By Astrid Zeppenfeld
When you are attending a business function at one of the state’s splendid convention centers, you’re likely to think to yourself more than once during the event, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Dorothy’s famous words from decades ago hold especially true in places such as Manhattan, Kansas, where this Midwestern state is anything but flat and boring. (That’s actually mostly just what you see while passing through the state on highway 70.)
More About Manhattan
The Little Apple, as it is affectionately called by many, has its origins in investors from The Big Apple, New York, who provided financial assistance to Manhattan’s first pioneer settlers in Kansas. Having had “Big” shoes to fill, Manhattan, Kansas, became a hustling and bustling small big town, which draws upon its gorgeous Flint Hills backdrop to give any conference in the meeting district an air of serenity – almost.
In addition to its long-loved Hilton Garden Inn/Manhattan Conference Center and the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, which anchor the meeting district on two opposite sides, The Little Apple has a new venue to offer meeting planners now: The Courtyard by Marriott, located near Kansas State University. Karen Hibbard, TMP, Vice President and Director at Visit Manhattan, Kansas, states, “This new property offers 127 sleeping rooms, meeting room to accommodate 80 in theatre, great rooftop views overlooking Aggieville, and is the only property to offer valet parking.” Actually, the Chamber Staff Retreat was held in the brand-new facility. Hibbard adds, “The Courtyard by Marriott offers a small meeting room. Our staff benefited greatly by using this space, perfect for our staff needs. Located in the heart of Aggieville, the Courtyard by Marriott delivers a great setting for business – as well as being close to dining and entertainment options once the meeting is complete!”
Isaak Kitchens, Director of Sales at the Courtyard by Marriott, elaborates, “The facility opened on August 12th of this year. It is not a big convention center, but rather a smaller venue that caters to more intimate business events – with 1,100 sq.ft. of meeting room, which can sit 50 banquet style and 40 classroom. The Terrace is a public place to be blocked off for a social hour or maybe a reception to start off a great business gathering. We do offer a large, state-of-art fitness area that caters to the busy traveler as well as the leisure vacationer.”
And don’t forget that there are still great non-conference center venue options, among others Liquid Art Winery, with its beautiful view of the Konza Prairie, or the Flint Hills Discovery Center, which can provide your group with the sensory experience of feeling the winds that distribute the ashes from the burning of the prairie as those softly land on your skin or the sensation of chills with snowflakes or ice storms.
What Do Planners Say About the Little Apple?
Before the pandemic hit, Steve Wittmuss, Commercial Vice President for Farm Bureau Financial Services, held the company’s operations conference in Manhattan for 350 people, including social events at a few of the town’s favorite must-see spots. Wittmuss sums up, “We had a great time.” He could not say enough wonderful things about the different venues where he took his group for social events. “We enjoyed all of our social activity locations and activities. Weather was a challenge, but would have been wherever we would have held that week in the Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa area. People at all venues were great to work with.”
Among other things, his group did a game show night “Family Feud style” at the Wareham Theatre, hosted by local personality Dave Lewis. He really took advantage of the close proximity of the Flint Hills Discovery Center/Blue Earth Plaza. This venue is not just really educational and a fun place to visit with kids. Wittmuss said, “We had a lot of events scheduled to do on the Blue Earth Plaza (Wood Carver, Roping Demo, Beer Making Sessions, BBQ Sessions and Drone Demo), all were cancelled due to massive amounts of rain. We still had karaoke, caricature artists, up close magician and lot of great food. The Flint Hills Discovery Center has a lot of space with multiple levels. Jonathan was great to work with and his staff was able to adjust when the weather forecast went south on us – for example we were going to do karaoke on the third-floor patio and had to move it inside.”
Liquid Arts Winery, even though a 20-minute drive from Downtown Manhattan, is worth a closer look for meetings and events. “Beautiful location. Great hall. Fire pits and yard games are available outside. We had live music and great food, catered in by Martinelli’s from Salina, Kansas. Their chicken parmesan was as good as I have ever had. Dani at Liquid Arts was great to work with. A very unique venue,” says Wittmuss.
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MEET Missouri’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.