by Rachel Carter | November 01, 2016

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that holds especially true for meetings and trade shows in the Lone Star State. Convention centers, conference hotels, event venues: bigger. New construction, downtown redevelopment, infrastructure investment: bigger.

But that doesn't mean small events aren't welcome. Whether hosting a regional meeting for 50 or an annual conference for 5,000, North and West Texas offer the promise of big personalities, big welcomes and big business.

Greater Dallas: On the Up & Up

As the third-largest city in Texas, Dallas offers a plethora of options for planners. Each year it hosts numerous association events including, more recently, those of the Texas FFA Association, the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association and the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics.

Hotel development in Dallas is skyrocketing with construction and conversion projects set to add thousands of guest rooms to the city's inventory. In January, the Lorenzo Hotel (formerly a Ramada) is set to open near the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center with 237 guest rooms and more than 13,000 square feet of event space. In April, a dual-property hotel-the 128-room AC/Downtown Dallas and 121-suite Residence Inn-is expected to open with two restaurants and small event space. And the $225 million Statler Hotel & Residences plans to open late this year or early next year with 159 guest rooms, 219 residences, four restaurants and meeting, office and retail space. Two buildings are also being transformed into mixed-use properties with hotels: the Butler Brothers Building, to include a 238-room Marriott Hotel, and the Tower Petroleum Building, to house a 177-room hotel.

Additionally, in the Uptown neighborhood, a 150-room Hilton Canopy Hotel is scheduled to open next year, while the Dream Hotel Dallas is aiming for a 2018 opening with 260 guest rooms. And developers aren't overlooking the sprawling Dallas Arts District; at the Hall Arts mixed-use development, a 231-room hotel with 7,000 square feet of meeting space is planned for 2018.

Recent hotel openings include the 326-room Westin/Dallas Downtown, which made its debut in December with meeting space for up to 650, a heated indoor pool and three dining options; the 171-room Hilton Garden Inn/Downtown, with gathering space for up to 150; and the 176-room Hampton Inn & Suites. The Renaissance/Dallas recently added 30,000 square feet of meeting space, the Ritz-Carlton completed a $9 million renovation last fall that updated its guest rooms, club lounge and public areas and the Westin Galleria Dallas recently completed a multimillion-dollar upgrade. In the Financial District, the historic Adolphus Hotel renovated and expanded its meeting space last year and recently refurbished its guest rooms and introduced a rooftop pool and bar. And at the Hilton Anatole, a new seasonal attraction called JadeWaters offers several heated swimming pools, a 120-seat restaurant and two lawn areas for events.

The city's largest dedicated meeting venue is the 2 million-square-foot Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. The attached Omni/Dallas recently added four new restaurants and a new parking structure with retail space. Other major events sites include the 100-acre Dallas Market Center, the 5.2-acre Klyde Warren Park and Fair Park.

At Reunion Tower, the newly renovated GeO-Deck observation area welcomes special events of up to 150, and one floor up, Cloud Nine can host up to 300. Other venues include the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza and the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum.

At Victory Park, both the American Airlines Center and the AT&T Plaza can host events. Cultural venues include the AT&T Performing Arts Center, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Asian Art, which is undergoing renovations but can host events again in March.

Northwest of downtown Dallas, in Irving, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas offers 100,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. And two multimillion-dollar, mixed-use developments are expected to open in 2017: the Music Factory, with an 8,000-seat concert hall center, an eight-screen movie theater, stores and restaurants, and Water Street, also with stores and eateries.

From Irving, it's just minutes to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and south of there is the American Airlines Training & Conference Center with 75,000 square feet of function space. And just north, in Grapevine, the Grapevine Convention Center offers 14,000 square feet of flexible space. The Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center recently began a $120 million expansion project; plans include the addition of 300 guest rooms and 86,000 square feet of meeting space by 2018. Additionally, the resort expanded its pool complex this summer.

Planners can get into the country swing in Flower Mound at the Circle R Ranch, which offers 35,000 square feet of event space. In Lewisville, the Hilton Garden Inn offers function space for up to 1,100, and the Chamonix II welcomes groups of up to 105 for cruises.

Plano, 20 miles north of Dallas, is hopping with new hotels and a renovation of its largest event venue: the 122,500-square-foot Plano Centre. Work began in July, and the $2.8 million project is scheduled to wrap up next May. Another option for events is the 800-acre Oak Point Park & Nature Reserve. Large hotels with meeting space include the Dallas/Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center and the Hilton/Dallas-Plano Granite Park. The 109-room Fairfield Inn & Suites/Dallas-Plano North opened early this year with event space for up to 40, and the 304-room Renaissance/Dallas at Plano Legacy West is scheduled to open next June with more than 24,000 square feet of event space. In other hotel news, the former Southfork Hotel is now a Quality Inn & Suites.

Parker is home to the Southfork Ranch, which offers more than 63,000 square feet of indoor space. In Allen, the Allen Event Center has hosted events of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association and the Collin County Master Gardeners. A new 104-room Hyatt Place/Dallas-Allen is expected to open in the next few months with meeting space for up to 75. Other meeting hotels include the Courtyard Dallas Allen at the John Q. Hammons Center and the Hilton Garden Inn/Dallas-Allen.

Ten miles north, in Frisco, a 300-room Omni Hotel is expected to open next summer with 24,000 square feet of meeting space and connection to the brand-new, 12,000-seat Ford Center at The Star, a multiuse facility that doubles as a practice area for the NFL's Cowboys. And the $1.6 billion, 175-acre Wade Park development continues to expand with new stores and a 250-room Langham Hotel set to break ground later this year with 25,000 square feet of event space.

Other event venues in Frisco include the Dr Pepper Arena, the adjacent Embassy Suites Dallas-Frisco Hotel, Convention Center & Spa, the Toyota Stadium & Toyota Soccer Center, the Frisco Heritage Museum and Frisco Discovery Center. About 25 miles to the west, in Denton, the University of North Texas offers on-campus venues.

The city of Tyler, some 100 miles east of Dallas, is home to the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, which offers event space. Another option is the Harvey Convention Center, which hosted the Order of the Eastern Star Grand Chapter of Texas in September. A new Homewood Suites is scheduled to open this fall with 113 guest rooms and 600 square feet of meeting space, and the Holiday Inn/Tyler-South Broadway recently remodeled its lobby, restaurant and bar and expanded its meeting space to more than 11,000 square feet. Other venues include True Vine Brewing Company and Kiepersol, an estate winery, distillery and restaurant featuring new tasting rooms.

Arlington: Entertaining as Ever

About halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, Arlington is a true middle ground for meetings. That appealed to the Texas Association of Municipal Information Officers, and in June the group held its 2016 annual conference at the Hilton/Arlington with 290 people, many of whom live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, said Lauren Grossman, its coordinator. The opening session, keynote addresses, concurrent sessions and awards luncheon were all well accommodated in the hotel's 11,000 square feet of flexible function space, she said. The group also toured AT&T Stadium and held a "restaurant romp" at four restaurants in the Arlington Highlands shopping and entertainment center.

The Arlington Entertainment District is gearing up for an expansion; Texas Live!, a new multimillion-dollar entertainment area, is being financed in part by Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers. Construction is expected to begin in November with plans to open in 2018.

The Arlington Convention Center is connected to the city's largest hotel, a Sheraton, which completed a renovation of its guest rooms this summer. A forthcoming renovation of its meeting space, lobby, restaurants and bar is planned.

Fort Worth: Worthwhile Gatherings

A flurry of downtown hotel development in Fort Worth will mean new choices for future groups. The Art Deco Sinclair Building is being transformed into a 160-room Marriott Autograph Collection hotel that is scheduled to open in December 2017. Also expected to open next year are a 180-room Aloft and a 210-room Hampton Inn & Suites. Also downtown is the Fort Worth Convention Center, which can host large groups. Or planners can turn to Sundance Square Plaza, the Ashton Depot, Bass Performance Hall and the Fort Worth Club.

But projects-and planners-aren't limited to downtown, of course. In the Cultural District at the Will Rogers Memorial Center complex, work on a $450 million, 14,000-seat multipurpose arena is expected to be completed in time for the 2020 Stock Show. Until then, the 120-acre complex is home to the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Building, the Will Rogers Auditorium and an equestrian center.

Also in Fort Worth, the Stockyards National Historic District, the Stockyards Station, the Stockyards Museum and the Cowtown Coliseum welcome groups. Or attendees can visit Billy Bob's Texas, a honky-tonk that can host events for groups of up to 6,000 people.

The Texas Municipal Clerks Association and the International Defensive Pistol Association are among the groups that have recently hosted events in Granbury, 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Overlooking Lake Granbury is the Granbury Resort Conference Center, and the adjacent Hilton Garden Inn has 3,000 square feet of function space. A half-mile away is the Granbury Opera House.

South of Fort Worth on Interstate 35, Waco offers the 144,000-square-foot Waco Convention Center as well as the Extraco Events Center, the Extraco Exhibits Building, the Extraco Creative Arts Building, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Baylor University.

Abilene to Amarillo: Panhandle Planning

About 150 miles west of Fort Worth, in Abilene, the Abilene Civic Center has 110,000 square feet of function space. Three blocks away, in downtown, are the Paramount Theatre and the Grace Museum. The Frontier Texas, a heritage museum, also offers event space.

Another 100 miles northeast, near Graham, the Wildcatter Ranch offers overnight accommodations as well as meeting facilities for up to 100.

Farther north, about halfway between Dallas and Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls is the plains' premier meeting destination with venues that include the Wichita Falls Multi-Purpose Event Center and Memorial Auditorium. The River Bend Nature Center, the Wellington Banquet & Conference Center and the Kemp Center for the Arts also welcome groups.

The city of Lubbock is another popular destination for meetings. Downtown is the recently renovated Lubbock Memorial Civic Center. In December, a new 125-room Hyatt Place opened with two meeting spaces. Other notable venues include Texas Tech University, the City Bank Auditorium & Coliseum, the American Wind Power Center and the Bayer Museum of Agriculture.

Amarillo is the heart of the Texas Panhandle, both due to its central location and its population. Downtown is undergoing a redevelopment renaissance that includes new restaurants, bars and hotels and a new municipal parking garage. A magnet for meetings is the Amarillo Civic Center Complex. An adjacent, 226-room Embassy Suites is scheduled to open next fall with 18,000 square feet of meeting space.

Other notable venues include the Tri-State Fairgrounds, the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum and the Amarillo Botanical Gardens. Thirty miles south, near Canyon, the Mack Dick Pavilion in Palo Duro Canyon State Park can host events of up to 160.

In May, Amarillo welcomed the annual meeting of the Texas Women for the Arts,which drew more than 100 women from around the state. In addition to functions held at the civic center, attendees toured a local home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, dined at the Cornerstone Ranch and visited the Amarillo Museum of Art, the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum and the Lazy L3 Ranch. Participants later showered planners with accolades. "The event was incredible, and everyone loved Amarillo," said Charlotte Rhodes, the group's program co-chair. "Members are singing the praises of Amarillo throughout the state."

West Texas: Old World, New Future

Visitors to El Paso can explore both the past and the future-from attractions such as the historic Mission Trail to downtown developments that continue to move forward. In the works is a children's museum, more public art, a multipurpose cultural and performing arts venue and the Mexican-American Cultural Center-all within walking distance of the El Paso Convention Center and the Abraham Chavez Theatre.

New hotels with meeting space include the 104-room Courtyard/El Paso East, scheduled to open in November with function space for up to 90 people, and a 119-room Hotel Indigo, which opened downtown in January with 1,587 square feet of event space. A 100-room Aloft/Downtown is scheduled to open next September with 4,000 square feet of meeting space, a Marriott Urban Courtyard hotel is planned near the convention center and a Westin will go up near El Paso International Airport. And at the Camino Real Hotel, a multiphase renovation is set to begin next year.

In oil-rich Odessa, venues include the MCM Grandé Hotel & FUNDome, the Ector County Coliseum and the Odessa College's Globe of the Great Southwest.

Twenty miles east, in Midland, the meetings landscape is changing notably. The city's main convention facility, the Midland Center, has closed but a new, $42.8 million convention venue is scheduled to open in 2018. At the Midland County Horseshoe complex, the Horseshoe Amphitheater opened in July with seating for up to 4,400, and a pavilion opened in early 2015 with 52,000 square feet of convention space or seating for up to 5,600. Groups of up to 2,000 can gather at the Petroleum Museum, which finished an $18 million renovation in April. The Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center also welcome groups.

Bigger and Better Options

The booming cities in North and West Texas offer a bounty of big convention, meeting and trade-show venues for association groups, but it's also true that the amenities and locations of new options are better than before. Groups are likely to experience not just a better event but their best one yet.