By Astrid Zeppenfeld
When we write about all the great venues meeting planners love to book for corporate events, we often focus on facilities within the state of Missouri. But just 15 minutes and a 650-ft long bridge across the Mississippi River away, the Illinois side of our beautiful Gateway Region has quite a few interesting places to offer– both for the corporate event planner looking for a new place to hold the next annual meeting, as well as the casual traveler who is driving along Route 66 on a sunny afternoon to find the famous over-dimensional catsup bottle, which is actually a water tower built for the Brooks Catsup bottling company in 1949.
The Illinois side of the Gateway Region is comprised of four counties that border the Mississippi River. From Alton, Illinois, all the way down the Mississippi to Kaskaskia Island, one can experience the beautiful scenery of the Great River Road. As Stephanie Tate from the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau puts it, “We are really the only place where the two great national roads come together alongside three of the nation’s great rivers.” Activity options are endless – from “simply” hiking or bicycling on picturesque winding paths, to Bald Eagle watching, or Ziplining at the Aries Winery.
Check out Collinsville, IL
If you’re looking to host your next company meeting across the river in Illinois, Collinsville is always at the top of the list among meeting and event planners. And with good reason: It’s easily accessible from both the Missouri, as well as the Illinois side – a mere 15-mile drive from Downtown St. Louis and at the crossroads of major Illinois highways. Collinsville is a huge draw for History buffs, because it is the home to Cahokia Mounds, one of the 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States. There, “the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico are preserved”, according to the Cahokia Mounds website.
Located not far from Cahokia Mounds is Gateway Center – the largest standing convention center south of Springfield, Illinois. Whether your meeting has 10 or 3,500 participants, your group can be easily accommodated in the more than40,000 square feet of meeting space. Catering is available onsite by Spectra Food Company and the classically trained Executive Chef and Pastry Chef Carl Vollmer. He and his team offer up creative and unique dishes; for example, the Collinsville Chicken – a horseradish-infused chicken dish, paying tribute to Collinsville’s reputation of being the “Horseradish Capital of the World”.
It’s a unique town. People work to support each other’s businesses. Gateway Center’s mission is “to spur economic impact”, according to Jamie Lane, Director of Sales & Marketing. She works with meeting planners from out-of-town to negotiate rates on catering at the facility if there is a large number of
guests staying overnight in the 900 rooms the 9 hotels located within walking distance of Gateway Center have to offer. She can even make sure the hotels put room blocks on their rooms until 30 days before the event so clients can qualify for group rates. And when Lane says, “All of those nine hotels are within safe walking distance from Gateway Center”, she means it. Imagine a very large mall parking lot with a 40,000 square feet conference center in the middle. Along the perimeter of all that parking, imagine hotels to which you can walk. And Splash City Waterpark. You can walk there, too.
Collinsville’s newest addition
The City of Collinsville has a free hospitality shuttle to transport your guests on a continuous loop between Gateway Center, surrounding hotels, Cahokia Mounds, and Willoughby Farms (where you can rent rustic barns for after-hour events and make s’mores by the fire, surrounded by goats, pigs, and chickens).
The shuttle will also take you Uptown to try out the brand-new Old Herald Brewery & Distillery. Lane told me, “At Gateway Center, we recognize that people don’t just want a boring room to have a conference, but they want a ‘destination’, with other fun things to do in the area. That’s why we work so hard to establish relationships with businesses along the Great River Road.” Well, Gateway Center surely is located – right in the middle of the right town – to be able to do so.
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a contributing writer and MM&E’s editor/ business development manager from St. Louis.