by Rachel Juarez-Carr | November 01, 2015

Texas is a colorful state and hosts equally vibrant gatherings, but meeting planners may also have noticed an increasingly green tinge to venues in the Lone Star State as a number of destinations commit to upholding more environmentally conscious standards. 

Whether your group fancies gathering in the great outdoors or meeting at a modern convention hotel, there are new developments focused on making just the right kind of impact-on attendees and their environmental footprint.

Greater Dallas: Ever Greener

When you hear the name Dallas, you might think of skyscrapers, major sports teams or perhaps fine art. But as the city is prone to do when poised to undergo change, it embraces things in a big way, and going green has been no different.

There are both natural and certified green spaces around the city. Groups can hold an event at the 66-acre Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden, with the largest space able to accommodate up to 4,000 people. Or get your group together at the LEED-certified Trinity River Audubon Center, a site that has put to work a rainwater collection system, native plants and recycled materials. The center has event space for up to 300. Another green space is Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre space above the Woodall Rodgers Freeway that connects Uptown, downtown and the Arts District.

The LEED-certified Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center (formerly the Dallas Convention Center) has more than 1 million square feet of event space. Organizations that have recently held events here include the American Society of Safety Engineers, the SAS Institute and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Another facility is the Dallas Market Center, which has more than 800,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space within its four venues: the World Trade Center, the International Trade Plaza, Market Hall and the Trade Mart.

The Westin/Downtown Dallas at One Main Place is scheduled to open in December with 326 guest rooms and 27,000 square feet of meeting space. Also downtown is the Adolphus Hotel, putting the finishing touches on the biggest overhaul since the 1980s, and the Omni/Dallas, with four new restaurants and Pegasus Lawn, all of which can host events. In Uptown, the Ritz-Carlton/Dallas has renovated its lobby, all guest rooms and corridors. Closer to Southern Methodist University (SMU) is the year-old Highland Dallas Hotel, which has meeting space for up to 500 and "Pure" guest rooms promising hypoallergenic and dust-proof bedding as well as an in-room air purification system. Also nearby is the Magnolia/Dallas-Park Cities (formerly a Holiday Inn), which opened in June. Farther northwest, the DoubleTree by Hilton/Dallas-Love Field (formerly a Wyndham) recently completed a $2 million renovation of its parking lot, entrance and public areas.

The 277-acre Fair Park complex hosts the state fair in autumn but welcomes other events during the rest of the year. Other Dallas venues include the I.M. Pei-designed Meyerson Symphony Center; the nearby Nasher Sculpture Center, with more than a half-dozen spaces; the Dallas Museum of Art, with space for up to 800; and the Crow Collection of Asian Art, which is undergoing renovations to its galleries but will again welcome special events beginning in June. The American Airlines Center can be configured to seat up to 20,000, AT&T Plaza can accommodate up to 3,000, and the AT&T Performing Arts Center has special event space for up to 2,000. In the Oak Lawn neighborhood, the 15-acre Lee Park is home to Arlington Hall, which can host functions of up to 1,000. And at SMU, the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum can host groups of up to 400.

East of Dallas, in Mesquite, the Mesquite Convention & Expo Center at Rodeo Center has an 18,000-square-foot ballroom and a 35,000-square-foot, divisible exhibit hall. Resistol Arena welcomes associations with 24,000 square feet of floor space and seating for up to 5,500, and the Mesquite Arts Center has a 500-seat concert hall. Forty miles south of town, in Ennis, the Texas Motorplex can accommodate events of up to 450 in its Champions Club.

Home to the annual Texas Rose Festival, Tyler offers the 14-acre Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, which features more than 38,000 rose bushes. The Harvey Convention Center has several event spaces, the largest of which is 17,632 square feet. Also available are the 6,960-seat Oil Palace; the historic, 315-seat Liberty Hall; and the new Residence Inn, which opened last year with 119 guest suites and 1,200 square feet of meeting space. Groups that have recently met in town include the Texas State Association of Plumbing Inspectors and the Philosophical Society of Texas.

Groups of up to 25,000 can meet in Addison, to the north of Dallas, at Addison Circle Park. In nearby Richardson, the Richardson Civic Center can host meetings of up to 750. Other venues include the Zituna Banquet Hall, Noah's Event Venue, Slate at II Creeks and the Eisemann Center.

Last year in Plano, the Hilton Dallas/Plano-Granite Park opened, but the city's main meeting facility is the 122,500-square-foot Plano Centre, which has a 21,600-square-foot exhibition hall. Smaller events can be accommodated at the 325-seat Courtyard Theater and a 3,000-square-foot lobby. There's also the Marriott at Legacy Town Center as well as the Amphitheater at Oak Point Park, which can host up to 1,500.

To the north is the town of Allen, where the 188,000-square-foot Allen Event Center has more than 7,000 seats. Just to the southeast is Parker and the 340-acre Southfork Ranch, whose Event & Conference Center has more than 63,000 square feet of indoor space.

In Frisco, 10 miles northwest of Allen, a 175-acre mixed-use development called Wade Park is in the works, with the first phase expected to open this spring and a 250-room Langham Hotel with 25,000 square feet of meeting space to follow in 2018. Another development is the Dallas Cowboys' Ford Center at the Star, the NFL team's world headquarters and multiuse event center, expected to open next summer. Plans include a 12,000-seat event center and a 300-room Omni Hotel, the latter of which is expected to open in 2017. Other event options in Frisco include the Dr Pepper Arena and the Embassy Suites Dallas-Frisco Hotel, Convention Center & Spa. The Toyota Stadium & Toyota Soccer Center, the Frisco Heritage Museum or the Frisco Discovery Center can also host events.

In Irving, southeast of Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, the award-winning Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas offers nearly 100,000 square feet of meeting space. The city recently announced plans for a new convention center hotel that will carry the Westin flag and provide approximately 16,000 square feet of meeting space and 350 guest rooms. New this year in the downtown area is the Texas Musicians Museum and Music Garden, which is available as an event venue for up to 650.

To the north of the airport, in Grapevine, is the TownePlace Suites and the Grapevine Convention Center, but the big daddy of event properties is the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center.

In Lewisville, the Hilton Garden Inn & Convention Center has event space for up to 1,100 people, and a new SpringHill Suites by Marriott opened in April with 119 guest rooms and function space for up to 250. Eight miles west, in Flower Mound, is the 60-acre Circle R Ranch, and in Denton, to the north, the University of North Texas welcomes groups with a variety of facilities.

For many, the middle meeting ground in the Metroplex is Arlington, located about halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth on Interstate 30. The Texas Girls Coaches Association has held a summer clinic in town for decades, recently with about 4,500 attendees. The event utilizes the Arlington Convention Center, six local hotels, dorm rooms at the University of Texas/Arlington and athletic facilities run by the Arlington Independent School District. "Our coaches love the city because it's so family oriented," said Sam Tipton, its executive director.

Major venues located near each other in the Entertainment District include the Arlington Convention Center, with more than 84,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space and a covered walkway connecting it to the Sheraton; AT&T Stadium; and Globe Life Park. Additional venues include Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, the International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame and the University of Texas/Arlington campus. The Studio Movie Grill and the renovated Arlington Music Hall can also host events.

Fort Worth: Cultured Cowtown

Associations are by no means penned in when it comes to event venues in Fort Worth, where the sunny sky's the limit here. Green spaces include the 109-acre Fort Worth Botanic Garden, with 17,000 square feet of conference space, and the $48 million Botanical Research Institute of Texas, a sustainable facility with 69,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor function space. In addition, many outdoor events and festivals are held in the adjacent Trinity Park.

The biggest place to gather is the Fort Worth Convention Center, which has 253,226 square feet of exhibit space, 41 breakout rooms and a 13,500-seat arena. Two blocks away, Ashton Depot offers 10,000 square feet of indoor space and a 3,200-square-foot courtyard. Also downtown is Sundance Square Plaza, and the Fort Worth Club offers event space for up to 1,200 and a 21-room inn.

Bring your boots to the Stockyards National Historic District, a celebration of Fort Worth's proud place at the center of cattle culture. Billy Bob's Texas, the Cowtown Coliseum, Stockyards Museum and Stockyards Station all welcome group events with various spaces.

In the Cultural District, the 120-acre Will Rogers Memorial Center is home to the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Building, the Will Rogers Auditorium, the Will Rogers Coliseum and a large equestrian center. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Kimbell Museum also have space for special functions.

Near DFW Airport, the American Airlines Training & Conference Center has accommodations, function space, three restaurants, a pool and a ropes course. NASCAR's Texas Motor Speedway also offers event space, including a ballroom for up to 600 people.

In Granbury, 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth, the Granbury Resort Conference Center has 20,000 square feet of space and recently hosted events of the Texas Baptist Church Weekday Education Association and the North Central Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Nearby, the Granbury Opera House can seat up to 220 people.

Just down Interstate 35 from Fort Worth is the 144,000-square-foot Waco Convention Center in Waco. Other larger venues in town include the Extraco Events Center, Hoffman Hall, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Brazos Event Center. At Baylor University, McLane Stadium's Baylor Club can accommodate up to 400.

Abilene to Amarillo: always Hard at Work

West of Fort Worth by 150 miles, the railway town of Abilene enjoys an average of 244 sunny days a year. At Frontier Texas, a heritage museum, the bulk of its some 75,000 square feet event space is outside. If you've got some history buffs (or budding ghost hunters) in your group, lead them up Fort Phantom Hill, just outside town, to explore the ruins of an 1851 Army post.

The Abilene Civic Center is the hub for many group functions, with 110,000 square feet of space. Three blocks south, the historic Paramount Theatre seats up to 1,199, and near that is the Grace Museum, whose six spaces include a rooftop for receptions. Another 100 miles northeast, near Graham, the Wildcatter Ranch offers accommodations and meeting facilities for groups of up to 100.

Farther north, and not far from the Oklahoma border, Wichita Falls draws all kinds of organizations each year. Groups that have recently hosted events in town include the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Texas Extension Education Association and the Texas Travel Industry Association. The major venue in the area is the Wichita Falls Multi-Purpose Event Center, which can host conventions of up to 1,200 and is attached via a footbridge to the J.S. Bridwell Agricultural Center. Also part of the complex are the Kay Yeager Coliseum and the Memorial Auditorium.

The River Bend Nature Center has both indoor and outdoor venues, the highlight of which is the 7,000-square-foot Elizabeth Prothro Pavilion, which can seat upwards of 300 people and overlooks a forest. Other options in town include The Plex, the Kemp Center for the Arts and the Wellington Banquet & Conference Center, which recently welcomed the annual conference of the County Treasurers' Association of Texas.

Lubbock, in the heart of the Texas Panhandle, is also a favorite meeting destination for many groups. The Western Writers of America, the Texas State Independent Living Council, the Texas Geocaching Association and the Association of Desk & Derrick Clubs are just some of the recent visitors.

One of the more unique attractions is the American Wind Power Center, located just east of downtown, where attendees can admire rare versions of the windmill as well as the 6,000-square-foot Legacy of the Wind mural. There's also traditional event space for groups and a 33,000-square-foot exhibit building in the works that will include a 120-seat classroom. Also nearby is the Bayer Museum of Agriculture, with historic artifacts and a conference center for up to 300 people.

Downtown, the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center is undergoing a renovation; its Civic Center Theater and the Moe Turner Banquet Hall are both closed for refurbishments, which are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

On the Texas Tech University campus, groups can hold events at the United Spirit Arena, the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center and Jones AT&T Stadium. Next door, the City Bank Auditorium & Coliseum have 2,754 and 6,904 seats, respectively. A Hyatt Place is scheduled to open in December with 125 guest room and two meeting spaces. The Arbor Hotel & Conference Center recently opened with 100 guest rooms and 3,000 square feet of meeting space.

To the north is the city of Amarillo and the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, featuring more than 410,000 square feet of meeting space. Also downtown is the Tri-State Fairgrounds and the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum, whose Great Hall can host receptions and dinners. Small groups (up to 160) can host secluded events at the Mack Dick Pavilion right in the middle of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, and the Amarillo Botanical Gardens has five outdoor event spaces and three indoors.

Construction recently started on a new Embassy Suites, set to open in summer 2017 with 225 guest rooms and more than 17,000 square feet of event space. In other hotel news, the former Ambassador Hotel is now a Wyndham property (and is undergoing renovations), and the Holiday Inn Holidome is now the Amarillo Inn & Suites.

The Working Ranch Cowboy Association has been holding its World Championship Ranch Rodeo in town for two decades. In November, the four-day event is expected to attract more than 40,000 visitors to the Amarillo Civic Center and require the use of 12 local hotels for accommodation. "The Amarillo area is mostly central in location to participants that compete as well as a large number of our spectators coming from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado," said Mandy Morton, the association's manager. "The relationships built within the community have kept the event in Amarillo even as other cities have pursued it. The convention and visitor council has been very accommodating to our needs during the event as a whole and leading up to the event."

West Texas: Natural Riches

You can't think of the great Texan outdoors without considering Big Bend National Park, where many go to wander the wilds of Texas and spend time looking for any of the more than 450 species of birds who call the park home. The only overnight lodging in the park is the 72-room Chisos Mountains Lodge, with a patio and special dining event space. In addition, Big Bend Overland Tours can customize guided tours.

Visitors to El Paso can follow the historic paths of the Mission Trail, which stretches back more than 400 years and encompasses some of the oldest parts of the city. Organizations that have taken in all the city has to offer of late include the Texas Association for Bilingual Education, the Association of Women's Business Centers and the National Pan American Golf Association.

The El Paso Convention Center features 133,100 square feet of exhibit space and 14,900 square feet of meeting space, and next door is the Abraham Chavez Theatre. Other nearby venues include the Plaza Theatre, the El Paso Museum of Art and the McKelligon Canyon Amphitheatre & Pavilion.

At the El Paso Museum of History, the new TouchCity Digital History Wall opened late last year and boasts the first of its type outside of Europe; the interactive feature brings to life the region's history and culture with hundreds of images. And on the hotel front, the downtown Hotel Indigo is expected to open in January with 119 guest rooms and 1,587 square feet of meeting space. Looking ahead, an Aloft property is scheduled to open next November.

The oil town of Odessa is about 200 miles to the east and is home to the MCM Grandé Hotel. Other local choices include the Ector County Coliseum and the Globe of the Great Southwest.

Halfway between Dallas and El Paso is Midland, where the main meeting space is the Midland Center & Centennial Plaza, with 12,500 square feet of exhibit space and four meeting rooms for up to 200. Also popular with planners are the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and the Petroleum Museum, which offers event space for up to 500 people and is undergoing an $18 million renovation that is expected to finish in spring 2016. And at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena Complex, the new Horseshoe Pavilion opened early this year with 52,000 square feet for conventions and trade shows as well as a concert venue for up to 5,619 people. Also on-site is a new amphitheatre with floor and lawn seating for up to 4,500.

Positive Growth

A meeting planner's dream is to see their attendees blossom and witness inspired thinking take root and grow. In North and West Texas, this is always possible. And with cities' ever-growing commitment to protecting and promoting their green spaces, destinations in these regions have become even more innovative places to convene.