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Topeka, Kansas: A Great Plains Gathering Place

State capitals are usually busy places where meetings of all types and sizes are carefully planned and staged. In northeast Kansas, the busy city of Topeka, population 127,000, is one of them. The state of Kansas happens to be the city’s largest employer, with 8,400 residents on the payroll, so many visitors come to town daily to meet and conduct official state business.

“We are a small-market town with a lot of drive-in visitors, but we have a lot of good things going on here,” said Mike Bell, vice president of sales for Visit Topeka, the city’s convention and visitors bureau. “We are a city full of wonderful, friendly people. We are really easy to get to, and for meeting attendees, we are an affordable option.”

Topeka’s transportation network is efficient. Interstate 70 handles the bulk of the east-west automobile travel while U.S. Highway 75 brings north-south traffic to town. Interstate 335 grazes the southern part of the city and is a major connection between Wichita, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. Topeka Regional Airport services charter flights and private planes, but there is no commercial airline traffic. “But we are just one hour away from Kansas City International Airport,” said Bell.

The city’s history is colorful. In the 1840s, it became a stop for wagon trains heading west on the Oregon Trail. A ferry service across the Kansas River was established at what is now Topeka. Soon after, steamboats and railroads arrived. The city was embroiled in the dispute between “free-staters” and Southerners over the issue of slavery. Eventually, Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861, and Topeka was chosen as its capital.

Today, besides government employment, the city is a busy place for the education, health, social services, retail and manufacturing industries.

Prime Meeting Sites

The main meeting hall in Topeka is the Kansas Expocentre and Maner Conference Center. It is connected to Landon Arena, which has 22,500 square feet of space and seating configurations that range from 7,700 to 10,000 people depending on the type of event, such as a sports event or a major concert. Exhibition Hall has a 44,500-square-foot exhibit floor. Also on-site is the Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center Topeka. It boasts 25,000 square feet of versatile meeting space, including an elegant ballroom and the Maner Conference Center. “It is important to know that everything is attached and under one roof,” Bell said.

Also available on-site is historic, charming and affordable Heritage Hall, a limestone-covered building with 5,750 square feet of space, and the reliable Agriculture Hall with 18,000 square feet of space.

Another option is the Topeka Performing Arts Center, better known as T-PAC. The performance hall seats 2,400, and there are other special rooms, lobbies and a dance studio and a playhouse that can be used in a variety of ways.

The Great Overland Station makes an interesting off-site venue as well. Groups can rent space in this historic, restored 90-year-old Union Pacific railroad station that includes the old station’s waiting room, balconies, galleries and other areas.

Other available meeting spaces in Topeka can be found at Washburn University, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, and the Kansas Museum of History.

Hotel Options

In all, Topeka offers visitors about 2,800 hotel rooms, with about 560 of them located in the downtown area. More hotels are on the way.

The previously mentioned Capitol Plaza Hotel is a full-service facility that offers 224 guest rooms. Another convention-type hotel is the Ramada Topeka Downtown Hotel and Convention Center. This hotel has 213 guest rooms and 32,000 square feet of event space. Its 21 meeting rooms can be arranged in many ways to accommodate more than 3,000 conference attendees or about 1,200 banquet guests. Another of the chain’s hotels, Ramada Topeka West, is a bit smaller, but still has 150 guest rooms and 6,800 square feet of meeting space.

The convention and visitors bureau is excited about the arrival of a new hotel now under construction. It’s called The Cyrus, and it will be a boutique property that will open its doors in late summer 2018 with 106 guest rooms and 6,500 square feet of meeting space.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.