Though in recent years Waco has gained attention as being the home of Chip and Joanna Gaines,
hosts of HGTV’s show “Fixer Upper,” it has long been a city of note. It’s known as the heart of Texas, not only for its central location, but also its spirit of Texan ingenuity and resourcefulness. After all, this is where the suspension bridge that allowed the Chisholm and Shawnee trails to cross the Brazos River was built. And it’s here that Dr Pepper and Big Red were invented and Baylor University and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum are located.
 
“Waco is an up-and-coming destination that has everything the larger cities do without the traffic and congestion. Ax throwing? Check. Brewpubs, wineries, a cool and funky walkable downtown and even a craft whiskey distillery? Check. Yet you can still get any- where in 15 minutes,” says Carla Pendergraft, director of marketing and sales for the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Waco Convention Center.

So, let’s get planning. First step: Choose a venue.

Where to Meet
Planning a large gathering? Waco can accommodate. The gorgeous Waco Convention Center is centrally located just blocks from Interstate 35 and minutes from Waco Regional Airport. It’s also within walking distance of restaurants, shops and attractions, and two hotels are adjacent to the venue. The convention center features 144,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and can accommodate groups as large as 2,000 and up to 180 booths in its exhibit space. Its signature room is the Brazos Ballroom, which overlooks its namesake river.

Baylor University’s prestigious Baylor Club has space for private events that can accommodate up to 400 people. The largest private event space is the ballroom, which offers 40-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of downtown Waco. There are also more intimate spaces, such as the President’s Suite with an outdoor balcony overlooking the Baylor campus. The McLennan Community College Conference Center is another option for larger groups. The center can accommodate up to 500 people theater-style and can be divided up into as many as six rooms.

For smaller to midsize meetings and events, look to some of the area hotels. The Hilton Waco has 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space and is connected by a covered walkway to the convention center. Hotel Indigo has 1,600 square feet of meeting space and is located in the city’s business district, just blocks from the convention center. The largest of its rooms can accommodate 100 guests. And the Hilton Garden Inn, located near the Baylor Scott & White hospital, has 3,500 square feet of meeting space, allowing for groups of more than 360 theater-style or 200 for a banquet.

“The Waco Convention Center is adjacent to the Hilton Waco and across the street from the Courtyard by Marriott,” says Pendergraft.

A new hotel, tentatively called the Magnolia Hotel, is currently in the planning stages and is the brainchild of hometown favorites Chip and Joanna Gaines. “The old Karem Shrine Temple will be renovated and transformed into the new Magnolia Hotel and will come online in a couple of years. Although it’s only 40 rooms, it is located three blocks from the convention center and would be a great place for convention VIPs. Nowhere else on earth will have the Magnolia Hotel, renovated by Chip and Joanna Gaines,” says Pendergraft.

And if you want to go completely outside of the meeting box with your event location, consider the Dr Pepper Museum. The museum houses a collection of over 100,000 objects, and its indoor and outdoor event spaces can hold up to 1,000 guests. Planners can add on the venue’s Frosty’s Soda Shop and Peggy Pepper’s Emporium. The museum is also home to the W. W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute, which was created in 1997 for the purpose of educating children and adults about the economic system, using the soft drink industry as a model to teach about developing, producing and marketing products.

What to Do
Wondering what post-meeting activities to put on the agenda? A visit to the popular Magnolia Market, of course! Go shopping in the retail store, visit Magnolia Seed + Supply, or try some treats from the Silos Baking Company.

“Fifteen hundred hotel rooms are under construction or planned for the Waco area due to the influx of 1.6 million visitors per year to the world-famous Magnolia Market. Magnolia can be a great draw for convention attendees. Admission is free,” says Pendergraft.

You can also take a river cruise on the Brazos River, courtesy of Waco River Safari, or a tour of the city through one of the local tour operators via van, paddleboard, pedal car, or pedicab. If you want to learn more about Waco’s earliest—literally, the earliest—settlers, head to the Waco Mammoth National Park where a mammoth bone was discovered in 1978. Scientists have discovered the remains of a herd of mammoths and a camel, as well as a saber-toothed cat’s tooth in the park.

And be sure to include a tour of the award-winning Balcones Distillery, a craft whiskey distillery, or a visit to a local brewpub, such as Bare Arms Brewing, Southern Roots or Brotherwell Brewing.

 

When Built: Constructed in 1936, originally as a door factory. The Chandelier Room was used as a production space and the Edison Room as a showroom. 

Design Style: Urban industrial artistry 

Highlights: Rotating moss wall, brick exterior, exposed rafters, polished cement floors, large factory-style windows and surrounding arts district 

Event Spaces: 

 

The Hyatt offers meeting planners headed to San Antonio three completely different experiences depending on which of the brand’s hotels you choose to stay at. This past fall, I was lucky enough to score a FAM trip that included stays at two of the three hotels, with a tour of the third.

 

Originally from Oregon’s Rogue River Valley, Debbie McCune, director of sales for Travel Salem, relocated to her new hometown when her son was young. In fact, the city’s kid-friendliness is one of the things that attracted her.