Article by Lisa Lance
The town of Cape Girardeau is located on the western bank of the Mississippi River just off Interstate 55 midway between St. Louis and Memphis.
Brenda Newbern, executive director of Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau (VisitCape), noted the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, which offers daily commuter flights to St. Louis, will soon offer flights to Chicago.
Newbern said three things make Cape an attractive destination for meetings and events: location, amenities and support.
Newbern points to the small-town charm of Cape. “We have all of the amenities of a metropolitan city without the congestion, and we offer the southern hospitality,” she said.
Hyssa Phares, director of sales at VisitCape, is happy to assist planners in setting up site visits, coordinating RFPs from meeting locations and hotels, and offering suggestions for group events. “With our collaborative connections to the local community you have hundreds of hospitality partners connected to you,” she added.
Pam Widener, meeting planner and travel director at The Home Office Meetings, planned a meeting in Cape in 2016 for more than 700 people. She used the Osage Center for meetings and five hotels for accommodations. She said the group holds annual meetings around the state depending on the location of the hosting chapters, and the 2016 event chose to hold the meeting in Cape Girardeau because of its location near the hosting chapters that year.
Widener praised the staff at Osage Center but noted that meeting planners should be aware the venue is a recreation center; her experience was different than planning a meeting at a conference center or hotel. “My greatest source of help was the professional assistance I received from Brenda Newbern,” said Widener. “She was a vital piece to the Cape Girardeau success story.”
A Variety Of Venues
Cape Girardeau offers a range of venues to accommodate different event needs.
“If it is a sporting event you are hosting, ‘Cape Girardeau’ is the regional hub,” said Newbern, referring to the Cape Girardeau Sportsplex.
The Sportsplex houses two regulation indoor turf soccer fields with 32,000 square feet of X-GEN PRO artificial turf. The facility also has six hardwood basketball courts that can convert into 12 volleyball courts and feature 57,600 square feet of AnchorFlex northern hardwood maple flooring. Newbern also said the complex offers “high-end amenities that the teams will love [such as] video screens, team meeting rooms, WiFi, etc. That’s just the most recent addition to our facilities.”
The Sportsplex also offers food and beverage services for groups.
For groups looking for something in the entertainment realm, Newbern said the Show Me Center “has hosted world-renowned entertainers, monster trucks, foot stomping rodeos, massive arts and crafts shows, collegiate sports, or lawn and garden shows.” The center is also the home of the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks.
The Show Me Center offers an arena measuring 156 feet by 205 feet with a seating capacity of 2,500-7,600 depending on the configuration. The lobby has a capacity of 633 people. The center also offers meeting rooms with fold-away walls that can adjust to accommodate groups from 10 to 200 people.
Davine Davis, assistant executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, planned the MSHSAA State Volleyball Championships which have been in Cape Girardeau for the past seven years. Approximately 4,200 to 4,500 people attend. The association selected the Show Me Center as the venue for the event through an RFP process.
“Our criterion focus on the ability of the facility to conduct our event in the format we use, financial considerations, and the openness and willingness of the host community to support the event,” said Davis. “Most success proposals demonstrate the collective strengths of the host facility, the host community convention and visitors function, and the local business community. This was absolutely the case when we selected Cape Girardeau to be the host community for the MSHSAA Volleyball Championships.”
“Another very important outdoor facility is the Shawnee Sports Complex and the Arena Park which have been host to ASA, USSSA, and most recently awarded the 2019 National USA Softball Men’s Class D Slow Pitch Tournament,” Newbern added, noting “the fields are well maintained.”
The most recent addition to Cape’s meeting and conference venues is the Drury Plaza Hotel Cape Girardeau Conference Center. The hotel has 1 ,400 square feet of meeting space and the conference center offers more than 14,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel also has 168 hotel rooms for overnight accommodations.
Meeting room options at Drury Plaza include the 14,453-square-foot Mississippi Center which can accommodate 875 people for a banquet, 1 ,200 for theater seating, or 450 in a classroom setting. The Truman and Missouri rooms are just over 7,000 square feet each and can accommodate a banquet for 435, theater seating for 600, or classroom seating for 240-265. Several smaller rooms can hold 30-60 people for a banquet, 20-65 for a conference set up, 45-100 for theater seating, 27-140 for a classroom setting, or 20-80 in a U-shape configuration. Drury Plaza offers catering by The Southerner by Tractors.
The catering menu asks planners to “choose your hospitality style”—working lunch or picnic style, buffet, family style, or plated. Meal options include breakfasts, light lunches, hot lunches and dinners, and a variety of “party starters” consisting of action stations and appetizers. Most menu items have a southern feel, such as buttermilk fried chicken, “not your mama’s” meatloaf, and the classic Southerner salad platter.
Sandy Hastings, president of SERVPRO of Cape Girardeau and Scott Counties, plans several meetings each year for staff and employees from other offices. She alternates locations throughout Missouri for her organization’s annual state meeting, but said she chose to hold the upcoming meeting in February 2018 in Cape Girardeau “mainly because of the new Drury conference center.”
The 2018 meeting will have about 55 people in attendance and she said she chose Drury Plaza because it can accommodate the size of her group and “because it’s new.”
Fun For All
In addition to state-of-the-art venues, Cape offers several entertainment options for groups meeting in the town. Newbern said the Cape Splash Aquatic Center is a big hit in the summer months. “The 259-foot drop slide or the vortex pool make for an adrenaline rush,” she said. “But the little ones love the splash pad, zero-degree water playground or the pirate ship. It has that 700-foot Lazy River and many ‘funbrellas’ for those that just want to lay back and relax.”
She also recommends the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center. “Indoors, there is a 160-seat auditorium, three classrooms, and hands-on exhibits for all ages,” she said, “[as well as] a scientific research lab, fresh water aquariums and indoor wildlife viewing. Just step outside and White Oak Trace features two miles of nature trails. The hikers will traverse rolling river hills marked by sink holes and deep hollows and explore ravines covered with prominent stands of tulip and oak.”
The Crisp Museum, located inside Southeast Missouri State’s River Campus, includes the Crossroads Theater which has a 17-minute video that introduces the region’s rich natural and human history. The 1,900-square-foot art gallery also features works by local, regional, national and international artists.
Words Of Advice
What should planners keep in mind when working in Cape Girardeau?
Hastings suggests planning ahead for dining options. “Know ahead of time what and where your meals will be,” she said. “If it’s a big group, utilize the convention and visitors [center] people because they can get ‘deals’.”
Davis also recommends working with VisitCape (the CVB) when planning an event in Cape. She relies on the CVB to tour local venues and to stay up to date on new hotels and restaurants. “They also provide ‘gift bags’ each year for each member of the team,” she said. “These bags contain coupons for meals and other local retail businesses, a map of Cape Girardeau, and other items from the local retailers. The CVB is also instrumental in keeping us visible within the local community.”
If you’re looking for Southern Charm in the middle of Missouri, look no further than Cape Girardeau. With a variety of venues and attractions suited to all ages, it just might be the perfect place for your next meeting or event.
Lisa Lance is a contributing writer from Baltimore, Maryland.
Director of Sales
Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau
220 N. Fountain
Cape Girardeau, MO 63701-5636
(800) 777-0068, (Toll Free)