St. Louis Stays Busy (and Safe) with Events During the Pandemic

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St. Louis Stays Busy (and Safe) with Events During the Pandemic

By Blair Potter | Apr 12, 2021

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the recovery of the meeting industry and the return of in-person events as COVID-19 numbers become more manageable in the U.S. and meeting professionals become increasingly adept at executing events that will protect attendees from the virus.

Open for Business

However, planning safe in-person events isn’t new for some cities. St. Louis, for example, has kept its massive America’s Center open throughout the pandemic, with more than 125 days of event activity and 40,000 attendees, according to Brian Hall, chief marketing officer for Explore St. Louis.

“In July 2020, we hosted NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, the first full-season TV production to take place during the pandemic,” he says. “In September, we earned our GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation and opened StreamStage, a hybrid meeting solution, in our Ferrara Theater. From Nov. 6-Jan. 17, we featured Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel exhibit in our ballroom and welcomed more than 15,000 ticketed guests.”

Hall says more recent examples include a variety of sporting events, from three youth volleyball tournaments to NCAA Division II wrestling to a gymnastics competition.

“For each event we prepare comprehensive health and safety plans including measures such as thermal camera temperature scans, touchless doorways, ingress and egress directional flow, social distancing and disinfecting and sanitization,” he says. “These plans are thoroughly reviewed by the St. Louis City Department of Public Health and approved before any event takes place.”

Upcoming events include the St. Louis Auto Show, Transworld’s Halloween and Attractions Show and the Inland Marine Expo.

A St. Louis tourism development boom in recent years has been highlighted by a US$380 million transformation of the grounds surrounding the iconic Gateway Arch, according to Hall.

“The project served to connect the Gateway Arch National Park with downtown St. Louis, with a pedestrian park built over the highway leading to a new entrance to the experience below,” he says. “The Museum at the Gateway Arch has doubled in size and is available for private events, and, of course, no visit to St. Louis is complete without a tram ride to the top of the 630-foot Gateway Arch.”

“Customers have long memories and will always remember how they were treated in the face of adversity.” - Brian Hall, Chief Marketing Officer, Explore St. Louis

Nearby, Phase II of the entertainment and residential complex Ballpark Village, which is adjacent to Busch Stadium (home of baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals), included the addition of restaurant/lounge Sports & Social and a Live! by Loews hotel in spring 2020.

“This 197-room hotel adds a great option for meeting professionals looking for fresh new options for their smaller events with 10,500 square feet of indoor space and 6,000 square feet outside overlooking Ballpark Village,” Hall says, noting recent developments in the city include the opening of several additional hotels (The Last Hotel, Hotel Saint Louis, Angad Arts Hotel, Element St. Louis Midtown); the transformation of St. Louis Union Station, which offers a state-of-the-art Aquarium, a 200-foot-tall observation wheel and a Curio by Hilton Hotel; and the soon-to-debut City Foundry, a fully restored and reimagined industrial site turned visitor attraction featuring a food hall, an esports center and more.

Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis, recently told St. Louis Business Journal that the city has a robust convention calendar for the third and fourth quarters of 2021, and for 2022, noting that there will likely be some permanent changes to in-person events.

“I think most of our customers are coming to the realization that even when they are back at full strength in terms of attendance at in-person meetings, they’ll be able to expand their reach by adding a virtual component for attendees who were never going to be able to travel in person—either because their organizations wouldn’t provide them with the budget or because they were just too far removed geographically,” she said. “So technology is a tool that every venue is going to need to figure out how to incorporate.”

A Strong MPI Network

Ashley Patrick, CMP, DES, director, strategic events for Intalere and president of the MPI St. Louis Area Chapter, says the chapter was able to host an educational and networking event in October, followed by a February hybrid event in conjunction with the local HSMAI chapter. Upcoming events include a Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) panel discussion in April at StreamStage and EduCon in May at the Marriott Grand.

“We feel our members are yearning for in-person events, and as advocates for the meeting industry we should be an example of how we can start meeting in-person in a safe and socially distanced manner,” Patrick says. “However, we understand not everyone is comfortable yet, so we wanted to be able to offer [GMID and EduCon] to all of our members, which is why they will both be hybrid events. We have great partners who are helping us achieve this.

“EduCon is our largest educational event each year and is typically in February. We made the decision to move that event to later in the year in hopes of having a larger in-person audience. We are very excited for both events and optimistic about getting back to seeing each other face to face.”

“Customers have long memories and will always remember how they were treated in the face of adversity.” - Brian Hall, Chief Marketing Officer, Explore St. Louis

The decision to move EduCon was made, in part, due to anticipation of eased local restrictions.

“While local restrictions have been reduced, we will still be taking every precaution to protect our members, including social distancing, sanitizing stations and mask requirements,” Patrick says. 

The chapter ramped up its social media presence over the past six months to provide relevant content to members on a weekly or even daily basis, including job postings, articles and blog posts, according to Patrick.

“We have also continued to host education and networking events via Zoom when we couldn’t meet in person,” she says. “We hosted a great networking event around the holidays, where everyone shared their favorite holiday recipe and participated in a home scavenger hunt. We found that our members just wanted to see each other’s faces, so we did our best to help facilitate that.”



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Blair Potter

Blair Potter is director of media operations for MPI. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).