by Terri Hardin | February 01, 2017
It's well known that Missouri is one of the best meeting places in the Heartland: From urban culinary and cultural options to family fun and top-of-the-line entertainment, the Show-Me State has been building upon its meeting options, one success story at a time.

St. Louis
"In today's always competitive climate," says John Bettag, vice president of sales for Explore St. Louis, "We find that clients are looking for destination and hotel choices that help them meet their budget needs. When it comes to meeting those needs, St. Louis is a perfect fit as it's affordable and provides easy access from points all across the U.S."

The America's Center convention complex, is located along Washington Avenue with its vibrant MX District full of restaurants and nightlife. Nearby the center are properties that include Marriott, Four Seasons, Hilton, Embassy Suites, Drury, Holiday Inn, and Hyatt. "There are more than 7,000 available guest rooms in downtown St. Louis," says Bettag, "more than 1,750 of those rooms are newly remodeled and all within steps of America's Center," in addition to the more than 38,000 rooms in the metropolitan area.  

St. Louis takes full advantage of its having four seasons. "In the summer," says Bettag, "You can visit The Muny, the oldest and largest outdoor amphitheater for a musical and in the winter you can go ice-skating at Steinberg Skating Rink. There's always something to do in Forest Park, which includes many gems: St. Louis Zoo, Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Science Center, and more."

Recently opened venues that can host groups of up to 5,000 include the St. Louis Cardinal's--themed Ballpark Village entertainment and dining district, completed in 2014, which features the Cardinals Hall of Fame (adjacent to Busch Stadium).

Don't forget the beer: Just south of the Gateway Arch and along the Mississippi River, the famous Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour is always a favorite. The historic brewing complex is where guests can see how the company's products are brewed and visit the stables (built in 1885) that feature Budweiser Clydesdales. Guests can also attend brewmaster tastings in the Biergarten, where snacks and beverages are available. "Planners and attendees always rave about the brewery for its ability to create a memorable off-site event," says Bettag.

Bettag reminds planners that Explore St. Louis is "your one-stop shop" in booking an event, as it is the DMO and operator of the America's Center convention complex, which ensures a seamless experience from start to finish.  "From the eclectic and fascinating City Museum, to the Cardinals' Ballpark Village," he says, "St. Louis' unique and fun venues stand ready to help make your next meeting or event a huge success."

For planners who haven't visited St. Louis in the past year, there's a lot happening: Chief among the numerous projects currently under way or being planned throughout the St. Louis region that would be of interest to meeting planners is the $380 million National Park renovation surrounding the Gateway Arch, known as CityArchRiver, expected to be completed this year. Started in 2013 with the intention of helping better connect park visitors to the Mississippi River and downtown St. Louis, the project recently opened the northern entrance to the Arch grounds.

Devotees of live music are familiar with St. Louis' offerings. In 1914, St. Louis Blues (the song, not the hockey team!) debuted, ushering in an earthy urban jazz that has yet to go out of style. Signature spaces include Blueberry Hill in the historic Delmar Loop neighborhood, which can accommodate up to 350 guests for an off-site party. Until recently, Chuck Berry played the venue's Duck Room once a month, but other acts like Ed Sheeran can also be seen there. Among the latest music venues is the National Blues Museum, which debuted in April 2016. Close to America's Center, the museum proactively markets itself as a venue rental with a space that pays tribute to the history of American music.  

Elsewhere, the 104-seat Preston opened at the Chase Park Plaza in the former Eau Bistro in February. The dining space now features a soft palette of colors, maple flooring with distressed wood, and attractive molding.  Also, the 112-room Courtyard St. Louis Chesterfield is expected to open in April, featuring 1,426 square feet of meeting space.

Kansas City
Last August, Visit KC announced that on-the-books conventions would bring more than 45,000 attendees from 2017 to 2022, generating more than $32 million for the local economy. According to Eldon Gale, director of events at Scentsy, Inc., a direct seller of fragrance products, "What sealed the deal was the abundance of dining, nightlife, entertainment, shopping, and Kansas City's overall atmosphere. Kansas City is on the move and we are thrilled at the opportunity to showcase its riches to our attendees."

What kinds of offerings will greet the conventioneers? Venues like Boulevard Brewing Co.'s new Tours & Recreation Center, with a 10,000-square-foot Beer Hall including three event spaces that can accommodate from 35 to 225 guests. For an informal pub crawl, attendees can visit the Crossroads Arts District -- home to Torn Label, Double Shift, Brewery Emperial, and Border Brewing Co.

And they can dig the beat at the American Jazz Museum, the part museum and part working jazz club that is commemorating its 20th anniversary in 2017. In addition, the Mutual Musicians Foundation in the heart of the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, will celebrate its centenary in 2017.

Not to mention the barbecue, which begins with beef and then amps up the heat. Some of the best times to experience KC eats are during Restaurant Week, which happens in January.

Home to Missouri University ("Mizzou"), Columbia characterizes itself as a value destination midway between St. Louis and Kansas City. It has 37 hotels (soon to be 38) with more than 3,700 rooms. The largest is the 310-room Holiday Inn Executive Center--Columbia Mall, which features 35,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 19,000-square-foot Columbia Expo Hall. Columbia also has more than 200 (many uniquely local) restaurants, many of which can be found in The Downtown District. Having a student population keeps venues young and fresh, and there is a teaching aspect to many of the activities that attendees might find intriguing. Included in these is the recently opened "Blind Boone Home," former home of the pioneer ragtime musician, as well as several entertainment venues featuring jazz and other musical styles. Coming in April, the new 82-room SpringHill Suites Columbia is expected to open, with a picnic area and 1,536 square feet of meeting space.