The city kicked off its tricentennial on Dec. 31, 2017, with a New Year’s Eve celebration downtown at Hemisfair. Commemorative Week, which takes place the fi rst week in May, will bring the celebration into sharp focus with fi reworks, educational opportunities, interfaith services and local heritage events. San Antonio will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 World’s Fair in April with Viva Hemisfair, a three-day festival, as well as other annual festivals like the 11-day city-wide party, Fiesta, in April.
The city’s history makes it an especially unique place to host an event.
“History and culture have an unmistakable presence in San Antonio,” says Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio. “They are tightly woven into the fabric of our city.”
As San Antonio looks back at its history, the city is also boldly planning for the future. Return visitors will notice a transformation of several of San Antonio’s major spaces, including significant renovations and expansions of its Henry B. González Convention Center, San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Witte Museum. It’s all part of the plan to make San Antonio a top meeting destination.
The San Antonio Botanical Garden, which is available to host events of up to 600 people, has added 8 acres to its property, adding a new culinary garden and outdoor kitchen, family adventure garden, welcome and discovery complex and more. The botanical garden has also expanded parking and added an indoor meeting space that can seat up to 100 people.
The second of a three-phase renovation of Hemisfair Park will open this year. The renovation aims to turn the 18.5 acres of space into the “Central Park of San Antonio” with additional green space, restaurants, local businesses and more.
Development of multiple hotels along the River Walk will continue. Hotel Valencia recently unveiled a $10 million renovation with a complete makeover of the hotel’s former restaurant and bar, and the Saint Hotel is expected to launch construction of a 100- room, seven-story hotel this spring.
Finally, the 65,000-seat Alamodome will complete a $60 million renovation in time to host the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four this year.
Meeting planners—and eventgoers to be sure—will enjoy the perks of these newly updated facilities as San Antonio launches into its next 300 years.
The Henry B. González Convention Center completed a $325 million expansion in early 2016 that expanded its footprint to 1.6 million square feet of space (a 100,000-squarefoot addition) and transformed the use of its existing space. The expansion was the largest capital improvement project in the city’s history, and the center’s advanced technology, flexible space and innovative design is a “game changer,” according to Matej.
The convention center now offers four exhibit halls with a total of 514,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space. During construction, all ceilings in the exhibit hall space were raised to 35 feet. The three previous ballrooms were replaced with the Stars at Night Ballroom, the largest ballroom in Texas at 54,000 square feet of space. The ballroom has lighted walls and 1,600 LED lights in the ceiling to depict a huge, Texas sky.
The center also added the Cantilever Room, designed to be the “Meeting Room of the Future.” The room is cantilevered over two lanes of traffic below and features a video wall, flexible seating options, bright orange lighting in the ceiling and mobile, felt partitions to customize the room into multiple pods. The LDR special event space is decorated in rich furnishings and Western art. The room flows onto a river patio that can accommodate 150 to 500 guests. From the next-door Grotto, which can accommodate up to 2,500 people and is directly on the River Walk, guests can watch the barges turn around on the river.
The center’s new 40,000-square-foot lobby has been a big hit with groups, says Executive Director Michael Sawaya. “Customers are able to brand the lobby so that it looks like it’s their building,” Sawaya says.
Incorporating exterior and interior artwork throughout the space was also an important aspect of the transformation, and more artwork from local artists will be added in the coming year.
One focal piece is the 30-foot-tall Liquid Crystal, an iron sculpture that creates a digital fountain effect with more than 3,500 LCD panels that change color and opacity in response to activity in the lobby.
The Witte Museum recently completed a “once-in-a-century,” $100 million transformation that “really focused on renovating our permanent exhibition spaces and taking technology to the next level,” says Kim Biffle, chief of engagement at Witte Museum. “It’s also what the Witte is really about, which is where nature, science and culture meet.”
The museum is “unapologetically Texas,” Biffle says, with 300,000 items telling the story of the state through spans of time segmented into millions of years, thousands of years and hundreds of years and focuses on the Lone Star State through the land, water and sky.
High demand at the museum prompted the renovation. The museum typically sees about 400,000 visitors a year. “We were busting at the seams,” Biffle says. “The renovation was a response to community desire.”
Added technology to the museum focuses on providing guests a hands-on experience. Visitors can excavate a dinosaur in one of five working labs, or zoom in and out of rock art captured from around the state.
The renovation also added the Mays Family Center, a space that is used half the year for temporary exhibit space and half the year for private events.
With more than 10,000-square-feet, the venue is available from Oct. 1 through April 30 and can seat up to 800 people. Guests will enjoy beautiful views along the San Antonio River, and just outside, the Zachry Family Acequia Garden can seat another 1,000 people along the river.
Planners can also arrange for events in the museum throughout the year, like cocktails with the dinosaurs.
On the historic side of the campus, the Prassel Auditorium can seat up to 225 people and the Memorial Auditorium can seat up to 200. The museum as a whole can accommodate between 1,000 and 3,000 guests.
Pearl Beer opened its San Antonio brewery in the 1880s, and since 2002, the space has been reimagined as a vibrant neighborhood along the San Antonio River Walk. A mix of reuse and new developments, Pearl is now home to 324 apartments, 15 restaurants and cafes, 18 resident businesses and 13 retailers.
The redevelopment of the property was completed in the past year, says Mesha Millsap, Pearl’s chief accounting and operations officer. New additions include Pearl Park, home to Pearl’s Farmers Market, and the Cellars Residential Project luxury apartments.
Pearl’s food hall, The Bottling Department, opened in July with five new restaurant options. There are 19 chef-driven restaurants on the property. Many are run by first-time restaurant owners, Millsap says. “It’s viewed as an incubator for new concepts and a way for new restauranteurs to become exposed to the restaurant community,” Millsap says.
The former brewhouse has been transformed into Hotel Emma, which opened in 2015. The 146-room boutique hotel offers an on-site restaurant and tavern. Hotel Emma offers several unique spaces for meetings and events, including the 3,250-square-foot Elephant Cellar, which features custom chandeliers made from German bottle fillers and huge brewing tanks with pipe “trunks.”
Private events can also be held in Pearl Stable, which formerly housed the brewery’s horses. The unique, oval space has been restored to its original beauty and can accommodate up to 300 people. “A lot of clients love [Pearl Stable] because of what it meant to the city, what it meant to the brewery and the pure beauty of it,” Millsap says.
Pearl Studio can accommodate up to 120 people. The space was built in a former warehouse and includes a breezeway. Pearl offers an approved catering list and has an in-house audio-visual operator.