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Lubbock: A new spin

Courtesy American Wind Power Center

Look at Lubbock from the air, and you’ll immediately understand why it is called “Hub City.” Five major highways spin around the city in the shape of a wagon wheel hub.

Being in the middle of such an extensive transportation network has also made this West Texas town of 230,000 a hub for meetings, despite its rather remote location 125 miles south of Amarillo and 345 miles west of Dallas.

Part of the appeal is a broad landscape where the roping and ranching and other elements of cowboy culture abide.

Cowboys congregate

Among Lubbock’s premier yearly gatherings is the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration, which attracts 18,000 to 20,000 visitors for five days each September. Lubbock is also home to the National Ranching Heritage Center, hosts several rodeos and has numerous Western wear shops.

But Lubbock is more than boots, cowboy hats and a wide-open range.

It has a rich musical heritage (Buddy Holly is its best-known native son), a growing reputation for wineries and, most evenings, a spectacular West Texas sunset. And it is home to Texas Tech University, an anchor for downtown and its meeting venues.

“Texas Tech is the center of town, and most meeting facilities ring the university,” said Amy Zientek, director of sales for the Lubbock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Overton’s arrival alters landscape
The meeting landscape was altered three years ago when the 15-story Overton Hotel and Conference Center opened near campus in a once-downtrodden neighborhood.

The 303-room hotel and its 20,000-square-foot conference center have brought business back to the city. “Groups that haven’t been to Lubbock in a long time are eager to book with us, and we get a lot of business out of Austin,” said Marcie Reno, Overton sales director.

“Another big market is sports. We are right across from Texas Tech. A lot of baseball, basketball, volleyball, and track teams come here because of proximity to the university.”

Corporate and association meetings are strong at the hotel, where meeting space consists of two divisible ballrooms, a breakout room for 60 and two 14-person boardrooms.

“A good meeting size for us is 200 people, although we can host bigger and lots of smaller,” said Reno. “I would like more exhibit space. We have a great prefunction area that is used for exhibits, but meetings just keep growing and growing.”

For example, the Texas Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus changed the format of its annual conference so that it could use the Overton.

The association usually holds a large trade show concurrently with its meeting. “They couldn’t do that here, so they rearranged their trade show to day one, followed by their meeting,” said Reno. “It worked out well, but they were afraid some people wouldn’t come in for the trade show.”

That was remedied by a creative opening-night reception that brought in attendees.

“They had a ‘Love Boat’ theme with cruise ship buffets and sessions on how to fold napkins into swans,” said Reno.

The hotel’s largest piece of business to date was an 11th-hour international cotton conference.

“It was planned way in advance at a foreign destination, but at the last minute, there was some civil unrest; so they called U.S. headquarters in Washington, D.C., who said they needed to have it in Texas,” said Reno.

“The meeting brought in 500 people. We were completely sold out. It was crazy and overwhelming with five different languages and currencies, but we did a great job.”

Locally, the Texas Cotton Association gathers each year in Lubbock, a nod to the city’s impact on the cotton industry.

“Lubbock provides the largest cotton crop in the United States,” said Kandice Poteet, executive vice president for the Texas Cotton Association.

Although the group has met in Lubbock for decades, Poteet pointed out that its meetings are much better accommodated with the addition of the Overton.

“It has the latest technology, is clean and upscale, and is really well done,” she said.
The Overton also has helped spur revitalization in the neighborhood around it.

“It’s the anchor of Overton Park, which has grown in the last four years or so,” said Reno. “It has new restaurants, shopping and nightlife. There’s a lot to do within walking distance. It used to be considered the Tech ghetto with student housing. It was not a great part of town 10 years ago. A private investor took over, the hotel went in, and everything changed.

“Now because of a downtown redevelopment project there are nice apartments and an upscale take-out deli/wine bar/grocery store with gourmet student-sized portions.”

“Lubbock is in the second year of a 20-year downtown redevelopment project,” said Zientek. “It is the largest privately funded redevelopment project in the United States.”

Civic center site of 800 events a year
A number of city-run meeting facilities target large conventions and conferences. The largest is the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center downtown, where more than 800 events, attracting 800,000 people, are held each year.

Among them is the National Cowboy Symposium, which takes over the entire facility as well as a piece of land across the street where the chuck wagon competition is held.

Two hotels are across the street, the 294-room Holiday Inn Hotel and Towers, with 15,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 142-room Radisson Hotel, with 6,000 square feet of meeting space.

The city’s other major meeting property, the 201-room Holiday Inn Park Plaza, is located in the southwestern part of the city. It has more than 25,000 square feet of meeting space and is known for its atrium, the largest of any hotel in West Texas.

The civic center can accommodate groups as large as 5,000.

“We have a 40,000-square-foot column-free exhibit hall that can accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 people and a theater that can seat just under 1,400, which is great for general sessions,” said Freddy Chavez, civic services director for Lubbock. “And we have 12 breakout rooms.”

The center’s banquet hall seats 1,400; a 28,000-square-foot pedestrian mall recently removed a water feature to accommodate more people.

“State associations are our biggest market; also religious markets, as well as university-related meetings,” said Zientek. “The average group size is 400 to 500; but this summer, Lubbock hosted the state Future Farmers of America convention, which brought in 10,000.”

An outdoor option for dinners or speakers is a city-owned amphitheater on the east side of downtown where local productions are performed in the summer.

The city also maintains the City Bank Auditorium, which is used for Broadway productions, and the City Bank Coliseum, used mostly for rodeos and concerts.

Texas Tech donated the two facilities to the city when it opened the 15,000-seat multipurpose United Spirit Arena. The arena is the largest convention space on campus with 31,916 square feet of space on the arena floor, an 81,000-square-foot concourse and a conference center, where four rooms of  1,300 square feet each can be combined into one large space or used individually; retractable air walls divide the space.

The Texas Tech Club at Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium can accommodate meetings, receptions and banquets in a space that provides an excellent view of the football field on the east and west sides.

Among the benefits of a $25 million stadium expansion are new suites, including one for up to 60 that can be booked for groups, and a function area above the suites for groups of up to 200.

Ranching center expands
At the National Ranching Heritage Center, the story of ranching in North America is told through the preservation of 48 structures dating from the late 1700s through the 1950s.

The center opened a 4,000-square-foot addition in October, a project that combines new construction and the largest renovation of existing space in the museum’s 35-year history.

“The new main gallery is available for banquets and other functions, and is able to seat between 250 and 300 people,” said Marsha Pfluger, associate director of the center.

The center’s grounds are also used for events.

“Groups have chuck-wagon dinners there,” Zientek said. “They dig holes in the ground for dutch oven dinners and have barn dances in the pavilions.”

Depot District entertains
The hub of Lubbock nightlife is the Depot Entertainment District, six blocks from the Overton. The area, filled with restaurants and bars, has been around since the 1950s but was officially given its name in 2005, said Zientek. It is there that visitors are reminded of the city’s best-known musical son.

A statue of Holly was recently moved to a plaza outside the Buddy Holly Center, located in a former train depot in the district.

A walk of fame that celebrates other area musicians, such as Mac Davis, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings and Tanya Tucker, now serves as a backdrop to the statue. In front of the museum are gigantic Buddy Holly glasses, a popular photo op.

“Because of the Buddy Holly connection, groups often build their theme around one of his songs, such as ‘That’ll Be the Day’ or ‘Rave On,’” said Zientek. When they do, they often visit the Buddy Holly memorabilia.

Blushes, merlots and moscatoes

Lubbock’s five wineries are popular off-site venues.

“The area is known for its blushes, merlots, cabernets, and more recently, its moscatoes,” said Charles Yancey, tasting room manager at the Cap Rock Winery. On the outskirts of Lubbock, this winery hosts dinners of up to 250 people in the Barrel Room of the Spanish-Mission-style building.

“A new winery that opened a couple of years ago in the depot district is McPherson Cellar, located in a renovated Coca-Cola building,” said Zientek. “It has wonderful function space for receptions or dinners with wine tastings and tours.”

Learn about glider pilots

The Silent Wings Museum in the old airport terminal north of the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport is another venue possibility.

“You can’t do a sit-down there, but it is a fascinating place for a standing reception,” said Zientek. “Lubbock is where about 75 percent of glider pilots in World War II trained, and the museum tells the story.”

A venue-in-the-making is a new clubhouse at Texas Tech’s Rawls Golf Course, named the third-best university golf course in America by Golfweek.

The 22,000-square-foot clubhouse will have a pavilion with a view of the course for meetings and events. The project should be completed next year, said Zientek.

When it is, visitors, no doubt, will rave on.