Meeting planners have a lot of boxes to check off when choosing a destination for their next event. The destination needs to be unique yet accessible, and not only offer seamless, convenient infrastructure that can support large-scale conferences and events, but should also provide a range of arts and culture, food and drink, and entertainment options that allow attendees to take a break from work-related activities and explore on their own. Of course, all of this needs to ideally be easy on the bottom line.
Kansas City is one example of a destination that understands the shifting needs of meeting planners and the attendees they manage. The city has put the effort and investments into not only repositioning itself, but actually becoming a modern, affordable, and highly-connected city that embraces forward-thinking and innovation. In total, Kansas City’s Downtown convention package amounts to $9 billion in investment.
“Kansas City’s meetings package is more appealing than ever thanks to more than a decade of investment in our convention districts,” says Visit KC president & CEO Jason Fulvi. “Our growth in infrastructure, recent hotel enhancements, and ongoing meeting space renovations mark a period of unparalleled prosperity in Kansas City, with the best still yet to come.”
The city is undergoing a rebirth, but Kansas City remains the heart of the “New Midwest,” even appearing on National Geographic’s “Best Trips of 2019” list. As the publisher described, “Most visitors to this Midwestern city come for the barbecue and all that jazz, but soon find themselves caught up in an urban renaissance.”
A Convention Center Fit for the 21st Century
The Kansas City Convention Center, encompassing more than 800,000 square feet and eight-square blocks, provides an innovative and versatile meeting space that can accommodate both large and small events.
Meeting planners and attendees can take advantage of Bartle Hall, the main exhibit space that totals 388,800 square feet on a single floor. The hall is easily accessible from Kansas City’s Downtown hotels, comes equipped with 1,000 underground parking spaces, and connects to the Municipal Auditorium and Conference Center via skywalks and underground walkways. In total, the convention center includes 48 meeting rooms, which recently underwent a full renovation to include state-of-the-art amenities, high-end finishes, and a variety of room sizes.
Meanwhile, the 46,484-square-foot Kay Barnes Grand Ballroom –– one of the largest green ballrooms in the country –– is certified LEED Silver and boasts energy-efficient heating and cooling and a sophisticated eco-friendly lighting system that shifts its natural light as the sun moves.
A three-level Conference Center serves as a complement to the main exhibit hall or can be utilized as a stand-alone space for smaller events. The Conference Center totals more than 56,000 square feet with seating up to 6,000 and has space that can be divided up to 19 rooms. It also features nearly 35,000 square feet of registration and pre-function space and attaches to a sculpture garden for events up to 2,000 people.
As Oscar McGaskey Jr., executive director of the Kansas City Convention Center, said, “Our visitors consistently talk about the high quality service they receive from our staff. Whether it’s a group meeting of 250 or a citywide convention of 20,000, we are committed to providing the same high level of service at the Kansas City Convention Center.”
Also part of the Kansas City Convention Center is the historic Municipal Auditorium which seats more than 10,700 people. Amenities in the Art Deco venue include a fully-lighted marquee, a large box office, a 3,600-square-foot foyer, coat check, and multiple restrooms and concession stands (the facility also boasts the distinction of having hosted more NCAA Final Fours than any other American venue).
Upgraded and Expanded Lodging
Kansas City is undergoing an evolution in its lodging offerings, which include new hotels, expanding room inventory, and upgraded renovations. In total, Kansas City offers more than 33,000 hotel rooms — with more on the way — including 6,000 rooms in the Downtown Convention District. Approximately one-third of these are directly connected to the Kansas City Convention Center.
The city has a number of large marquee properties that have been recently updated, like Kansas City Marriott Downtown, the Hilton President, and Hotel Phillips, while Crown Center, known for its all-in-one attractions, shopping, and lodging, is home to The Westin and the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. The Westin completed a $20 million renovation in early 2018 and now offers 724 hotel rooms. It connects directly to the Crown Center Exhibit Hall and is easily accessible by the KC Streetcar.
Spring 2020 will see the opening of the 800-guestroom Loews Kansas City, complete with a lobby bar, signature restaurant, three-meal restaurant, indoor lap pool, and 60,000 square feet of prime meeting space. The property will connect directly to the Kansas City Convention Center and is in walking distance to key attractions and landmarks.
Boutique hotels like 21c Museum Hotel, Hotel Indigo, and Crossroads Hotel are redefining the hospitality scene in Kansas City as well. The 21c Museum Hotel includes 17 guest suites, a contemporary art museum, and a chef-driven restaurant and bar, while the Crossroads Hotel integrates design, luxury, and local Kansas City flair to create next-level dining and drink options –– including a cocktail bar in the lobby and a rooftop oasis with a bar, cafe, and picturesque views of the city.
A Growing Kansas City International Airport
Accessibility is a huge factor when it comes to planning meetings and events, and rightly so. Getting your attendees to a destination should be uncomplicated and affordable. Kansas City is a quick trip for many U.S. business travelers –– just a three-hour flight from either coast. And once passengers land, they’re only 15 miles from Downtown –– an easy drive, taxi, or Uber ride away.
Currently, the airport utilizes a clover-leaf, three-terminal design –– however, the airport will soon break ground on a new single terminal, set to open by early 2023, with enhanced amenities and infrastructure today’s traveler expects.
Affordability is key here as well. The airport’s largest carriers are Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines, but because Kansas City International Airport isn’t a hub for any single airline, high competition means lower airfare costs for passengers and the companies that manage them.
The Downtown Kansas City Revival
It isn’t all about centrally located accommodation options and versatile meeting and event venues. Meeting and event destinations should have a wide range of offerings to entertain travelers before, after, and in-between meetings and events.
Downtown Kansas City is undergoing a true renaissance when it comes to arts, culture, and culinary options. Restaurants with some of the best barbecue in the country, upscale dining, and farm-to-table ingredients accompany a flourishing craft brewery and distillery scene, while world-renowned museums, jazz joints, and the Crossroads Arts District (home to more than 65 galleries) showcase the city’s rich cultural history.
The Kansas City Power & Light District –– comprising a total of nine blocks –– is a hub for more than 50 unique restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment venues, including Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet Theater, County Road Ice House, Howl at the Moon Piano Bar, Guy Fieri’s Dive & Taco Joint, and country western bar PBR Big Sky. Within the district is KC Live! Block, a one-block entertainment area with two floors of bars and restaurants, as well as a large, partially enclosed courtyard and concert venue.
Immediately to the east is the Sprint Center, a multi-purpose arena that seats more than 19,000 people and has 72 suites. Large-scale musical touring acts frequently make stops at the arena (one of the busiest in the country according to industry magazine Pollstar). Meanwhile, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a multi-venue center for music, opera, theater, and dance home to the Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony, and Lyric Opera, serves as a cultural cornerstone for Downtown Kansas City.
Connecting the Power & Light District, Crossroads Arts District, River Market, and Union Station/Crown Center –– basically, the heart of Downtown –– is the KC Streetcar, which launched in 2016. Way more sophisticated than your typical trolley, it’s totally free for all passengers, is enabled with Wi-Fi and runs early mornings and late nights. The route spans 2.2 miles and 16 stops throughout the Downtown area, including several hotels. An extension is the planning stages that would also connect to the Country Club Plaza and riverfront districts.
“The recent surge in development is comparable only to the growing interest and awareness of Kansas City as a top-notch meeting destination,” says Jason Fulvi. “No longer is Kansas City just the center of the country. It’s quickly becoming the center of attention as well.”