Former schoolhouse is a lesson in versatile meeting planning
By Sarah Jamieson
Lucas Meetings and Events in St. Louis already is a unique gathering place, but planners need only watch to learn about its full potential as it grows.
Set in the historic Soulard neighborhood just south of downtown, the business caters to private parties, meetings and events of all kinds. Opened in June 2006, it’s based in an 1890s school building that features an adjoining open-air courtyard. But owners Mia and Dan Jameson are expanding their reach to include their three other properties on the same block – a club room across the street for smaller meetings and receptions, an adjacent guesthouse where meeting clients can put up their own VIPs, and soon, a brand new gathering space in a former church building next door.
They’re contributing to a spirited effort to revitalize historic areas of St. Louis, while providing new and needed meeting space for planners who eschew the everyday.
Limits are few
The owners recognize that clients want choice and control over their meeting decisions, so they’ve placed few constraints on the types of events that can be held there, says sales and marketing director Jan Christian Andersen. The Lucas schoolhouse is just as welcoming to after-work happy-hour guests as it is to planners booking events.
Weddings and receptions are frequent occurrences, but so are board meetings, musical events and company-sponsored parties for employees, he says. Recent clients have included nearby brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Cos., which uses the schoolhouse building for 60- to 80-person meetings; the Business Bank of St. Louis and Pyramid Construction, both of which have held Mardi Gras events in the club room and schoolhouse; and the Riverfront Times newspaper, which threw its 2,500-person Best of St. Louis awards party on the Lucas grounds.
“For the Riverfront Times event, we got permission to close the street and tent the grounds for the day,” Andersen says.
The Jamesons haven’t put any restrictions on the menu, either. They have three on-site kitchens and in-house catering for those who need it, but there’s an open policy for clients who want to contract with catering companies of their choice. “Many people already have providers they like to use,” Andersen says. “We don’t deal in exclusives here. That only benefits the caterer.”
In-house chef Christopher Roussin can produce any type of meal, appetizer, dessert or specialty food a client may request, Andersen says. Roussin can suggest menus for different types of events, but the final say always belongs to the client.
Andersen says clients aren’t even limited by time of day or night when it comes to booking events at Lucas. “We can make our spaces available anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even overnight,” he says. One of Lucas’ 2007 clients is a local school that is using the schoolhouse building for a “lock-in” party.
Even if you want Lucas to cater an event elsewhere in St. Louis, the company is flexible enough to handle it, Andersen says. “If you want chicken wings or lobster tails, we can do it.”
A staff of several event coordinators and sales representatives is on hand to book any of Lucas’ services, including off-site catering.
Choices are many
The schoolhouse building features two floors, both of which have amenities that cater to the senses. Both the ground and second floors have fully stocked bars and space that can be configured in a variety of ways. You can rent both floors for up to 450 guests – there’s space for 250 upstairs and 200 on the ground floor. The adjoining courtyard can be tented for up to 180 guests, even heated during cooler months. In May, Lucas will bring outdoor lunch and dinner dining to the courtyard from Tuesday through Sunday, featuring al fresco cooking.
The second floor is Lucas’ musical Mecca, with a fully equipped stage and state-of-the-art technology. “The Jamesons have invested well over $100,000 just in the lighting and sound,” Andersen says. For clients who want to entertain their guests with live performances, Lucas can easily work a musical act into almost any event.
Recent performers at the schoolhouse have included musicians Erin Bode, David Lindley of Jackson Browne fame and Oteil Burbridge, formerly of The Allman Brothers. There’s live music on hand at least every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, often as many as five nights a week.
“We can get artists like Sheryl Crow in here for a client’s party if their budget allows it,” Andersen says.
The schoolhouse’s second-floor stage room includes colorful stained glass windows that create an abundance of atmosphere when illuminated with candles, and original wood flooring throughout the building lends historic character. A mezzanine level is tucked above the ground floor lounge, creating a perfect spot from which a string quartet or other musical combo can entertain your guests, Andersen says.
The ground floor features comfortable leather lounge seating but can be outfitted with other types of chairs and tables depending on a client’s requirements. Each floor has a 15-foot projection screen that rolls from the ceiling, and there are speakers throughout the building, including outdoors. Professional engineers are on hand to orchestrate sound, video and lighting, and DVD players, wireless Internet, satellite TV and satellite radio are available as well. The company also offers digital video and audio recording capabilities.
“You can hook up any type of music to our system, even your iPod,” Andersen says. Live shows going on upstairs can be broadcast to a video screen on the ground floor, too.
“We’ve done events for clients who’ve put their guests’ kids upstairs with a movie on the big screen, and held their own party for the adults downstairs,” he says.
Across the way
Andersen says the Jamesons just opened their new club room space across the street, but it’s already drawing enthusiastic clientele. The venue is designed for smaller board-type meetings, and is outfitted with comfortable spaces and inviting furnishings. It features a bar and a 42” plasma screen TV, and has surround sound in each room. Any type of food service is available there as well.
“The club room can hold 50 or 60 people for a cocktail party, and 20 to 25 for a sit-down meeting,” he says. Concierge services are available there, and the owners are offering special membership packages to club room users who want to take advantage of the space on a regular basis.
Next door to the schoolhouse is a remodeled guesthouse that clients can rent for their guests. Visiting musicians often stay there, and wedding-guest packages are available.
Parking is often a contentious issue in downtown areas, but it’s not a concern at Lucas. The company owns two adjoining lots and can provide valet service, so “parking’s never a problem,” Andersen says.
Pricing for the schoolhouse, club room, bar, audio/visual, staffing and other services can be found on Lucas’ Web site, www.lucasevents.com. Spaces are handicapped accessible.
What the future holds
In late 2008, the Jamesons plan to open yet another event space in the former church building next door to the schoolhouse. They’re in the process of gut-rehabbing the 1870s structure, which used to be the neighborhood’s St. Lucas Church (hence the choice of company name). It has more than a century of history behind it, but the Jamesons have big plans for its future.
They own a development company that specializes in historic restoration, so rehabbing comes naturally. When the church venue is ready after about $2 million worth of work, it will seat 350 people and provide concert space for up to 700. “It’ll be a larger event space but much like our second-floor music hall,” Andersen says. Two indoor balconies will become “opera box”-type seating for musical shows.
There’ll be a bar, stage, and flexible seating for nearly any type of event. Andersen says the owners even foresee turning the church’s bell tower into an intimate private dining space for six to eight people.
All of the Jamesons’ event spaces are within 50 feet of each other, so clients easily can book some or all of them simultaneously. Downtown St. Louis, the Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium and the Anheuser-Busch brewery are just a short distance away, so there’s plenty for guests to do when they’re not taking in a musical show or enjoying a glass of wine from a seat at the schoolhouse bar.
When all work is finished on the Lucas complex, Andersen estimates the owners will have invested a total of about $6 million in improvements. It’s already proving to be money well spent.
(Sarah Jamieson is the Editorial Assistant from St. Louis, MO)
Lucas Meetings and Events
1264 Gravois Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63104
(314) 621-6565 phone
(314) 621-1401 fax