A lot has happened since this article in 2011… We added more space and became more than we ever conceived..
Riverfront: Wedding Reception Central
By Shauna Marlette
Published: Friday, January 28, 2011 1:09 AM CST
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of the Press & Dakotan’s monthly series spotlighting occupations, tasks and duties in our coverage area.
When Curt and MelCena Bernard were approached about purchasing the old Fantles Building in downtown Yankton, they had a mixed response.
“I immediately said no, at the same time, Curt immediately said yes,” MelCena said. “We ended up purchasing it without any idea what we were going to do with the space. It was this huge historic building in what at the time was a fading downtown.”
That instinctive purchase — one made to help stabilize downtown Yankton — has developed into a cornerstone gathering place of the community, almost by accident.
MelCena said that she and husband Curt had thrown around several ideas, but not settled on any one, when a friend suggested they bid to be the location for the new Social Security office in Yankton.
“I had some really rough plans in my head,” she said. “So, I approached an architect and asked him if he thought he could help me formalize my plans. He basically laughed at me, and then proceeded to help me come up with a good plan. He is still my architect today.”
In 2002, not long after the Social Security office opened another unexpected request led to the event center.
“I had a gentleman in the building for some reason or another. He was looking around and out of the blue, he asked if we would ever consider renting him the space as a place to hold his wedding reception,” MelCena said. “We didn’t have anything. We didn’t have tables, linens — we had nothing. But, I said sure.”
MelCena said that his reception included borrowing tables and chairs from the Yankton Fire Department.
“It was hilarious, all these chairs set up and on the back of each one it said, ‘Property Of the Yankton Fire Department,’” she recalled. “A guest at that reception a few days later came in and asked if we would do their wedding as well, and it just has grown from there.”
According to MelCena their first purchase was tables, and the first reception we used them was in 2004
“We have built it little by little,” she said. “We would buy something as we had a need or the budget for it. Sometimes brides would donate serving knives. It wasn’t until 2005 that we actually bought flatware.”
From an accidental booking to averaging more than 50 events per year, the Riverfront Event Center has grown throughout the years.
“We started out using roughly 5,000 square feet on the ground floor,” she explained. “When the buildings next to us came up for sale we would purchase them and expand, to the point where we know have almost 65,000 square feet of space and are using about 37,000-40,000 of it.”
Looking back, MelCena said that every change they have made has been done because there was a need for it in the community.
“That is where the hotel came from,” she said. “We were seeing our mother’s of the bride stressing out about having to have a place to open gifts the day after the wedding and not having a space to do it. So, we designed the hotel to meet that need, with a full kitchen and large spaces. The meeting rooms we are adding are coming from another request we have been hearing.”
Other new additions include an on-site kitchen and caterer, although MelCena said she will never require brides to use her onsite caterer in the existing spaces.
“This is supposed to be a brides special day,” she said. “My goal is to maximize the enjoyment and minimize the stress. And, I love it. There is no better high than standing back and watching a reception that is being enjoyed by everyone.”
MelCena likened observing a reception as similar to the scene in “A Christmas Story” when Scrooge looks into the party in the barn.
“I will go stand across the street and just look in,” she said. “People are so animated, having so much fun. You can tell they are sharing stories and experiences and the reception is something they will remember. You couldn’t take enough drugs to match the high that gives me.”
Looking forward the next phase of the Riverfront Event Center, the goal is to do more meetings during the day.
“We have been getting requests for daytime meeting spaces,” she said. “So, once again we will grow to meet the demands of the community.”