School spirit, like the state, is oversized in Texas, from sold-out stadiums for football games to amazing tailgating that inevitably includes thousands of fans who eat smoked brisket, pulled pork, chicken and ribs as they toast their favorite teams.
Meeting planners hosting events in these Texas college towns can incorporate some of that game-day excitement into their events, from tours of campus to visits by famous team mascots.
The city of San Marcos has an incredible relationship with Texas State University and hosts many large conferences and events on campus. Groups that want to add a bit of university flair can have the school’s nationally known mariachi group perform or the school’s ROTC program present the colors at opening sessions.
The LBJ Student Center has two large ballrooms, one that can host 336 people at rounds and another that can seat 408 for a banquet. Several smaller rooms handle breakout sessions. The university also manages The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, at the headwaters of the San Marcos River. Smaller meeting groups can have an off-site reception there that includes a glass-bottom boat tour on Spring Lake.
One of the largest meeting venues in town is the Embassy Suites by Hilton San Marcos Hotel and Conference Center, with 283 two-room suites and more than 70,000 square feet of meeting space. The facility handles banquets for up to 2,300. The Holiday Inn San Marcos Convention Center is a smaller meeting property.
At Wonderworld Cave, attendees can tour the earthquake-formed cave and take in breathtaking views of the surrounding Texas Hill Country from its observation deck. A grassy area is large enough to have an event with food, live music or other entertainment.
Home to the Texas A&M University Aggies, College Station is the consummate college town, with two entertainment districts and plenty of restaurants and bars. Meeting planners can tap into that university energy by bringing in A&M’s Aggie Yell Leaders or the Aggie Wranglers country-western dance team to pump up the crowd. Another option? Scheduling a visit from Reveille X — an American rough-coat collie known as the First Lady of Aggieland and Texas A&M’s official mascot — and her Corps of Cadets handler.
The city has 250,000 square feet of meeting space and more than 4,500 hotel rooms in 40 properties. Many top meeting spaces are on the A&M campus, as well as several full-service conference hotels. The Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, on campus near Kyle Field, has a banquet capacity of 800, and the Hilton College Station has more than 300 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet of meeting space. The George and Cavalry Court are boutique hotels that anchor the Century Square entertainment district near campus. Together, they have 303 guest rooms and nearly 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Northgate is another large entertainment district for college students and alumni returning to relive their college days. Because of its deep-rooted sports history, the city is a major sports destination. The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is an elegant off-site meeting venue, and attendees will also want to explore the 12-acre Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial.
Laredo, which sits on the border with Mexico, is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. It’s proximity to Mexico gives it a wealth of Tex-Mex cuisine. Located within a two-hour drive of Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and home to Texas A&M International University, the city has become a popular meeting destination.
The Laredo Convention and Visitors Bureau has a wonderful relationship with the university, and they work together to host major conferences and events. The university has plenty of meeting venues, including a large ballroom in the student activities center that can accommodate up to 800 people. The university also has a planetarium, where groups can host lectures or show 3D movies. Outdoor event spaces abound on campus, which make it possible to see some of the city’s abundant wildlife, like white-tailed deer and javelinas.
Groups can host appearances by the university’s cheerleading team or work with the university to bring in knowledgeable guest speakers to liven up their events.
About 1,000 of Laredo’s 4,000 hotel rooms are in the entertainment district near the university. There is a stadium there, as well as several restaurants and bars.
Groups can book spaces in the stadium or in the clubhouse, with room for up to 400 people. The Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course clubhouse offers beautiful views of the river and Mexico, and the Laredo Center for the Arts and Border Heritage Museum also make special off-site venues.
Groups meeting in Lubbock can soak up some college spirit by inviting guests like Raider Red, Texas Tech University’s costumed mascot; the Masked Rider, who looks a lot like Zorro with his black hat and flowing cape; or the university’s Spirit Squad. All appear free of charge.
In their free time, attendees can tour the university’s athletic fields or the Texas Tech Public Art Collection, which was recently ranked in the top 10 outdoor museums in the nation by Fodor’s Travel. Local attractions such as The Museum of Texas Tech University, National Ranching Heritage Center, Lubbock Lake Landmark and the Rawls Golf Course, an NCAA championship course, are all associated with the university and can be incorporated into a group’s visit.
Texas Tech has several state-of-the-art meeting facilities, such as Jones AT&T Stadium/Texas Tech Club, which can host groups of 400, and United Supermarkets Arena, which has three meeting facilities, including the City Bank Conference Center, Club Red and Arena Concourse. The city’s full-service hotels include the Cotton Court Hotel, designed to look like a 19th-century cotton gin; the MCM Elegante; Overton Hotel and Conference Center and DoubleTree by Hilton.
Off-site venues include the National Ranching Heritage Center, the Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences and the American Windmill Museum.
The home of Texas Christian University, Fort Worth wasn’t always as civilized as it is now. Originally settled in 1849 as an army outpost along the Trinity River, Fort Worth was one of eight forts built to protect settlers from Native American attacks on the frontier. The cattle industry was king, with the historic Chisholm Trail wending its way through town.
Visitors to the city can tap into this historic cattle drive tradition daily in the city’s Stockyards National Historic District. Every day, cowhands herd Texas longhorns through the streets of the district to the delight of the crowds. Meeting attendees interested in spending time in the city before or after their conference can visit Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, the Fort Worth Zoo and American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum. They also can tour TCU’s campus, which is about three miles from downtown.
Meeting planners have their choice of meeting venues in the city, including the Fort Worth Convention Center, with 253,226 square feet of exhibit space and 58,849 square feet of flexible meeting space in the heart of downtown. First-class hotels, restaurants, shops, galleries and performance venues surround the center, and some of them make great off-site venues. The Will Rogers Memorial Center has a coliseum, auditorium, exhibit halls and equestrian facilities, while Dickies Arena is a multipurpose facility that can host concerts, graduation ceremonies, outdoor festivals and events.
There are more than 12,000 hotel rooms in the city, many located near downtown and the historic Stockyards.