Kansas City: Innovation & Culture Combine for Memorable Meetings

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Benton’s event space, The Westin Kansas City at Crown Center

“Five years ago road warriors traveled with laptops,” Steve Shalit, complex GM of The Westin and Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center says over a bite at Sheraton’s Spectators Gastro Pub. “Now it’s a laptop, tablet and smartphone.“ After a quick walk across The Link, a climate controlled sky bridge linking the Westin and Sheraton, Shalit is explaining the finer details of sophisticated IT infrastructures as we reap the spoils of executive chef Franck Marciniak’s high-end bar food. It’s clearly hard to pick a favorite dish, but the California avocado with lump crab, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo and Asian glazed pork wings seem to be on everyone’s radar.

“You put $250,000 into your IT structure and it’s obsolete five years later,” Shalit says. “You can absolutely destroy a meeting by not having the right bandwidth.” By the end of the year, the two hotels will have 1 GB of bandwidth throttled between them as needed—up 500 percent in 2014. New routers and switches will support the kind of speeds that planners need, as will the switch to fiber-optic Internet.

The new infrastructure will support all aspects of the hotels, including the 150,000 sf of meeting space spread between the Westin and Sheraton, and the connected 45,500-sf Crown Center Exhibit Hall. Jovial servers drop off a round of tall Boulevard Pale Ale beers brewed locally by the Boulevard Brewing Company, a perennial favorite at Spectators. “We do big really well here,” Shalit quips. Exploring the hotels and all that Kansas City has to offer over the next few days, it soon became apparent that tech and innovative f&b were only part of the equation.

The City

Kansas City is a cultural maven that is accessible to groups via a three-hour flight from just about everywhere in the U.S. Though incredibly walkable, bus systems, taxi and Uber service, and bike-share kiosks make getting around easy. A new two-mile streetcar route will soon zip around throughout the city.

Groups will enjoy a vibrant KC arts scene that unravels in numerous ways. In fact, every district in KC is festooned with art, thanks to the One Percent for the Arts program, which mandates that 1 percent of all public development funds go directly to some form of noticeable art display.

More than 200 fountains dot the city—from grand cascading centerpieces to small spouting sculptures. KC’s fountain culture dates back to the 1800s when horses outnumbered humans and troughs were regular implants to surrounding landscapes. Now, the fountains add beauty, creativity and calm to the urban landscape. Customizable bus tours and guides for a self-guided tour of 32 of the city’s fountains are available from the City of Fountains Foundation.

[blockquote_sty ver=”1 or 2″]“You put $250,000 into your IT structure and it’s obsolete five years later. You can absolutely destroy a meeting by not having the right bandwidth.”—Steve Shalit, Westin and Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center[/blockquote_sty]

With a design that is internationally recognized, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts pumps out world-class performances by the Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City Ballet. Jazz clubs abound throughout the city. Just outside the Westin’s front doors is the incredibly interactive National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial, the only WWI museum in the country, and the 100-year-old Union Station, with its traveling national exhibits. Hallmark’s Crown Center surrounds the Westin, with 85 acres of shops, restaurants and theatres accessible from within the hotel.

A major revitalization of KC’s Downtown Power & Light District (P&L), named one of America’s best downtowns by Forbes magazine, has added more than 50 bars, restaurants and shops to the downtown core. We explored this energetic area during a tour of the Convention District, housed just steps from P&L. Amidst the skyscrapers and historic buildings, Walt Disney’s first animation studio and Google’s first Fiber community took shape. Additional bragging rights: the 800,000-sf Kansas City Convention Center, which boasts one of America’s largest green ballrooms at nearly 46,500-sf.

The Crossroads Arts District is a bohemian hub—60 shops and galleries line a 20-block area. One of the nation’s largest free art crawls happens in Crossroads the first Friday of every month. After a tour of the center, pop on in to the nearby Webster House, a restored Romanesque-style school house for lunch and antique browsing as we did.

Be sure to check out the spanish-infused Country Club Plaza district for an authentic Kansas City barbeque experience at Jack Stacks Barbecue. The district is also a great springboard for a good old fashioned BBQ crawl. The Plaza is known for its sidewalk cafes and high-end shopping. Groups will also enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides and gondola floats on Brush Creek.

The Westin

Soothing blue hues, plenty of natural light and views of Crown Center Square characterized our guest rooms. The Westin offers 724 rooms and suites in all—1,454 when combined with the Sheraton. Whether rooms or venues, eVent Portolio simplifies the planning process by acting as a single location where all conversation and documents are saved for easy reference and storage. A robust sales and catering system also offers attachment capability, allowing the hotel to anticipate planners’ needs.

“Gone are the days when a meeting planner could focus solely on one conference at a time,” Katie Allen, CMP, director of catering/event management, says over breakfast at the on-site Brasserie restaurant. “Planners need their partners to better anticipate their needs—they do not have time to regurgitate their meeting needs, objectives and budgets to multiple people.”

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Herbal infused cocktails at The Westin Kansas City

Allen says the complex is corralling both smaller meetings and the convention-based customer, the latter traditionally viewed as their claim to fame. The goal has sparked a surge of programs, including a new herb-infused cocktail menu, featuring five cocktails (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) that utilize an array of fresh herbs grown on-site. Our mixologist whipped up a wickedly refreshing Arnold Pepper with Hendrick’s Gin, lemon juice, basil leaves, agave syrup, and the pièce de résistance, red bell pepper. The view from the 20th floor, combined with a warm ambiance and wall-to-ceiling windows, make the 3,400-sf Benton’s Event Space an enticing spot for cocktails or brainstorming sessions—30 meeting rooms and a 16,000-sf ballroom are also ripe for the picking.

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