By Michael Humphrey
Meeting planners looking for an industrial-size meeting space will find it at Kansas City’s Business and Technology College Exhibit Hall (BTC). It’s located in the heart of the modern warehouse and manufacturing district near the Missouri River, and there’s nothing dainty about it.
But take a closer look at the BTC Exhibit Hall and you’ll find something surprising – an aesthetic appeal and a friendly demeanor.
“I’ll be the first to tell a potential client whether we are right for them,” says Liz Besser, sales and service representative for the BTC Exhibit Hall. “We are first and foremost an educational facility, and we have a unique space here, so we really aren’t the best fit for every event. On the other hand, if we do fit your needs, I think you will find the service you receive here to be as good as any in the business.”
A quick browse over the statistics will give you a sense of whether this is the place for you:
* 56,000 square feet of column-free exhibition space;
* 37-foot ceilings for a 31-foot clearing;
* Automated 31-foot air walls;
* Three ground level freight doors – one 16-by-16 feet and two 16-by-12 feet.
* A second-floor balcony looking over the exhibit hall, used for planners or executives; and
* State-of-the-art technology.
It’s not exactly space for an intimate gathering of eight people. But it will allow you to put on one heck of a trade show, a large employee meeting, social club gathering, competition or conference. And there’s more flexibility than meets the eye, thanks to the enormous resources of the college.
TRADE FROM THE START
You wouldn’t recognize it after a $9 million renovation, but the space was once home to the Kansas City Merchandise Mart, which hosted trade shows for buyers in the region.
“In its heyday, there were six four day shows a year,” Besser says. “The industry was so popular then, it made sense for it to have its own trade hall.”
In the past 10 years the building was used to unify various economic development initiatives, industrial technical training, and customized business training programs offered by the Metropolitan Community Colleges (MCC), a group of five community colleges in urban and suburban Kansas City.
In 2002, MCC expanded the building to nearly triple its original size by adding the new exhibit hall. It not only fit the college’s specific needs but also enhanced the institution’s stated goal: “advancing economic growth and workforce development.”
With the community in mind, designers decided it would not be enough to create the usual industrial look. Call the look “soft industrial.” The main entrance is colorful and inviting, with slate floors, richly stained beams in the ceilings and bright lighting everywhere. It actually invites the community with its aesthetics.
“We want to be a community resource,” Besser says. “That’s why we are so willing to work with groups to meet their needs.”
That’s not just talk, says Marlene Nagel, community development director for the Mid American Regional Council.
“They went out of their way to help us with our events,” Nagel says. “They are so easy to work with, helpful and accessible. Plus, the facility is first class.”
She should know. Late this summer Nagel coordinated the Regional Readiness briefing on Homeland Security at the BTC Exhibit Hall. The program included some pretty serious logistics, because its purpose was to display some of the most sophisticated equipment and management strategies for a major disaster in the region. Guests included public officials and media representatives.
“We brought in a lot of equipment,” Nagel says. “We had equipment from the fire department to show rescue capabilities, state-of-the-art medical response equipment, a number of vehicles.”
NOT YOUR AVERAGE TRADE SHOW
“Because it was equipment that needed to be secure,” Nagel continues, “having the indoor space to set up displays was really beneficial.”
But it wasn’t just service and facilities that won over Nagel.
“The location was excellent as well,” she says.
That may sound like a strange compliment for a facility in an industrial area. But the exhibit hall’s close proximity to I-435 makes it easy for driving and central in the metro area.
“That was important for our clientele,” Nagel says, “because we invited public officials from all over the area.”
And then Besser’s promise of flexibility with the school’s resources kicked in.
“We used one of their conference facilities a few weeks earlier for training on security precautions,” Nagel says. “We had representatives from large office buildings and other public venues from all over the metro area.”
Besser says the school’s classrooms and conference rooms – which offer top-notch technology – can be available in addition to the main hall.
“We’ll be flexible whenever we can,” she says. “Obviously the needs of the college come first, but I’ll do my best with the space and any charges, if necessary.”
It’s surprising who sees the potential in the space and uses its flexibility. For instance, a model airplane club saw the value in the high ceilings and the lack of wind problems. They now fly in the hall monthly. A dance competition split the hall in two, using one side for performances and the other for dressing rooms.
“It’s amazing how the space can morph into what you need,” Besser says.
Those resources keep coming:
* Computer labs (when available);
* Video conferencing;
* Printing services (from the college’s printing shop);
* 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. access for set-up;
* Free parking.
“I think that’s a major advantage,” Besser says. “How many exhibit halls of our size can boast a large and free parking lot right next to the main entrance?”
All these amenities explain why Ingram’s Magazine named the BTC Hall one of the best convention and meeting facilities in Kansas City.
If there’s room for improvement, Besser readily admits, it is the lack of small meeting space that planners typically find in a convention hotel.
The Intrigue Park Place Hotel next to the exhibit hall was a high-end facility in the 1970s, during the trade show days.
“There was a time I didn’t even use the hotel as a selling point,” Besser says. “It had just become too run down.”
That’s beginning to change, thanks to new management. The hotel has now remodeled 144 of its 328 rooms and the Lakeside Restaurant, and created an all-new fitness center. There is an excellent indoor-outdoor pool and a 5,000-square-foot ballroom.
“If we could get some board rooms in there, we’d be set,” Besser says. “It’s great to see the changes.”
The proximity to downtown (under 10 minutes along Front St.) also keeps BTC competitive.
So does the price, Besser says.
“We’re not giving the hall away, but I know we are very competitive with our pricing,” she says. “Especially when you consider the service we provide.”
For the full 5,600 square feet, the cost is $5,500 a day. Hall A, with 43,000 square feet, costs $4,300 a day. Hall B, at 13,500 square feet, costs $1,500 a day. Rates include one move-in day.
“We’re easy to negotiate with move-ins,” Besser says. “If we have the time, we can push a day for setup or breakdown. Whatever we can do to make our clients want to come back, we’ll do it.” MM&E
(Michael Humphrey is the contributing editor from Kansas City, Mo.)
BTC Exhibit Hall
1775 Universal Ave.
Kansas City, MO 64120