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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Oklahoma City: Southwest Superstar

Oklahoma City is about as close as you can get to the center of the United States. That makes it easy for meeting delegates to travel there from all parts of the country. And they do. But location alone isn’t what makes this up-and-coming Midwest town sparkle. OKC is on the rise and full of big-city amenities for meeting participants.

“Oklahoma City’s downtown central business district has changed tremendously over the past 20 years,” said Mike Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. Carrier traces that transformation to the community’s decision to pass dedicated, temporary one-cent sales taxes to fund public projects. It has produced an arena that’s home for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, a beautiful canal system in the historic Bricktown entertainment district, upgraded parks, a revitalized riverfront and much more. A light rail system is being planned. New hotels and restaurants quickly followed the upgrades. The total value of the public investments from the tax since 1993 is about $5 billion.

Examples of conferences and meetings that were held recently in Oklahoma City are the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Sports Commissions, the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, the National Sports Forum and the Oklahoma Indiana Gaming Association.


Meeting Venues

The Cox Convention Center is Oklahoma City’s biggest meeting facility, though not for long. The Cox center has 150,000 square feet of meeting space. The adjacent Chesapeake Energy Arena seats 18,000. A new convention center is scheduled to open in 2019 and will offer double the exhibit space of the current facility and add many more modern features.

Want a touch of the Old West with your meeting? A popular Oklahoma City venue is the remarkable National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the premier collector of authentic American Western history. The site has a 16,500-square-foot ballroom that can seat up to 1,100 people and a 2,000-square-foot boardroom that can handle 110 guests for dinner and other activities. The busy museum holds 280 client events a year, a quarter of them meetings. Many are tied to nonprofits and fundraising.

“We also do many convention off-site events,” said Charlene Ferris, manager of facilities, sales and marketing for the museum. “Planners want to bring people to one of Oklahoma City’s best attractions, so they’ll bus in for one night of their event. They’ll visit the galleries and enjoy dinner and entertainment. They’re surprised by the variety of our Western art and artifacts.”

Science Museum Oklahoma is another interesting meeting choice. It has a nice theater and several smaller rooms for meetings. Meeting attendees can tour this stimulating facility and be fascinated by its live, up-close science demonstrations, the planetarium and megascreen films.

Remington Park Racing and Casino has 25 private and semiprivate banquet, party and meeting rooms of various sizes to consider for business meetings, classes, banquets and receptions. Some spaces overlook the track and are coveted during thoroughbred and quarter horse race meets.

“We have live horse-race action most of the year, casino gaming, as well as public and private catering,” said Christy McCormack, Remington’s group sales manager. The casino hums seven days a week.

Chevy Bricktown Events Center hosts concert, trade shows and special events. The venue, with its modern Art Deco design, draws standing-room and general-admission crowds of 1,800 and has theater seating for 1,100 or banquet seating for 650.


Hotel Growth

Oklahoma is experiencing a hotel boom. The new Aloft Oklahoma City Downtown-Bricktown hotel has 134 guest rooms and 5,000 square feet of meeting space. Among the new downtown hotels are the Hilton Garden Inn (155 rooms) and Homewood Suites by Hilton, with 100 rooms. Combined, those two hotels offer meeting planners 6,000 square feet. The Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites are being built in the Bricktown District. When the yet-to-be-named convention center opens in five years, another new hotel will rise next to it.

The largest downtown hotel is the Sheraton Hotel Oklahoma City, with 395 rooms. Another select place to stay nearby is the Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center Hotel, operated by Marriott. Attached to the Cox Center, it is a full-service, AAA Four Diamond hotel with 311 rooms and a skywalk. It boasts 70,000 square feet of meeting space and 25,000 square feet of ballroom space, the most total meeting space of any OKC hotel.

“Our hotel is the only one downtown that offers complimentary airport shuttle service for guests and groups,” said Tracy Swibold, director of sales and marketing.

Many associations, corporate staffs and people affiliated with sports events book this convenient hotel.

“We have team-building opportunities and nights out for groups,” Swibold said. “Everything’s in close proximity. They don’t have to spend much on transportation.”

If you’re a baseball fan and planning to stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites Bricktown, ask for “a ballpark room.” Pull open the blinds, and you might get a view over the left field fence of an Oklahoma City RedHawks game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, a few feet outside your window.

All together, the hotels in Oklahoma City have approximately 16,000 guest rooms; 2,058 of them are within walking distance of the downtown Cox Center. Those numbers will swell when the new hotels come online.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.