Business in the Northwoods
By Michael Humphrey
Business may not be the first word that crosses your mind when you walk into Stoney Creek Inn. The Northwoods décor, the indoor-outdoor swimming pool, and themed suites all beckon you to kick back rather than attack your work.
But a relaxing atmosphere doesn’t mean you have to leave it all behind, says Kat York, events coordinator for the inn in Columbia, Mo.
“I was a sales rep for years,” she says, “and every hotel I stayed in, every meeting space, every room looked pretty much the same. We believe people want to be more comfortable, more relaxed, even if they are working hard.”
Stoney Creek Inn has banked on the notion that enough business travelers and meeting planners want to stray from the same old thing.
So far, so good. The Iowa-based hotel chain has added a property every year since it started 10 years ago, including two in Missouri – St. Joseph and Columbia.
A retreat that meets
Meetings and events were not an afterthought for Stoney Creek, which might surprise some planners.
Often there’s a dilemma that planners face. Theme hotels can be a real draw for attendees – especially for meetings intended to be family-friendly. But such hotels rarely have meetings on their mind when they develop the property. It can leave a planner lost in the woods.
That’s not the story for Stoney.
“We do a lot of conferences, a lot of government meetings, corporate, sports teams, birthdays and anniversaries,” York says. “We have rowdy groups to very serious groups to weddings, which, you know, can be either rowdy or serious or both.”
Columbia’s Stoney Creek Inn, which includes 180 sleeping rooms, offers 11,000 square feet of meeting space with a dividable conference center, five classrooms catering to groups of 25 to 50 and two board rooms.
St. Joseph’s Stoney Creek Inn offers 10,000 square feet of space, also with a dividable conference center, and seven classrooms and a board room. The conference spaces include a separate entrance, a bar and reception area and bathrooms.
Each hotel offers mobile audio-visual equipment, building-wide wireless Internet, teleconferencing capabilities and a business center.
Michelle Leimbach, sales manager for Stoney Creek Inn at St. Joseph, says local businesses have become a primary customer base for meetings.
“People around here know we’re a reliable meeting hotel,” Leimbach says. “We do business just like any other hotel, it’s just our theme adds a little more relaxation to the event.”
There’s more to the Stoney Creek theme than just moose and bear motifs. The landscaping outside many of the windows offers gently rolling hills and waterfalls – all a way of saying that getting away is the name of the game.
“The ideas that became the Stoney Creek Inns first arose from a desire to make sure guests were refreshed when they said goodbye,” writes president James H. Thompson. “We set about creating and delivering an atmosphere … similar to the atmosphere found in our nation’s Northwoods – warm, cozy, with a touch of home comfort…”
Start with the guest rooms. Examples of theme-based expanded rooms include The Clubhouse (golf), Northern Exposure, Fishin’ Shack, and Bear Essentials. They all include king size beds, stone fireplaces, sleeper sofas, microwaves, refrigerators and either whirlpool spas or kitchenettes. Some suites also offer steam showers.
If you are thinking about bringing the family along, the log bunk-bed rooms will be the talk of the trip.
“Kids love those rooms,” York says, “but we don’t always rent them to just families. I had a bride’s party in a bunk room not too long ago. They had a great time.”
Both hotels offer standard rooms and Columbia’s property has extended stay rooms called “cottages.”
And the fun doesn’t stop in the rooms. All guests have access to the amenities such as the “Wilderness Area” – a contiguous indoor-outdoor pool, dry sauna, whirlpool spa, as well as a video game room, exercise room and an evening hearth bar.
“We’ve had a lot of meeting attendees bring their families along,” York says. “Why not? The parent can go to the conference center while the rest of family has a fun time.”
Plus, unlike some theme hotels, the prices won’t maul you. Standard rooms start at $72 and the bunk bed rooms start at $150.
Nature and lodging meet
All of those nature themes may just get you wanting to explore the great outdoors. And it’s unclear if this was intentional, but both Inns sit near two of the best parks Missouri has to offer, especially north of the Ozarks.
St. Joseph is just 30 miles south of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge – 7,350 acres of wetlands, hiking trails and rare loess hills. Refuge officials count 301 bird species, 33 mammal species, and 35 reptile and amphibian species that call Squaw Creek home for at least part of the year.
During the winter, Squaw Creek is one of the best lookouts for bald eagles in the state of Missouri, with a count of 115 in early March. They are especially easy to see thanks to a walking trail that takes you into the middle of the wetlands. Birdwatchers will also spot swans, geese, ducks, ibis, sandpipers and plovers.
Columbia is home to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, 2,272 acres of peaceful hiking trails that traverse both forest and prairie lands, wicked mountain bike trails and caves. One of the highlights of Rock Bridge is the Devil’s Icebox, which includes seven miles of underground passages.
You won’t be at a loss for fresh air even when you get back to the hotel. Both sites are making their rooms and meetings spaces healthier environments by cutting down on cigarette smoke. St. Joseph’s Stoney Creek Inn has become 100 percent smoke-free, including all guestrooms. Columbia’s facility is smoke-free in public areas and offers just a handful of guestrooms that allow smoking.
“We’ve been experimenting with smoke-free environments,” York says. “I think it fits our overall philosophy of a healthy, refreshing atmosphere.”
Back to the meeting
Once you’ve been refreshed both indoors and out, it could be easier to get down to business.
“We take the meeting side of our business very seriously,” says Leimbach. “So we offer planners a lot of assistance in making their meetings work.”
And that attitude goes for the small meeting of 10 all the way to a reception for 600. Like most hotels, the rates for meeting space drop as more rooms are rented, but both York and Leimbach said they will work with groups to make the budget fit.
And they’re not shy about fringe benefits for the planner.
“We offer a meeting planner program,” York says. “For every room night they book, they get $1 to put toward anything they want. They can use it for catering, for more rooms, for the gift shop. Whatever best serves their needs.”
Most of the meeting rooms can be used for a variety of needs, including dining. The hotels do not have on-site restaurants – although there are designated rooms for an upscale continental breakfast – but both sites have exclusive caterers that cover a range of dietary wants and needs.
“We’ve always been able to meet planners’ needs for a wide variety of meal options,” Leimbach says. “Weddings all the way to corporate events, we have caterers who know this property pretty well. So it’s never been a problem not to have an on-site restaurant.”
York agrees that the retreat environment – a chance to revitalize – doesn’t stop at the amenities. It runs straight through to the staff.
“Jim Thompson’s philosophy is ‘people first’,” York says. “He wants all of his employees to have a good time and that’s possible when your customer is happy.”
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO)
Stoney Creek Inn Columbia
2601 S. Providence Rd.
Columbia, MO 65203
Stoney Creek Inn St. Joseph
1201 North Woodbine Rd.
St. Joseph, MO 64506