Shreveport made a believer of me.
I joined two conference partners for a site inspection in November in this northwestern Louisiana city and the chill I had felt in Kentucky began melting away as soon as we landed.
There’s a sort of Louisiana/Texas thing going on here — the city felt wide open, a little humid for early winter, maybe a bit windy, but the breeze was distinctly Southern and warming to the skin. I liked it immediately.
Riverfront casinos lit up the night, and it felt like fall instead of almost Thanksgiving. I already knew one place I had to hit while I was in town — my associate Brian Jewell had told me to try a muffaletta sandwich at Fertitta’s.
We were in town to check out Shreveport as a potential site for our first Small Market Meetings Conference. When we checked into the Hilton Shreveport, a new 313-room convention hotel next to the city’s convention center, the nearby riverfront center caught my eye.
“What goes on down here in the way of special events?” I asked Stacy Brown the following day after a driving tour of the city. Brown is the president of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.
“Our Red River Revel festival is one of the biggest things we do down here, and it will be happening while the Small Market Meetings Conference is here if you come to Shreveport,” she said. “The weather is great in October, and we’ll have food, art, musicians. I think your delegates would really get a taste of this area by being here for Red River Revel.”
As we met with Brown and other local executives the next day, we talked about the city’s advantages as a meeting destination. Proximity to association headquarters in three states was among them.
“Geographically, Shreveport has three state capital cities surrounding it, and statewide associations are major players in the small conference market,” said conference CEO Joe Cappuzzello. “Dozens of such groups in every state typically host delegations of a few hundred members or so throughout the year, so this is a big advantage for the Shreveport-Bossier area for groups of this size.”
Little Rock, Ark.; Jackson, Miss.; and Baton Rouge, La., are all within about 200 miles in different directions. Dallas and Houston are also within a few hours’ drive or a brief flight.
We toured the Shreveport Convention Center, the second-largest convention facility in Louisiana. This 350,000-square-foot complex will host the Small Market Meetings Conference business meetings, meals and seminars. Its façade is highlighted by an elliptical boardroom on one corner with expansive windows that overlook the city. The Hilton Shreveport, where all delegates will be housed, is adjacent to the center. The Hilton provides complimentary shuttles to the airport and to many sites downtown.
Gaming enthusiasts are drawn to five riverboat casinos. Other points of interest are Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center and ImaxTheater, the Multcultural Center of the South, the Robinson Film Center, which showcases independent, international and classic films, and, of course, Fertitta’s.
We did make it there. Dianna Douglas, the CTB’s regional convention sales manager, graciously changed our itinerary when I mentioned the iconic family-owned restaurant.
“When you brought up Fertitta’s, I knew we had to come,” she said. “I can’t let you go back home and tell Brian you didn’t make it.”
We had “muffys” — muffaletta sandwiches made with ham, mustard, olive mix and Italian bread. And I had lots of their homemade mint tea — you just walk over to the counter and serve yourself seconds whenever you run dry. The place was teeming with regulars, some in ties and others in work boots. And Brian was right. Fertitta’s is one of those rare places that defines a city like Shreveport and offers up vibrant images to remember it by.
I can’t wait to go back in October.