Texas has a proud history, but its thriving modern cities and towns bring technology, innovation and energy to meetings in the Lone Star State. Here is a small sampling of event sites in Texas with a more contemporary flair.
Llano Estacado Winery
Llano Estacado Winery is the largest premium winery in Texas and the second-oldest winery in Lubbock. Founded in 1976 by a chemistry professor at Texas Tech University, the site is known for its 52 varieties of Spanish wines. The professor was curious if grapes could flourish in west Texas, which is predominantly known for its cotton. He started growing grapes in his backyard and would have his students make wine in class, said Stephanie Irvin, event manager at the winery.
He finally decided to open a winery, which runs tours every day except Monday, when the tasting room is closed. The winery has a couple of event spaces for meetings and conferences. A smaller conference room seats 16 people, but the lobby of the winery’s events center, which used to be the winery’s old tasting room, makes a lovely spot for cocktail parties. Groups of up to 250 people can be accommodated in the winery’s events center.
“When we are having meetings and conferences here, people want a tasting and a tour,” said Irvin. “That’s our big selling point. There’s nothing better after a meeting than having a glass of wine or two. We offer those at a discounted rate.”
There is a three-acre on-site estate vineyard where the winery experiments with different varieties of grapes. Most of the winery’s wines are made with Texas-grown grapes. The winery hosts lots of weddings, baby and bridal showers, and family reunions. It also hosts four big festivals throughout the year, where it tries to pair its wines with different types of food.
The Woodlands Resort is a natural oasis about 30 minutes from Houston. In the Texas Piney Woods and surrounded by 200 miles of nature trails, the resort and conference center, which is more than 40 years old, has much to offer event planners. The 402-room resort, which underwent a $60 million expansion in 2014, has 60,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space and 33 meeting rooms that can accommodate 600 to 750 attendees classroom-style or 1,400 attendees theater-style.
When people are not attending workshops, cocktail parties or meals together, they have access to two championship golf courses, a tennis center, a spa, Forest Oasis: Lazy River and Waterpark, and four restaurants. The resort also offers creative breakout sessions for conference-goers, like iron chef cooking competitions and wellness programs.
For the cooking challenges, teams work together to create signature dishes under the direction of the Woodlands Resort’s top chefs. The Pit Crew Challenge gives teams a chance to act as a NASCAR pit crew, finding the quickest and most efficient way to change the tires and make repairs on their vehicle. The Amazing Race-Style Customized Scavenger Hunt gives groups a chance to discover clues to the hunt using their smartphones’ GPS and includes activities such as biking, stand-up paddleboarding, pedal boat races, kayaking and running.
“It is a destination in its own right based on what they have going on with the woodlands waterway and trails,” said Amanda Clark, media relations for the Woodlands Resort. “You are part of a smaller hub but have the opportunity to see nature and be by the water.”
Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary
Organizations planning a corporate retreat in McKinney, Texas, should consider the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary. The science discovery center, which opened in 1967, has a ropes course and a zip line that are perfect for team-building exercises. When the area wetlands are full of water, the museum also offers canoe courses.
The founder, Bessie Heard, “had some money and wanted to use that money to support a certain vision she had for the future, of people being able to spend time in nature like it was before we had European settlement,” said Stephanie Jennings, marketing and communications director for the museum.
With that in mind, the grounds of the 289-acre sanctuary are not manicured like other parks. The museum land includes wetlands with a boardwalk across it, bottomland forest and prairie. Animal exhibits include abandoned exotic pets that people illegally took from the wild, Texas birds and snakes. There also is a Native Texas Butterfly Garden and House and a Native Plant Garden.
“It is a really beautiful area and people get to have another way to experience nature,” Jennings said.
The museum has two large meeting halls with breakout rooms; banquet and reception halls with adjoining kitchens; and an outdoor terrace perfect for dinners, weddings, corporate events and receptions. The 500-seat outdoor amphitheater is also available.
Heard was a lifelong collector of natural things and nature-based art. It is her collection that makes up the bulk of the museum’s indoor displays.
“Our major asset is the nature preserve, and we try to incorporate that into most, if not all, educational programs,” Jennings said.
El Paso Museum of Art
The ultramodern El Paso Museum of Art was founded in 1959 because the city needed a place to house a significant art collection that was donated to the city by the Samuel Kress Foundation. The collection included works by Botticelli, Canaletto, van Dyck and other Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance masters. Over time, the collection grew to more than 7,000 works, including American and Mexican art. In 1988, the museum moved to its current location in the heart of El Paso’s Downtown Arts District. The museum is also home to an art school, which has three studio classrooms: one dedicated to ceramics, one to printmaking and painting, and one for other art mediums. Students of all ages can come to the museum to take art classes.
The museum is also a great place to host events. The museum’s contemporary gallery can hold 500 people or 250 people seated. The lobby also plays host to many different events and performances, and there is a rentable auditorium as well. The museum’s mezzanine hosts many exhibitions and gallery openings. Groups that rent out space in the museum are free to explore the exhibits during their event. The museum is free and open to the public every day except Monday.
Mesquite Arts Center
The city of Mesquite purchased an old hospital in 1995 and turned it into a performing arts complex. Half of the building was turned into the Mesquite Arts Center, which is home to the Mesquite Symphony Orchestra, and the other half was developed into the Black Box Theater, home of the Mesquite Community Theatre.
When those organizations are not using the space, conference planners use it for concerts, meetings, weddings and parties, fashion shows, trade shows and exhibits. The rehearsal hall, next to the concert hall, is a good location for meetings. The center recently upgraded the projection screen and projector in that. A library upstairs can accommodate about 40 people in a seminar-style meeting, but bridal parties have also used the space as the bridal changing room. A conference room in the building can accommodate about 15 people.
Erica Guajardo, assistant manager of the Mesquite Arts Center, said the Mesquite Arts Center just upgraded its floors to look more modern and has also put more effort into making the gallery-driven hallways more contemporary.
“Recently the galleries have been a once-a-month turnaround,” she said. “We will be doing quarterly exhibitions.” The chamber gallery will focus on local Mesquite artists; the main gallery will feature more high-end “contemporary, mind-blowing art that is going to grab your attention and is going to have a name associated with it.”