The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex isn't all business
To people who have never spent time in the state of Texas, dusty prairieland, weathered cowboys and a whole lotta nothin’ else is what’s often expected.
Yes, the quintessential Western landscape can be savored in many parts of the Lone Star State, but the Dallas/Fort Worth area Metroplex offers attractions far from that scene. “We’re known as a business community, but we have many offerings in other markets,” says Traci Mayer, executive director of the Dallas/Fort Worth Area Tourism Council. “The area has such broad appeal. There’s a variety in meeting venues as well as in activities for groups with spouses or guests in tow.”
When Dallas won the bid for Super Bowl XLV (Feb. 6) a few years back, the city and surrounding suburbs fast-tracked transportation developments, hotel renovations and other refreshments in anticipation of the visitor influx. Plus, attraction-familiarization training for North Texas Tourism Ambassadors (volunteers from the local hospitality industry) went into high gear. So, football fan or not, we all benefit from the extra helping of Southern hospitality.
Here’s a look at what’s new, plus some of the standbys, in Dallas, Fort Worth and the surrounding communities of Grapevine, Plano, Arlington and Irving.
Dallas proper has long been the state’s gussied-up territory, where celebrity chefs command high-end restaurants, and keen-eyed shoppers flock to luxe clothing and home decor boutiques whose products have price tags known to raise middle-class eyebrows. Many meeting venues mirror this vibe, though planners will find flexibility a bit beyond the downtown area. More than 100 hotels within city limits offer meeting space, so your options span the spectra of size and budget.
Recent aesthetic remodeling has transformed the Sheraton Dallas Hotel. The downtown property’s three towers house 1,840 guest rooms and 230,000-plus sq. ft. of versatile meeting areas. Among them, the Chaparral Room on the 38th floor offers a panorama of the greater Dallas area—a view fans of the 1970s television series Dallas may recall, as the room was the setting for many dinner/bar scenes.
In time for its 30th anniversary in 2008, the Hilton Anatole completed a $57-million renovation that upgraded most of the meeting areas and guest rooms. The property’s 346,275-plus sq. ft. of space includes 70 rooms and seven ballrooms.
The Fairmont Dallas also freshened up recently. A $14-million property-wide renovation included upgrading several floors to Fairmont Gold, the line’s luxury category. The hotel has 545 guest rooms and 73,000 sq. ft. of event space.
The Joule is a new luxe boutique hotel located downtown in the 1927 Dallas National Bank Building; a recent two-year renovation introduced contemporary interior design elements such as propeller-like ceiling adornments and a huge wheel in the lobby to complement the hotel’s name (which is a unit of energy). The largest of its meeting spaces is the 1,680-square-foot Black Gold Ballroom, where “large-scale art work and dramatic chandeliers are among its incredible features,” says Jennifer Humphry, the property’s marketing manager.
Another option for smaller groups is the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. Host to our recent, highly successful Smart Mart, this prestigious property features 143 guest rooms and 10,534 sq. ft. of meeting space. (See our recap on pg. 56.)
Many of the Dallas Arts District’s 13 venues rent out their facilities. In 2009, the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened in this neighborhood. The Center’s Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, a stunning venue designed by the firm of Foster + Partners under Pritzker Prize-winning architect Norman Foster, can seat 2,300 in the performance hall; the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre offers versatile configurations that accommodate up to 600 guests. The Nasher Sculpture Center, another Arts District favorite, is ideal for intimate functions. Its garden and gallery settings surround guests with the works of such creative giants as Picasso and Matisse. The facility can accommodate 180 seated and up to 1,200 reception-style.
The American Airlines Center, Dallas Market Center and Dallas Convention Center are popular Dallas destinations for groups or expos; the latter, in fact, has more than 1-million sq. ft. of space. Virginia-headquartered ASIS International, an association of security management professionals, used the center for its 2010 annual meeting. About 20,000 people flew in from around the world, so Dallas’ central location was among the benefits of meeting here. “Our opening reception at the Dallas Heritage Village was an unqualified success, and the city’s restaurant scene gave our attendees and exhibitors multiple options for dining and entertaining,” says Susan Melnicove, vice president of ASIS education.
Plans are on track to complete the 23-story, 1,000-room Omni Dallas Convention Center Hotel by early 2012. It will be the first to link to the convention center (via skybridge), and the hotel itself will have 80,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space.
Located across the street from the convention center, the Aloft Dallas Downtown Hotel opened in 2009, and the property fits right in to Dallas’ urban core. All 193 guest rooms are loft style, and its business-friendly environments include three ballrooms—the largest at 5,150 sq. ft.
Chic decor, a poolside outdoor nightclub and frequent celebrity guests have helped Hotel ZaZa Uptown Dallas make a statement in the trendy Uptown neighborhood. The boutique hotel’s ambience tends to have the same effect on private events (of 10–300) held under its roof.
Fair Park is not only the site of the renowned State Fair of Texas, it also has nearly 750,000 total sq. ft. of rentable facilities, including a large collection of 1930s Art Deco buildings. Additionally, the 277-acre park encompasses more than 10 museums, performing arts venues and other attractions.
Dallas Convention Center.
On the southeast outskirt of town, the eco-friendly Trinity River Audubon Nature Center is a 21,000-square-foot facility surrounded by waterfowl-rich wetlands. Inside, eye-cataching elements include ceiling insulation made of recycled blue jeans. The Great Hall, which can accommodate up to 300 guests, has floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the wetlands. Other, smaller rooms also capitalize on the natural landscape.
In contrast to Dallas, Fort Worth is low key. Sure, the City of Cowboys and Culture has its fair share of modern, even trendy, features in some neighborhoods, such as the 35-block downtown entertainment district called Sundance Square. But for the most part, Fort Worth’s draw is its connection to Texas Past.
Relive the Old West at the Stockyards National Historic District at such attractions as The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the twice-daily longhorn cattle drive down the district’s main drag, Exchange Avenue. Four event facilities are available.
The city’s accommodation advancements and entertainment options have been drawing the attention of meeting planners. “Our new and recently renovated hotels, a safe and walkable downtown, unique Western heritage, world-class cultural attractions and central U.S. location make Fort Worth an excellent choice for all types of meetings,” says David DuBois, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Those “world-class cultural attractions” DuBois touts inspired the latter half of the city’s slogan. The Cultural District, just south of the Stockyards and west of downtown, comprises several renowned museums, including the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, which unveiled its new $80-million facility in 2009. Meeting space options range from the Noble Planetarium for small functions to rental of the entire museum. Many events make use of the new Oak Room, a flexible space adjacent to the Heritage Courtyard, capable of hosting 100–450 guests.
At 253,226 sq. ft., the Fort Worth Convention Center is the city’s largest exhibition venue. The center’s headquarter facility, the Omni Fort Worth Hotel opened in 2009. It has 614 guest rooms and its own 68,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space.
Some might consider both Dallas and Fort Worth a significant drive to and from the local airports, especially since commute-time traffic in the Metroplex is starting to rival that of other major population centers such as Los Angeles. So the suburb of Grapevine’s proximity to DFW International Airport adds to its appeal. In fact, attendees needn’t leave the vicinity: The Grand Hyatt DFW is connected to Terminal D, and the Hyatt Regency DFW is across the street from Terminal C. Each hotel has ample meeting-room options.
Just a few miles away, Grapevine’s historic Main Street, with its restaurants, boutique shopping and the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, draws visitors year-round. Some of these local businesses can serve as unique meeting spaces, such as the Palace Arts Center. The center’s two spaces, the Lancaster and Palace theaters, share a 1,594-square-foot lobby. The Lancaster’s 2,334-square-foot banquet room is a great example of Texas’ unique way of mixing rustic with glam—brick walls and wooden floors are paired with copper plating on the stage backdrop wall. The Palace offers old-timey movie-theater seating and a flexible stage space that can be used for live presentations or video.
Grapevine is home to two mega-resorts, and both regularly host event groups. The Gaylord Texan Hotel & Conference Center, in fact, serves roughly 125 different groups per month, says Martha Neibling, public relations director. The Long Horn exhibit hall alone claims nearly half of the property’s 400,000 sq. ft. of rentable facilities, and the rest is spread among 70 breakout rooms and other function space. The hotel’s 1,511 guest rooms, seven eateries and a nightclub keep all those folks entertained after business hours.
Great Wolf Lodge is the other giant, and this one draws groups with families in tow. A new 20,000-square-foot conference center opened in 2009, and its 10 function rooms and outdoor areas can accommodate events for 10–685 people. A 12-level, 80,000-square-foot indoor water park, kid-friendly hotel rooms and interactive games let families kick back while parents tend to business.
Great Wolf Lodge, Grapevine.
Groups seeking more intimate venues might look to the area’s wineries. (The city, after all, was named in the 1840s for the wild Mustang grapes that blanketed the area.) Though the bulk of actual vineyards are elsewhere in the state, Grapevine is home to eight wineries and tasting rooms. Delaney Vineyards & Winery, however, does have a small on-site vineyard, and the 5,200-square-foot Grand Barrel Room is a popular event spot. Likewise, Cross Timbers Winery hosts groups on its patio, in the tasting room and in a 4,000-square-foot climate-controlled barn.
Ask a resident of Plano where they live and many may answer “pleasantly north of Dallas.” Indeed, the approximate 20-mile separation between city centers gives this growing suburb of 260,000 a completely different vibe. Yet, although Plano maintains a small-town spirit, it’s home to the corporate headquarters of such giants as Frito-Lay and JC Penney. A Dallas Area Rapid Transit station downtown easily links visitors to the attractions in Dallas proper.
One of Plano’s highlights is the high-end outdoor retail and restaurant development called The Shops at Legacy on the west side. The city’s most popular convention hotel, Dallas/Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center is walking distance to The Shops. Thirty-two-thousand total sq. ft. are spread among 24 rooms, the largest being the Trinity Ballroom.
Positioned midway between The Shops area and historic downtown, the Plano Centre has a 21,600-square-foot, column-free exhibition hall, plus 17 breakout rooms.
One of the greater Dallas area’s claims to fame is Southfork Ranch in Parker, just outside Plano, which served as the home of J.R. Ewing on the Dallas TV series. The ranch offers daily tours, and large groups can use the Southfork Ranch Event & Conference Center.
Arlington’s longstanding draws have been big-name family attractions, including a Six Flags amusement park. Something even more massive moved in a couple years ago: the new Cowboys Stadium. The mammoth facility is the world’s largest domed structure, and as you drive into town toward its Entertainment District locale, you can’t help but notice it hovering on the horizon like a spaceship. Twenty-two flexible on-site event spaces can accommodate groups of up to 4,000.
Across the street from the stadium, the 1010 Collins – Entertainment & Event Center opened this past December, adding 16,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space and a 1-acre garden to meeting planners’ Entertainment District options.
Renovations to Arlington Music Hall are expected to be complete this month. Improvements to the 1,100-seat auditorium include state-of-the-art sound and lighting, as well as an expanded stage.
Expected to open later this year, the centrally located College Park Center at the University of Texas at Arlington will be a 218,000-square-foot facility designed to house events as diverse as university basketball, concerts and conferences. Its central downtown location will put visitors near both the Entertainment District to the northeast and shopping areas to the south.
Located adjacent to DFW Airport and midway between Dallas and Fort Worth, Irving offers accessibility to the entire Metro area. More than 10,000 meetings and conventions take place here annually, a testament to its appeal. Though Irving doesn’t offer as much in the leisure category as its neighboring big cities, the accommodation and meeting venue options make it a credible destination for meeting planners to consider.
“What sets Irving apart from the larger cities to our east and west is the customized, hands-on service we are able to provide. We specialize in small to mid-sized meetings of 50 to 800 people,” says Maura Gast, executive director of the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Expected to open this month, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas was designed as a multifunctional space, whose features include a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 20,000-square-foot ballroom and 20,000 sq. ft. of breakout space.
Over the past 18 months, Irving welcomed three new boutique hotels. The upscale Nylo Dallas/Las Colinas features five meeting facilities, including a 4,000-square-foot ballroom and prefunction space, and a 7,500-square-foot outdoor courtyard. Aloft Las Colinas is a 136-room property with urban-influenced design and has one 525-square-foot boardroom for meetings, plus an outdoor patio for intimate gatherings. Element Dallas Fort Worth Airport North offers 123 guest rooms designed for extended stay and two meeting rooms totaling 1,590 sq. ft.
The 431-room Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas recently completed a $60-million expansion, which upgraded all guest rooms, built a resort-style family pool and overhauled the 18-hole Tournament Players Course Las Colinas. The property’s 34,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes a 90-seat amphitheater.
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is situated midway between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, roughly a 30-minute drive to either. DFW is American Airlines’ headquarters and a major hub; 15 other airlines provide scheduled service through DFW. The Skylink high-speed train transports travelers between DFW’s five terminals. A dedicated bus system shuttles visitors to the off-site rental car complex about eight minutes from the terminals.
- Dallas Love Field Airport, smaller than DFW but closer to downtown Dallas, is the headquarters for Southwest Airlines; three other airlines provide scheduled service. Rental car kiosks are on-site, but shuttles transport travelers to the vehicle pickup area at the opposite side of the airport.