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Lawrence: Always the life of the party

Photos courtesy Lawrence CVB

As home to the University of Kansas, Lawrence has a youthful, eclectic vibe. KU athletics, busker festivals, downtown parades and other community activities make it a place that is “always hopping,” according to Christina Phelps, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The thing people really enjoy about Lawrence is the energy level and activities,” she said. “I always tell my friends that living in Lawrence is better than a good plastic surgeon. Just the youthfulness of the city — college students are always just going, going, going; and the city adopts that energy as well.”

Un-Kansas like landscape
A tree-filled city of 90,000, Lawrence sits on the eastern edge of Kansas, where the landscape is lush green hills rather than the flat, yellow plains most associate with the state. Kansas’ sixth-largest city is sandwiched between two of the state’s largest cities: the capital Topeka, about 25 miles  west, and Kansas City, about 40 miles east.

The location attracts the meeting business of associations and corporations based in Topeka and the region that are looking “to get out of their own back yard, yet they don’t have to have a big, expensive getaway,” Phelps said.

The Kansas Register of Deeds Association (KRDA) is a recent example.

When the site for this year’s annual meeting fell through, the group’s membership, which had been eyeing Lawrence for a 2015 event, voted to bump Lawrence to 2013. The association had last held a conference in Lawrence in 1995, and many members had been asking when they could return, said Kay Pesnell, Douglas County Register of Deeds.

About 115 people attended the conference in late June at the 192-room Holiday Inn Hotel and Convention Center.

The hotel has 17,000 square feet of meeting space and the KRDA used three of its 11 meeting rooms: one each for seminars, meals and vendors.

Davenport Winery entertained with an on-site tasting on one night; the Lecompton Re-eanctors,a volunteer group that gives living history peformances, provided historical entertainment on another.

On the final night, most attendees headed downtown to browse the boutiques, restaurants and bars along Massachusetts Street, Lawrence’s entertainment district.

Assistance from the CVB — which put out bids, provided contacts for entertainment, donated door prizes and helped pull together gift bags for guests — made the last-minute move to Lawrence much easier. KU also assisted by finding a speaker for the group’s mandatory three-hour educational course.

“I had a lot of resources here in Lawrence and in Douglas County that I was able to use, so it turned out really great,” Pesnell said. “I had a lot of resources both to entertain and to educate.”

KU is prominent player

KU figures prominently in the city’s meeting business. Lawrence does not have a convention center, so the campus’ plentiful meeting spaces are in demand.

Two student unions, the Kansas and Burge unions, are the school’s major meeting venues. More than 13,000 events a year are booked at the unions; between them the buildings have 28 meeting rooms, said Lisa Kring, event services director for the KU Memorial Unions.

The Kansas Union, on the campus’ northeastern edge, close to Massachusetts Street and downtown, has 45,000 square feet of event space, including a 6,800-square-foot ballroom that has been refurbished over the last two years, according to Kring. Among improvements are dimmable LED lighting, a new sound system and new finishes that were kept neutral so that the space works for any event. The union’s fourth-floor lobby is also being renovated and several spaces are getting new projection systems.

The Burge Union, on the campus’ west side, is smaller, with 5,000 square feet of meeting space.