Medical, Scientific Meetings Find Good Hosts in K.C., Plant Themselves at St. Louis’ Expanded John Danforth Center

By Lisa Lance

Whether your organization is rooted in the medical field or you simply want to explore a scientific venue for your next event, Missouri has some great options.

Convenience in Kansas City
Benita Stennis, director of scientific affairs at the Missouri State Medical Association (MSMA), coordinates the organization’s annual conference. The event alternates between Kansas City (in odd numbered years) and St. Louis (in even numbered years). The conference attracts 600-700 attendees and includes business meetings, scientific meetings, continuing education sessions, medical school alumni receptions, and other events.

“Over the years, we have been constant at two facilities,” said Stennis. “In St. Louis we go to the Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel and in Kansas City for years we have been at the Westin at Crown Center.” This year, for the first time in 20 years, she said they are holding the conference away from the Westin at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center.

What spurred the change? “It’s managed by the same group,” Stennis explained. “So I have the same staff person who I worked at the Westin—she will also be working with me at the Sheraton.”

That consistency in staff and institutional knowledge is important when planning a multi-day conference the size of the MSMA’s. She appreciates the willingness of the Renaissance in St. Louis to provide a shuttle to take attendees on excursions to attractions such as the Missouri Botanical Garden. When the conference is held in Kansas City, Stennis said it’s convenient to be near The Crown Center with its shops and other attractions. “If people bring their children or families, there are lots of restaurants to eat at,” she said. “We’re near Sea Life [Aquarium] as well as the Legoland [Discovery Center]. There are lots of activities there.”

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center Expands its Offerings

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis recently underwent an expansion that included the new William H. Danforth Wing, which was dedicated in April of 2016. The addition cost $45 million and the result is a 79,000-square-foot wing with four levels, three of which contain flexible labs, gathering spaces, open office suites and computational facilities for up to 100 scientists. The expansion features a 95-seat theater with state-of-the-art audio, video, and teleconferencing capabilities for seminars, community programs and training.

“The reason we expanded is for the growth of the center—it’s going to allow us to hire up to 10 additional principal investigators and their supporting staff,” said Tamera McGuire, director of events at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. “So we’re going to be hiring 400 to 500 people within the next five years.”

The wing has a new café that is run by Danforth employees. With a chef and support staff, McGuire said the café can handle internal meetings, as well as daily dining options for staff.

“We went after the ability to keep science moving,” she said. “So somebody can be working on a project, go to their computer, order food online, pay for it and then go down and pick it up.” She said the café was a collaboration between departments, with input from employees ranging from leadership to postdocs to interns.

In addition to serving employees, the café serves as an event space with a capacity of 200 for a cocktail reception or 150 for a sit-down dinner. The space recently housed sponsor tables and booths as a sort of “sponsor hall” for a conference.

Event attendees can get a feel for the work that goes on at the center. “If you walk down the hallway you can look into our lab space on the first floor,” said McGuire. “You can see science at work, if you will.”

That hallway ends at the Danforth Center’s new 2,191-squarefoot, 95-seat lecture-style theater. The theater is a new space in addition to the Danforth Center’s AT&T Auditorium, which offers 3,700-square-feet of space and can accommodate 302 in stadium-style seats.

“The tables [in the theater] are great,” McGuire said. “People love them because outlets are built into the tables. So it’s truly state of the art for those who like to stay connected during a meeting.” The new theater space does not require the use of microphones or other amplification. “The acoustics are amazing in there,” said McGuire. “It’s truly the design and the architecture and the materials that make it so fantastic.

McGuire said one benefit of the Center’s state-of-the-art technology is that a group can have an event in the auditorium with overflow space set up in nearby conference rooms and streaming to the new theater and to screens in the café and other spaces.

The Danforth Center also offers a variety of outdoor options, such as the Miller Terrace, which are available in the warmer months. The Kemper Reflecting Pool was recently converted to the more sustainable water feature, the Kemper Water Gardens. “There’s a beautiful teak boardwalk from one end to the other, which is our way of connecting the work of the Danforth Center to the community,” explained McGuire.

The Center is also adding a prairie landscape to its grounds. “It’s something we’re very excited and very proud about,” said McGuire. “It’s going to contribute not only to our landscape but it’s going to contribute to the environment within the St. Louis community.”

In addition to the on-site café, the Danforth Center uses Butler’s Pantry as its exclusive caterer.

“With a variety of event/meeting spaces at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, guests have diverse catering requests,” said Richard Nix Jr., president of Butler’s Pantry. “We always try to incorporate fresh, healthy, and seasonal items on our menus. Butler’s Boardroom (our drop off service) offers boxed lunches or coffee and pastries for early morning/boardroom meetings. We offer convenient, full-service corporate packages and menus for groups that prefer a hot lunch buffet or light appetizers after a long day (of meetings). We also have guests that enjoy the personalization of customized menus, which are designed with careful attention to detail by our talented culinary team.”

Like the views of the Kemper Water Gardens and new prairie landscape, the connection to science and nature is carried through in the food presentation, as well. “It is important for us to highlight the mission of Danforth, which is to feed the world,” said Nix.

“We incorporate green/renewable “smart” options in our menus whenever possible. Guests truly enjoy that connection, and our chefs are thrilled to create new menu ideas and methods that jive with the venue.”

Michelle Ritterskamp, an event planner at law firm Stinson Leonard Street, started working with The Danforth Center in 2012 for larger client events, primarily for an annual Estate Planning and Fiduciary Litigation seminar. She said the Danforth Center was a perfect fit for a seminar with multiple speakers in an auditorium format with state-of-the-art AV, excellent parking and a valet option and space for a cocktail reception.

McGuire said one thing that sets the Danforth Center apart from other venues is that it only hosts one outside event per day, so her team can completely focus on the success of that event and work with the planner to customize the best solution. For example, an organization might utilize the AT&T Auditorium for a large presentation, hold a workshop in the new theater, and connect the two through a poster session in the hallway. “We’re very lucky that our clients allow us to get involved and we really try to help elevate and lift their events.”


Tam McGuire| Director of Events
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
975 North Warson Road|Saint Louis, Missouri 63132
phone: 314.587.1403 | fax: 314.587.1503
[email protected]

About the author

The MEET Family of Publications

The MEET brand produces regional and national publications that keep corporate, association, medical, education, independent, and religious meeting and event planners informed about relevant industry suppliers, news, tech innovations, and resources that impact and influence how and where they plan their upcoming company function(s).