Big Dollar Investments Energize Second-Tier Destinations in Central and West Texas

September 11, 2019

Surging hotel and venue development, including new convention centers opening in Midland and Odessa (see Convention Center Central, page 8) is raising visibility, awareness and bookings for the Big Country and Big Bend regions. 

New projects are popping up all over Central and West Texas, enhancing the meeting and event capabilities of El Paso, Lubbock and Abilene especially. Here are the big transformative expansions planners should know about.

El Paso: Game-Changing Investments in Hotels

“Currently underway with more than $500 million in new investments, this is a city reborn,” said Brooke Underwood, assistant general manager for Visit El Paso.

“This unprecedented growth is focused on downtown, where hotel development is doubling inventory from around 600 rooms to nearly 1,200.”

This “game-changing” renaissance centers on reviving heirlooms such as the O.T. Bassett Tower, now the 89-room Aloft El Paso Downtown.

Updating a 1912 furniture store, the 41-room Stanton House features TAFT-DÍAZ, a fusion restaurant named for the American and Mexican presidents who met in El Paso in 1906.

Upcoming debuts include the Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park.

Slated for fall 2019, this luxurious new 130-room boutique reimagines the 19-story Art Deco-styled Plaza, Conrad Hilton’s first high-rise hotel from 1930. 

Following a reported $70 million-plus renovation, the landmark Camino Real Hotel is announcing a March 2020 reopening with its original 1912 name as Hotel Paso Del Norte. Located across from the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center, the 350-room Marriott Autograph Collection property will offer 33,000 square feet of versatile space.

“Marketing our new hotels and attractions, a refreshed convention center and custom incentive packages for qualifying groups, we have increased our outbound messaging and site visit frequency to re-introduce El Paso to planners,” Underwood said.

“Many having not booked here in at least 10 years, the reaction has been very positive, with convention activity on the rise,” she added.

Viva El Paso
Viva El Paso

Other reasons to book include an immersive arts and cultural scene and rock star treatment for groups.

“Conventioneers and their events can get lost in the shuffle of larger destinations,” Underwood said. “In El Paso, they get our full attention.

“That includes media coverage in our newspapers, visits from our Mayor and City Council members, and royal service at restaurants, hotels and attractions,” she added. “Hospitality comes naturally to our community, both within the industry and from our locals.”

Lubbock: Buddy Holly Center Debut to Increase Meetings Capabilities

Excitement is building in Lubbock for the anticipated spring 2020 debut of the Buddy Holly Center for the Performing Arts & Sciences.

“This venue will elevate our presence within the meetings marketplace, providing a first-class facility for planners to experience the history of Buddy Holly and the future of West Texas,” said Amy Zientek, Visit Lubbock’s director of sales. 

Buddy Holly Center rendering, Lubbock
Buddy Holly Center rendering, Lubbock | Credit: Visit Lubbock

Certain to gain widespread attention is the 9,000-piece sculptural installation of Buddy Holly playing a Stratocaster, made of aluminum-cast, bronze-brushed guitar picks. 

Other highlights of the $154 million, 220,000-square-foot campus include:

  • The four-level, 2,200-seat Helen DeVitt Jones Main Theater, with two VIP lounges.
  • Multi-purpose event room offering 6,000 square feet of divisible space.
  • The main entrance lobby, with spiral staircase and space for 300-capacity seated events.
  • 2,500 square-foot commercial kitchen for all-venue catering.
  • Walkable access to local art galleries, breweries and dining.
  • Future home of Ballet Lubbock, Lubbock Symphony Orchestra and Lubbock ISD Visual and Performing Arts.

Other Hub City developments include the anticipated spring 2020 opening of the Valencia Hotel Group’s Cotton Court Hotel. Neighboring the Cultural Arts District, the hotel offers 165 retro-designed guest rooms and some 3,500 square feet of indoor space. Plus, event lawn with 2,500-square-foot indoor/outdoor tent. 

“As the hub for industry, education, health care, and entertainment in West Texas, Lubbock exemplifies the region’s frontier spirit of resolve and determination,” Zientek added. “This competitive edge places us at the forefront of the meetings market, with the business mindset to win bids and the musical and artistic talent to put on a good show.” 

Abilene: Storybook Appeal and New Projects

Leveraging its Wild West heritage and Storybook Capital of America designation, Abilene offers genuine “Once upon a time” appeal. 

Established in 1881, this frontier outpost of buffalo hunters, ranchers and land speculators was promoted as the “Future Great City of West Texas” by the Texas and Pacific Railroads. Those ambitions have not changed.

“Between our driveable centralized location in the region and investment in new event, tourism and hospitality products, we are aiming to become the premier meeting destination for West Central Texas,” said Abilene CVB Executive Director Nanci Liles. “Examples include the $56 million expansion of the Taylor County Expo Center. Scheduled for late 2020, the new facility will allow us to host larger state and national events.”

Other big money projects in Big Country include the new Dodge Jones Youth Sports Center. Slated for January 2020, the $12 million facility will offer 55,000 square feet of open space for competitive indoor sports events. Targeting fall 2021, the proposed new $60 million convention hotel adjacent to the Abilene Convention Center will reportedly be a 206-room Doubletree by Hilton offering 38,700 square feet of meeting and public space.

Home of The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, Abilene’s “storybook” appeal includes hosting the annual Children’s Art & Literacy Festival each June. In downtown, the Storybook Sculpture Project, featuring 24 (and growing) iconic figures from the works of Dr. Seuss and other famed authors, is a must-see. 

Liles also noted that Abilene’s pending designation by the Texas Music Office as a Music Friendly Community will help promote awareness of the vibrant entertainment scene. “Planned 2019 initiatives include online tools for communicating events and activities for conventioneers while in town, and custom itineraries for pre- and post-stays.”

Q&A with Tracey Jerome // Director of the El Paso Museums & Cultural Affairs Department

How do you define El Paso’s artistic and cultural personality?

Vibrant, immersive and transformative. Our public art program, supported by 2% of net proceeds from bonds or debt for public construction projects is one of most active in the country. Investing up to $6 million in public art every year, we have completed almost 60 projects in the last 11-plus years, with 30 projects currently underway. Reaching deep into our community, we fund fine art, performance, music, filmmaking, food and more. 

This must go far in enhancing the city’s identity and creating a sense of place for visitors.

Absolutely. In a city that does not rely on commercial attractions and big box entertainment, art and culture are integral to the visitor experience.

It starts at the airport, where we just installed a preview of the culture ahead. The $97 million revival of our historic streetcars is a vehicle for tours and artistic showcases.

Southwest University Park, home the El Paso Chihuahuas Triple-A baseball team, includes galleries and 13,000-square foot walking mural. Attracting 45,000 people last year, our three-day Chalk The Block Arts Festival invites everyone to be an artist. 

Chalk the Block Festival
Chalk the Block Festival

How can planners take advantage of El Paso’s arts and culture offerings?

Planners can book our versatile outdoor plazas and spaces, our museums, our historic theaters and more. Art is an essential part of our story, identity and appeal. It’s also there in our mountains, desert landscape, sunsets and other natural charms.

As many visitors tell us, this is true Texas.

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.