It’s said that everything is bigger in Texas, but while destinations like Fort Worth are making improvements to handle even the largest groups, smaller cities like Laredo offer small groups the opportunity to stage immersive events that connect with local culture.
Holding a general session on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice field is one of the top draws in Frisco’s meetings and convention playbook, but the big news in 2023 comes from the golf links, not the gridiron.
Part of a 660-acre development that is also home to the Professional Golf Association of America’s (PGA) headquarters, the Omni PGA Frisco Resort is set to open this May. The largest resort currently under construction in the U.S., the property will feature two 18-hole championship golf courses, a 2-acre 18-hole putting course, a leisure and entertainment district, a 10-hole short course, 500 guest rooms and suites, and 10 luxury ranch houses.
The latter can accommodate small events like board retreats, and the resort will have extensive facilities for large meetings and conventions. The Omni PGA Frisco Resort’s 127,000 sf of meeting and private event space will includes a 22,000-sf grand ballroom, 5,000-sf pavilion and an adjoining patio and event lawn.
“The entire north side of Frisco is dramatically changing, and PGA of America and Omni PGA Frisco Resort are leading the way,” says Marla Roe, executive director of Visit Frisco.
And football fans won’t be neglected in Frisco. The Star District, a 91-acre dining, shopping and entertainment complex at the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, includes the 300-room Omni Frisco Hotel with 24,000 sf of meeting space, a rooftop pool deck and access to the Tostitos Championship Plaza with its outdoor 50-yard turf field capable of hosting general sessions and other events. Across the street from the Star District, the new Kaleidoscope Park will add a food hall, play areas, event venues and a 224-room boutique hotel as part of the redevelopment of Hall Park.
Also located at The Star are several new restaurants, including Lombardi Cucina Italiana, The Glen and the Snowbird luxury nightlife lounge.
“We anticipate golf, music, arts and sports enthusiasts from around the U.S. will come to Frisco specifically to visit these unique attractions and new venues,” says Roe.
A daily cattle drive, rodeos, and shopping and dining in historic former mule barns are among a herd of unique experiences that can be rounded up for event itineraries in Fort Worth.
Nicknamed “Cowtown,” Fort Worth was once the largest horse and mule market in the world, and the city’s Stockyards National Historic District remains a center of commerce and culture, notably with the 2020 opening of the mixed-use Mule Alley development. The twice-daily (1:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive staged in the Stockyards National Historic District can be incorporated into events along with drover-led demonstrations of cattle roping, saddling, campfire stories and other activities.
A central piece of Mule Alley is the Hotel Drover, a 200-room Marriott Autograph Collection property with a “rustic luxe” vibe and 40,000 sf of diverse event space, including the indoor-outdoor, high-ceilinged Barn. Mule Alley also includes a variety of Western-themed merchants such as breweries, saloons, bookmakers, hat stores and a saddle shop. The new Tannahill’s Tavern & Music Hall, for example, is available for use as a meeting and event venue, with capacity for 450 seated guests or 1,000 for private concerts; the venue also has three private suites overlooking the concert stage.
The Fort Worth Convention Center is adjacent to the 35-block Sundance Square district, home to restaurants, live music clubs, theaters and shops. An expansion project, set to begin construction in mid-2023 for completion in 2026, will see the convention center add new F&B facilities in its first phase; the second phase will create 97,000 sf of new exhibit hall space, 48,000 sf of flexible meeting rooms and a new 50,000-sf ballroom.
“Conventions are big business for our downtown community and we are thrilled to welcome great customers to Fort Worth,” says Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth.
Several new hotel projects will help support events in Fort Worth, notably the 245-room Sandman Signature Calgary Downtown Hotel, set to debut this spring. This Houston Street hotel will occupy the historic Waggoner Building, once owned by the owner of the Waggoner Ranch. Also set for 2023 openings are a 189-room Le Meridien in the former Hotel Texas Annex building, which will have a rooftop bar and 3,000 sf of meeting space; the 200-room Crescent Hotel coming to the Fort Worth Cultural District this summer; and the Auberge Resort Collection’s Western-themed Bowie House, a boutique hotel billed as an “urban retreat” with 88 rooms and 18 suites.
Nature is the calling card in The Woodlands, a 28,000-acre master-planned community full of lakes and forests about a half-hour from George Bush Intercontinental Airport. With activities like the TreeVentures Aerial Adventure Course—currently being expanded with 23 new ropes-course elements—the George Mitchell Nature Preserve, Lake Woodlands and The Woodlands Waterway walking trails, meeting attendees can enjoy plenty of time outdoors while attending events at The Woodlands’ recently renovated hotel and resort properties.
The Woodlands Resort, which joined Hilton’s Curio Collection in January 2022, is a 402-room four-diamond property with 75,000 sf of naturally illuminated meeting and event space. The resort, which boasts its own water park as well as golf and tennis facilities, is currently renovating its 3,000-sf Forest Deck for use as an alfresco venue for meetings, ceremonies and receptions.
The Woodlands Waterway Marriott completed room renovations during the pandemic, coming on the heels of a 2019 refresh of its 70,000 sf of events space and 27 meeting rooms; additions included pivotable walls, moveable partitions, rewritable surfaces and shared-screen technology.
“The Woodlands is welcoming new upscale restaurants and retail every day, and our major hotel properties recently went through full renovations,” says Josie Lewis, director of sales at The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau. “With easy accessibility to major airport systems, stunning and innovative hotel properties, and natural beauty with incredible upscale shopping and dining woven in, The Woodlands really is a destination that will set meeting planners and events up for success.”
Plans are on the board to build Laredo’s first convention center, but in the meantime meeting planners can enjoy the border city’s redeveloping downtown and some fun program add-ons that reflect Laredo’s Hispanic cultural heritage.
The city of Laredo is currently seeking proposals to build a 34,000-sf conference center with a ballroom and meeting rooms, plus an adjacent hotel with a minimum of 200 guest rooms. Meanwhile, the recent opening of the Tru by Hilton Laredo Airport added 76 rooms and 2,576 sf of conference space.
Selina Villarreal, marketing manager at the Laredo Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the new hotel is an important addition to a city where the most significant event venue currently is the 206-room La Posada Hotel with its 15,000 sf of convention space, some of which is located in a 19th-century Spanish Colonial convent.
“Our sweet spot is regional meetings, board retreats and events with about 150 attendees,” says Villarreal.
Founded by the Spanish in 1745, Laredo remains an important crossing point to Mexico, with the Rio Grande River snaking through its historic downtown. In fact, a number of historic downtown buildings have been repurposed into museums, inns and other businesses.
The four-diamond La Posada overlooks the river and is walking distance to the Laredo Center for the Arts, a former market house dating to 1885 that serves as a popular events venue. “As an added amenity for those who stay at La Posada and have their opening or closing event at the Center, we now add a walk through town led by a mariachi band, followed by a cocktail of their choice,” says Villarreal.
“What’s really helped us is adding these new amenities to events,” she says, pointing out other options like a marketplace with goods from local merchants staged for conference attendees, and spousal tours that include a cooking demonstration at the La India Packing Co., which sells local herbs and spices.
South Padre Island may be known as a sunny Spring Break destination, but this sliver of coastal resort community on the Gulf of Mexico is well-equipped to host meetings and conventions and is increasing its MICE capacity, too.
The newest hotel on South Padre Island, the El Delfin Lodge, adds a modest 47 rooms for meeting planners to consider, but more are on the way soon. Notably, the new 200-room Margaritaville Beach Resort South Padre Island will open this spring on the site of the former Pearl South Padre Beach Resort. In addition to increasing the destination’s room count, the Margaritaville will have 8,500 sf of event space, onsite catering and a Landshark Bar & Grill. The beachfront resort also will include 1, 2, and 3-bedroom condo units.
Looking further ahead, the South Padre Island Convention Center will undergo a major expansion starting in 2024. The expansion will add 27,500 sf of exhibit space for a grand total of 50,000 sf, along with 7,200 sf of meeting rooms and a new 12,000-sf ballroom.
“We are excited to see how South Padre Island is evolving,” says Blake Henry, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “All these new additions to our destination will elevate our city as a premier meeting destination.”
fortworth.com/meetings; visitfrisco.com/meetings; visitthewoodlands.com/meetings-groups; visitlaredo.com/p/meetings; sopadre.com/meetings