by Andrea Doyle | August 02, 2018
St. Louis is undergoing a transformation, with new attractions, hotels, investors and artisans reshaping its landscape.

"This energy is being pulsed throughout our hospitality community, bringing a renewed vibrancy to our convention corridor that is visible to both planners and their attendees," says  Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis. "If you haven't been to St. Louis recently, we invite you to take a look at how new investments and projects are making St. Louis one of the nation's most accessible, attractive and affordable convention destinations."

Successful Meetings spoke with Ratcliffe about what's new in the city and what planners should know.

What's new in the city for groups?

First and foremost, we are thrilled for the completion of the $380 million reimagining of the grounds and museum at the iconic Gateway Arch.  These renovations are enhancing the visitor's experience by better connecting the Gateway Arch with both downtown and the Mississippi River. Additionally, the improvements include new spaces and facilities that offer meeting planners some of the most unique and memorable venues for parties and off-site event activities. Not only is the Arch a must-see attraction for millions of annual visitors, but it is now more than ever, a specialized venue that will serve as a centerpiece of meetings and conventions in St. Louis.

Several new hotels -- some of them capitalizing on the city's historical narrative, others offering panoramic views of downtown's iconic landmarks and cultural institutions, and still others providing a luxurious respite at rooftop bars, a Baja-inspired restaurant, soothing spas and sea salt swimming pools -- are in various development phases with plans to open in the next two years. These new hotels will contribute an additional 1,600 rooms to downtown's already plentiful inventory of more than 7,000 rooms, which include some of the most prestigious brands in the industry: ­Four Seasons, Westin, Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. Among the exciting hotel projects underway is a 216-room Live! By Loews property that is part of the second phase of the Ballpark Village, across the street from Busch Stadium, opening in 2020.

The St. Louis area also offers great hotel products outside of the downtown core, including The Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta, starting a major renovation in 2018; the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis, which recently completed an $8.7 million renovation of all guest rooms and restaurant; and the Angad Arts Hotel,a 145-room boutique hotel in the Grand Center's theatre and arts district, opening in late 2018.

We are also eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Saint Louis Aquarium at Union Station.  Opening in late 2019, the $45 million project is part of a renovation of the historic property that will not only serve as family entertainment destination but will provide planners with unique backdrops and locations for meetings and events.
What's a venue or activity that's a "hidden gem" for visiting groups?

One unique locale in St. Louis that everyone has to see for themselves is City Museum. Drawing more than 850,000 visitors a year, City Museum is a one-of-a-kind playhouse museum for adults and kids alike. Made from repurposed architectural and industrial objects housed in the 600,000-square-foot former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District, the museum has won local and international awards as a must-see destination. City Museum is also one of the most popular event venues in St. Louis and offers groups multiple spaces and places to play, relax and enjoy.  It is the perfect place for an opening or closing night event that will surely be a hit with attendees.

Not to be overlooked, the Cardinals' Ballpark Village (located adjacent to Busch Stadium) has become a go-to-venue for both large and small off-site events.  With the ability to create memorable experiences for groups from 10 to 5,000, this multi-purpose live entertainment and sports destination has been delivering for planners since its opening in 2014.

What's a good outing for a group looking to get a sense of the city's culture or history?

A great outing for any group is visiting Forest Park, with its rich history, green spaces, and numerous attractions. There literally is something for everyone in the park. It is home to the No. 1 rated Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, as well as The Muny outdoor theatre, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer.  Forest Park boasts miles of biking and walking trails, golf courses, paddle boats and abundant recreational areas.  It is also the home for many of our region's most popular events, including the LouFest music festival, The Great Forest Park Balloon Glow & Race, as well as the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis performances every spring in Shakespeare Glen.

Where should a group go to get a truly local culinary experience?

St. Louis has always been a great food town, but in the last few years, a group of innovative new chefs has taken the region by storm to the delight of foodies not only in St. Louis but across the country.  In fact, national food media have been raving about the St. Louis food scene, including Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Tasting Table and more. With James Beard award-winning and nominated chefs throughout the region, visitors can expect unique and creative dining experiences.  What's great about St. Louis is that you don't have to be a "foodie" to appreciate the restaurant scene here, as there's something for every palate so no one will leave St. Louis hungry...although we hope they all come back for seconds.   

Is there anything else that you think makes your city a great destination for groups?

The satisfaction surveys for groups at the America's Center Convention Complex consistently provide us very high marks.  In addition to the world-class accommodations, ease of access, great nightlife options, wonderful attractions and state-of-the-art convention facilities, the number one reason visitors enjoy their time in St. Louis is our warmth and friendly hospitality employees. From the moment they arrive, throughout their time in the convention center and going out on the town, meeting attendees always tell us it is the friendly and outstanding service they receive from our hospitality professionals that sets St. Louis apart from other destinations. In the end, it's the experience that counts, and the people of St. Louis deliver.