By Bill Clevlen
In recent years, Kansas City has evolved into one of the hottest tourist spots in the Midwest. Whether you’re aboard the brand new downtown streetcar or trying to keep track of how many fountains are flowing within the city limits, it’s obvious KC is a fun, hip, and welcoming destination. As a travel journalist, I’ve covered Kansas City many times and always seem to find something new and amusing to share with my readers and listeners. And the same interesting attractions that are loved by locals and tourists will be loved by business professionals attending a business event in the city as well.
Many beloved KC attractions have space for an opening night reception or a breakout session away from a hosting convention center or hotel. The College Basketball Experience, for example, is a popular venue for hosting corporate meetings or banquets that is located inside the Sprint Center downtown. The venue can host evening events for 50 to 1,500. Commerce Bank, E-Finance, KPMG, and Sonic Drive-Ins have all recently held gatherings at the onsite interactive museum which is also home to the Men’s College Basketball Hall of Fame.
In Kansas City, the offbeat options run from big to small. In fact, they can be very small if you take your group on a tour of the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. While the museum doesn’t currently rent out its meeting space, it’s provides an incredible opportunity to see the best collection of fine scaled miniatures in the nation. And if you think the museum is nothing but doll houses or tiny tea sets, think again. The first time I covered the museum, I figured I’d be bored to tears. The truth is, I found it so interesting that I’ve been back to visit five times.
Several potential venues are accessible by the brand new KC streetcar. Built in 2014, the streetcar makes 16 stops along a 2.2 mile route. At both ends of the route are captivating attractions with meeting space available. On the south end of the route is Kansas City’s Union Station. This beautiful, historic building
still functions as an Amtrak stop for the Missouri River Runner train to Saint Louis. As an event venue, it has endless potential. The Arthur Stilwell Room can have seating in rounds for 110 guests. All rentals include state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment and LED lighting. The H&R Block City Stage seats 200 for a presentation or performance. For a large scale function, the Sprint Festival Plaza is Union Station’s most impressive space. It’s suitable for a gala or elegant function with stunning architectural details and seating for up to 1,500.
On the north end of the KC streetcar route is the Arabia Steamboat Museum. The boat sank into the Missouri River back in 1856 with 200 tons of mystery cargo on board. In 1991, the steamboat (along with its treasures) were recovered and this event birthed what has become one of KC’s most popular tourist attractions. The museum’s atrium, featuring a 28- foot paddle wheel and large windows looking out at the local city market, can be rented after hours. For daytime meetings, the Frontier Room is an intimate space for smaller events and includes an audio-visual projector and screen.
One other stop along the streetcar path is No Other Pub. This complex features bowling lanes, ping-pong tables, shuffleboard and golfing simulators. It has a wide variety of rental options with its centerpiece being a 10’ x 15’ video wall.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is known as one of the finest art museums in the country. Inside, Rozzelle Court is one of the most popular spaces in KC. It seats 250 around the oldest fountain in town and is available for evening rentals. The Atkins auditorium bills itself as a “handsome place for meetings” with perfect acoustics and a polished wooden stage. VML, a global advertising and marketing firm based in Kansas City, has staged numerous events here over the past decade and John Mulvihill, executive director of the VML Foundation, raves about the auditorium and the museum staff:
“Earlier this year, Nelson-Atkins provided a world class setting for a half-day session inside the auditorium …. In the auditorium, you’re surrounded by original Thomas Hart Benton paintings. It’s beautiful. They also made sure we had full access to the theater the day preceding our meeting to accommodate set-up and rehearsals, and they gladly escorted an endless stream of VMLers arriving for rehearsals to and from the auditorium. The museum’s audio/visual professional was on-hand throughout and she helped us with every aspect of the production. The VML Annual Meeting is the single most important event of the year for our company and I can’t imagine staging it anywhere else.”
For a beautiful view of the city skyline, the National World War I Museum rents out its Memorial Observation Deck with panoramic views of downtown. Inside, the museum has an auditorium, conference rooms and various rental options for events including the gorgeous glass bridge that visitors first see as they enter the building. “The team at the National World War I Museum and Memorial made our Annual Meeting a huge success,” says Lisa Briscoe of Historic Kansas City. “The attention to detail was greatly appreciated and the event couldn’t have been executed without their team.”
On the north side of Kansas City is a thriving new business called Chicken N Pickle. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. If you haven’t heard about it, you will soon (and your guests probably already have). Chicken N Pickle has grown to be wildly popular and is a perfect setting for a team-building retreat or a unique closing night reception. The game of Pickleball is a mix of tennis and badminton that any age or athletic level can learn to play. The rooftop of Chicken N Pickle, along with other smaller sections of the complex, is available to rent. Wichita State University recently held a celebration here along with a meet-and-greet with famed basketball coach Gregg Marshall. Rentals include court time and instruction on how to play the game. Guests who are waiting to jump on the court can enjoy a game of battleship or challenge a colleague to a match of cornhole or giant-sized Jenga. Food options include buffet style meals featuring wood fired chicken that have became a staple of the business.
The Harry Truman Presidential Library & Museum is a great venue located about 20 minutes from downtown KC. There are only 13 official presidential museums in the United States, and Missouri has one of them. The museum can accommodate up to 1,000 guests in a variety of settings. The lobby of the museum is an elegant setting with a beautiful mural by Thomas Hart Benton filling the entrance walls. An auditorium, meeting rooms and even the perfectly manicured lawn of the library are available for rental. Admission to the museum is generally included. Other interesting options to check out in Kansas City include the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Arrowhead Field and Kauffman Stadium.
In my new book, 100 Things To Do In America Before You Die, one of the 100 experiences I suggest is posing for a photo in front of a Kansas City fountain. KC has the most fountains of any city in the U.S. Perhaps for fun you could arrange for your group to see as many of the 200+ fountains as they can, and maybe even set up a contest among groups to see which one finds the most fountain. The group with the most “fountain selfies” wins!M
NATIONAL WWI MUSEUM:
An incredible museum telling the story of the First World War. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the memorial observation tower 217 feet above the courtyard.
www.theworldwar.org / 816.888.8111
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF TOYS & MINIATURES:
The largest collection of fine-scaled miniatures in the United States. Located on the campus of UMKC.
www.toyandminiaturemuseum.org / 816-235-8000
ARABIA STEAMBOAT MUSEUM
When sinking into the Missouri River in the mid-1800’s, the Steamboat Arabia took 200 tons of goods down with it. Nearly everything was re-discovered in 1987 and today the museum showcases much of what was found, and it is fascinating.
www.1856.com / 816-471-1856
NO OTHER PUB:
A mix of bowling, shuffleboard, table tennis and golf simulators. A 10’ x 15’ video wall is the focal point of the venue.
www.nootherpubkc.com / 816-541-2300
NELSON-ATKINS MUSEUM OF ART:
World class art museum with elegant space for meetings and events. Famous for its signature badminton birdies located in front of the building.
www.nelson-atkins.org / 816-751-1278
NEGRO LEAGUES BASEBALL MUSEUM:
Learn the story of the players and teams from the Negro Baseball Leagues. Lots of great artifacts and exhibits.
Meeting space available for smaller groups.
www.nlbm.com / 816-221-1920
TRUMAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY:
A museum dedicated to the only president from Missouri.Located about 20 minutes from downtown Kansas City, in Independence, MO.
www.trumanlibrary.org / 816-268-8200
CHICKEN N PICKLE:
A popular spot for gatherings and Pickleball players!
Learn the fastest growing sport in America that’s easy tolearn for any age or skill level. An instructor is included in most rentals as well as court time.
www.chickennpickle.com / 816-537-1400
A working Amtrak hub and home to some of the most beautiful event space in the city. Located at the south end of the KC street car route.
www.unionstation.org / 816-440-2000
THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL EXPERIENCE:
Host your meeting on a full-sized basketball court next door to the Men’s College Basketball Hall of Fame. Interactive exhibits test your ability to sink free throws and more.
www.collegebasketballexperience.com / 816-949-7500