St. Louis Takes a Competitive Leap for Events

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St. Louis Takes a Competitive Leap for Events

By Rayna Katz | May 19, 2020

How do you make the right site-selection decision when a meeting destination has several new or improved venues to choose from? That’s the dilemma meeting planners headed to St. Louis are facing because the city recently made a host of enhancements to its event infrastructure—and more upgrades and additions are on the way.

In total, US$8 billion of development has been completed or is in the works, including a planned expansion of the convention center, several attractions and upgrades added to the city’s second-largest meeting venue, new hotels, a food hall on the way and more.

“With all this redevelopment taking place, we represent a fresh new alternative for groups,” says Brian Hall, chief marketing officer, Explore St. Louis. “All of these offerings for conventioneers will be a game changer. St. Louis is coming into its own.”

Financing has been approved for America’s Center to gain a 92,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 65,000-square-foot ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows, 26 loading docks and an outdoor pavilion. The building’s front door also will be refurbished, while the existing ballroom will become part of the new exhibit space, making the meeting and trade show floor areas contiguous.

“It all will be on one level, creating an exhibitor’s paradise because trade shows will have immediate access to adjacent ballrooms for general sessions,” Hall says. “Exhibitors will have easy engagement with their customers because of the contiguous design; there won’t be a bad location for a booth.”

“With all this redevelopment taking place, we represent a fresh new alternative for groups.”

According to estimates from a study by Johnson Consulting, quoted by Explore St. Louis when it announced the America’s Center expansion, “these enhancements will stabilize the current decline in event bookings and potentially create nearly 36 percent growth.”

“With the new ballroom, we will grow substantially in both corporate and association meetings,” Hall says. “We’ll be able to host larger general sessions, meal functions and banquets. Our existing 28,000-square-foot ballroom just doesn’t cut it; it’s often too small for large general sessions and award banquets, and it’s among the smallest in our competitive set. Our new ballroom will position St. Louis dominantly in our competitive set.”

St. Louis Union Station, a former train hub downtown, has become a dining, entertainment and hotel complex. In late 2019, the national historic landmark gained a 120,000-square-foot aquarium, a 1950s-style diner—the St. Louis Union Station Soda Fountain—a carousel and the St. Louis Wheel. The Wheel rises to 200 feet and features 42 climate-controlled gondolas with glass exteriors. Each one can hold up to eight people.

The aquarium, which is home to more than 13,000 animals, has space for up to 1,300 attendees for a private event, and groups can gather with the Shark Canyon habitat or the North American river otters’ pool in the background.

The 567-room St. Louis Union Station Hotel, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, features more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Meetings and receptions also can be held in stationary cars at the property. The restored lobby, known as the Grand Hall, now features lounge seating, a bar, 65-foot ceilings and 3D light shows.

“Meeting attendees say they enjoy our Midwest hospitality, and now we have a rich destination with plenty to see and do against the backdrop of hospitable people.”

The complex also gained several amenities with team-building potential last year: a ropes course, a mirror maze and mini golf. The Train Shed, a restaurant added to the complex in 2018, can host buyouts for up to 175 people.

“Union Station is a vast canvas and as I passed through, they were setting up a dinner just outside the aquarium for 800 guests,” says Gloria Nelson, CSEP, special event manager for Members Inc., who recently toured St. Louis during a familiarization trip. “Meanwhile the Great Hall was abuzz with setup for a wedding under the beautifully adorned ceiling.”

Another entertainment district, Ballpark Village, is completing a $260 million, 700,000-square-foot expansion that has added restaurants (including a bourbon bar), a rooftop terrace with green space and retail options to the sports-themed complex. Included in the upgrade is the 216-room Live! By Loews, which opened in February. The hotel features 17,000 square feet of meeting space. 

“The complex can hold groups from 10 to up to 6,000 people,” Hall says.

In the Midtown area, the 15-acre City Foundry STL complex is in development and plans to offer a food hall, a rooftop beer garden and seating for 500 visitors upon opening. The venue will later add Punchbowl Social, a 7,500-square-foot space for food, drinks, games and events, as well as Alamo Drafthouse, a movie house where food and drinks are served.

On the hotel front, the eclectic, 142-room Last Hotel opened downtown late last year in the former International Shoe Co. building and features more than 6,000 square feet of function space. A year earlier, the 146-room Angad Arts Hotel opened in the Grand Center Arts District. The property’s rooms are decorated in colors matching different moods, and visitors can choose the decor that reflects how they’re feeling upon check-in. It also boasts a rooftop lounge and event space with seating for up to 75 guests. A ballroom and pre-function space are also available.

December 2018 saw the opening of the Hotel Saint Louis, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Housed in a building created by architect Louis Sullivan, who is credited with creating the first modern skyscrapers, the 140-room property has more than 7,000 square feet of meeting space. An expansion of the hotel is planned.

“Meeting attendees say they enjoy our Midwest hospitality, and now we have a rich destination with plenty to see and do against the backdrop of hospitable people,” Hall says. “All of the development will just push us forward.”



Rayna Katz
Rayna Katz

Rayna Katz is an experienced journalist who has served as an editor at several meeting industry publications. Currently a freelance writer, she also covers business travel and the culinary world. Her work has appeared in the New York Daily News and the New York Post.