Area clubs have trouble finding meeting space

Monday, January 12, 2004

When it was announced that the Holiday Inn in Cape Girardeau would be torn down last fall, it sent four civic clubs that had been meeting there for years scurrying to find a new place to meet -- a task complicated by the fact that they needed a place that would serve them a meal as well.

"There was not a lot to choose from," said Mary Miller, a member of the Rotary Club of Cape Girardeau who helped look for a new meeting spot. "One of the things that is definitely lacking in Cape Girardeau is meeting and convention space."

After looking at many alternatives, the Rotary Club opted for the Show Me Center, a place that doesn't serve food. The club now has to cater food in, which is more costly than having the food prepared on site.

Plus, Holiday Inn didn't charge its typical room fee because it was assured of getting 80 to 90 people eating at its buffet every week, Miller said, who was head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau for five years and worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years before that.

Paid discounted price

The other civic club leaders found the same thing -- that it was hard to find a spot that served food, and even when they did, it cost them more money. Club members then only had to pay $7.50 per meal at the Holiday Inn, a discounted price that they haven't found anywhere else.

The new Holiday Inn Express, when it's finished, will not have a restaurant. And while there are also plans for a new Drury Inn & Suites along Interstate 55, which will have meeting space for up to 400 people, but there won't be food on-site for meetings there, either.

Regardless, the CVB's current director, Chuck Martin, said he thinks there is already adequate meeting space overall, listing off a dozen or so places where groups can meet. But many of those places don't serve food.

"As far as convenience goes, just having a one-stop place like the old Holiday, then there is very definitely a need," Martin said. "But there are a ton of different meeting places, some I'm not even sure people are aware of. We really haven't had a problem hooking people up with meeting space."

Parking drawback

Janet Ruopp, a member of the Zonta Club board, said their club ended up going to the University Center, which does cater food for the monthly meetings. But there are shortcomings, she said.

"The biggest drawback is parking," she said. "When the students are in, ugh. Some of us have to park miles away. It's not a convenient place. But when you're trying to find something that won't change your budget drastically, it's tough. There aren't that many places."

The places that do serve dinner to different clubs -- other groups went to the Elks Club -- are now inundated with meeting requests. Consequently, Ruopp said, that makes meeting space more sparse.

Finding a meeting and a meal also is a problem in Jackson, said Chamber of Commerce executive director Ken Parrett.

"We have a couple places we can use," Parrett said. "But to sit down and have a meal? No, we do have the same problems."

Parrett said there is something that business leaders can do -- encourage any new restaurateurs to include meeting space in their eateries, something that the new Branding Iron in Jackson did.

"There is a premium on meeting space," Parrett said. "People need to know that if they set up a place to host different civic organizations, there will be a market for them."

335-6611, extension 137

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