ICOM Has Faith in Kansas City

When David Empson, executive director the International Conference on Missions, was considering host-city possibilities for his group’s November 2013 event, Kansas City had many things he and his planning committee were looking for. “There’s good access to interstate highways that come in from every direction, and the city is also centrally located for fly-in attendees—and we have people coming from around the country and around the world,” he notes.

What’s more, the 800,000-square-foot Kansas City Convention Center provided the right amount of space for the 7,500 attendees to feel connected but not crowded, while the hotels within walking distance of the center were able to provide almost all of the 3,000 guest rooms the group needed.

But Empson says that a few other intangible factors made Kansas City stand apart from his planning experiences among various Midwestern cities. First, “Visit KC helped me and my hotel negotiator to start the dialogue with local hotel executives” on room blocks and other points of negotiation, he recalls. Visit KC can prepare the ground ahead of time so that the various hotels understand the nature of a group’s business in terms of desired guest-room types and budgetary restrictions, so that those hotels can come to the table with informed offers for the group.

Second, Kansas City’s convention and entertainment facilities offer a competitive process for many event-related services, which keeps a planner’s options open—and keeps those elements affordable. For instance, “with catering services in the Convention Center, there was a choice of vendors for us and each made a presentation and a bid,” Empson says. “As a result, we got the best deal on who could provide certain things for us. We saved somewhere near 50 percent on that aspect versus facilities in other cities that do not offer a competitive situation.” But catering was not the only area for which Empson could solicit competitive bids; security services at the facility operate through that process too. “It’s a significant advantage, because I am used to dealing with other places where there’s no alternative, and I just have to pay what they charge,” he adds.

One bit of flexibility Empson had with convention-center catering was the ability to use the adjacent Barney Allis Plaza to provide an outdoor dining option for attendees who preferred that. Set across the street from center and the Municipal Auditorium, the tree-lined park is dotted with fountains, sculptures, and seating areas offering views of the Kansas City skyline. And for other meals, Empson partnered with various eateries at the nearby Power & Light District—the huge, open-air, high-roofed promenade that is the convention district’s main dining and entertainment hub—so that attendees could walk over and enjoy lunch or dinner in a different atmosphere.

Even among all these interesting elements experienced by ICOM’s attendees, Empson most strongly recalls the generous spirit of the surrounding community with regard to certain aspects of the convention. “There is a beautiful church and congregation on the west side of the convention center that was so nice to us; they let our teenagers eat pizza on their lawn, they provided plates and napkins, and they even helped clean up afterwards,” he says. “And the nearby YMCA allowed our local college-aged participants to take showers there. There were many folks in town who were so accommodating, and it made a difference in both the execution and the atmosphere of our event.”

In the end, ICOM and its 7,500 attendees got even more than they were looking for with their annual convention, and Empson has already re-signed with Kansas City for the group’s 2019 event. “I did my job with the right programming and atmosphere, and the bureau and the city came through with great facilities and other options,” he says. “It just went so well.”

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