The DFW Metroplex Offers a Wealth of Venues for Meetings and Events
Dallas skyline. Credit: Travel Texas
Spanning 268,597 square miles, Texas is the land of plentiful opportunity—and people are answering the call.
Sources including Move.org place Texas as the second-most moved-to state overall last year, with the Texas Realtors’ 2021 Texas Relocation Report finding that the Lone Star State has gained 500,000-plus new residents for the last seven years in a row.
Encompassing 9,286 square miles and 11 counties, the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex continues to prove especially magnetic.
Fort Worth, at 24%, was the fastest-growing big city in Texas between 2010 and 2020. Leading workforce mobility association Worldwide ERC reports that the five largest Metroplex suburbs of Allen, Denton, Frisco, McKinney and Plano have roughly doubled in size over the last 12 years. Home to 23 Fortune 500 companies and a $620 billion economy that is outpacing New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the Metroplex was a leading center of professional relocation during COVID-19.
For groups, this scale translates into superabundant program choice and diversity. Here is the bullish post-pandemic view from local leaders, plus profiles of McKinney and Denton and recommendations for offsite fun.
[Related: The Magic of Murals and Public Art in Texas]
New Developments and Planner Optimism Define the Scene
The construction cranes are swinging in Dallas as America’s eighth-fastest growing city stays on a hotel development hot streak. Lodging Econometrics reported that as of Q2 2022, Dallas led the nation with a record-high 173 projects totaling 20,707 rooms in the pipeline. Other rankings include first in the nation for hotels in early planning (93 projects/10,517 rooms); second for starts in the next 12 months (55 projects/6,465 rooms); and third for hotels currently under construction (25 projects, adding 3,725 rooms).
This increasing key count complements the game-changing $2 billion expansion of the Dallas Convention Center District, scheduled for a 2029 completion. With group bookings presently at 99.88% of pre-COVID pace, Visit Dallas President and CEO Craig Davis (see Q&A below) is among other Metroplex leaders looking confidently ahead.
New development is also the headline in neighboring Arlington, where excitement is building for the 2024 debut of the Loews Arlington Hotel and connected new Loews Arlington Convention Center.
“More than $2 billion in new developments have created our stunning Convention Campus,” said Arlington CVB president & CEO Brent DeRaad. “The highly anticipated new Arlington Convention Center and Loews Hotel brings another 888 rooms and 216,000 square feet of function space to the city. Combined with the Esports Stadium Arlington + Expo Center, Arlington ISD Performing Arts Center, Texas Live! and our world-class stadiums, the ever-evolving District delivers an incredible experience for events of all sizes.”
With full-scale meetings and group business still rising back to robust pre-pandemic levels, DeRaad is seeing real optimism from planners.
“The current booking pace continues to improve amid short-term meetings and a reduced booking window,” he said. “New opportunities continue to increase in step with increasing lead volume.”
He added that “Arlington is an excellent place to hold a conference and then hang out after-hours. From art museums, public art trails, concerts and theater to scenic outdoor recreation spots, golf courses and international food corridors, Arlington has something for everyone.”
With dynamic new and updated outdoor event spaces, Irving is also expanding its multi-faceted appeal.
“We remain well-positioned for meetings and events,” said Irving CVB Executive Director Maura Gast, who has championed the city now for 30-plus years. “Safety protocols remain standard operating procedures. Working around supply chain adventures, our food and beverage professionals can flexibly and reliably deliver the desired experience. We also utilized federal relief funds to implement safety, operating and aesthetic improvements, and to provide marketing and sales campaigns to let our customers know we are ready for them when they are ready to come back.”
Planner sentiment is strong as group and transient corporate travel rebound.
“With each ‘first time back” event, we see first-hand the power of people at their best when meeting in-person,” Gast said. “People are joyful and relieved to be off the small screen and back live. While concerns about airline capacity, the B.A. 5 variant and Monkeypox have the calendar in flux, our pace for 2023 and beyond remans on target.”
Returning groups can expect an increasingly diverse product mix.
“The Toyota Music Factory is in full gear, there are new waterfront favorites at Water Street, and beautiful new outdoor options at Williams Square Plaza, Levy Event Plaza and Heritage Park,” Gast said. “Irving remains one of the most geographically convenient destinations, with direct flights from just about everywhere and an efficient and easy highway system. Many Irving hotels are undergoing exciting renovations, and new properties are opening, too.”
Ever-expanding Plano is experiencing a buoyant uplift as it extends a hearty welcome back to groups.
“Driven by our SMERF and association segments, our meetings and events have been on a tremendous growth curve since July 2021,” said Visit Plano Executive Director Mark Thompson, another well-known industry veteran. “As corporate groups slowly bounce back, planner sentiment is the highest it has been in the last two-plus years. Plano bookings are at a pre-pandemic pace and there are definite opportunities for new groups with flexible event dates.”
DFW International and Love Field airports are just 20 miles away, and once in town, delegates can easily walk to dozens of restaurants and entertainment venues that satisfy all tastes and price ranges.
“Understanding that meetings need to deliver the utmost in value now more than ever, we help planners maximize the success of their event by offering additional services or financial support as needed,” Thompson said.
Eye on McKinney
Named for pioneer and land surveyor Collin McKinney, who helped draft and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836, this historic agricultural center, named the seat of Collin County in 1848, offers vintage charm and unique group options.
“Located 30 miles north of Dallas with easy access from highways and DFW International and Love Field airports, as well as our acclaimed McKinney National Airport, McKinney is attractive to travelers from afar and close by,” said Visit McKinney Executive Director Aaron Werner.
Centered around the historic downtown, which features more than 100 locally owned and operated shops, wineries, restaurants and other businesses, McKinney’s multi-faceted appeal attracts a wide range of groups.
“Recent bookings range from a sports officials’ conference, state associations and miniature book association to professional fraternities, regional meetings of national organizations and more,” Werner said. “Our team members proudly provide the utmost in Texas hospitality and best possible experience for attendees. And with exciting developments taking shape around town, our events become more memorable every year.”
Group draws include:
- Currently under renovation, The Grand Hotel is a 44-room boutique in McKinney’s historic downtown square. Versatile venues include the Grand Ballroom and attached top-rated Rick’s Chophouse and Rick’s Lounge.
- Updating the 1874 Collin County Courthouse, the 427-seat McKinney Performing Arts Center stages year-round concerts and other live entertainment, plus event rentals.
- Four miles from downtown, the 187-room Sheraton McKinney Hotel & Conference Center offers 20,000 square feet of space, breakout rooms, exhibit areas and free parking.
- Popular attractions include TUPPS Brewery, which is slated to unveil a new expanded location on late 2022 or early 2023. Rentals at Adriatica Village, an authentic Croatian-styled village, include The Sanctuary. The Hub121 entertainment district includes chef-driven restaurants and an outdoor amphitheater for live music and events. The 289-acre Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary features trails and museum spaces for corporate retreats or small meetings.
Denton: The Hidden Gem of the Metroplex
Birthplace of musician songwriter, and record producer Sylvester Stewart, best known for fronting legendary "psychedelic soul" group Sly and the Family Stone, the college town of Denton combines small town charm with big city arts, culture and other group amenities.
“Located 25 miles north from DFW International Airport, our dynamic city is the hidden gem in the DFW Metroplex that everyone is talking about,” said Ruben Perez, Discover Denton’s senior director, sales and services. “Groups can expect unique culinary concepts, from fine and casual dining to food trucks, along with craft breweries, outdoor parks and trails, historic museums and everything in between.”
Denton offers more than 2,500 hotel rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The hotel portfolio includes the 318-room AAA Four-Diamond and LEED Gold Certified Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center, offering 70,000 square feet of flexible space in 25 rooms. Other major hotel groups here include Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, IHG and Wyndham.
Unique venues include Hopper Ranch; industrial chic Studio E in historic Denton Square; Fortuna Winery; and storied circa-1929 Patterson-Appleton Arts, featuring the 5,000-square-foot the Festival Hall event and exhibition space.
Plus: Q&A with Craig Davis, President and CEO, Visit Dallas
Meetings Today: You joined Visit Dallas at the advent of COVID-19. How did you adjust?
Davis: During my tourism industry career, I’ve navigated through the effects of the Gulf Wars, 9/11, the 2008 economic downturn and now the pandemic. Each experience taught me the deep importance of connecting with our community and our team members to get through difficult times. During the pandemic, we put our original strategic plan aside to concentrate more on assisting community members suffering from job loss or facing the possibility of losing their business. We immediately turned our attention to assisting people seeking work, as well as promoting local businesses that remained open.
I’m proud that we renewed our operating contract with the city during COVID-19, and that our sales team increased our competitive share of Cvent leads and sold room nights during that unprecedented time. We connected with customers to act as a resource throughout, and were, in many cases, the first city that people turned to for their business as the pandemic’s impacts lessened.
The pandemic made me more patient and aware of the way people work, wherever they choose to do their jobs. I learned that people can be very productive in and out of the office.
What COVID-19 lessons are you applying going forward?
Throughout the pandemic, our commitment to both health and safety and to being flexible showed planners that Dallas could remain a top destination for their meetings. From hybrid site inspections with health kits to customizing and personalizing sites to meet everyone’s comfort level, we went the extra mile to meet everyone’s needs and are continuing to utilize that flexibility and mindset.
How is Dallas positioned for the return of groups?
Meetings have been back since about April 2021. At first, attendance was lower and slower for larger event pick-up, and smaller events were smaller. Demand was high for new leads, however, and room nights per lead are now increasing, up 43%, though lead volume is at 86% of pre-COVID levels. Our convention center groups are picking up at higher levels, some exceeding 2019 attendance, especially tradeshows. Demand for larger convention center meetings is rapidly growing. Decision timeframes are a bit longer, as some groups still want to see how their 2022 event goes before making longer-term commitments.
How is current planner sentiment toward Dallas?
Very positive! Dallas has been back open for business longer than other destinations, which many planners view positively because of our commitment to GBAC STAR guidelines and our experience working with other groups on attendance requirements that we can share. Our group re-booking rate is about 75%, with attendance averaging between 65%-75% of pre-COVID levels. Our current booking pace is at 105.65% over the 10-year period it measures, representing 99.88% of pre-COVID pace.
What do you like most about Dallas?
I grew up in Canada, the land of “nice,” and people in Dallas, who insist that people succeed, especially transplants, give Canadians a run for their money. My wife Kathleen and I have made many lasting friendships. Dallas is a sophisticated, high-end city in terms of services, dining options, housing, education and quality of life. I also love that with most residents coming from diverse backgrounds, Dallas is a truly multicultural city.