In a state as legendary as Texas, there’s no shortage of memorable places to meet.
Meeting planners interested in taking their Texas meetings and conferences to a different level should consider hosting events at these five Texas venues: a three-story European-style food hall, a historic downtown theater, a tropical island resort, a performing arts center in an old courthouse and a famous Route 66 landmark with a worldwide reputation.
Plaza Theatre Performing Arts Center
Built in 1930 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, El Paso’s historic Plaza Theatre has beautifully painted ceilings, mosaic-tile floors, decorative metal railings and a Mighty Wurlitzer Blaban III Organ, with 1,071 pipes that can simulate 15 different instruments. One of a handful of so-called atmospheric theaters left in the country, the theater’s design and painted flourishes make audience members feel like they are sitting in a lovely Spanish courtyard instead of in an enclosed theater.
After sitting vacant for 30 years, the theater was restored to its original splendor in 2006 with all the bells and whistles that make a good Broadway-style theater. The Kendall Kidd Performance Hall has 2,050 seats and is large enough to stage a large touring Broadway musical. It also makes a great spot for lectures, opening sessions and movie screenings.
The Philanthropy Theatre, above the main theater on the third level, can host groups of 200. The rooftop Alcantar Sky Garden is a beautiful outdoor space for receptions, mixers or ice-breakers of up to 130 people. Arts Festival Plaza, located between the Plaza Theatre and the El Paso Museum of Art, is another outdoor event space for larger groups.
Legacy Hall in Plano, one of the largest food halls in the country, features restaurants and food stalls curated by some of the city’s best chefs. The three-story, 55,000-square-foot European-style food hall, brewery and live music and entertainment venue is in Plano’s Legacy West development.
The full venue can accommodate up to 2,500 people and can be arranged to meet a group’s specific needs, whether it is live entertainment, bar packages or catering from any of the 20 eateries, with menus that include sushi, ramen, Indian food, barbecue and lobster rolls.
A covered second-floor terrace above the Box Garden entertainment venue and stage can host groups up to 200 people. Inside, the second floor can accommodate gatherings of up to 500. The third-floor bar is an industrial space embedded within a working brewery and includes its own private bar, German brat eatery and a terrace that overlooks the live music venue. It can accommodate up to 200 people.
The Box Garden has an entertainment stage, 24-foot LED screen, patio seating and a private bar for events up to 800 people. Tonic Bar and Lounge, on the second floor, is a chic space for groups of 30 to 120 that can serve as an indoor/outdoor space when the spacious patio doors are open wide on a beautiful day.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch and Starlight Ranch Event Center
Most people have heard of The Big Texan Steak Ranch, an Amarillo fixture on Route 66 since 1960. Its 72-ounce steak challenge is legendary and has attracted thousands of diners over the years. Challengers must eat a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad with roll, and a 72-ounce steak in an hour to get their meal free. Those who can’t finish the meal must pay full price.
In the past, groups could rent the restaurant for events, but it has gotten too busy for that . A couple of smaller rooms can be rented out in the restaurant, but to accommodate larger groups, the restaurant’s owners bought an abandoned water park less than a half mile from the restaurant and converted it into the Starlight Ranch Event Center.
The facility has a stage and space for concerts, special events, trade shows or company picnics for up to 5,000. An 18-hole miniature golf course is only open during concerts and events. In pre-COVID times, a vendor operated zip lines, and the owners hope to bring that back. Smaller events can take over the facility’s individual pavilions, with catering by The Big Texan. Larger groups can bring in food trucks or other caterers.
An 8,000-square-foot indoor facility is being built on property that could be available for rentals mid- to late 2022. The site also has a large RV park and a motel that is now an Airbnb.
Isla Grand Beach Resort
South Padre Island
The only tropical island in the state, South Padre Island is known as a major spring break and summer destination in Texas. With more than 34 miles of pristine beaches, most of its meeting venues have a great view of the bay or the Gulf of Mexico.
Among them is Isla Grand Beach Resort, a full-service resort on the beach in the southern part of the island, near all of the top attractions. It is a huge hit with attendees, thanks to 10 acres of tropical foliage and a long list of amenities: two swimming pools, hot tubs, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, a nightclub, restaurants, an outdoor burger shack grill and a coffee shop.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, there’s live entertainment daily. Meeting planners have their pick of 10,000 square feet of meeting and convention space that can accommodate groups of 10 in the boardroom or receptions up to 860 in the 6,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom. There are 10 function rooms, and the ballroom, which can host banquets for 400, can be split into four rooms.
The resort is the largest meeting facility on the island, with 128 cabana rooms and 65 two-bedroom condos with views of the Gulf of Mexico. Every room has a private patio or balcony with beach or garden views.
McKinney Performing Arts Center
The McKinney Performing Arts Center is a multi-purpose facility inside the city’s historic Collin County Courthouse, built in the late 1800s. The theater, which seats 427 on the main floor and balcony, is inside the old courtroom and can be used for live entertainment, off-Broadway and comedy shows, concerts and private events.
Other areas of the courthouse work as breakout spaces, including the first-floor gallery, perfect for intimate banquets, cocktail receptions or art exhibits. The gallery space was once a vault, so it has a heavy vault door. Noble Hall, a more intimate space with lots of windows and hardwood floors, can handle 75 people theater-style, while Ruschhaupt Hall can host 130 theater-style or 80 for a banquet with a dance floor. The room can also be divided into two.
The center’s staff can attend events to talk about the buildings history, which would include stories of Frank and Jessie James, who visited McKinney many times because they had a cousin who lived there. Because the building is historic, the original judge’s bench and witness stands are behind the stage. Occasionally, the old courthouse is used for actual trials because it can accommodate larger audiences than the new courthouse, which opened in 1979.