Jefferson City Has Much to Offer
By Michael Humphrey
Asking why Jefferson City is a good place for a government meeting is like asking “Why did the chicken cross the road?” With the heartbeat of Missouri government thumping in Jeff City, the answer seems obvious.
But competition for the government meeting industry has never been funny to Jefferson City leaders. And as communication and travel become easier all the time, don’t expect the capital city to start taking clients for granted now.
“Government business is extremely important,” says Steve Picker, executive director of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Government business makes up a nice percentage of meetings in our city but we also have to look at business that comes here because we are the capital. There are many groups that are not considered ‘government’ but come to Jefferson City because they are here to work with state government.”
Other cities want that business too and they can lobby for government meetings pretty well. The Lake of the Ozarks can argue excellent proximity with a spicy nightlife. Kansas City and St. Louis both offer major metropolitan amenities and access to many of the power players in the state. Springfield can also make that argument, plus it’s a quick drive to Branson.
Picker understands what he’s up against as he guards his most treasured internal customer.
“I think places like the Lake of the Ozarks and the metro areas are known commodities in certain respects,” Picker says. “That makes it a challenge for us, because we are known mainly for being the capital city, which means some of our other amenities are overlooked.”
But Picker says there are reasons government meeting planners should keep thinking Jefferson City – beyond the obvious benefit of being the capital city. Here are the top five:
1. Central location.
Let’s start with the obvious. Jefferson City wasn’t even the town’s name when it was chosen for the state capital. It was Lohman’s Landing and some wanted to call it Missouriopolis. Fortunately, when it was incorporated in 1839, Thomas Jefferson inspired a far better name.
If you already knew that tidbit from fifth grade history, here’s the point – Lohman’s Landing wasn’t chosen because it was a bustling burgh. It was chosen for its centrality in the state.
“We are centrally located, obviously, which is a great benefit,” Picker says. “When you go to Kansas City or St. Louis, you are more likely to draw people from one half of the state or the other. We’re a meeting point between the two.”
And that means centrality not only for business but also for play. Columbia, Jefferson City, Hermann and Highway 94 (also known as Missouri’s “Weinstrasse” or “Wine Road”) are all a quick drive away. The city’s centrality also has made it an obvious stopping point for the Katy Trail and Amtrak train service.
Let’s face it, hosting the seat of any government gives you a sense of regality that is hard to match. Tours of the domed Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion are the most obvious stops on the gravitas tour.
But there’s a building often overlooked that provides a sense of majesty and unique architecture.
“I think the Supreme Court Building is a real treasure,” Picker says. “Most people probably don’t think about it, but it’s definitely worth the tour.”
The 1907 building is worth looking through alone, but rarely will you get a tour that’s a more intimate look into the working of a major government body.
“To make the experience as informative and enjoyable as possible,” the courts literature promises, “the Supreme Court judges provide their law clerks – the legal research attorneys working in the judges’ chambers – to guide and visit with those who attend.”
But the highlight of the tour may be architectural – thanks to the court library’s famous glass floors. The floor allows light from the second story windows to stream to the main floor – a concept made necessary by the lack of electricity in the building when it was originally constructed.
Jefferson City knows the government. So it stands to reason that it knows government meetings too. And maybe more importantly, it knows government planners.
“Government is the largest employer in the city,” Picker says. “We do government meetings daily and we know how to do it.”
That knowledge is important, says Chris Mehmert, a planner for the Missouri Department of Social Services.
“I think it is definitely easier to work with people here,” Mehmert says. “Most of the hotels in this area know the dates that are important to us and know what we’re looking for. When you go to St. Louis, for instance, you could be competing with other kinds of meetings or even just a big Cardinals game that’s going to take space. In Jefferson City, as a government planner, you know you’re a top priority.” Picker agrees.
“Our people here want to have government meetings come to Jefferson City,” Picker says, which is not true of every hotel in Missouri on any given weekend.
That friendliness includes understanding the restrictions that government planners have when they are trying to book rooms.
“Making the budget work is one of the most important things I do,” says Cathy Jackson, travel services coordinator for the Missouri Division of Professional Registration. “We have to stay within guidelines and those guidelines are different for every agency. Not everyone understands that.”
And that leads to the next best reason.
Of course, federal and state standards for per diems change with the demographic of the area. So if you head to St. Louis, the per diem standard rises. But Picker says Jefferson City is still a good deal, even with an adjusted per diem.
“We’re an affordable city to meet in all the way around,” Picker says. “You see it in the hotel rates and the meals, but it runs across the entire cost of living. So it’s more affordable to simply enjoy yourself.”
Mehmert says that while the bigger cities – and the tourist destinations – fluctuate in pricing throughout the year, Jefferson City is a good deal even in the busiest times.
“Even compared to prices when the legislature is in session,” Mehmert says, “you still have savings compared to almost any other part of the state.”
5. A few surprises.
The best part of being in any city is finding something you didn’t expect.
“People know that the lake and the big cities have attractions,” Picker says, “but some of our attractions are a little bit of a surprise when people find them.”
Since this is the summer issue, let’s start with ice cream. Central Dairy is a legendary ice cream haven located in the downtown area.
“It’s a real treat,” Picker says, “because they are a working dairy that ships out every day. But it’s also an ice cream shop.”
Giant homemade banana splits, sundaes and ice cream cones all come with a delicious price tag as well.
Another summertime surprise is the choice of golf courses. Five public and two private courses lie within 17 miles of the city center, including one 18-hole and one 9-hole public course in the city limits. Of course, an hour drive will put you in the heart of Missouri’s golf center, the Lake of the Ozarks.
And then there are a couple of interesting museums that will help you cool off from the summer heat. For fashion runway enthusiasts, the Cole County Historical Museum is the only county museum in the country to own and display inaugural gowns of its state’s First Ladies.
For those who have the need for speed, the Missouri Highway Patrol Safety Education Center might cure you of it. But there is an interesting display of patrol cars from throughout the history of the MSHP.
“I think if people explore the city, they’ll be surprised by how interesting it is and how accessible it is,” Picker says. “We’re not just government, we have history and nature and we really want to be a destination for government planners and all planners.”
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO)
Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.
213 Adams Street, P.O. Box 2227
Jefferson City, MO 65101-2227
573-632-2820 or 800-769-4183
Missouri Highway Patrol Safety Education Center
1510 East Elm Street
610 Madison Street
Cole County Historical Museum
109 Madison Street
Missouri Supreme Court
207 West High Street