Wichita is more than just the largest city in Kansas.
With 390,000 inhabitants, it’s a destination long known for its Western heritage and aviation history. And its modern version is gaining traction because of its culture, arts, entertainment, dining, shopping, festivals and family attractions.
This emerging city will host the next Small Market Meetings Conference October 2-4 at the Hyatt Regency Wichita. During two marketplace sessions, planners will sit down with representatives from cities, states, regions, resorts and attractions to explore doing business together for future events. It is business networking at its finest.
“We are thrilled to host Small Market Meetings here in Wichita,” said Susie Santo, president and CEO of Visit Wichita. “Our team is putting together an exciting mix of business and off-site activities for the planners.”
Meeting planners, she said, are a coveted professional group for a city like Wichita. “Our goal is to help the planners see how flexible and easy it is to host a meeting in Wichita,” said Santo. “We add value at every step of the process.”
Way Back When
First, some Wichita history. The city got its name from the Wichita Native American tribe that settled in the area in the mid-1800s. The first white settler, a frontier entrepreneur named J.R. Mead, opened the first trading post in 1863 to serve cowboys driving cattle up from Texas on the Chisholm Trail. Seven years later, Wichita was incorporated as a city and earned the nickname “Cowtown.”
The cattle business eventually waned, but the local economy got another boost in 1918 when a major oil reserve was discovered. The fresh oil money allowed local investors to help fund the fledgling aviation industry, which was coming on strong in Wichita.
Manufacturers like Cessna, Beech Aircraft and Stearman brought aviation advancements to Wichita. Their plants produced aircraft that helped win World War II.
“I believe people expect us to have Western history, but they don’t expect the amazing aviation connection, being the Air Capital of the World,” Santo said.
Kansas has many aviation connections. Aviator Charles Lindbergh often flew into and out of Wichita. Amelia Earhart was born in the state. In the late 1940s, Wichita’s airport was one of the busiest in the U.S., mainly because it was a good mid-continent stopover. The airport is named for former president and Kansas native Dwight D. Eisenhower. McConnell Air Force Base is in Wichita.
Today, Wichita remains a leader in the aircraft industry, producing 35 percent of the country’s general aviation aircraft. Major brands active in Greater Wichita include Textron Aviation with Beechcraft/Cessna Aircraft Company, Bombardier LearJet, Airbus and Spirit AeroSystems.
Getting Work Done
With 200,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center is the largest meeting facility in the city. The largest spaces are 90,000 square feet.
The center is connected to the 303-room Hyatt Regency Wichita, which makes it easy for meeting attendees to quickly walk to their hotel rooms. Together, the center and hotel have 28 meeting spaces .
Two performing arts theaters offer other possibilities. A concert hall seats nearly 2,200 and has state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems for everything from an audiovisual presentation to a lecture or a musical. The Carl A. Bell Jr. Convention Hall seats just over 5,000 people for presentations or stage productions.
“The Hyatt is located downtown along the river near walking paths,” Santo said. “It has easy access to the many downtown entertainment options and is within walking distance to the 44-foot tall Keeper of the Plains, the city’s most iconic landmark.”
Other major hotels include the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview Wichita, a historic hotel built in 1922 that’s been restored and modernized. It has 200 guest rooms and 15,000 square feet of meeting space.
Another busy event space, the Intrust Bank Arena, seats about 15,000. It stages major concerts and shows as well as games for the Wichita Thunder professional hockey team and, occasionally, Wichita State men’s basketball. The arena has 22 suites, two party suites and more than 300 premium seats.
See and Do
A first-time visitor to Wichita should see the Keeper of the Plains, located at the confluence of the Arkansas (pronounced locally as Ar-Kansas) and the Little Arkansas rivers. The 44-foot-high steel sculpture of a Native American sits on land Native Americans consider sacred. It is adjacent to the Mid-America All-Indian Center. Displays around the sculpture’s base depict various tribes that once inhabited the area. Every evening, the surrounding plaza glows when the Ring of Fire flame is lighted.
Wichita is also home to the Sedgwick County Zoo, with 3,000 animals representing 400 species. The animals are grouped geographically and live in settings as close as possible to their natural environments.
In addition to an excellent zoo, the area is home to Tanganyika Wildlife Park, which allows visitors to meet wildlife up close at 10 interactive stations.
Botanica, the Wichita Gardens, changes with the seasons with surprises around every corner. In the spring, more than 50,000 tulips and 120,000 daffodils burst into bloom along with flowering shrubs and wildflowers. The gardens remain lush green and colorful throughout the summer and fall. Even winter is a good time to visit. Programs and tours are available for groups that wish to wander.
Museums flourish in Wichita, and visitors are sure to find several they will enjoy in the River District. The Wichita Art Museum has internationally renowned collections. The history of the world can be explored at the Museum of World Treasures. The city’s finest science center is called Exploration Place. Visitors can explore the inspirational Kansas African American Museum.
The Old Town area includes the oldest open-air museum in the central U.S. Among the 54 historic and re-created buildings in the Old Cowtown Museum is a period farm with outbuildings. All this living history is just off the original Chisholm Trail, where cattle were driven over 150 years ago.
The Kansas Aviation Museum chronicles the city’s connections to the aviation industry with a world-class collection of memorabilia.
Old Town is in the heart of Wichita, just east of downtown. It is known for its converted brick warehouses, brick-lined streets and period lampposts. People flock there for the dining, unusual shops, fun nightlife and enjoyable attractions. Popular stops include River City Brewing, Mort’s Martini and Cigar Bar, and Public at the Brickyard.
The Delano District is at the end of the Chisholm Trail. It’s where cowboys blew off steam at saloons and gambling halls after months on the cattle trail. Today it is a thriving district for shopping and dining. For food and drinks, Monarch, Delano Barbecue Company and Ruben’s Mexican Grill are worth a try. Other notables include Bohemia Healing Spa, Hatman Jack’s Wichita Hat Works and Bungalow 26.
In the Douglas Design District, visitors find more than 300 locally owned and diverse businesses with an emphasis on design. It also is home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House Museum and Study Center. Clifton Square, within the district, has unique Victorian-era homes and a village of shops and eateries.
To register for the 2022 Small Market Meetings Conference in Wichita, Kansas, October 2-4, go to smmconf.com/registration