The old joke about the State Bird being the building crane must have been born in Texas. When one landmark project breaks ground, you can be sure that several others are moving forward around the state: a huge new hotel to connect to the convention center in Dallas; a bigger, better Children's Museum of Houston; a new headquarters hotel for the Fort Worth Convention Center; a 1,000-room hotel complex in Austin; a new stadium in Arlington; an extension of the River Walk in San Antonio — it never stops.

In Dallas, city council members have just approved a purchase option agreement for an 8.4 acre site across from the convention center for possible convention center expansion and for a convention headquarters hotel. Estimates for the project's cost have ranged as high as $350 million.

Meanwhile, Victory Park Dallas is in its third stage of development. Its second luxury hotel, The Mandarin Oriental, is now under construction and will soon join the W Dallas-Victory. Victory Park includes 75 acres around the American Airlines Center sports and entertainment complex, a $3 billion city within a city. The pedestrian-friendly, Wi-Fi-enhanced area has a variety of meeting venues for small to very large groups.

Farther south, San Antonio has begun a $216 million project to lengthen the River Walk from a bit more than two miles to nearly 13 miles. The river flows through downtown's central business and tourism district. Barges ferry visitors up and down the two-mile stretch, pedestrians crowd the walkways, and the River Walk is hopping 24/7. The first phase of the planned extension will bring the River Walk north to several museums, the Pearl Brewery, and other cultural attractions by 2009. The second phase will take it south to San Antonio's four Spanish Colonial missions by 2012.

In Houston, the three blocks above the George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green are being transformed into the Houston Pavilions, with completion expected by year's end. The Pavilions will be home to entertainment venues, including a House of Blues, and shopping. Planners can also expect upgrades at the Children's Museum of Houston and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which opened a new gallery in December.

Texas/Facilities Update

Dallas/Fort Worth

  • Houston

    The Dallas Hilton Anatole recently converted its Stemmons Auditorium to a ballroom as part of the hotel's $40 million renovation. During the next two years, the Anatole will renovate its 700 tower guest rooms and Chantilly Ballroom. The hotel has 1,606 guest rooms and 333,400 square feet of meeting and banquet space, including 79 meeting rooms and 128,000 square feet of dedicated exhibit space.

  • San Antonio

    The Hyatt Regency Dallas Complex is undergoing a transformation of its 50-story Reunion Tower and historic Union Station, as well as the hotel's 160,000 square feet of function space, 56 meeting rooms, and 1,122 guest rooms. The combined $55 million project is being completed in stages. Hotel rooms were completed in 2007 and the Union Station function space will be available late this summer.

  • Trip Tips

    Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine began an expansion in November that will add 203 suites for a total of 605, and nearly quadruple the size of the conference space to 27,000 square feet. The project should be complete in December 2008.

  • Ask the CVB

    Mandarin Oriental, scheduled to debut in 2010 in Dallas, will include a 30,000-square-foot spa, an outdoor pool, and 9,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

  • The Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel and Spa plans to open August 15 after a $46 million transformation. It has 430 guest rooms and suites and an 8,000-square-foot spa and fitness center.

  • NYLO Las Colinas should open early next year with 200 rooms.

  • A $13 million renovation transformed a former Holiday Inn Select into the 282-room Wyndham DFW Airport North hotel in Irving. It has 12,500 square feet of event space.

  • Benchmark Hospitality will open Lakeside Resort & Residences, under construction on Lake Grapevine in Flower Mound, this fall. Included will be 289 guest rooms, a 25,000-square-foot conference center, and a 12,000-square-foot spa and an outdoor pool.

  • The 1,840-room Adam's Mark Dallas has rebranded as the Sheraton Dallas Hotel. The property, which offers more than 230,000 square feet of meeting space, is attached via skybridge to a sister Starwood property, The Westin City Center, Dallas. A renovation, to be completed this summer, includes a redesign of guest rooms and lobbies.

  • Omni is constructing a headquarters hotel for the recently expanded Fort Worth Convention Center. The $90 million Omni Fort Worth Hotel is expected to open in November with 607 guest rooms, 48,000 square feet of meeting space, and 97 condominiums.

  • Northeast of Dallas, the Hilton Bella Harbor at Lake Hubbard Dallas/Rockwell opened at the end of March overlooking Lake Ray Hubbard with views of the downtown Dallas skyline. The property has 231 guest rooms and more than 25,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • In Frisco, the Sheraton Stonebriar Hotel opens this month with 119 guest rooms and two meeting spaces, the largest of which is 480 square feet.

  • Special Venues

    The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center is set to begin construction early this year on a $50 million expansion that will add 158 guest rooms; a winding, “lazy river”; a new entrance; and a steakhouse.

  • The Sheraton Houston West Hotel opens this summer with 155 guest rooms and more than 1,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Omni Hotels has taken over a former Sheraton in downtown Houston and will redevelop it as a 400-room, all-suite hotel with 30,000 square feet of meeting space. The Omni Houston is slated to open in 2009.

  • The Warwick Hotel reopened last June as Hotel ZaZa after a multimillion-dollar renovation.

  • The 313-room Doubletree Hotel Houston InterContinental Airport has completed a $6 million renovation. The hotel's 18,500 square feet of meeting space, including a 6,875-square-foot ballroom, has been upgraded.

  • Hilton Americas-Houston, connected to the George R. Brown Convention Center, has 1,200 guest rooms, two ballrooms, and 30 meeting rooms with 93,500 square feet of meeting and banquet space.

  • Westin La Cantera Resort will soon become an arm of Gaylord Entertainment, which also owns the Gaylord Texan Resort near Dallas. The $253 million purchase includes two golf courses on 691 acres. Gaylord has also bought 90 acres of undeveloped adjacent land and is planning a three-year, $250 million expansion that will bring the resort to 1,000 rooms and 160,000 square feet of meeting space by 2011.

  • San Antonio's Marriott Rivercenter (1,000 rooms) and Marriott Riverwalk (514 rooms) hotels will undergo $45 million in renovations this year. The Marriott Rivercenter will upgrade 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • St. Anthony Hotel in downtown San Antonio has just completed a $12 million restoration upgrading all meeting areas, public space, and 352 guest rooms.

  • Got golf fanatics in your group? While naming San Antonio one of its top golf destinations, Golf Digest magazine singled out the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa for special mention as one of its Silver Medal Resorts. The resort has 500 guest rooms, 25 meeting rooms, and more than 33,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space.

  • Some Austin streets and highways go by many different names and can be a bit confusing. (First Street runs north and south and east and west, for example.) For a primer on the lay of the land, go to austin.about.com/od/mapsofaustin/p/austinroads.htm.

  • The landmark 50-story Reunion Tower in Dallas closed in November 2007 for renovation, but the lights on the tower's globe will not dim. The $55 million renovation closes the observation deck and Antares restaurant, but the Hyatt Regency will serve customers in another part of the hotel until Antares reopens on the tower's top level.

Texas Tourism
(210) 212-5828
www.TravelTex.com/meeting
www.texastourism.com

Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 433-5374
www.arlington.org

Austin CVB
(800) 926-2282
www.austintexas.org

Dallas CVB
(214) 571-1000
www.visitdallas.com

Fort Worth CVB
(800) 433-5747
www.fortworth.com

Frisco CVB
(972) 963-9226
www.visitfrisco.com

Galveston Island CVB
(888) 425-4753
www.galvestoncvb.com

Greater Houston CVB
(800) 365-7575
www.visithoustontexas.com

Irving CVB
(800) 247-8464
www.irvingtexas.com

San Antonio CVB
(800) 447-3372
www.sanantoniovisit.com

  • Austin's new Mexican-American Cultural Center opened in September on Town Lake. Dedicated to preserving and promoting Mexican-American cultural arts and heritage, the 126,000-square-foot center provides theaters, galleries, and classrooms where music, dance, literature, and cooking are among the arts displayed. The center also rents space for private events. (512) 478-6222; www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/macc_index.htm

  • The Hyatt Regency San Antonio recently renovated the Lonestar Palace, an event space (pictured at left) overlooking the Alamo. The facility now features contemporary Texas décor and a rooftop penthouse with a 2,000-square-foot outdoor deck, full catering kitchen, and oversized outdoor grill. With three indoor seating areas, a formal conference/dining area, and the deck, it can entertain groups of up to 150 people. (210) 362-6352

  • The French Room at the Adolphus Hotel (above) in Dallas has grand Baroque décor and can be reserved for private events. (214) 742-8200; www.adolphus.com

  • Galveston native Michel Menard built his classic Southern-style mansion in 1838 as a Greek Revival showplace. The Menard House was constructed in Maine, then shipped in pieces to Galveston, and reconstructed in what was early Galveston's most exclusive neighborhood. The house is available for group functions, and provides an elegant setting for meetings, receptions, period-costume events, and special banquets. (409) 762-3933; foundation@galvestonhistory.org


On Location: Feel Like a Rock Star

From the moment I pulled up to the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando, I knew I was in for an experience. The doorman poked fun at my shirt, which happened to have another hotel's logo on it, and we had a good laugh. What a terrific first encounter with a staffer at the Loews Hotels-managed Hard Rock, one of a trio of themed meeting properties at Universal Orlando Resort. My delight continued as the chipper front desk clerk filled me in on what to expect: music throughout the hotel and resort complex all the time.

My natural high continued as I entered my room, decorated with early Beatles and Hendrix photographs, and saw the recycling bags. Earlier that week, on Earth Day, all three Loews hotels — the 650-room Hard Rock, the 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort, and the 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel — became certified members of the Florida Green Lodging program. The voluntary program encourages guests and staff to be more environmentally responsible, and the Loews hotels allow guests to recycle plastic bottles, newspapers, aluminum cans, and office paper in their rooms. An energy-management program ensures programmable thermostats and high-efficiency lighting in all 130,000 square feet of meeting space across the three properties.

Loews has trained staffers to anticipate guests' needs. And there are other reasons meeting planners keep bringing meetings back: the walk to Universal Orlando theme parks (Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure) and to Universal CityWalk, a restaurant, club, and retail complex. Blue Man Group, for example, performs daily. And hotel guests need only their room keys to get to the front of the rides with Express Ride at the theme parks.

For a special VIP event, book your group at the Hard Rock Hotel on the third Thursday of the month. The property transforms its lobby into a concert venue and features name talent for its Velvet Sessions. Nothing like hanging out with rock stars to feel like one.