Off the Beaten Path for Texas Meetings and Events

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Off the Beaten Path for Texas Meetings and Events

By Rayna Katz | Aug 14, 2019

Some time ago, if a meeting planner wanted to bring a group to Texas, major cities such as Dallas and Houston would have been the only blips on the radar screen. But now, major development in the suburbs around Dallas and Houston have put new destinations on Texas’ meeting map.

Allen: The Best-Kept Secret

The city of Allen, which is just north of Dallas and about 30 miles from two airports—Dallas/Fort Worth International and Dallas Love Field—was transformed this January by the arrival of the 90,000-square-foot Watters Creek Convention Center and adjacent 300-room Delta Hotels by Marriott Dallas Allen, which houses a steakhouse and grab-and-go market by famed Dallas-based and James Beard Award-winning chef Stephan Pyles. The complex cost US$91 million.

“It gives us an opportunity to host larger groups,” says Karen Cromwell, director, Allen CVB. “Previously, we turned away conventions because we didn’t have a true convention center.”

Watters Creek features a 40,000-square-foot, column-free event hall; a 12,000-square-foot ballroom; and 38,000 square feet of breakout space. Before the convention center’s arrival, Allen’s largest groups went to the 228-room Courtyard by Marriott at Allen Event Center, which offers a 10,000-square-foot ballroom and about 25,000 square feet of meeting space in total.

“Now, we can accommodate groups as large as 3,000 for a general session along with exhibits in the 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall,” Cromwell says. “We can use up to 10 breakout rooms ranging from 1,200 square feet to 4,000 square feet, with an additional eight meeting rooms that are perfect for office space and board meetings. Before, the largest group we could serve was 900.”

The Courtyard is adjacent to the Allen Event Center, a 7,000-seat arena that is working harder than ever to attract group business.

“We believe our space is good for meetings and corporate events because we’re versatile,” says William Herman, general manager of the Allen Event Center. “Our rigging loads are extensive—we have a 50-foot ceiling and we have a catwalk. We can play to a full house of 7,000, a group of 4,000 or even a quarter of capacity (1,500), and it doesn’t diminish our rigging capabilities.

“In year 10 of our venue, we maybe are at the point where people are recognizing us more—whether because of events we’ve hosted or our stepped-up marketing efforts—and we’re recognizing that we may be able to book an event that could build our presence in the marketplace,” he says.

Herman also says the arena isn’t in competition with the Watters Creek Center.

“We want to be collaborative—they may have needs we can help with, and vice versa,” he says. “For example, the convention center has a lot of great breakout space and we have the arena, so with a large group they can shuttle everyone here for a general session. I definitely can see that scenario.”

The arena and the Courtyard are the anchor tenants at the Village at Allen, a 1.3 million-square-foot shopping, dining and entertainment complex. In the middle of the Village sits The Grove, an outdoor space that includes seating and a fireplace.

Another mixed-use development, Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm, is just across an overpass from the Village. It boasts more than 50 restaurants, bars and shops.

Also of note in Allen is the Hilton Garden Inn, which provides 10,000 square feet of meeting space. And nearby, 25 miles from Dallas, sits Southfork Ranch, the setting of the television show Dallas. The 300-acre complex offers 63,000 square feet of event space, the main family’s mansion and memorabilia, including the gun used to shoot J.R. and Jock’s Lincoln Continental.

Southfork has space for a 900-person banquet and “feels like the true days of a ranch,” Cromwell says. “Groups can get there in 15 minutes, and it’s great for those who want to experience old-style Texas.”

The venues, hotels and nearby amenities are the big draw, she adds.

“Almost all of our hotels are walking distance to a variety of restaurants and shopping,” she says. “Who doesn’t love a walkable place where you can just get an ice cream without having to sit in traffic? Allen is the best-kept secret surrounding Dallas.”

Plano: Far from Plain

Plano offers many venues and attractions about 20 miles north of downtown Dallas.

For high-end experiences, Legacy West is a $3.2 billion, 255-acre mixed-use development with more than 20 restaurants—each with a patio—a 30-stall food hall, more than 30 retail stores and the Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West Hotel, which features 304 guest rooms and more than 30,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting and exhibition space.

Across an overpass sit more dining and retail spots at the Shops at Legacy. The mixed-use development includes the Dallas/Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center, which provides 417 guest rooms and 32,843 square feet of meeting space.

Yelp this year named Plano, which boasts more than 1,000 restaurants, the fourth-best city for foodies. The area is also home to the first property of the NYLO Hotel boutique brand. The 176-room NYLO Dallas Plano Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton features 2,000 square feet of meeting space and can serve as an overflow property for citywides.

For groups that bring children—or for attendees who are kids at heart—the Crayola Experience opened last year with 25 interactive activities, including a crayon-making demonstration, live shows, crafting experiences and more. The entire 60,000-square-foot venue can be rented for events, and it features two private rooms of 460 square feet and 960 square feet.

“Planners have many options here and they can be very affordable,” says Judy Johnson, CMP (MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter), principal consultant for MedmeetingsIQ. “For example, if a group wants to do a Legacy West dine-around, they don’t need transportation [because everything is walkable]. Not renting buses could save $5,000 or more.”

“Attendees don’t feel locked into the hotel; they can step out and go to 20 restaurants. To feel like you went somewhere other than the ballroom matters in the rating of the meeting. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have put a meeting in Plano, but today I wouldn’t hesitate.”

An Outdoorsy Alternative

Just 28 miles north of Houston, The Woodlands is a master-planned community with 2,200 guest rooms, several event venues and more than 11 million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment. The 28,000-acre area is 25 minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport and 45 minutes from downtown Houston.

New attractions and venues include the Glade Cultural Center, which features a 6,000-square-foot event space, and Texas TreeVentures, an outdoor adventure course set among trees that opened in April.

The Glade Cultural Center has a fine art gallery and antiquities, providing both entertainment and a picturesque backdrop for meetings and events. TreeVentures is an aerial adventure course with 72 elements and is adjacent to the George Mitchell Nature Preserve.

Recent upgrades include a $75 million renovation of The Woodlands Resort, which offers 402 guest rooms and more than 60,000 square feet of meeting space, and a $3 million refreshment of the 70,000 square feet of event space at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center. The property is now updating its 345 guest rooms.

Tracy VanNostrand (MPI Houston Area Chapter), vice president of operations and sales, and Sandra Bell (MPI Houston Area Chapter), senior sales director, Wicked Whisk Catering, say The Woodlands’ close proximity to Houston, its venues, attractions and entertainment make the location group-friendly. Among the places cited by the duo are The Woodlands Resort for meetings, the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston for exploration or unique venues and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion for concerts.

Fort Worth on the Rise

While not a suburb, this slightly lesser-known half of the Dallas-Fort Worth duo has significant meetings infrastructure coming online.

Slated to open this November, the 14,000-seat Dickies Arena is poised to host various events for groups needing anywhere from about 700 square feet to more than 90,000 square feet.

A $175 million renovation of the Stockyards National Historic District now under way will result in the addition of restaurants, live entertainment venues and retail stores in the former horse and mule barns known as Mule Alley.

On the hotel front, the most significant new property for groups will be the Hotel Drover. Slated to open in late 2020 as part of the Stockyards redevelopment, the 200-room hotel will house 15,000 square feet of meeting space. It sits in the 18,000-square-foot Mule Alley, creating another Texas destination with shopping, dining and entertainment steps away from attendees’ hotel room doors.

Also headed to Fort Worth is a Kimpton property. Slated to open in 2021, the downtown hotel will have 232 guest rooms and about 10,000 square feet of meeting space. It sits two blocks away from the Fort Worth Convention Center in a 100-year-old building.



Rayna Katz
Rayna Katz

Rayna Katz is an experienced journalist who has served as an editor at several meeting industry publications. Currently a freelance writer, she also covers business travel and the culinary world. Her work has appeared in the New York Daily News and the New York Post.