By Anna Foote
Take a look at the Country Club Plaza, Kansas City’s premier shopping, dining and entertainment district, and you’ll see people in motion.
Shoppers stroll from one store to another, bags over their arms. Drivers ease their cars into one of the many free parking garages. Out-of-towners emerge from hotels to grab a bite to eat. Packs of friends dash into the movie theater. Couples and kids take horse-drawn carriage rides around the district.
There’s good reason for all that movement, says Kara Breitenstein, promotions manager for Highwoods Properties, which manages the Plaza.
“We have a lot of local boutique stores that you won’t find anywhere else,” she says, “plus beautiful promenades with great flowers and landscaping. The ambience is of an open, Spanish-inspired district. It’s absolutely a European feel.”
But look beyond the motion and you’ll see the Plaza has room for rest, too. With dozens of restaurants and bars, the Plaza offers plenty of places to relax.
Breitenstein offers another option for slowing down.
“We have lots of courtyards throughout the area,” she says. “They’re great for a couple minutes of rest, a fun little picnic or meeting up with friends.”
And when friends meet up on the Plaza, they’re surrounded by options for an authentic Kansas City experience: a great steak at Plaza III, an evening of jazz at Jardine’s, or barbecue. Thanks to Fiorella’s Jack Stack, which recently opened its fourth area restaurant, barbecue is back on the Plaza.
And Jack Stack isn’t the only new kid on the block.
“There’s truly something new around every corner here,” Breitenstein says.
And most of the truly new places are a boon to meeting and event planners. A major hotel recently began a $15 million renovation. Two cultural institutions have expanded or rebuilt, increasing their event space. A sports-themed restaurant recently opened, offering an atmosphere previously unavailable on the Plaza.
The InterContinental, which originally opened in 1972 as the Alameda Plaza, is an iconic Kansas City hotel. Its renovation is underway and scheduled to be complete by Thanksgiving, the beginning of the Plaza’s bustling holiday season.
The $15 million renovation includes a complete overhaul of the hotel’s guest rooms, meeting places and public spaces.
“It’s a fairly intense transformation,” says Bruce Gehring, InterContinental’s director of sales and marketing. “We’re really looking at the restoration of the property.”
But for the hotel, it will be business as usual during the renovation.
“We’re taking on a floor at a time—it will be very unobtrusive,” Gehring says. “It will be as noiseless as possible.”
One reason why the renovation will be quiet is that no major architectural changes will be made.
Inside the hotel, Gehring says, “The furnishings will be in a very elegant, contemporary Mediterranean style, which will be more in keeping with the architecture of the Plaza.”
Gehring adds, “The lobby lounge will really be livened up, made much more comfortable. We want it to be a space where people feel comfortable coming down from their guest rooms and holding one-on-one meetings.”
With nearly 30,000 square feet of event space, the InterContinental provides plenty of options for group meetings, too. The hotel has 23 meeting rooms and the largest can accommodate 1,200 people at a reception.
But, Gehring says, at the InterContinental, the staff is concerned with providing meeting professionals more than simply space.
“From a meeting perspective, we are absolutely famous for service delivery,” he says. “And from a meeting planning perspective, we are truly one-stop shopping.”
Gehring says the hotel is prepared to offer planners individual, intensive service.
“Every aspect of meeting planning is handled on property—catering, décor, floral and A/V,” Gehring says. “When you come to InterContinental, you’re going to be able to do what you need without having to secure additional contracted service.”
Renaissance of Cultural Institutions
The Plaza area offers a wealth of cultural opportunities. Two institutions have recently rebuilt or expanded and offer new, interesting meeting options.
The Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library stands adjacent to the Plaza, just south and east of the main shopping district. Originally built in 1961, the building was demolished and rebuilt. The new building opened in 2005.
The Plaza library offers two meeting rooms, with the larger holding up to 40 people. Budget-minded groups would do well to meet at the library. Rates vary based on type of organization, but the highest is $25 per hour.
The library offers a projection screen in its larger meeting room and free WiFi access throughout the building. Additional equipment may be arranged through the library’s scheduling and special events staff. Catering is available via the onsite coffeehouse, Barista’s Daily Grind. Outside catering is also welcome.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art lies three blocks due east of the Plaza proper. The Nelson opened its $200 million expansion in July, which increased its art display area and nearly tripled its number of special events spaces.
In all, the Nelson offers eight event rooms, three in the 1930s Beaux Arts building and five in the modern, luminous glass addition. Consult the museum’s Web site or event planning department for details.
Although rental fees can be a bit high, a 50 percent discount is offered for nonprofit organizations. But for clients who are willing to pay the price, the experience is unique. Rental fees include private viewings in select exhibition galleries.
And the venues are absolutely stunning.
For a traditional look, Kirkwood Hall can’t be beat. The original entryway to the museum, the limestone room is defined by black and white marble columns, the ceiling is nearly 40 feet high and the walls are lined with tapestries from the museum’s collection. The hall will hold 1,000 for a reception.
For those with a more contemporary flair, try a space in the newly opened Bloch building. The interior features gleaming black terrazzo floors and soft light that emanates from the frosty white glass exterior walls, even in evening. The walls are lit from within, so the building glows inside and out.
One especially interesting space in the Nelson addition is the Isamu Noguchi Sculpture Court, which features seven of the artist’s works. The room overlooks the Nelson’s outdoor sculpture garden and can host receptions up to 100.
If renting the museum isn’t feasible, you may want to consider scheduling a private gallery tour, concluding with lunch or dinner at the Rozzelle Court Restaurant or at the Museum Café. Group service fees and food costs are very reasonable. Contact the museum’s group services department for information.
Sports Hit the Plaza
In March, Sports Radio 810 Zone opened, giving the Plaza the true sports bar restaurant it had been lacking.
Allan Quigley, 810 Zone’s general manager, explains.
“When we opened, we had Plaza residents coming in and saying, ‘The Plaza has been missing this for a long, long time.’ The Plaza hasn’t had anything like this—well, ever.”
That means a 108-television, two-storied, sports-themed restaurant, complete with game room. And since the restaurant is tied to a popular Kansas City sports radio station, it features a broadcast booth. The station airs a few shows a week from the restaurant.
810 Zone offers four event spaces upstairs, or the entire floor can be rented out for crowds of up to 200. There are two semi-private rooms that work well for a variety of events, from meetings to mixers. The Skybox, a lounge-style enclosed room, can seat up to 16 and provides a plasma-screen TV for computer hookup or channel surfing. And the FieldHouse game room, packed with pool tables and video and arcade games, is good for fun.
Quigley says the game room provides guests with a feature they’re not going to find at many meeting places.
“Our game room is good for groups to use as an icebreaker,” he says, “or for stress relief as a break during a meeting, for those who need to blow off steam.”
With the restaurant providing the game room and each meal from breakfast through happy hour to dinner, Quigley says, a variety of options is available to planners.
As for the menu, it’s rich in all-American favorites, from hamburgers to dinner salads. Quigley says a group favorite is Sandy’s “Try”athlon appetizer platter, which includes chicken tenders, fried pickles, (cordon) bleu balls, spinach artichoke dip and wings.
Small parties are welcome to order off the menu. For larger crowds, the restaurant’s catered buffet ranges from $19 to $30 per person. There are no room rental fees per se, instead, the 810 Zone goes with food/drink minimums, which vary based on time of day and day of the week.
So whether it’s staying at a luxury hotel, meeting in one of the city’s cultural buildings or eating in a sports restaurant, the Plaza is the place to be in KC.
Gehring of the InterContinental agrees, and points out the close proximity of the venues.
He says, “You’ve got so many entertainment, dining and shopping options at your feet—literally.”
(Anna Foote is a contributor from Kansas City, Mo.)
Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue
4747 Wyandotte Street
Kansas City, MO 64112
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111
Kansas City Public Library, Plaza Branch
4801 Main Street
Kansas City, MO 64112
401 Ward Parkway
Kansas City, MO 64112
Director of Sales and Marketing
Kansas City, MO 64112