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Des Moines: Capital of the Plains

Iowa is not a state that immediately appears on the radar screens of meeting planners elsewhere in the country. But Des Moines is quietly getting the job done, according to the local convention and visitors bureau. Planners should look at Iowa’s capital as a smart choice for their group’s next meeting or convention site.

“A lot of people don’t know about Des Moines, Iowa,” said Greg Edwards, the CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But we are a cool, upbeat and cultural community.”

Edwards said his city is strategically located, too. “Des Moines is right in the center of the country, so it’s very accessible via car or plane. We’re at the intersection of interstates 80 and 35, so we have great north-south-east-west connections.”

Des Moines International Airport also has 120 daily domestic flights and 19 direct flights into a variety of popular cities, including some major metropolitan areas quite far away, like Los Angeles, New York and Orlando. There is a trolley system in the downtown area, and shuttle services are offered by various hotels and transportation companies.

Des Moines is in central Iowa along the Des Moines River and the Raccoon River, which intersect in the downtown area. The city has a French connection, so to speak, having been named by French colonists; Rivière des Moines can be translated to “River of the Monks.” Des Moines is a major center for the U.S. insurance trade and has a solid base of publishing and financial services industries.

Locals like to present Des Moines as a friendly city.

“Our Midwest hospitality and our willingness to work with planners is why they should consider us,” said Edwards. “Our staff really bends over backward to accommodate our meetings and conventions business, and our whole community really grasps the importance of the travel industry.”

Cities are often ranked on such things as quality of life, affordability and job prospects. U.S. News and World Report has ranked Des Moines No. 9 on the 2017 Best Places to Live List.

Major Meeting Sites

The Iowa Events Center (IEC) in downtown Des Moines is a flexible, state-of-the-art venue that can accommodate all types of shows, meetings and events. On-site, planners will find three catering companies, an audiovisual service and an in-house marketing agency to assist them. An extra bonus for the budget-conscious planner is that the convention center facilities are tax exempt. The IEC has a total of 286,000 square feet of space, which includes a 150,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 28,000-square-foot ballroom and 37 meeting rooms that total about 60,000 square feet. Everything is connected to the 17,000-seat Wells Fargo Arena, which can be booked for large events. The arena is also home to sports activities and concerts.

A second top meeting venue in Des Moines is the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Of course, the property bustles for 11 days each August during the State Fair, but it is also used extensively the other 354 days of the year. Livestock exhibitions, car shows, antique shows, flea markets, trade shows, concerts and a lot more happen on a regular basis.

“It offers an array of buildings and exhibit facilities,” said Edwards. “We host a lot of agriculture shows and a lot of sports events because the fairground has a small arena that seats about 4,000.”

Fine Downtown Hotels

Des Moines has 22 properties that are considered “convention hotels.” There are approximately 2,325 hotel rooms within a mile of the IEC. Metrowide, there are about 12,500 rooms. But even if the meeting attendee’s hotel room is in the suburbs, it’s only a 20-minute trip to the convention center. “Traffic congestion and quick accessibility are not issues here,” Edwards said.

The largest hotel is the Des Moines Marriott Downtown, with 417 guest rooms. Another fine hotel has a lot of history. The Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel is an 11-story building and a 233-room hotel built in 1919. It has all the modern amenities. A third choice downtown is the Embassy Suites by Hilton Des Moines Downtown, with 234 two-room suites. Opening in April 2018 is a new downtown Hilton that will be attached to the IEC. It will feature 330 rooms in a full-service environment. In addition, the new hotel will have 14,000 square feet of meeting space.

Getting around the convention center complex, arena and nearby hotels is easy in Des Moines. “What makes us a little unique is that most of our downtown hotels and surrounding facilities are connected via a four-mile skywalk system,” said Edwards. “Whether you are here in the cold of winter or in the heat of summer, you can stay in 72-degree comfort.”

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.