Designer Meetings: What’s Got Into Dallas?

Designer Meetings Dallas Arts District

Last fall, the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened in the 19-block Dallas Arts District—the largest urban arts and design district in the US. The $354 million Center was funded by a boom of philanthropic dollars, with a record 133 donations of $1 million and more, and its completion represents the culmination of a 30-year vision set forth by the city to create a globally plugged-in metropolis with a cultural milieu on par with the best in the country.

For corporate groups, this pumped up interest in art and design sweeping through Dallas is delivering a new sense of international style and all sorts of sophisticated venues.

The new facilities at the Performing Arts Center include the glass-wrapped Winspear Opera House, seating up to 2,300, the über modernist Dee & Charles Wyly Theater seating 600, and the Nasher Sculpture Garden. They were designed by architects Sir Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas and Renzo Piano, respectively. In case you’re not familiar with those names, they represent the absolute cream of the architecture world, where their buildings are considered art as much as what goes on inside.

The Arts District is located within minutes of the Dallas Convention Center and downtown business hotels.

“What’s really amazing is that the AT&T Performing Arts Center is the most significant new performing arts complex to be built since New York’s Lincoln Center,” says Phillip Jones, president/CEO of the Dallas CVB. “The acoustics of the Opera House alone are amazing—everything that’s been built is very state-of-the-art. These new facilities are great venues for groups.”

The local DMCs concur, con brio.

“With all these new facilities, we’re seeing more versatility than ever as a DMC,” says Kaye Burkhardt, president of Dallas Fan Fares DMC. “We can obtain tickets for small groups or buy out a facility for massive conventions. What’s so nice is that there are so many different options depending on a group’s taste—opera, symphony, museums, outdoor sculptures. We really do have something for everyone.”

Beverly Brin, GM of Ultimate Ventures DMC, says of the Opera House, “It’s very classy, upscale and modern. The entire complex is just beautiful. The Winspear lobby has huge glass windows that roll up like a garage door extending the lobby into the park, which makes it a very unique space for groups. Even just the inside makes a great reception for 1,000 people.”

Brin adds that the Wyly Theater has a rooftop terrace that’s completely open and can accommodate 200 people for a reception or 120 for a sit-down. “The views of the city and park below are amazing.”

Bitsy Burns-Matthes is director of operations for Southwest Veterinary Symposium, who has planned several trips to Dallas and Fort Worth over the last few years.

“One of many highlights was the King Tut exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art in October of 2008. We took 60 people and they loved it—the museum always has great exhibits,” she says. At the time, the traveling exhibit brought about one million visitors to Dallas before making two other US stops. It’s now permanently installed in Cairo. “The fact that Dallas is able to attract the very top art collections in the world really says something about the city’s art scene.”

Burns-Matthes also brought her group to the Texas State Fair last fall and ran shuttle services back and forth to the hotels. Close to downtown and near the Cotton Bowl, Fair Park is a National Historic Landmark with the largest collection of 1930s Art Deco buildings in the United States. It has nearly 300 acres of park space and eight museums.

“It’s great because people are on their own, they can do their own thing and there’s plenty to do there,” she explains. Popular spots for groups include the African American Museum, with the largest collection of African American folk art in the country, and the Women’s Museum, which serves as the nation’s only comprehensive women’s history museum.

Kaye Burkhardt says, “In the middle of a bad economy, Dallas has opened great restaurants and a wonderful arts district; the city is open for business and our future is bright. Dallas is like Grandma’s house, it has always been a staple but now it’s been refreshed and renovated and it feels brand new and wonderful. This past summer we had 31 buses do a dinearound at 31 venues in Dallas—it was great! There’s really so much diversity that it was hard to narrow down the choices.”

She especially recommends Victory Park, just northwest of downtown, for her more cosmopolitan groups. “This is a new, trendy area of Dallas with hip restaurants, boutiques and shopping. One of the things we do in this area is buy out an art gallery for the evening and have a wine and cheese reception. It’s a great way to combine art, food and business.” She adds, “The Ghostbar in the W Dallas – Victory is a great place to go for a drink—it always draws a good crowd.”

Beverly Brin brings groups together at Trece Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Lounge. Located in the trendy Knox-Henderson neighborhood minutes north of downtown, Trece has become the place locals go to see and be seen. The restaurant serves up old favorites and new specialties born of a love for Mexican cuisine and tequila. The VIP Wine Room seats 20; buyouts can host up to 350.

“One of the more unique things we do for smaller groups, about 20-30 people,” says Burkhardt, “is have a popular local chef like Kent Rathbun give a cooking demonstration and then serve dinner right in his own home. It’s always a success—a very intimate and casual experience that stays with the group.”

Brin is all over that too. She says, “Kent Rathbun’s restaurant Abacus is close to downtown and is great for groups of 40-45 in the private room.”

Wolfgang Puck Catering’s new restaurant Five Sixty is also getting gobs of buzz. Burkhardt says, “The restaurant is recognizable because it’s from the opening scene of the TV show Dallas—it’s a landmark on the skyline.” The restaurant is located atop Reunion Tower and has floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering 360° views of Dallas. Brin notes that the modern American/Asian restaurant can fit about 100 for a buyout.

Brin says Puck also caters events held at Union Station, which was originally a grand railroad station built in 1916. “It’s been completely refurbished and can accommodate about 1,000 people for receptions with food stations. It’s a great place with lounges, bars and incredible balcony with amazing views of the city.” Union Station is connected to the 1,122-room, 4-diamond Hyatt Regency Dallas.

Part of Starwood Hotels’ Luxury Collection, The Joule, Dallas ushered in the designer streak in downtown Dallas in June 2008. The 129-room property is part contemporary art museum/part biz hotel, with a Charlie Palmer restaurant to seal the deal.

“We’re booking two corporate groups there,” notes Burkhardt. “This hotel used to be a bank and it’s been renovated to create a trendy new accommodation…. There’s a rooftop pool that jets out over Main Street. It hangs out over the building and while you’re swimming you can see the hustle and bustle on the street below.” Meeting capacity is 2,300 sf.

The 152-room Hotel ZaZa Dallas in Uptown Dallas north of downtown, features 4,000 sf of function space, and “attracts Hollywood stars and chic and sophisticated travelers. It’s very distinct—the lobby has a bed in it,” says Burkhardt. “A big draw is the Dragonfly restaurant, it’s popular with both guests and locals.” Indoor/outdoor space is 5,800 sf.

Another design darling of Dallas, The Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa is a historic Art Deco-era beauty also located in Uptown. The 170-room property wrapped a $38 million renovation this year and the result is a stunner. Lots of crimson and oodles of chrome and new vintage-style design pieces make the rooms feel like a Fred & Ginger Hollywood set. We love Bolla Bar’s plush pink banquette rising to the ceiling. Group space is 6,000 sf.

The 1,606-room Hilton Anatole is situated just outside downtown with 342,000 sf of group space. This place is full of surprises. Besides the big gymnasium, there’s a gorgeous mix of sculpture including 17th century Buddhas, life-size elephants and jade horses in the “Art Collection of Hilton Anatole.” Love the cheeky new Gossip Bar and the 27th floor Nana restaurant for power dinners with its sweeping “Master of the Universe” views.

And in December, the 1,840-room Sheraton Dallas Hotel reopened next to the Arts District after a comprehensive $90 million renovation. There are 220 suites, over 230,000 sf of meeting space and the much heralded Link@Sheraton lobby biz lounge. For sport fans, the new high-tech $3.5-million Draft Media Sports Lounge features 21 flat screens and international draft brews. Stay tuned for our “On Location” story later this year.