Andy Walls has seen many event spaces. With his wife Anne, he has co-owned a dance instruction company for years, and has performed and taught in all kinds of settings, including ballrooms, church recreation rooms, parking lots and backyards. So, it’s no surprise that when he and Anne began designing the Savoy Ballroom, which opened last August in Springfield, he knew exactly what he wanted his dream space to have.
At the top of the list was the quality of the sound, Walls explained. In some large rooms, he is often dismayed at the inability to hear the band or DJ if you are standing on the opposite side of the space. “If you are on the far side of the room, because of distortion, you can barely hear what they’re saying if they’re announcing something,” he said.
To avoid that problem, Walls insisted that the speakers at the Savoy be distributed throughout the 6,000 square feet of the main ballroom. “We can provide quality sound throughout the entire room,” he said. “We can control it by zone, so we can make zones where it’s ‘hotter,’ and we can make it softer.”
The second element Walls had to have was a comfortable room temperature. He wanted to ensure that the air conditioning would handle the strain of keeping a room cool as guests filled it throughout the evening. To make this happen, Walls learned he would need to install more air conditioners than are usual for this size event space.
“Code dictates we should have 10 tons of air conditioning units for our room. We have 30. And that wasn’t because we just wanted to see how much we could spend on air conditioning,” he joked. “It was because I wanted this to be the most comfortable room in the entire state.”
Walls’ expectations seem to have been realized. The event space takes its name and inspiration from the Savoy Ballroom of Harlem, New York, where many swing dances were perfected in the 1920s through the 1950s. It was also famous for breaking racial barriers, becoming an integrated dance hall that allowed whites and blacks to dance together. To pay homage to the era when the Lindy hop and fox trot were in their prime, Walls wanted the interior elements to complement the historic 1920s building in which the Savoy is housed. You won’t find fluorescent lighting here or elements that don’t belong. Walls made sure that every element of the building, which had many incarnations throughout the 20th century, including a Woolworth’s department store, retained its history while exuding elegance.
A HISTORIC BALLROOM
Some of the historically appropriate details in the room include crystal chandeliers, original maple wood floors, 14’-high tin-paneled ceilings, as well as pendant lights in the bar area. “We spent a long time looking for those because most of the pendant lights you find are very modern looking, or they’re kind of art deco. We wanted something that fit a ‘20s style ballroom, something a little bit older, a little nostalgic,” Walls said.
The main ballroom can be divided into four separate areas with a thick curtain if a group wants to use a smaller space. In addition to the ballroom and bar areas, a small room can be used for storage, or as a prep area. An outdoor courtyard area, easily accessible through the ballroom, is also a nice feature that appeals to many groups, Walls said.
“A lot of rooms in town that are our event size don’t have an outdoor courtyard space. If you want an outdoor courtyard, you’re going out in the country or to the park, and then you don’t have the nice room—so we’ve got a little of both,” he said. “It’s one of the unique features of our room.”
The main event area can seat 350 people banquet-style with round tables and still have room for a dance floor. For a cocktail reception or event using rectangular tables, the space can accommodate up to 400, providing a rare combination of an intimate feel for large groups and comfortable seating arrangements.
“Once you hit 200 or 250 people on your list, then the number of choices you have in Springfield drops significantly. There are a lot of rooms that say they can fit you, but they can barely fit you,” Walls said. The tables have to be close together and you really start pushing the limits of the room. In here, 200 to 250 is very comfortable—you have a lot of extra room to play with.”
CHARACTER PLUS AMENITIES
Derek Munson, managing director of the SRO Lyric Theatre, agrees with Walls’ assessment. “It was tricky to find a space in Springfield that could accommodate 200 and still have table seating,” he said. Munson explains that the Savoy provided both the space and ambiance that the Springfield Regional Opera wanted for a unique jazz-aria hybrid performance. “We wanted to find a space that had some character,” he said.
Munson also appreciated the amenities of the space. One of these was the option of having full-bar service at the ballroom. The Savoy has its own liquor license and includes the price of the bartender in the room rental fee. Drinks are reasonably priced as well. As an extra amenity, Munson’s group used the Savoy’s valet parking service. The parking option was a big hit because the event took place around the same time the memorable blizzard of February 2011, which made parking less navigable than it normally would be.
Other planners have also appreciated the options available at the Savoy. Denise Bischof, executive director of the Doula Foundation of Mid-America, hosted her organization’s annual art auction fundraiser, “ARTcetera: An Evening Benefitting Mothers and Babies” for 275 guests in the space. She says her group picked the Savoy because of its size, the layout, the ground level access and the ample free parking. For a group of her size, the space worked perfectly. Bischof chose one of the facility’s preferred caterers, although other caterers can be used as well, with a $250 refundable catering deposit.
“Anne and Andy were very accommodating to our requests. The event went beautifully. We had many positive comments about how beautifully the venue displayed our art and other auction items, and how easily accessible it was,” Bischof said. “The food, catered by Simply Delicious, also received rave reviews.”
C-STREET IS HAPPENING
Another positive feature of hosting an event at the Savoy is the facility’s location on Commercial Street, otherwise known as “C-Street,” an artsy historic district that has recently been reinvigorated. “Over the past two years, there have been 25 new businesses down here, that are still here,
alive and kicking—everything from little furniture shops and clothing stores to a coffee shop,” Walls said.
It’s a happening area, but it’s not over-crowded. It doesn’t have the interferences of other events, such as pub crawls, that a more populated area might have, Walls explains. “It’s a beautiful area of town, and a historic area. These are all things we love.”
Munson said the Savoy’s location was a draw for his event’s attendees. “It was a positive experience for our patrons. Everyone enjoyed going to Commercial Street and seeing it revitalized.”
Together with the Walls’ attention to detail, this atmosphere makes the Savoy just the kind of place where your event can shine. MM&E
(Heather McNeill is a contributor from Kansas City, Mo.)