
ST. LOUIS CONV. & VISITORS COMMISSION
City Tax: 14.866%
County Tax: 13.324% to 14.575%
Total Hotel Tax: 11.8%
(800) 225-5652; www.visitokc.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13.875%
(800) 558-3311; www.visittulsa.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13.517%
Downtown St. Louis houses many of the trendiest and finest restaurants in the area. The city offers many great venues for events; in addition to The Gateway Arch, these include the City Museum, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri Botanical Garden, and Missouri History Museum.
St. Louis' The America's Center and convention flagship hotel, the Renaissance Grand Hotel & Suites, are across the street from each other and have been fully renovated in the past five years.
Kansas City, Mo., has become a haven for Midwestern artists, many of whom have settled into the eclectic Crossroads Arts District. The first Friday of each month brings thousands of visitors to the district, when more than 40 galleries and shops remain open until 9 p.m. Many galleries allow special events.
The “Super Bowl” of amateur road racing will be held in Topeka for the next three years. The Sports Car Club of America's National Championship Runoffs will bring more than 10,000 fans to the city October 9-15 this year.
Imagine a 67-story office building lying on its side, and you'll get an idea of how large the expansion of Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will be when it opens in 2007 after a $200 million expansion. The expansion includes the new Ford Learning Center, dedicated in 2005, and the Bloch Building. The addition will expand the Museum by 71 percent, from its present 234,000 square feet to some 400,000 square feet. www.nelson-atkins.org
New to North Little Rock, Ark., is the NORTH SHORE MARITIME CENTER, featuring the ARKANSAS INSLAND MARITIME MUSEUM. The museum may be rented for private parties and tours. www.aimm.museum
The WINDSONG PERFORMING ARTS CENTER is a $3 million facility owned and operated by INTERNATIONAL PIANO GALLERY in North Little Rock. Set to open this year, the 36,500-square-foot facility sits on 13 acres and will feature a 316-seat concert hall, recording studio, 20 teaching studios, and a reception hall.
In Independence, Mo., the TRUMAN MEMORIAL BUILDING on the square offers rooms and facilities for meetings. The TRUMAN PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM AND LIBRARY also has meeting rooms, an auditorium and programs for groups. www.trumanlibrary.org
OLD PRAIRIE TOWN at Ward-Meade historic Site in Topeka, Kan., is a six-acre complex featuring a pioneer village, 2.5 acres of botanical gardens, and a working soda fountain where cold lunches and sweet treats are served. Receptions, reunions, and tour groups are welcome. www.topeka.org/parksrec/ward_meade.shtml
Designed by renowned architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Topeka's GREAT OVERLAND STATION was reported to be “one of the finest passenger stations on the line” when it opened in 1927. With its 34-foot-high ceiling and ornate glazed terra cotta ornamentation, this elegant building is now a railroad heritage museum and a spectacular venue for meetings and events. www.greatoverlandstation.com
WONDERS OF WILDLIFE MUSEUM & AQUARIUM, Springfield, Mo., boasts more than 225 species of live animals, as well as aquariums and hands-on exhibits. The upper lobby gallery can host a sit-down dinner for 120, or a reception for up to 200 guests. The Out-To-Sea gallery has a 14-by-26-foot window into the deep sea with four species of sharks, eels, and other saltwater fish. This gallery can seat 80 people banquet-style or it can seat 125 for a reception. www.wondersofwildlife.org