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August 2014

Ever-evolving Texas metros reach for the stars

by Jeff Heilman

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When we launched Meetings Focus Texas in 2008, the U.S. was confronting the full brunt of the global economic downturn. Yet, as we noted in successive editions of the supplement, the Lone Star State managed to mostly do the two-step around headwinds that sent others skidding backwards. How? Texas never stands still. As Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas CVB, told us in the first issue, “Texas reinvents itself to stay relevant.”

What has changed since 2008? On the occasion of our seventh issue, officials from seven CVBs look back on their big steps up, and if one thing is clear, confidence in the future is high, and as expansive and searching as the mighty Texas landscape itself, the state’s meetings industry knows few boundaries.


Casandra Matej, Executive Director, San Antonio CVB

The past seven years have brought tremendous growth to our infrastructure and economic development. As one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, San Antonio’s commitment to reinvesting in itself is evident, from the historic reuse of old breweries like Pearl to the extended pathways of the River Walk.

These developments complement the growth of our meetings infrastructure, which is marked by the $325 million transformation of our convention center. This, along with the addition of two 1,000-plus-room properties (Grand Hyatt on the River Walk in 2008 and JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa in 2010) helps San Antonio maintain its appeal for new and returning groups. It is a win for the overall destination, attracting more—and bigger—meetings.


Maura Allen Gast, Executive Director, Irving CVB

When the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas opened in January 2011, our landscape was forever changed, and today, it continues to do just that—change. Drastically. In the next few years, Las Colinas will look like—and be—a very different place, with major developments slated to break ground this year.

Come 2016, the convention center will feature a skybridge-connected headquarters hotel from Westin. The $90 million, 350-room property will add 20,000 square feet of meeting space to Irving.

Adjacent to the hotel will be the Irving Music Factory, a $165 million entertainment district development with features such as a multifunctional indoor and outdoor amphitheater and concert venue, nine or more full-service restaurants, 200,000 square feet of retail space, and an open-air plaza for outdoor festivals and events.

Two additional massive, mixed-use developments are on the drawing board for areas near the convention center.


Meg Winchester, Director, Galveston Island CVB

In 2008, the costliest natural disaster in Texas history hit Galveston Island—Hurricane Ike—and completely changed the face of our brand. How? Because recovery efforts were focused not only on restoring what was lost, but on making things better.

After more than $250 million in new attractions, such as the stunning Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, Galveston is performing better than before Ike. At the end of 2013, Trip Advisor named Galveston one of its ‘Top 10 Destinations on the Rise in the U.S.’ for 2014—the only Texas destination to make the list. Attracting record visitor numbers, we are ushering in a new golden era for tourism.


John Solis, Vice President of Convention Sales, Greater Houston CVB

Widely known for a bustling economy that makes it ‘the city’ to do business, Houston has also emerged as the culinary and cultural capital of the South, capturing national headlines such as ‘What’s Cooking in Houston? A Hot Foodie Scene’ (Washington Post) and ‘Houston: Texas’ Cultural Capital’ (Endless Vacations). Today, visitors to Houston enjoy world-class art and global cuisine around just about every corner.

Houston is also experiencing a hospitality boom, adding more than 2,500 hotel rooms by 2017, an expanded light rail system and new retail and nightlife options, all within walking distance of the George R. Brown Convention Center. And with more than 170 nonstop flights, traveling to Houston is easy. Simply put, the Houston meetings package is positioned for your success.


Phillip Jones, President and CEO, Dallas CVB

We have worked very hard over the past decade to position Dallas as a top destination for visitors as well as a city of optimism and opportunity for everyone. Dallas has invested billions of dollars in new developments, including hotels, restaurants, cultural venues and tourist infrastructure.


Gaylia Olivas, Vice President, Midland CVB

Within just seven short years, the face of ‘Tall City’ has transformed, growing from a county population of 128,717 and 2,702 hotel rooms in 2008 to a population of 154,744 with 5,063 hotel rooms in 2014.

Headquarters of the Permian Basin, the nation’s largest oil producer, Midland regularly tops lists published by Forbes, CNNMoney and Fortune for being one of America’s fastest-growing cities with one of the lowest unemployment rates.

Also named one of the nation’s safest and happiest cities, Midland has significantly expanded its visitor portfolio, including the $81 million, 1,800-seat Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center. With our downtown premier conference venue, Midland Center, readying for renovations in the upcoming year, the Midland County Horseshoe has announced its addition of a new 52,000-square-foot venue, The Pavilion Entertainment and Meeting Center, projected to open in January 2015.

After moving its Commercial Space Research and Development headquarters from California to Midland, XCOR Aerospace will soon offer flights to suborbital outer space in its Lynx Suborbital Spacecraft. The sky is not the limit in Midland!


Bryan Crowe, General Manager, Destination El Paso

Here for nearly a decade now, I can genuinely say that El Paso is set to become the Southwest’s next great meeting hub.

El Paso once touted itself as the ‘Two Nation Vacation Destination,’ until violence broke out in Juarez, Mexico, around 2007-2008. Our strongest selling point had become our biggest challenge, but even though CQ Press named El Paso the ‘Safest U.S. City with a population of 500,000 or more’ for four consecutive years, we have had to fight hard to dispel unfair, negative misperceptions based on our proximity to the Mexican border.

This is a resilient city, though, and we have worked diligently to educate planners, concert and event promoters, site consultants, journalists and other important business decision makers about our revitalized strengths and appeal.

Approved in November 2012, our $500 million quality of life bond issue is defining El Paso’s future. With signature projects including a new multipurpose performing arts and entertainment venue, new Triple-A baseball stadium and the world’s second TouchCity Digital History Wall (the other is in Copenhagen, Denmark), this investment has already proven a great motivator in restoring pride and generating renewed interest in El Paso, as we now pursue larger-scale, national-level groups.

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