By Julia M. Johnson
Tucked into St. Louis’ iconic Soulard neighborhood is a meeting space that seamlessly combines red-brick elegance with modern creativity and convenience. The 115-year-old building that houses Soulard Preservation Hall has lived many lives and seen many uses over the years. Located just south of downtown St. Louis, it’s been a home to nonprofits, religious societies and union members, and served as a community center, concert hall and theater. Its current incarnation is a welcome sight for meeting planners in need of a venue that’s as fresh and interesting as it is historically intriguing. Wedding planners find the facility engaging, and corporate groups say it’s easy to get down to business there.
The fully renovated Soulard Preservation Hall is a relatively new player on the St. Louis meeting and event scene, but it’s got all the bases covered. Creative meeting space, an extensive list of preferred caterers and vendors, and the ability to let clients’ imaginations take over are just a few of its best offerings, says Nancy Novack, executive director. She owns the hall with her husband, Aaron Novack; his brother, Neal Novack; and Dr. Lindsay Barth. Nancy Novack says the partners bought the 11,000-square-foot building about five years ago, after decades of neglect had left their mark. Her husband’s company, J.E. Novack Construction, brought the facility back to its former glory under an extensive renovation plan, and the space opened for event business in 2005. Careful attention was paid to preserving its late 19th-century architectural character. “We like to call it ‘modern interior with a historical exterior,’” Novack says of the property.
Look what’s inside
Soulard Preservation Hall is a space made to order for business and nonprofit meetings and parties, according to Novack. It can accommodate 250 people for a stand-up reception or 200 for a seated dinner. A virtual tour and floor plan are available on the facility’s Web site, so planners can get an advance snapshot of space options. On the disabled-accessible main level, there is a 3,000-square-foot auditorium with a 480-square-foot stage that’s perfect for performances and presentations, according to Novack. The space is wired for lighting and sound, and a bar, lounge, restrooms and catering kitchen are adjacent to it. “We have flat-screen televisions at the bar, and we allow event clients to show looping presentations there,” Novack explains. “It’s a great way to display photos, post acknowledgements and thank-you messages, or communicate other information to attendees while they mingle.” Above the main level is a second floor with two smaller, private meeting spaces. One can handle groups of about 30; the second works well for groups of up to 12. Both rooms have flat-screen televisions and are PowerPoint-ready, Novack explains.
Novack says her list of preferred caterers is extensive, and she has contacts with local equipment renters for screens, podiums, linens and other items. Full bar service is available at the venue, and Novack keeps chairs and tables on site. “People’s needs for food, drinks, sound, lighting and equipment are so varied these days,” she says. “My philosophy is to let the client be creative. “We want planners to know we’re very flexible with the kinds of services they are looking for. We don’t tell people, ‘Here’s the package deal you’re getting,’ when they walk in the door. They can bring in whatever equipment they want in addition to what we have.” The idea is for planners and clients to have the parties they envision, “not what we prescribe for them,” she says. “We try to offer the kind of service that makes that happen.”
Bring it on
Novack says clients have brought in everything from art exhibitions, plays, live broadcasts and mock trials to DJs and 10-piece musical groups – and it all works well in the space. “I love to have musicians performing here,” she says. “The way the architecture flows, it’s very conducive to listening and mingling, and the sound quality is very good. The spaces on the main level aren’t cut up; they really flow together.” Bands find the main level space very user-friendly, she says. “Musicians love to work here. There are no stairs into the building, and loading and unloading are easy. We have a wide back alley and they can pull right up to the building.” Wedding parties find that accessibility a plus as well, according to Novack. “We have more than one entrance to the main level, so the bride and groom can pull up, enter ‘secretly’ from the back, step right onto the stage and make their big entrance to the reception. It’s easy to get in and out, so they can create drama … without the drama.”
Clients have included Nestle Purina Pet- Care Co., which holds business meetings for up to 70 people at the hall; the American Institute of Architects, which uses the space for award ceremonies of 150 guests; and Missouri Votes Conservation, an environmental group that holds fund-raising and awards events for about 130 people. “We love to do fund raisers, and we’re a natural choice for historical groups,” Novack says. She sees the space as a perfect fit for people interested in Missouri, St. Louis or Soulard history; architectural societies; groups with ties to the area’s French heritage; and anyone who appreciates a space with a story to tell. “Even the local mycological society – mushroom hunters – use our space,” she explains. “Soulard Preservation Hall is a preferred venue of ours,” says Rachel McCalla, coowner of Lucky You Productions, a St. Louis-based event and wedding planning company. “We recently did a ‘Growing Green’ awards dinner for the U.S. Green Building Council’s St. Louis office, and they loved seeing how well the space had been rehabbed. It’s a great fit for groups like that.” For any meeting or event, Novack prides herself on being as flexible and responsive as she is creative. She cites the case of Danisco Animal Nutrition, a Danish firm accustomed to holding meetings in exotic warm-weather locales. “Recently, there was a terrible hurricane heading for the place the company was planning to meet,” Novack says. “At the last minute, they booked us for their group of 25 managers from around the world. It was a big hit. They had a blast, right here in St. Louis.” “Soulard Preservation Hall gave us a historic and beautiful setting that typical meeting spaces don’t provide,” notes a spokesperson from Danisco. “The meeting was a success and everyone loved the space.” MM&E
(Julia M. Johnson is the Assistant Editor from St. Louis, Mo.)
Soulard Preservation Hall
Nancy Novack, executive director
1921 S. 9th St.
St. Louis MO 63104