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Missouri’s comeback kids

Courtesy Branson CVB

When a tornado ripped through Branson, Mo., on Feb. 29, 2012, the Branson Convention Center and attached Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel were heavily damaged.

Most of the convention center damage was limited to one side, and the facility, with 220,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, reopened in April 2012, said Deborah Cohen, director of meeting and convention sales for the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 12-story, 294-room Hilton, however, fared worse. The hotel, is basically “all glass,” and so custom replacement windows had to be made, Cohen said. It reopened in September.

“When they reopened, they marketed themselves as being completely renovated; they laugh about it being an accidental renovation,” she said.

Overall, the city’s comeback was swift, according to Cohen.

“It was really just some key areas that got the damage; there was a lot that was untouched,” she said. “We got the word out quickly that we were open for business. We were really lucky in a lot of ways.”

Branson had about 18,000 hotel rooms before the tornado, but the city lost about 1,500 of those, Cohen said. Many of those rooms were in smaller, older limited-service hotels, and some owners chose not to rebuild or are still deciding. One hotel that did rebuild is the 169-room Best Western Center Pointe Inn, which recently reopened and “looks great,” Cohen said.

Known as an entertainment destination, Branson attracts more than seven million visitors a year, with meetings making up about 5 percent of that, Cohen said. Only in the past decade has Branson added hotels with meeting facilities, and “people are still truly discovering that we’re a meeting destination,” Cohen said.