A Family hotspot becomes a corporate destination
By Michael Humphrey
You know business is going well when your retail store is named the states number one tourist attraction. That enviable distinction goes to Cabela’s, of Kansas City, Kansas, a 180,000-square-foot showroom and shopping center that also features a mule deer museum, a 65,000- gallon aquarium, a gun library and many other exhibits.
And you know your shopping district is booming when Cabela’s is not considered the primary catalyst of growth.
Welcome to Village West. Ten years ago it was nothing but vast fields. Five years ago it had just become home to Kansas Speedway, the country’s newest NASCAR racetrack. This year it is considered one of the hottest destinations in the Midwest – an award-winning model for putting recreation, retail and restaurants on the “mega level.”
Like a good race car driver, the local government positioned itself for a run at greatness.
“If it weren’t for Kansas Speedway, I don’t believe Village West would have been a possibility,” says Bridgette Jobe, director of the Kansas City Kansas CVB. “Once the Kansas City Speedway came in, however, our city’s leaders actually set aside the 400 acres surrounding it. The design was that it would be a destination retail and entertainment center – and the key word is destination.”
Cabela’s, Kansas City Speedway, the indoor water park family resort Great Wolf Lodge and Nebraska Furniture Mart all rank high on the Kansas tourist attraction list. A T-Bones minor league baseball team at Community America Ballpark adds to the family atmosphere. And expect recently opened The Legends at Village West, a multi-media entertainment complex featuring Dave & Buster’s, to join that tourist list soon.
But it just keeps coming. The nation’s first T-Rex Café, a 20,000-square-foot dinosaur-themed restaurant in the mode of Rainforest Café, will open at Village West later this year. It will be joined by Bozo’s Hot Pit Memphis Barbeque, from the founders of the Hard Rock Café and House of Blues.
All work and no play …
Jobe says the target market is families from around metropolitan Kansas City as well as Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas and outstate Missouri and Kansas. But another market segment developed organically, something that became noticeable when Great Wolf Lodge opened in 2003.
“It is really designed for family leisure travel,” Jobe says, “but they’ve also started to get into business travel. They could hold smaller meetings, up to 150 people, and many times people are traveling with their families. It’s been a very popular item.”
Randy Smiley, manager of Cabela’s, says that the business sector has been noticeable all over Village West.
“Most of us have meeting rooms,” says Smiley, “and we’re finding they are all in demand. We have corporations, church and social groups, government, you name it. They come in and have their meetings, then enjoy the day here.”
“We also have Chateau Avalon, a French chateau-themed luxury hotel designed as a getaway for couples,” Jobe says. “They have been getting a good weekday business from business travelers who bring their spouses along.”
People want to find the fun, even if there’s some business involved, Smiley says.
“I think it’s going to continue to grow as a tourist destination,” Smiley says. “And I think it’s going to grow as an incentive for meetings and conventions, because everybody can come and find something they enjoy.”
But it’s not just on-site meetings that are feeding into Village West. The new destination is being touted by every CVB in the area.
Former Overland Park mayor Ed Eilert calls Village West, “a terrific metro asset. The hospitality industry in Johnson County and Overland Park benefits from all the positives throughout the Kansas City area and especially a place like Village West, which is so accessible.”
That last comment bucks the common perception about Village West – that it is far-flung. (It is actually 14 miles, all highway, from both downtown Kansas City and the Overland Park Convention Center.)
Jobe says mileage is not dissuading those visitors to other parts of Kansas City, at least those who have wheels.
“There is the perception that it is far away,” Jobe says. “But we are finding that most of the travelers who are coming to Kansas City by car are heading to the Village West area. If they are here and relying on public transportation, it is more of a challenge and that’s one of the things we are working on. We have worked many times with conventions, where motor coaches have been hired to transport people to Village West.”
So can we meet?
In the meantime, Village West will continue to grow. A second ring of development is getting under way, most notably with a $412 million Schlitterbahn water park, which will open in 2009.
Jobe says more hotels are being built in the second ring and, there has been talk about creating a regional convention hotel.
“To be honest,” Jobe says, “everything is still on the table right now. There’s been some talk, but it is very preliminary.”
In the meantime, small groups can take advantage of meeting spaces throughout Village West. Smiley says if one venue is booked, you probably won’t just get a cold shoulder.
“We work together all the time here,” Smiley says. “If our room is booked, we’ll check with Great Wolf Lodge or Dave & Buster’s or the Speedway. Usually we’ll be able to help a group find a place.”
Here are some of the options for meeting, or just having fun with your group:
Kansas Speedway. Many parts of the Speedway can be turned into meeting space, depending on the needs of the planner and the track’s regulations. Outdoor venues include Victory Lane; Fan Walk, perfect for large parties; the Garages, four 50’ x 225’ venues that can be indoor or outdoor; and Daytona Drive, a road that encircles the speedway, perfect for runs, biking events and big festivals. Indoor venues include the Media Center, which has three rooms: an interview room, dining room and workroom, perfect for hosting various kinds of events; President’s Suite, which includes a bar and stadium seating that looks out on the track; and the Family Center, a flexible meeting space that includes a kitchenette. There are also group and scheduled tours available. Call 913-328-3386 for more information or visit www.kansasspeedway.com.
Great Wolf Lodge. The Lodge advertises two meeting spaces. The largest, Northwest Territory, offers 2,100 square feet with two balconies. The room can also be divided into 840- and 1,260- square-foot spaces. Fallen Timbers measures 1,680 square feet and breaks into two 840s. For more information, contact group sales at 913-299-7001 or visit kc.greatwolflodge.com.
Chateau Avalon. True to the theme of a French chateau, Avalon offers the Beaumont Stateroom, which seats 22 in boardroom style. Described as a room that “brings to life the stateroom of an 18th-century European nobleman,” it is decidedly more high-tech than that. A 60’ LCD screen, interactive touch panel wall control system, high-speed Internet and wireless microphone system add a touch of 21st-century convenience. Call 913-643-0340 or visit www.chateauavalon.net.
Cabela’s. An in-store restaurant and a private meeting room can accommodate small groups for meetings or banquets. For more information, call 913-328-0322 or visit www.cabelas.com.
Dave & Buster’s. This high-end adult arcade and restaurant offers corporate events for over 1,000 – if you’re ready to close the restaurant for a night. Smaller private rooms are available for up to 50. For more information, call 913-981-6815 or visit www.daveandbusters.com.
Community America Ballpark. Home of the T-Bones, a minor league baseball team, the throwback stadium is willing and ready to host events from team building, catered dinners, group tickets to a game or any other idea you might have. Call 913-328-5665 or visit www.tbonesbaseball.com.
(Michael Humphrey is the contributing editor from Kansas City, MO)
For more information contact:
Kansas City Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 171517 • 727 Minnesota Ave.
Kansas City • KS • 66101
913-321-5800 • 800-264-1563