The main meeting spots in South Texas—McAllen, Harlingen, South Padre Island and Laredo—offer unique cultural charm and a more relaxed vibe than its northern counterparts. Planners looking to organize energetic events in sunny, laid-back atmospheres should take note of the following offerings in South Texas.
For five days in late July 2019, the MXLAN arts and culture festival rocked McAllen. Centered in the city’s convention district, the citywide celebration of live music, culture and authentic culinary experiences showcased the destination’s dynamic hosting prowess.
“McAllen is a cultural hub, combining influences from the U.S. and Mexico with a unique South Texas twist,” said Robert Lopez, interim vice president at Visit McAllen. “This identity, along with our geographic location and unbeatable value, gives meeting planners the opportunity to drive attendance by creating memorable experiences and offering its members quality educational courses in first-class facilities.”
Set amid palm trees and water features, the 91-acre Convention District is anchored by the McAllen Convention Center and surrounded by walkable resources.
Planners can access 500 hotel rooms, including the 150-suite Embassy Suites McAllen/Convention Center, offering 12,000 square feet of meeting space. Opened in November 2016, the 93,000-square-foot McAllen Performing Arts Center seats 1,800 people on three levels for headline entertainment ranging from Broadway shows to Tony Bennett. Center stage for MXLAN, Oval Park is prime turf for outdoor programming.
“With plentiful restaurants and shops nearby, the Convention District provides the planner’s wish list of convenience, functionality and experience, and it’s all within walking distance,” Lopez said.
McAllen Convention Center | Credit: Visit McAllen
Other essential McAllen group coordinates include:
- One of nine World Birding Center locations across the Rio Grande Valley, Quinta Mazatlan is an enchanting 1930’s Spanish Revival-style adobe mansion. Set on 20 verdant acres complete with walking trails, it serves both as a nature center and event venue.
- Versatile rentals at the Smithsonian-affiliated International Museum of Art & Science include the galleries, Industrial Lab and Creativity Central room.
- Home to nearly 40 restaurants, lounges, nightclubs and bars, McAllen’s Entertainment District is the social gathering hub for the region.
The city of Harlingen is heating up the Rio Grande Valley convention scene with the May 2019 debut of the long-awaited Harlingen Convention Center.
With its cream-brick facade and tall arched windows, the $16 million, 44,000-square-foot facility is a clear sign of Harlingen’s strengthening economy and group market aspirations. The city’s ambitions also include an attached 150-room, five-story Hilton Garden Inn. The $25 million project broke ground in spring 2019, targeting completion in July 2020.
“Offering 44,000 square feet of dedicated space, the Harlingen Convention Center features organic design elements and natural flow,” said General Manager Jeff Hamel. “Versatile venues include ten meeting rooms, eight of which can be combined to create an 1,800-capacity ballroom. The two other rooms convertible into four small boardrooms, each seating 40 attendees. Plus, programmable outdoor event space.”
With RGV Fanfest Comic Con among several bookings to date, Hamel added that the opening of the hotel will help attract large-scale citywide conventions.
South Padre Island
The only coastal Texas destination offering lodging directly on the beach, South Padre Island leverages its sunny bleisure appeal to attract an expanding base of in-state groups.
“Year after year, the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) and Austin account for the majority of [our] group business,” said Gene Rios, group business development director for the South Padre Island CVB. “That trend continues in 2019. RGV mostly produces educational and government meetings, and special events. Austin is mainly association and government clientele. Our island location is a key factor in their rotation of Texas cities for their regional and annual events.”
The bureau is now expanding its reach within the state and beyond.
“The DFW and Houston areas historically carry the highest concentration of meeting planners in Texas, including the corporate, national association, SMERF and government markets,” Rios said. “Hearing from those planners that they have not been in years, we created ‘We’re more than you remember’ as the tagline to reintroduce them to our diverse and affordable destination. The campaign extends to San Antonio, as well as corporate event planners from the lower Gulf states, and Midwest markets including Chicago.”
As the bureau aims for constant exposure through presentations, luncheons, receptions, trade shows, and sales blitzes, enhanced airlift is elevating the value proposition.
“With the addition of seats from American Airlines, United Airlines and Frontier through Harlingen and Brownsville’s International Airports, as well as direct flights in and out of Chicago, we can now focus our efforts on building a Midwest market from Oklahoma through Illinois,” Rios said.
Announcing an October 2019 opening, the new 205-room Courtyard by Marriott Beachfront Hotel will offer 10,000-plus square feet of conference space and Bar Louie, an oceanside bar, restaurant, and event venue.
Located twenty miles east of downtown Corpus Christi across the John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway, Waves Resort Corpus Christi is a prime group base on scenic, unspoiled North Padre Island.
Waves Resort Corpus Christi | Credit: Benchmark
Awarded “Best Hotel” on the South Texas Gulf Coast by the Texas Travel Industry Association in 2018, the former Schlitterbahn Riverpark & Resort Corpus Christi has reinvented appeal following more than $10 million in upgrades by new owner Diamond Beach Holdings, LLC.
These include adding 30,000-plus square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting, conference and event space. Other amenities include an esports training facility, the full-service Eats Epicurea restaurant, and driving range. The retained Schlitterbahn Waterpark features a 42-foot outdoor theater with swim-up bar.
In August 2019, the 91-room destination resort became the fifth Texas property in Benchmark’s expanding portfolio, joining the company’s signature brand, Benchmark Resorts and Hotels.
4 Distinctive Venues That Highlight Laredo’s Modern-Heritage Mix
In 1755, Spanish army captain Don Tomás Sánchez founded Villa San Agustin de Laredo at a Native American crossing on the Rio Grande River. By custom, he named the settlement after a saint, adding Laredo for the town on Spain’s north coast. Over time, the border city uniquely flew under seven flags, including serving as capital of the Republic of the Rio Grande in 1840.
With three distinct cultural personalities—Texan, Mexican and American—Laredo today is a business-progressive community offering some 4,000 hotel rooms and the following versatile venues for groups.
Laredo Center for the Arts
Housed in the circa-1884 “Old Mercado” building, the Laredo Center for the Arts offers rental spaces such as Mezzanine Hall. Originally the city’s first public library, this evocative 150-capacity space features hardwood floors and high decorative ceilings in the original 1930s style.
Laredo Water Museum
The free-admission Laredo Water Museum is a tourist and cultural destination showcasing the significance of the Rio Grande River as the region’s primary water source. Ideal for educational tours, interactive exhibits trace the channeling and cleaning of the river’s waters for citywide distribution and back.
Sames Auto Arena
Hosting conventions, trade shows, concerts, civic events and more, SMG-managed Sames Auto Arena is a 178,000-square-foot multipurpose facility offering 32,000 square feet of continuous open floor space; seating for 10,000; 14 luxury suites; six meeting rooms; and private club.
La Posada Hotel
History takes center stage on San Agustín Plaza in downtown Laredo. Four heritage buildings form the circa-1916 La Posada Hotel. Overlooking the Rio Grande, Laredo’s only Four Diamond property offers 206 rooms, meeting rooms, the San Agustin ballroom and Zaragoza Grill. Neighboring heirlooms include the still-active 1755 San Agustín Cathedral and tour-capable Republic of the Río Grande Museum.