Article By Bill Clevlen
Perhaps you could say it was Lewis & Clark who first made St. Charles a popular meeting place. The famed explorers started their historic westward trip here along the banks of the Missouri River in 1804.
More than 200 years later, St. Charles, the state’s first capital, is still a great bet as a memorable meeting or convention destination.
Its historic downtown overflows with locally owned shops and restaurants that stretch along a 10-block, brick-paved Main Street. Some of Missouri’s most acclaimed wineries are just a short drive away, and the Katy Trail, one of the nation’s longest bike trails, runs right through town. The area features multiple golf courses and a new entertainment district called Streets of St. Charles, with a movie theater, upscale dining, bars and hotels.
St. Charles is easy to get to, less than 20 minutes from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and about 30 minutes west of downtown St. Louis.
Meetings great and small
Local event venues in St. Charles range from large to quaint. The St. Charles Convention Center (80,000 square feet) can meet the demands of nearly any gathering. The complex was built in 2005 and is known regionally as one of the most flexible and innovative places to book event space. The convention center is attached to an Embassy Suites Hotel with 296 guest rooms. Overall, there are about 1,500 guest rooms currently available within a five-mile radius of downtown St. Charles.
From dance competitions to trade shows, about 70 percent of the clients using the St. Charles Convention Center are repeat customers, which speaks volumes about the center’s attention to detail and service standards. Director of sales Katie Conoyer says, “The one thing meeting planners always tell me after an event is, ‘I can’t believe how friendly people are here.’ And of course, they love all of the free parking.”
Lyons, Ill.-based L.P. Building Corp. is one of the most recent companies to use the convention center for a large event. “I really appreciate that security does more than just stand around,” says office manager Sue Burnet of the service her group receives there. “They helped hold doors and got us carts. It’s those little things that make this such a great venue.”
Solution Tree, a Bloomington, In.-based educator development organization, meets in St. Charles for an annual training event. The conference brings more than 1,600 attendees to the convention center each June. Last year’s largest group at the facility was the National Genealogical Society conference, which brought in more than 2,500 attendees over four days.
The convention center offers plenty of flexible space for smaller-scale meetings and events, too. Visit www.stcharlesonventioncenter.com for more information on the facilities.
What’s going on
As for St. Charles as an overall destination, Conoyer says, “It’s easy to get to and hard to forget.”
Across town from the convention center, the Family Arena offers 10,000 seats when the venue is set up “concert style.” Nearly 18,000 square feet of event space is available on the floor level, which is ideal for trade shows. Another 22,000 square feet of space is available in the outer concourse, and the facility’s full on-site catering kitchen features its own executive chef. Nearby, the Ameristar Casino has 22,000 square feet of traditional space and other unconventional meeting spots. These include the Bottleneck Blues Bar, where the Missouri Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus (MACVB) held an entertainment event for its annual meeting attendees this year.
For smaller gatherings, venues such as the Little Hills Winery or Boone’s Colonial Inn offer a unique meeting atmosphere right in the heart of historic downtown. And the Foundry Arts Centre on the other end of town bills itself as “a beautiful place filled with creativity.” The building once produced railroad cars, and now features two floors of local artists plying their trades during the day. The property has been under extensive renovation in recent years. At night, the center can be used as an elegant space for a banquet or large gathering. It also played host to MACVB annual meeting attendees in summer 2016.
In St. Charles County, the historic Daniel Boone Home and Heritage Center is surrounded by 300 acres of wilderness. Boone, the well known hunter and explorer, moved to the area when he was 65 years old. The center tells the story of Boone and his family, but also features a new pavilion for small gatherings. The center is run by the St. Charles Parks Department.
More reasons to visit
Every group has its favorite season to meet in St. Charles. Even in December, the incredibly popular Christmas Traditions festival features dozens of costumed characters such as Jack Frost and Scrooge greeting guests on historic Main Street. James Enstall, who plays the character “Master of Revels,” often meets people in town for business in December, and hears the same comment from many out-of-town guests. “They usually say they had no idea all of this was here, and want to come back with their families on another trip to experience it all,” he says.
Elizabeth Phelps, assistant director at the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, sums up the destination as a charming riverfront town with state-of-the-art meeting space. “‘Historically Awesome’ is our new tagline,” she says. “That’s mainly because we have incredible history here, but we’re also incredibly modern.”
The CVB often works with meeting planners to organize breakout sessions in different parts of the area so guests can experience more than just one space – and take in the full historic-but-contemporary flavor of the destination. “One of the things people are always surprised by is how hip St. Charles is,” Phelps says. “Often when they hear that we’re a historic destination, that automatically conjures up images of just antique shops and museums. While we certainly have those, our main street is full of younger people who have opened up really cool stores and restaurants.”
St. Charles Convention & Visitors Bureau
230 S. Main Street
St. Charles MO 63301
Bill Clevlen is a St. Louis freelance writer and host of the nationally syndicated radio travel show Bill on the Road (www.billlontheroad.com).