Sipping cocktails near a Cessna or touring the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University are added perks for aviation-affiliated meetings drawn to Wichita, widely recognized as the “air capital of the world.”
“Wichita produces 42 percent of the world’s general aviation aircraft,” said Maureen Hofrenning, vice president, Go Wichita. “Since Cessna, Beechcraft, Bombadier and several other aircraft companies are located here, aviation and engineering groups are natural meeting targets.
“For example, the Society of Allied Weight Engineers brought 250 people here in May because of our aircraft industry, and in October, we expect at least 1,500 people to attend the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering conference at the convention center,” she said.
Located downtown on the Arkansas River, Wichita’s Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center has 200,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 93,000-square-foot expo hall, a 45,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 32,000-square-foot convention hall and a performing arts center. The center is connected to the 303-room Hyatt Regency Wichita, one of six downtown hotels with a total of 1,000 guest rooms.
Downtown Wichita recently completed a $20.6 million riverfront beautification project, including the renovation of the Keeper of the Plains, a 44-foot statue that pays tribute to the area’s Native Americans. Many meeting groups visit this iconic attraction, most recently the 100 attendees of Mountain Plains Library Association Conference and 200 attendees of the American Guild of Organists Region VI Convention.
Meeting planners will have additional downtown options when the 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena opens in January.
“We’re so excited about the potential downtown growth in the next few years, as infrastructure like this usually leads to new hotels, restaurants and shops,” said Hofrenning. “The Intrust Bank Arena will be a regional draw for sports, concerts and the religious market for groups of up to 10,000.”
North of the city, the new 5,000-seat Hartman Arena handles state sporting events and other groups that require a smaller stadium.
Kansas’ largest city — with a population of 600,000 — also draws agricultural and religious meetings due to its size and location in the center of the country.
“We get great attendance, because we are accessible from both coasts as well as for the drive market,” said Hofrenning. “This brings us many smaller national groups of 1,500 or so, but we can accommodate up to 6,000. We have a total of 7,600 hotel rooms and several convention hotels, including the 302-room Airport Hilton and the 298-room Eastside Marriott.
Most of Wichita’s aircraft manufacturing is on the east side of town, where a number of new limited-service hotels have been built. These include the Springhill Suites and Hampton Inn and Suites, both of which have 102 rooms.
Old Town, a renovated warehouse district of restaurants and entertainment filled with Wichita’s Western heritage, is another area that’s popular with meeting groups. A few blocks from downtown, Old Town Wichita hotels include the 115-room Hotel at Old Town, with 10,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 128-room Courtyard by Marriott Wichita at Old Town, with 3,615 square feet of meeting space.
“Eclectic” might be the best word to describe Wichita’s options for off-site events.
Entertainment by the Diamond W Wranglers Cowboy Band and a chuck-wagon dinner are on the menu at the Old Cowtown Museum, and the Sedgwick County Zoo offers wild experiences for groups of up to 10,000 at venues like the Downing Gorilla Forest and the Cessna Penguin Cove.