By Stephen Lindsley
Situated in Southeast Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River, Cape Girardeau balances a rich historical heritage with the amenities of a thriving contemporary community.
Several American Indian groups had already occupied the area long before European settlers began to arrive in the area. A Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Girardot established a trading post that became known as Cape Rock in the 1730s. Although Girardot eventually moved on, his name became synonymous with the area.
In 1793 another Frenchman, Louis Lorimier, obtained a land grant from the Spanish government to establish a trading post a few miles south of Cape Rock. As Commandant of the community, Lorimier is credited as the true founder of the town, which he governed for many years. When Lewis and Clark visited Cape Girardeau with the Corps of Discovery in November 1803, Lorimier and his Shawnee wife played host at their home, the Red House. Although the original home was destroyed by a tornado in 1850, the reconstructed Red House Interpretive Center offers a glimpse of the lifestyle and typical possessions from the period.
Though the Mississippi River has always been a central feature of Cape Girardeau life, it has also brought hardship over the years as flooding has repeatedly inundated downtown homes and businesses. A concrete levee wall completed in 1964 spared the city from major damage during the devastating flood of 1993. The steamboat era of the mid 1800s saw the busy port town grow with increased commercial activity, but the real population surge would come toward the end of the 19th century with the introduction of rail service.
A MODERN METROPOLIS
Today’s Cape Girardeau is a thriving, growing metropolis, and perhaps the best symbol of this is the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, which opened to traffic in December, 2003. At night, the bridge is lit like a beacon by 140 lights that were purchased by local residents as part of a $100,000 campaign spearheaded by the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce. Emerson was a state representative who served the local district for 15 years.
“The people here are far and away our greatest asset,” says Chuck Martin, director of the Cape Girardeau CVB, “There is plenty to be excited about in Cape right now, and it is really the people that make it all work.”
Among these is the recently completed Mississippi Wall Mural, which depicts many aspects of life along the river – from historic to contemporary – in 24 panels stretching a total of 1,100 feet. On the other side of the wall is a river walk, and plans are underway to expand it to more than twice its current size.
MEETING VENUES LARGE AND SMALL
By far the largest meeting and event facility in Cape Girardeau is the Show Me Center, which is a part of the Southeast Missouri State University campus, and the home of the SEMO Redhawks varsity men’s and women’s basketball teams. The center plays host to major sporting events, music concerts, rodeos and other entertainment, and has welcomed many large conventions such as the Missouri Baptist Convention, the Area State Student Council hosted by the local high school, and the Missouri State Harley Riders’ Hog Rally, among others. There is also an annual boat show, homebuilders show and a Christmas Craft Fair that occurs the week before Thanksgiving.
According to assistant director Greg Talbut, CFE, the Show Me Center to date has hosted 4,238 meeting room events and 2,822 arena events in fiscal 2005. In fact, since the facility opened in 1987 more than five million visitors have entered the facility.
Talbut notes that with the risers retracted the available convention floor space is 32,000 square feet. In addition to the main hall there are also several meeting rooms and breakout spaces adjacent to the lobby. A portable dance floor is also available. “We can accommodate groups from seven to 7,000,” says Talbut. The upper level concourses can also double as exhibit areas.
Also on campus is the University Center located at One University Plaza. This spacious venue offers nine meeting rooms accommodating 10 to 500 people in various arrangements. Served by Chartwells Food Service, meetings and events can take place in a ballroom, boardroom, or several other spaces.
The Cape Girardeau Parks & Recreation Department manages the Osage Community Centre, which boasts a 16,677 square foot main floor. This space can host up to 1,800 guests with chairs only, or 1,100 with tables and chairs. There are also smaller meeting rooms that accommodate from 34 to 300 people in several configurations. The facility is conveniently served by more than 300 free parking spaces. For more information, contact facility manager Penny Williams at 573-334-2859. The Osage Community Center is located within the 52-acre Osage Park at 1625 N. Kingshighway.
Another venue located within Arena Park is the A.C. Brase Arena. Built by the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s and located at 410 Kiwanis Dr., the arena has a distinctive Art Deco façade. Maximum capacity of the arena for a concert-style event is 1,800, while the reception-style configuration accommodates up to 900. Full kitchen facilities add to the versatility of this venue. Across the street from the Arena is the 4H Exhibit Hall, a 3,400-sq.-ft. meeting space that can accommodate 224 in a banquet-style setting and 485 in a concert-style configuration.
The Drury Lodge, located on the west side of town, offers multiple rooms of different sizes. The Mississippi Center Banquet Room can accommodate groups of up to 600, and seven other rooms range from 500 to 1,674 square feet, hosting from 12 to 200 meeting attendees.
On the smaller side is meeting space at the Holiday Inn Express featuring two rooms with multi-media equipment. The larger Lorimier Room accommodates up to 45 attendees in a theater-style format, while the smaller LaSalle Room can only be arranged in a boardroom configuration for up to 8. For larger groups, the Plaza Conference Center across the parking lot from the Holiday Inn Express offers 3 rooms with lots of flexibility. The Expedition Hall seats 750 in a theater setting and 700 for a banquet. Two other rooms, the Lewis and the Clark when utilized as one room, can accommodate 350 in theater-style and banquet seating for 180. These rooms may also be used separately. A third option on the property can be found at the Victorian Inn. Smaller than its counterparts the Terrace room at the Victorian Inn can accommodate 32 for a banquet and 40 for theater-style seating.
Another venue option is situated above local microbrewery Buckner Brewing Company. The River View Room, a gorgeous meeting space for up to 175 that includes a large curved wooden bar in one corner and a spacious dance floor. Tall windows along the north and east walls of the room afford a panoramic view of the Mississippi River from a vantage above the levee wall. The retaurant and pub’s main level features a lounge suitable for up to 50 people. Between the River View Room and the Lounge on the mezzanine level, the brewery also offers a balcony with seating for up to 20. The brewery is also handicap accessible.
Just a few blocks down Main Street is the Upper Deck Banquet Hall at Dockside. Five flexible spaces each with a full array of audio-video equipment can be arranged to suit the needs of groups from 18 up to 162. On-site catering, a stage, and a dance hall all make this space convenient and versatile.
Conveniently located along Highway 55, roughly halfway between St. Louis and Memphis, Cape Girardeau is home to a wide range of meeting venues. This growing river town offers more than 120 restaurants, a variety of hotels and bed & breakfasts, and many sites of historical and cultural significance. Friendly people and a rich local history make for a vibrant city that maintains its comfortable small-town flavor. MM&E
(Stephen Lindsley is a contributor from St. Louis, MO)
Southeast Missouri State University
Show Me Center
Greg Talbut, CFE – 573-651-2297
Gretchen Weber – 573-651-2282
Osage Community Centre
Penny Williams – 573-334-2859
A.C. Brase Arena
Scott Williams – 800-331-0445
The Drury Lodge
Holiday Inn Express
Buckner Brewing Company
Tammy Maddock – 573-339-7837
Chris Strode – 573-335-9963