There may be a housing crisis nationwide, but the meetings business is still being courted with downright ferocity in the South-Central states, where billions of dollars are being spent on new hotels, venues, convention centers, and mass transit in hopes of luring more business travelers.

And it's not just the big cities of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Little Rock that are leading the parade. Traditional secondary cities such as Wichita, Kan.; Hot Springs, Ark.; and Branson, Mo., are all ramping up their hospitality projects in search of more meetings.

In Oklahoma, for example, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau are conducting a broad-reaching study that will address the future needs of the meetings market, including convention space. The past 18 months have seen the downtown capacity of hotel rooms more than double, to about 2,000 total rooms. The next 12 months will see the city's hotel inventory grow from 14,000 to more than 17,000.

In Branson, the convention center that opened last year has prompted nearby venues to create more space for meetings, a shift from the area's previous leisure-travel focus.

And in Arkansas, the Hot Springs Convention Center in January was spruced up with new carpeting throughout the 360,000-square-foot facility and new furniture in the public areas. In Fort Smith, a new 12,000 square-foot Downtown Events Center opened April 1 with an AV system, a full kitchen, and Internet/computer connections.

The South-Central States/Facilities Update

Arkansas

  • The newly renovated, 131-year-old Capital Hotel in Little Rock offers intimate and unique hotel charm even as 120 rooms were remade into 94. Rooms now have flat-screen televisions and wireless Internet.

  • The all-new Crowne Plaza Little Rock offers 244 guest rooms, including 11 suites and a Club Floor. The hotel boasts 10 meeting rooms.

  • An 87-room Candlewood Suites Hotel is under construction in Fort Smith and expected to open this summer.

  • Holiday Inn City Center Downtown has completed a $6 million renovation of its 255 guest rooms. The hotel is adjacent to the Fort Smith Convention Center and Performing Arts Complex.

Kansas

  • Overland Park has 33 hotels and 5,112 rooms. Two new hotels are scheduled to open this year, adding 237 rooms. Six more hotels are proposed and would offer another 743 rooms. Two more hotels are under construction in Leawood, with expected completion late this year and early 2009.

  • Construction is under way on the 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita, expected to open in 2010.

  • The first phase of the WaterWalk development along the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita, including retail space and an amphitheater, is scheduled to open later this year. It is adjacent to the 303-room Hyatt Regency Wichita and Century II Convention Center.

Missouri

  • A 133-room Hampton Inn and Suites is scheduled to open in Columbia this year with 5,900 square feet of meeting space.

  • Doubletree Hotel in downtown Jefferson City has completed a renovation. The building now offers 151 rooms, 3,400 square feet of exhibit space, and 5,928 square feet of meeting space.

  • Hammons Hotels plans to build a luxury, all-suite hotel in Springfield connected to the Springfield Expo Center by early 2010.

  • The former Sheraton Inn is under new ownership and is undergoing renovations. The remodeled hotel will operate under the Doubletree flag.

  • Holiday Inn & Suites in Springfield renovated its 188 sleeping rooms in 2007. Public spaces were renovated in the first quarter of 2008. The hotel has 8,235 square feet of meeting space.

  • University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield completed a renovation of its 271 guest rooms. The hotel has 39,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The Kansas City Downtown Marriott concluded phase one of a multimillion-dollar makeover that included 573 guest rooms. The second phase will renovate all 410 rooms in the historic Muehlebach Tower. The hotel has nearly 10,000 square feet of function space.

  • The 910-room Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown St. Louis will become the Hyatt Regency St. Louis Riverfront after a multimillion-dollar renovation.

  • The 672-room Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark completed a $5 million renovation of 7,500 square feet of ballroom and meeting space. This comes on the heels of a $16 million renovation.

  • The Radisson Hotel & Suites Downtown is now a Crowne Plaza Hotel. The first phase of a $10 million room renovation is complete.

  • In the Central West End, the 220-room Parkway Hotel opened adjacent to St. Louis' Washington University Medical Center.

  • Chase Park Plaza completed a $20 million renovation of its rooms, public spaces, and meeting areas. The historic hotel is adding 89 rooms.

  • The Hyatt Regency St. Louis completed a $9.2 million renovation.

  • In the Clayton business district, the Radisson Clayton has been reflagged the Crowne Plaza St. Louis-Clayton. The hotel added 61 guest rooms and suites for a total of 257 rooms.

  • Branson Convention Center opened in September 2007. It has 220,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 23,000-square-foot ballroom.

  • The 294-room Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel is an extension of the Branson Convention Center; the 242-room Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing is a block away.

Oklahoma

  • Stillwater has a new Cimarron Hotel & Suites. Set to open this year are a Holiday Inn (fall); Microtel (July); LaQuinta (late 2008/early 2009). A Residence Inn is expected in 2009.

  • Hampton Inn & Suites in the historic Bricktown entertainment district of Oklahoma City is on schedule to open in the third quarter.

  • The Sheraton Hotel Downtown Oklahoma City announced an expansion that will include a 10,000-square-foot ballroom.

  • Renovations are under way at the Tulsa Convention Center that, when completed in 2010, will include a new 30,000-square-foot ballroom and an additional 10,000 square feet of meeting space. Upon completion, the center will house more than 250,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 106,000-square-foot exhibition hall.

  • Across from the convention center, Tulsa is on schedule to complete the $178 million, 550,000-square-foot Bank of Oklahoma Center in September. The multipurpose arena will have 18,500 seats and feature 37 luxury suites.

  • The Renaissance Tulsa Hotel and Conference Center has more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space in 23 rooms, including a 28,000-square-foot ballroom. The hotel has 300 guest rooms.

Trip Tips

  • The St. Louis Convention Center MetroLink light rail station can deliver 6,400 people during a one-hour peak period prior to an event.

  • Kansas City's famous barbecue is served up at more than 100 restaurants. The city is also home to three James Beard award-winning chefs.

  • Kansas City is the only major city within 250 miles of both the geographic and population centers of the United States.

  • Overland Park, Kan., offers easy access to an international airport and is within a day's drive for more than 62 million people.

  • In downtown Tulsa, streets west of Main are named, alphabetically, for cities west of the Mississippi River. East of Main, streets are named (also alphabetically) for cities east of the Mississippi.

Ask the CVB

Arkansas

Bentonville CVB
(800) 410-2535
www.bentonvilleusa.org

Fort Smith CVB
(800) 637-1477
www.fortsmith.org

Hot Springs CVB
(501) 321-2027
www.hotsprings.org

Norman CVB
(800) 767-7260
www.visitnorman.com

North Little Rock VB
(501) 758-1424
www.northlittlerock.org

Rogers CVB
(479) 636-1240
www.rogerslowell.com

Kansas

Greater Wichita CVB
(800) 288-9424
www.visitwichita.com

Overland Park CVB
(913) 491-0123
www.opcvb.org

Visit Topeka Inc.
(800) 235-1030
www.visitTopeka.travel

Missouri

Columbia CVB
(573) 875-1231
www.visitcolumbiamo.com

Jefferson City CVB
(573) 632-2820
www.VisitJeffersonCity.com

Joplin CVB
(800) 657-2534
www.visitjoplinmo.com

Kansas City CVA
(800) 767-7700
www.visitkc.com

St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission
(800) 325-7963
www.explorestlouis.com

Springfield CVB
(800) 678-8767
www.meet-me-in-springfield.com

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City CVB
(405) 297-8912
www.visitokc.com

Tulsa CVB
(800) 558-3311
www.visittulsa.com

Special Venues

  • St. Louis offers motorcycle and car lovers two sites to rev their engines. The Moto Museum (www.themotomuseum.com) displays more than 80 motorcycles, including rare and vintage bikes from Germany, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, and Spain. Car buffs can check out the Kemp Auto Museum (www.kempautomuseum.org), with more than 40 cars from the early 1900s to modern times.

  • The Regnier Center for Business and Technology in Overland Park, Kan., offers training rooms, computer labs, a 6,000-square-foot conference center that seats 350, and classrooms. www.centerforbusiness.org

  • Opened October 2007, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park is the Midwest's largest contemporary art museum, and includes a 200-seat auditorium and classrooms. http://gallery.jccc.net/nerman/

  • The Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium and can host events for 350 or more, including dinner around vintage aircraft or a starry night presentation at the planetarium. www.tulsaairandspacemuseum.com.

  • Oklahoma Aquarium has 82,000 square feet of event space. www.okaquarium.org.

  • In Stillwater, most planners choose The Atherton Hotel at Oklahoma State University when seeking something special. This upscale hotel is inside the OSU Student Union and is run by students in the Hotel and Restaurant Management School. There is nearly 30,000 square feet of meeting space in the building. osu.okstate.edu/hospitality/