Go West!; St. Joseph Offers Western Hospitality and Corporate and Sports Events Appeal

December 30, 2010

Destination StJoMo

By Heather McNeill

Missouri has its share of places that evoke the spirit of the Western frontier. Kansas City celebrates cowboy culture every year with its American Royal Rodeo. Even the state’s most eastern city, St. Louis, has the Arch, symbolizing the “Gateway to the West.” But perhaps only one city in Missouri has fully embraced the Old West, and that’s St. Joseph. St. Joseph was where the Pony Express began 150 years ago. Jesse James also was killed here in his home by his rival Robert Ford in 1882. Because of these events, St. Joseph was recently named the #1 Top Western Town in America by True West magazine. This appeal, plus St. Joseph’s affordability, means it doesn’t have to compete for event business against other places, such as its neighbor 44 miles to the south. “Kansas City can attract bigger groups,” says Mary Supple, director of sales for the St. Joseph Convention & Visitor Bureau. “We offer affordability. They have the Westin Crown Center… and some of the larger hotels and convention centers. We can’t compete against that, and we’re not often bidding against that.” Instead, St. Joe has consistently appealed to mid-sized corporate groups. Its location in the heart of the four-state region of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas makes it convenient for the many businesses headquartered in the area. The city of about 76,000 residents, with 1,100 hotel sleeping rooms, also has become an attractive sports event destination. A sampling of sporting facilities, museums and meeting venues around town shows that St. Joe is saddled up to give event-goers excitement and value.


One location that has established St. Joseph’s reputation for sports events is the Heritage Park Softball Complex. This facility, named the 2009 National Amateur Softball Association’s complex of the year, has five tournament-ready fields, including one with stadium seating. Since the park opened in 2002, it has been the site of many events, including the Men’s Major Fast Pitch National Championship and the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championships, which was hosted by Missouri Western State University. “It’s really been tremendous,” says Chuck Kempf, senior recreation supervisor for the St. Joseph Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s really brought in tourism from about the middle of May through September-October, when we’ve hosted these events, by bringing in people from all the over the region, even from all over the country.” These groups can find unique accommodations in St. Joseph, most notably the Stoney Creek Inn & Conference Center, which has a North Woods lodge atmosphere replete with fireplaces. One of 13 hotels in a small hotel chain, this location has 129 sleeping rooms and more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space. “The décor and the feeling of the hotel are relaxing, not in any way that’s going to detract from anybody’s meeting, but you get a sense that this is a place that you can get a lot of work done, and once the day is over you’re going to feel like it’s home,” says Dan Posch, sales manager. The hotel has seven separate meeting spaces. The largest, the Frontier Ballroom, can accommodate up to 350 banquetstyle and 500 theater-style. St. Joseph Offers Western Hospitality and Corporate and Sports Events Appeal The Pony Express National Museum Stoney Creek Inn The Fulkerson Center

Downtown St. Joseph offers several meeting venues, including the Civic Arena, with 19,000 square feet of exhibit space and seating for 4,200, and the Holiday Inn, located directly across the street. The recently renovated hotel, which opened about five years ago, features 7,800 square feet of meeting space, including an elegant ballroom and an amphitheater with 62 fixed seats and desks for laptops. “It’s so nice to be able to stay in the proximity where your convention or meetings are being held,” says Janice Keith, director of sales. “And we are full-service, so we can handle all of your meeting needs, something as light as a continental breakfast, to a seven-course dinner.” The Holiday Inn is also near many downtown attractions, including the Pony Express National Museum, which has a Community Room that can seat 140 people and offers guided tours to groups. The Pony Express, which began in 1860, and lasted for only 18 months, has captured imaginations ever since. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 150 years later, or all the times in between, because it is the spirit of the Pony Express,” says Cindy Daffron, director of the museum. “What other things are still talked about 150 years later? Not very many.” Exhibits include a diorama that guides the viewer from St. Joseph to the Pony Express’s end point at Sacramento, California. Museum-goers can read fascinating accounts from the riders, some as young as age 11, who faced unbelievable danger just to relay the mail. As Daffron phrases it, admittedly an understatement, “These guys were extremely dedicated, weren’t they?

In our time, if any group of men could be said to capture this area’s collective imagination in a similar way as those heroic horse riders, it’s the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s fitting, then, that the football team has signed on to train in St. Joseph every summer for the next five years, which could be extended to 10. Their presence has attracted new visitors to town and helped stimulate the local economy. It also has drawn attention to one of the area’s best meeting locales: Missouri Western State University (MWSU). The four-year university with about 6,000 students has conference facilities available to groups year-round. Classroom space and accommodations in the university’s residence halls are also available when school is out of session. The Fulkerson Center, a stand-alone conference center, can be divided into three separate areas to accommodate groups of about 500 people. The building is “smart,” with projection screens and state-of-the art technology. “We’re very proud of the Fulkerson Center. We have a lot of chamber events, convocation dinners, a lot of fancy banquets there,” says Patty Kuechler, director of conferences and special program scheduling services. Planners, too, are pleased with the facilities and the staff. “The staff at MWSU are second to none, as far as I am concerned. They go above and beyond the job description as hosts of an event like ours,” says Mike O’Neill of the Barbershop Harmony Society. For about 30 years, his organization has used the school’s meeting space for Harmony University, a weeklong program that provides education to about 550 barbershop singers from all over the world each year. Paul Wietlisbach, director of education for the Barbershop Harmony Society, agrees. “The conference staff of Missouri Western is top-notch. The care and concern they show for every detail is above and beyond anything we could imagine needing or wanting,” he says. Events taking place at Missouri Western, and all over St. Joseph, are establishing the town as both a hub for affordable mid-sized corporate events and an attractive sports event destination. Groups from all over the region are feeling the pull—perhaps not unlike that experienced by those who came before them. Westward ho!   MM&E

(Heather McNeill is a contributor from Kansas City, Mo.)

Contact Information:
St. Joseph Convention & Visitor Bureau
109 South Fourth Street
St. Joseph, MO 64501

Stoney Creek Inn & Conference Center
1201 N. Woodbine Road
St. Joseph, MO 64506
(800) 659-2220

Holiday Inn St. Joseph
102 South Third Street
St. Joseph, MO 64501
(816) 279-8000

Pony Express National Museum
914 Penn Street
St. Joseph, MO 64501
(800) 530-5930
(816) 279-5059

Missouri Western State University
4525 Downs Drive
St. Joseph, MO 64507-2294
(816) 233-6688

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