By Tony Carosella
“Good meetings happen in small places,”a twist on the old saying, “Good things come in small packages,” is appropriate for the event planner looking for a venue away from conventional sites. Maybe privacy and bonding are ingredients the organizers are hoping to achieve. Planners looking to create a memorable smaller meeting will discover that small towns and communities can be ideal places to pique the interest of their attendees.
A New Haven for Meetings
Just an hour outside of downtown St. Louis and nestled in the rolling hills of Missouri wine country are two popular small meeting venues. Cedar Creek Conference Center is a 130-acre facility made for meetings. Cedar Creek can accommodate up to 85 people overnight and several hundred for daytime events in various conference rooms and a Western Town themed dining hall. WiFi and audio-visual hookups for presentation needs are available throughout the meeting rooms. Guests can unwind with a swim in the pool, fish on the 7-acre lake, play a set of tennis, practice on the nine-hole executive golf course, and enjoy the view of rolling hills on the hiking trail. Also on site is the Swiss Chalet dining hall with a full-time staff serving a top notch menu. The recreation lounge is fully equipped with a fireplace, self-service bar, big-screen TV with satellite service as well as various tabletop games.
Also in New Haven, Robller Vineyards and Winery is perched atop one of the region’s breathtaking rolling hills. The winery is at the east end of the very popular Hermann Wine Trail group of wineries. Lois Mueller, co-owner of Robller Winery, comments on how popular the winery has been for events: “We’ve had everything from weddings to wakes.” Robller Winery has also hosted corporate and charity groups such as the Missouri Grape Growers Association, Exceptional Equestrians, and the United Way. The large wine tasting room doubles as a meeting room and can comfortably seat about 100. An outdoor pavilion overlooking the vineyards has hosted many weddings and musical events. Robller’s Reggae Sunsplash is an annual event held on the second weekend in August and always draws hundreds
of wine lovers.
If pride in the community is attractive for small meeting locations, then Boonville is a gorgeous setting. A historic community on the Missouri River with more than 450 homes listed on the National Historic Registry, it provides a picturesque background for Boonville’s venues. The chairman of Boonville’s tourism commission, Jim Painter, was bursting with pride when asked about meeting and conference facilities in Boonville. “We have the famous Thespian Hall built in the 1830s and home to the Big Muddy Folk Festival in early April, and the Missouri River Festival of the Arts every August. Both events draw hundreds of people from around the country.” Boonville is also the home of the Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel, which houses a 28,000-square-foot casino, with more than 900 slots and 28 table games as well as 6 live poker tables. Three signature restaurants, a retail center and a historic display area in the pavilion are connected to the 140-room hotel, which includes 27 suites, 8,000 square feet of banquet space, complimentary wireless Internet and all the amenities your meeting or conference might need.
West Plains Surprise
Located in southern Missouri 100 miles east of Branson near the Arkansas border is the fair city of West Plains. Joanne Abbey, Director of Tourism and Development, touts its Civic Center as “big enough to serve, small enough to care.” Since opening its doors in March 1993, the West Plains Civic Center has proven to be a popular facility for everything from concerts to circuses, championship rodeos to athletic events and conferences to conventions. The West Plains Civic Center has been a landmark for educational, cultural and athletic events. More than 30,000 square feet of exhibit space can easily accommodate 150 booths measuring 10’ x 10’. More than 18,000 square feet of comfortable meeting rooms can house groups as large as 600, with banquet facilities that accommodate more than 1,000 people.
The impressive arena accommodates up to 3,600 patrons and is the venue for circuses, rodeos, athletic and live music events. Full catering and food services are available to meet your catering taste and budget. Large or small, simple or complex, your culinary needs can be accommodated. In addition to the Civic Center’s exhibit hall and arena, there is a fully equipped theater providing a variety of cultural arts and entertainment productions in a luxurious, intimate atmosphere with seating for 450. Also, the pool and fitness center area has state-of-the-art exercise facilities. To meet the fitness and recreational needs of those visiting the center, there is an indoor track, indoor collegiate-size pool, whirlpool, sauna and fitness room. A certified personal trainer is on staff to assist with fitness questions. The center is the official home of the Missouri State University-West Plains men’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams.
Conveniently located among the major markets of Kansas City, St. Louis, Branson, Memphis, Springfield and Little Rock, West Plains is the perfect choice for routing your tour through the Midwest.
Ste. Genevieve Ambience
An hour south of St. Louis, in the heart of the state’s French-influenced wine region, is the town of Ste. Genevieve. Named Missouri’s Most Historic Town, Ste. Genevieve hosted early explorers and trappers including the Lewis and Clark expedition, which floated up the Mississippi River to start its journey west on the Missouri River. Today, wineries dot the countryside outside the historic town. One of those is Charleville Vineyards and Winery with its recently added microbrewery. The uniqueness of a winery for meetings conjures images of great decisions being made over great glasses of wine. Jack and Joal Russel have mixed the ingredients for tasteful small meetings and weddings accommodating up to 200 people in outdoor settings. Also on site is the 1850s Log Cabin Bed and Breakfast.
In town, the Elks Hall has a capacity for 400 to 500 people and the Knights of Columbus Home has a capacity for about 300 people. They have been the traditional gathering places for antique shows, weddings and other events. Scott Peterson, director of the new Ste. Genevieve County Community Center, says the center can handle groups or events up to 200 people and can also host small business meetings and athletic events with all new amenities.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, many bed and breakfasts’ are located nearby. One of the more famous is the Inn Ste. Gemme Beauvais, which has 14 comfortable rooms decorated in a French style.
A modern meeting mixed with a historic French Colonial past and a great bottle of wine could make for an event that is “magnifique.”
A couple hours drive or a day’s steamboat ride north of St. Louis is Hannibal, the home of Mark Twain. Much of Hannibal revolves around the lore of Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and Huck Finn, and many events are based on Twain’s stories. Tom Sawyer Days, held over the 4th of July weekend, features a fence painting contest and a Tom and Becky contest. Other big events include the annual River Arts Festival and the Autumn Historic Folk Life Festival.
Many great hotels are located nearby to serve the tourist and the business traveler. The largest is the Hannibal Inn & Conference Center with 242 rooms, 10,000 square feet of banquet and meeting facilities and a ballroom capable of accommodating up to 750 people. The center specializes in corporate meetings, association conferences, special event shows, convention groups, reunions, weddings and banquets. Kevin Kennedy, General Manager of the center, guarantees that “we are committed that your event will go as smoothly and successfully as possible.” Also available for conferences, weddings and special events is the Spratt Family Theater, home to a variety-style show, with facilities accommodating up to 200 people.
The homespun goodness of Hannibal is irresistible and you might find your meeting attendees telling tall tales and weaving yarns about their adventures in Hannibal.
Sikeston-Miner Twin Cities
Just north of Missouri’s bootheel area and east of Highway 55 are two small towns that combine forces when it comes to meetings and events. Sikeston and Miner share facilities such as the new, 17,000-square-foot convention center being built in Miner, and the Clinton building, which has a capacity for 400 people in Sikeston. By far the most famous attraction in the area is Sikeston’s Lambert’s Café which is famous for being the “home of the throwed rolls.” A visitor can sample a hearty hot roll tossed by cart-wielding waiters. An outlet mall in Sikeston also draws tourists. Another famous venue is the Sikeston Jaycees Bootheel Rodeo Arena. The arena hosts rodeos and music events popular to country music fans.
These small towns are growing and have big ideas for their futures. Don’t miss a unique opportunity to plan your meeting in a place with small-town charm and homespun appeal.
(Tony Carosella is a contributor from New Haven, MO)
Boonville Tourism Commission
Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel
Greater West Plains Chamber of Commerce
Sainte Genevieve Convention and Visitors Bureau
Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau
Call Toll Free: 1-TomAndHuck