MEETING IN THE MIDDLE
By Michael Humphrey
Platte County, Mo., is in takeoff mode – but it’s not just because it harbors one of America’s most user-friendly airports.
Since 1972, when the modern version of Kansas City International Airport was dedicated by then Vice President Spiro Agnew, Platte County has been defined by the hulking passenger jets that connect the region to the rest of the world.
But county leaders say the substance of Platte has been expanding over the past 15 years. And recent additions, such as a new expo center, a cutting-edge shopping district and a burgeoning list of hospitality options, have caught people’s attention in and out of the KC metro area, including meeting planners.
When it comes to meetings, says Cheryl Thorp, executive director of the Platte County Visitors Bureau, the airport’s proximity provides a key competitive advantage. But it’s no longer the only selling point.
“We’re not downtown,” says Thorp. “We’re five minutes from the airport, the easiest airport to get in and out of in the country. It’s a safe area, it’s a family-friendly area. We have a really nice, wide variety of facilities now. So whether you are coming by air or car, we have great infrastructure.”
Platte County is not easily described in a sentence or two. It sits directly to the north of downtown Kansas City, with its southern and western borders defined by the Missouri River. Not only does the county witness the bustle of an international airport, but also the serenity of two of the most popular getaway towns in the metro area, Parkville and Weston.
But leaders in the county have positioned the crux of their corporate meeting market right in the heart of the airport corridor. I-29 is the main artery that serves the market – setting every major hospitality venue within a quick ride from KCI.
Location, Value and Convenience
That creates an interesting list of competitors for Platte County. Unlike most regional destinations located within metro areas, Platte County leaders aren’t overly concerned about competing with its immediate neighbors.
“We definitely want local business,” says Carolyn McClure, director of sales and marketing for the Embassy Suites – Kansas City Airport and Homewood Suites. “But we’re competing with other airport hotels in secondary cities.”
And what is KCI’s advantage over those other airports?
“Our central location,” says Cicely Robertson, director of sales for the Kansas City/Airport AmeriSuites. “Often we’ll have meetings come into the Kansas City area with companies that are on the east coast or west coast. Kansas City is directly in the middle of the country and it’s a great, accessible place for people from all over.”
Location isn’t the only advantage. Platte County is quickly accessible from KC’s reemerging downtown, offering opportunities for visitors to get to the heart of the city for a visit as well as providing convenient hospitality for large conventions that are meeting downtown.
Value is another advantage, as flights, hotel rates and entertainment costs compete favorably with any other metro area in the country.
But convenience may be the best argument of all. Unlike most airports sprawling with acres of concourses and parking lots, KCI is neatly configured into three tidy horseshoe-shaped concourses. Each concourse has its own short-term parking lot, making it possible to park within several hundred yards of the ticket counters and gates.
Convenience is immediately obvious for the incoming passenger as well. When you exit the gate, the baggage claim is always a one- or two- minute walk away. Exits are located throughout each horseshoe, making it easy to find multi-stop shuttles that get you to car rentals, other concourses or hotels.
So it’s no surprise that corporate business is the airport corridor’s bread and butter, but county leaders have tried to diversify that to some degree.
“The majority of our business is corporate,” says Lori Haskell, director of sales for the Hilton KCI Hotel. “But we do associations and we get the crews for the airlines, which create a good mix for us.”
And now, entertainment
Platte County has always been competitive for meetings that need quick in-and-out services. That makes for good business, but you know the saying about all work and no play. If a group wanted great shopping, dining and entertainment, the pickings used to be slim nearby.
Those days are over. That became especially evident when Zona Rosa, an innovative shopping and entertainment district, opened in May 2004.
“We’re built in a new urbanist style movement,” says Zona Rosa general manager Rosemary Salerno. “It’s really a throwback to the old downtown districts of the past. So you don’t really see a unifying architectural theme. It has a lot of personality that most centers don’t.”
Salerno says Zona Rosa’s distinction is best understood with the concept of the development’s anchor.
“Really this is the anchor,” says Salerno, looking over the development’s Town Square, a courtyard of green space, benches, fountains and a performance area. “We have concerts four nights a week, we have art festivals, we have farmers’ markets. It’s just the idea of activity and becoming a real community center for the area.”
The development includes loft living spaces; a dentist office; a law office; National American University; The Improv, which features local and national talents; and The Majestic, a three-screen boutique theater.
The Improv and Majestic are your best bet for large meeting space, with rooms that can seat anywhere from 20 people to 775 theater-style.
But it’s not all old-fashioned charm – the district is also ready to do business 21st-century style. Most of America’s major retail chains are represented, such as The Gap, Ann Taylor, Marshalls, Barnes & Noble, Ethan Allen and Sharper Image – with more than 60 retail outlets in all.
You can bet Zona Rosa is also ready to feed you, with local and national restaurant chains.
“We definitely wanted a mix,” Salerno says. “The visitor who may be only seeing Kansas City for a day or two will get the authentic restaurant experience with Hereford House or Smokehouse BBQ. But we also have some exciting national restaurants like Bravo and Ted’s Montana Grill.”
Be sure to check out the many restaurants that are ready to host small groups for a special night out:
• Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy offers set-off space for 20.
• Bravo! Italian Cucina has two semi-private rooms that seat 40 people.
• Granite City Food & Brewery has one room that seats 70 to 80 people, which can be reserved anytime except Friday night through Sunday.
• Hereford House offers three rooms that seat nine people each.
• Mimi’s Café has a winery room that seats up to 50 people, with a 25-person minimum.
• O’Dowd’s Irish Pub offers two banquet rooms that seat 32 and 45.
• Rib Crib offers one semi-private room that seats 16 to 20.
• Smokehouse BBQ offers one private room that seats 40 and requires a minimum of 25 to reserve.
• Swagat Fine Indian Cuisine offers a semi-private room for 30.
• Ted’s Montana Grill offers set-off space during slow times.
• Tomfooleries offers a 100-person balcony area.
Of course, Zona Rosa is not the only entertainment in the KCI corridor. Without leaving Platte County, and fewer than ten minutes from the hotels, visitors can find charming shops and gourmet restaurants in Parkville, the Harley-Davidson Final Assembly Plant & Visitors Center, Argosy Casino, the American Truck Historical Society, the United Federation of Doll Clubs Museum as well as multiple parks and recreation opportunities, including the Tiffany Springs Golf Course.
The heart of Platte County’s meeting world is the KCI Expo Center, which offers 70,000 square feet of clear span exhibition hall space with 11,000 square feet of additional meeting and banquet space.
“We can mold and shape the space to just about any need and for any group from 25 to 5,000,” says Paul Harris, sales director for the Holiday Inn at KCI Expo Center.
With the addition of the Holiday Inn, the Expo Center boasts 800 guest rooms within walking distance and more than 3,000 within a five-mile radius.
Other hotel/meeting options nearby include:
• AmeriSuites, which offers 134 rooms and 1,800 square feet of flexible meeting space and will accommodate 150 people.
• Argosy Casino Hotel & Spa, opening in 2007, which will offer 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
• Embassy Suites, a John Q. Hammons property, offers 236 suites and 14,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. It is located next to Homewood Suites, an extended stay property, with 116 rooms and three small meeting rooms.
• Hilton KCI Hotel features 347 guest rooms and more than 21,000 square feet of meeting space, all on one level.
• Howard Johnson Plaza recently renovated 150 guest rooms and 3,300 square feet of meeting space.
• Marriott-KCI, the only hotel on the grounds of the airport, offers 382 guest rooms and 14,564 square feet of function space.
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, Mo.)
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