By Lisa Lance
From Florida to Oregon to the ambiguous home of the Simpsons, every state has a Springfield, or so it seems, and Missouri is no exception. But prevalence does not necessarily mean predictability, and the many and varied attractions and meeting venues in Springfield, Mo., will open your eyes to this surprising town at the center of the country.
Located in the Southwestern part of the state, Springfield has a population of about 150,000 within city limits and about 385,000 in the metro area. What makes this city a great destination? “It’s the third largest city in Missouri, but it’s still a small enough community that it’s easy to get around, and the people are very friendly,” says Susan Wade, public relations manager for the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It also has a great mix of attractions. The downtown area is filled with galleries, shops and entertainment. There’s plenty to do, but it’s not a big, overwhelming city.”
An Array of Attractions
Keeping a group entertained in Springfield isn’t hard to do. The city offers plenty of attractions for all tastes and budgets. From arts and culture to sports and outdoor activities, there is truly something for everyone.
Want to take your group out to the ballgame? The Springfield Cardinals minor league baseball team plays at Hammons Field and was named the Texas League Organization of the Year for the past three years. Special group rates are available, with seating options ranging from general admission and outfield box seats at $5 to $8 per person depending on the size of your group, to home plate and dugout decks at $15 per person, to suites for $25 per person. Catering packages are also available to keep everyone fed and happy, whether you’d like traditional ballpark food or more personalized fare.
Mike Lindskog, “Voice of the Springfield Cardinals” and public relations manager for the team, says the venue hosts a variety of groups each year, from church groups to little league teams who get to run out onto the field with the players. Groups range in size from 20 to 2,000. “It’s a great opportunity to get camaraderie going, to reward your clients and customers or to thank employees,” he says. “We try to make it the most affordable, fan-friendly environment you can have.”
In the off-season, Lindskog is also available for speaking engagements. He has given presentations on the business of baseball and his experiences with the team to city councils, rotary clubs and chambers of commerce.
If you’re looking for something sweet, make a trip to the Commercial Street Historic District. Askinosie Chocolate, founded by former defense lawyer Shawn Askinosie, specializes in crafting dark chocolate from beans sourced directly from farmers. Public tours of the factory are given each week on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. and Thursdays at 5 p.m., and private tours may be scheduled for groups. The factory can accommodate groups of up to 50 and has hosted tours for school groups and organizations such as the local Rotary Club and Springfield Chamber of Commerce, says Kesha Alexander, Askinosie’s “Pursuer of the Passionates” (also known as the director of sales and marketing). Proceeds from all factory tours go to Chocolate University, a program co-sponsored by Askinosie Chocolate and Drury University that introduces children at Boyd Elementary School, many of whom live at a local homeless shelter, to the craft of artisan chocolate making. “Chocolate University is a way to teach kids about ethical business, business principles, history and language through something that is attractive to them – chocolate,” says Alexander.
For theater buffs, the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts at Missouri State University offers a variety of entertaining shows, from dance productions to jazz concerts to the “Give Your Regards to Broadway” series. Flexible pricing options are available, as well as priority seating for groups. A pre- or post-performance reception or presentation can also be arranged.
Other local attractions include Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Discovery Center, Dickerson Park Zoo, The Landers Theater and Fantastic Caverns.
A Variety of Event Spaces
Springfield has no shortage of meeting facilities. Venues include the Springfield Expo Center, which features 112,000 total square feet of exhibition space, including its 45,000-square-foot Expo hall, seven break-out meeting rooms, seating capacity of 4,500 and on-site catering. All event spaces are equipped with high-speed Internet access and audio-visual resources.
The University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center is located across the street from the Springfield Expo Center and boasts 271 guest rooms, 39,000 square feet of meeting space, an on-site restaurant, fitness center and swimming pool.
Remington’s Entertainment Complex, which is located on the south side of the city, is a 33,000-square-foot facility featuring a 20-foot by 40-foot stage with built-in rear projection and a full kitchen. The venue has hosted a variety of events including concerts, trade shows, receptions and training seminars.
The Oasis Hotel and Convention Center has 25,000 square feet of total exhibition space. What makes it stand out? “The uniqueness of our property,” says Nicole Kever, director of sales. She noted the locally designed architecture and fountains in view on the drive to the property. “It’s almost like a resort, in Springfield.”
The Oasis Hotel and Convention Center has seven meeting rooms, ranging in size from a cozy 300 square feet to the Convention Center itself at 12,876 square feet. Featuring an on-site boardroom, it can seat up to 700 people for a banquet or 1,400 theater style. “We host many types of events, from corporate conventions to wedding receptions and everything in between,” says Kever.
Hotel amenities include a business center, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a sports complex with a sand volleyball court, basketball court, baseball field and running track.
Last May, Special Olympics Missouri held its Summer Games at Missouri State University. The games had been held for the last seven years in Columbia, but Mandi Mueller, public relations coordinator for Special Olympics Missouri, says, “Springfield was the best fit for us,” adding that the city also gave her organization the best bid. The organization rotates locations for the games every four years, so they will take place in Springfield through 2011.
Mueller has great things to say about the venue. She says the athletes were able to stay in the dorms at Missouri State University and get a taste of the “college experience,” and the group was able to hold all its track and field events and most other events at Plaster Stadium. Getting around was not a problem, as the campus is easy to navigate on foot. She estimated 1,500 athletes plus family and friends, 500 coaches and 1,100 volunteers attended the three-day event. “We were really happy with the way everything turned out,” she says, noting that many of the volunteers came directly from the Springfield community.
Other venues in Springfield include the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, the Executive Conference Center, Mediacom Ice Park and The Shrine Mosque.
Where to eat?
Springfield offers a variety of dining options as well. The authentic Gilardi’s Italian Ristorante can seat up to 150, and menu items include dishes such as Gilardi Pasta (homemade ricotta cheese pasta with mushrooms, Italian sausage and a lightly spiced tomato cream sauce for $14.95) and Stinco di Agnello alla Nicola (slowly braised lamb shank with red wine sauce for $24.95).
Rodizio Brazilian Grill can accommodate groups from 10 to 80 people and offers a three-course prix fixe dinner menu for $21 per person. The first course includes cheese bread and beef vegetable soup; the second course is a cold bar with items such as cheese, olives, vegetables and potato salad; and the third course options include peito e frango com (chicken breast wrapped in bacon), Brazilian meat loaf and pernil de cordeiro (leg of lamb).
Honey Heaven & The Vineyard Tearoom generally hosts tea parties and luncheons for groups of 12 to 25, although Sue Miller, one of the “queen bees” at this restaurant and honey shop, says they can accommodate groups as small as four or as large as 40. The venue has hosted Red Hat Society events, bridal and baby showers and holiday get-togethers.
Honey Heaven features a live-observation bee hive and offers raw honey and natural, gourmet food such as hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken and freshly made salad dressings. Groups of eight or more can choose from a pre-order menu, which offers a choice of quiche, chicken salad or a sampler plate (a sampler size of quiche, a cup of soup and a sampler size of chicken salad). Each entrée is accompanied by a garden salad, fruit and a muffin, and the selections range in price from $8.99 to $13.99 per person. “The owner has a saying,” says Miller. “We won’t serve what we won’t eat, and our service is sweet.”
Other local restaurants include J. Buck’s, Springfield Brewing Company and Nakato Japanese Steakhouse.
With all that Springfield has to offer, a group of any size or style is sure to have a successful event. And to top it all off, “Springfield is one of the least expensive cities in the nation,” says the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Wade. MM&E
(Lisa Lance is a contributor from St. Charles, Mo.)
Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
(417) 881-5300 or (800) 678-8767
Springfield Cardinals – Hammons Field
Main Office (417) 863-0395
Individual Game Tickets (417) 863-2143
Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts, Missouri State University
(417) 836-7678 or (888) 476-7849
Group Sales: (417) 836-8468
Oasis Hotel and Convention Center
(888) 532-4338 or (417) 866-5253
Missouri State University
Gilardi’s Italian Ristorante
Rodizio Brazilian Grill
Honey Heaven & The Vineyard Tearoom
Be sure to check out these other great culinary opportunities!
Candy House Gourmet Chocolates
(417) 883-3900 • www.candyhouse.net
J. Buck’s Restaurant
(417) 823-7167 • www.jbucks.com