There’s No Place Like Home: West Plains, Missouri

April 1, 2008


There’s No Place Like Home

By Tony Carosella

Remember how it feels to come home and everyone is happy to see you? That’s how you’ll feel if you host your event or meeting in the county seat of Howell County – West Plains, Missouri.

West Plains is part of the Ozarks Heritage Region of Missouri and has something for everyone. Whether you enjoy antiques, art, classic cars or crafts, live theater or sporting events, you’ll find venues to match your interests in West Plains. As the largest city within a 100-mile radius, West Plains is the trade and tourist center of the area. In 1993 and again in 1995, West Plains received recognition as one of the “Best Small Towns in America.” West Plains was also named one of Missouri’s first DREAM (Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri) communities, and has used the grant to breathe new excitement into its downtown square.

Indians and Soldiers

In 1808, the area was settled mostly by the Osage tribes, but was visited by hunting bands of Indians from the Delaware, Kaw and Shawnee tribes. Running north and south through the county is an ancient Indian trail with more than 1,000 prehistoric mounds. The first white settler in what is now Howell County was a hunter named Adams, who arrived in the summer of 1839.

Howell County prospered and by the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, West Plains, the county seat, was a town with several stores, homes and a courthouse. When the war started, friends and families became divided over the conflict. As a result, West Plains was burned to the ground by raiding parties and guerrillas. Not until 1870 did West Plains begin to recover from the Civil War’s effects. By 1873 a new group of settlers from Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois began the reconstruction of the city.

Today West Plains is a mix of nostalgic appeal and modern marketing savvy that marks it as the commercial hub of south central Missouri. Country music stars Porter Wagoner and Jan Howard are natives; and TV and movie star Dick Van Dyke was also born here.

Come In and Get Comfortable

If you’re planning a meeting or event in West Plains, you’ll want to check in with Joanne Abbey, Manager and Director of Tourism of the Ozark Heritage Center. She sees her position as the “Concierge of West Plains.” She has the unique ability to connect meeting and event planners with the people and venues to fulfill needs, from small charming facilities to a 3,500-seat convention center. “There is a spirit of cooperation in the community that you won’t find in a larger city,” says Abbey. She has some wonderful resources and venues to recommend, such as the historic Opera House, Café 37 and the West Plains Civic Center.

Build It and They Will Come

Built in 1993, and just two blocks from downtown, the West Plains Civic Center has attracted concerts, circuses, stage shows, athletic events, conferences and conventions. The center also attracted the attention of Missouri State University at West Plains, which partnered with the center to host the university’s basketball and volleyball teams. The civic center features a fitness center, arena, convention center containing a wide variety of small to large meeting rooms, and a theater. The fitness center contains an impressive collegiate-size indoor pool, indoor track, fitness and weight room, whirlpool and sauna. The arena can accommodate an audience of 3,600 fans or can scale down to a smaller theater setting. The convention center has more than 30,000 square feet of exhibit space and can accommodate banquets of more than 1,000 people. The center also has more than 18,900 square feet of comfortable meeting rooms for small groups up to 600 people. Finally, the theater is a 450-seat, first-class venue for educational, musical and cultural events.

Carl Johnson, executive director of the Civic Center, is very proud of the adaptability he and his staff exhibit when working with event planners to produce unique events at the center. “We serve about 120,000 people in the Missouri/Arkansas area and bring in the best cultural and sporting events and host many educational and corporate meetings,” he says. Johnson and his professional staff work in synergy with Brenda Malkowski, the Director of University and Community Programs for Missouri State University. Malkowski says, “Partnering with the Civic Center has been a great advantage for the university because the facility spares the university the expense of a fitness center and arena, and benefits the community because of the educational and cultural events the university attracts.”

Downtown Jewels

Right on Courthouse Square, downtown, the restored historic Opera House is a great venue for corporate meetings, receptions and private parties. The second floor has a spacious ballroom with enough room to serve 300 people. On the first floor is Café 37, a romantic restaurant-café with original hardwood floors and a pressed tin ceiling reflecting a luminous bronze glow. Owner Toni Johnson says, “The Café is perfect for special celebrations, entertaining business clients, or a night out with friends or family.”

The Grapevine Wine Shop and Café is another local favorite for healthy lunches and dinners and features the area’s largest selection of wine, specialty beers and spirits. Café patrons can choose from the entire wine list and enjoy the wine with a meal without a corking fee.

A walk around Courthouse Square will reveal some wonderful unique shops. Art galleries, an antique mall, specialty clothing stores, coffee shops and a music store are among the offerings. Toney Aid, champion of downtown revitalization, comments that “One of the top three things people judge about the health of a community is the health of its downtown.” West Plains is looking pretty healthy as a venue for your next event. The combination of a historic downtown just a couple of blocks from the excitement at the Civic Center makes West Plains a comfortable choice for hosting your next meeting or event.  MM&E

(Tony Carosella is a contributor from New Haven, Mo.)


Ozark Heritage Welcome Center

Joanne Abbey,

Manager and Director of Tourism

2999 Porter Wagoner Blvd.

West Plains, MO 65775

(417) 256-8835

(888) 256-8835

West Plains Civic Center

Carl Oscar Johnson,

Executive Director

110 St. Louis Street

West Plains, MO 65775

(417) 256-8087

(877) 256-6034

[email protected]

Missouri State University West Plains

Brenda Malkowski, Director of University/Community Programs

128 Garfield Avenue

West Plains, MO 65775

(417) 255-7966

[email protected]

Café 37

Toni Johnson, Owner

37 Court Square

West Plains, MO 65775

Reservations: (417) 256-3780

[email protected]


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