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Texas: Wide-open spaces, interesting places

Courtesy Nacogdoches CVB


The Hotel Fredonia says a lot about Texas’ oldest town. Opened in 1955, it was built because citizens decided their city needed a hotel. Locals bought shares in the hotel and financed its construction.

Today, under new ownership, the Fredonia is benefiting from a $1 million renovation. It has again become a downtown gathering place just as it was in 1955, when 6,000 people showed up for its grand opening.

Today’s guests are welcomed at a new restaurant, M. McKinneys, where the specialty is Texas Angus; at the Nine Flags Bar; and at a poolside patio, where live music plays Thursday through Saturday. “The restaurant provides catering for meetings, with customized menus with fabulous food,” said Sherri Skeeters, assistant director of the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Its 15,000 square feet of meeting space makes the hotel one of the town’s largest meeting venues.  Using other hotels to supplement its guest rooms,  the Hotel Fredonia can handle groups of up to 400. A 120-room Hilton Garden Inn with 4,000 square feet of meeting space, slated to open two miles from downtown in 2013, will further boost room and meeting space inventory.

Another downtown venue, also with a history, is the Nacogdoches Visitor’s Information Center. Housed in an old federal building that has stood on the downtown square since 1918, the center is an event venue.

“It has an outside stage on the backside of the building,” Skeeters said. “We can block off the red-brick streets and have an outdoor barbecue with live music. It makes it nice to stroll downtown. We can open up shops, and people can stroll back to the hotel. You can’t do that in every town.”

Although the Nacogdoches County Expo Center is primarily used for rodeos, monster-truck rallies, horse shows and agriculture conventions, a $6.2 million expansion is expected to make the center more versatile. A 37,000-square-foot community center, to open in late 2012, will have 14,900 square feet of meeting space.

For groups seeking an active outing, Zip Nac could be the answer. The new attraction opened last summer 10 minutes from town with five zip lines. Five more will be added across ponds on its 50-acre site. A meeting facility is also planned, said Skeeters.

“Zip Nac will easily be able to handle 200 [persons] when the meeting facility is completed,” said Skeeters.

A 120-room Hilton Garden Inn with up to 4,000 square feet of meeting space is slated to open in 2013.


Bryan-College Station
A new hotel, an expanded expo center, a recently opened brew pub and downtown renovations are among the developments in these two cities (population 170,000) midway between Austin and Houston.

In College Station, changes are under way on and near the campus of Texas A & M University. In October, a 126-room Four Points by Sheraton opened northeast of campus. It has a 2,200-square-foot divisible ballroom.

For those with Texas A&M connections, the renovation of Memorial Student Center (MSC) means revitalized meeting space to consider. The university is spending $110 million on improvements that should be completed in April. The renovation includes a 16,000-square-foot ballroom.

“Meetings here must be university affiliated,” said Sherry Wine, director of University Center Complex. If Aggie ties exist, it is worth checking out.

An expansion at the Brazos County Expo, located five miles northwest of campus, was completed this past spring and includes a new meeting facility with a 13,600-square-foot ballroom and two other meeting rooms. Other additions include a 75,000-square-foot covered arena; a 60,000-square-foot pavilion; a covered warm-up arena; and 1,548 parking spaces.

In addition to tourist draws such as the George Bush Presidential Museum, a new brew pub is attracting visitors.

“College Station’s newest attraction is New Republic Brewing, a local brewer that hosts tours for transient visitors every other Saturday or private tours for groups,” said Holli Conley, Bryan-College Station CVB public relations manager. “They get their inspiration from traditional German and English styles of beer and add a personal touch.”

In historic downtown Bryan, a move is underfoot to restore the Queen Theatre. The building opened as a hotel in the 1800s, became a theater in 1914 and underwent major renovation in 1939. A recent facade restoration true to the 1939 period has been completed, and the goal is to complete the interior restoration by 2014 for the theater’s 100th anniversary, said Conley.

When the project is completed, the theater will show movies but will also have a small stage for performances andwill be available for private events.


Two new hotel projects and a new airport passenger terminal have elevated Amarillo in meeting planners’ eyes.

The Courtyard Amarillo Downtown, the city’s only downtown property, opened a year ago.

Newcrest Hotels Ltd. turned the historic Fisk Building into a 10-story, 107-room hotel and received a Best Adaptive Reuse Award from the Texas Downtown Association for its $16 million project. The hotel has 1,660 square feet of meeting space, including a small boardroom.

Having a hotel is a boon for downtown, which has had hotels in the past, “but it’s been decades,” said Eric Miller, the CVB’s director of communications.

The newly renovated Holiday Inn Amarillo, one mile west of downtown, opened in August as Amarillo’s first full-service hotel in 26 years.

The 151-room hotel has a ballroom for dinners of up to 175, but one of its other selling points is 5,000-square-foot patio that is available for outdoor events.

For returning visitors arriving by air, Amarillo’s most striking change is a new passenger terminal at the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

“We opened our new passenger terminal at the airport in June,” said Miller. “A year ago, I overheard someone on his phone say, ‘I’m stuck in Amarillo at the world’s worst airport.’”
The terminal, which serves Southwest Airlines, American Eagle, Continental Express and United Express, is the complete opposite, said Miller.

“It’s beautiful,” said Miller. “It is night and day.”

In 2012, the city will launch an ad campaign to promote its downtown redevelopment. The first phase of the project will include a hotel with 25,000 square feet of meeting space downtown across from the Amarillo Civic Center. Also planned are a 650-space parking garage and a stadium for the city’s minor league baseball team — the Amarillo Sox.

“Meeting planners should know that things will be changing here,” said Miller.


Frisco is a great surprise for a suburban community, according to Marla Roe, executive director the Frisco CVB.

“You don’t find the scope of meeting space that we have, so much to do, the surrounding hotels, the sports, the retail and great atmosphere for handling small to large conventions.”

Twenty minutes north of Dallas, Frisco has 11 hotels and more in development, including a limited-service, all-suite property that will open next year. The city has more than 8 million square feet of retail and dining.

Frisco is also big on meeting space, home to the second-largest ballroom in Texas. At 42,000 square feet, the ballroom makes up almost half of the Frisco Conference Center.

Built in 2003, the conference center is connected to the 330-suite Embassy Suites Dallas-Frisco Hotel, Convention Center and Spa. Both are across the street from the Dr Pepper Arena.
The homes of Frisco’s four sports teams also play a role in the meetings and conventions as off-site venues, according to Roe.

Dr Pepper Arena is the team practice facility for Dallas Stars Hockey and home to Texas Tornado Hockey and Texas Legends basketball.

“It is great for everything from trade shows to galas,” said Roe.

“The soccer team, FC Dallas, plays at Pizza Hut Park, and the Frisco RoughRiders baseball team plays at the Dr Pepper Ballpark. All are within walking distance and use the same parking lot,” said Roe.

Several entertainment centers have sprung up in recent years.

Stikz, which specializes in corporate outings and team building, has 32 bowling lanes, laser tag, billiards and more. It recently added the Rose Room, with 12 private boutique bowling lanes for parties of up to 150.

With activities such as bowling, shuttleboard and a two-story gravity ropes course, among others, the Main Event has 10 meeting rooms.

Fieldhouse USA, which features basketball, soccer, football and volleyball, offers more team-building options,.