The West, as we imagine it, is alive and well in Abilene, where a history of cowboys, cattle, railroads and oil, dating from the 1880s, continues to exude a pioneer spirit with gathering places, ranches and more. Meeting planners looking for a Wild West theme will be excited to inspect Abilene event venues like Historic Downtown Abilene and the more recent Frontier Texas!.
Located 150 miles west of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and the center of the Texas Midwest, or "Big Country," Abilene is accessible via Interstate 20, Highway 83/84 East/West and Highway 277 North/South. Groups land at Abilene Regional Airport via American Airlines/ American Eagle, which offers several flights daily.
One of the largest convention venues in Abilene is the Abilene Civic Center, a complex that features a 20,000-square-foot exhibition center for up to 2,000 people and a 13,400-square-foot conference center that can accommodate 1,000 attendees for a banquet or groups of 200 to 500 in its different meeting rooms. There is also a 2,121-seat auditorium, a 9,000-square-foot foyer that can be used for registration or a reception area and eight additional meeting rooms and a VIP room. Elsewhere, the Taylor County Expo Center, a multi-use facility on 117 acres, caters to large audiences and regularly hosts festivals, fairs, concerts, seminars, conferences with 30,000 square feet in its Coliseum and the "Starplex of the West" outdoor pavilion, featuring a 1,200-square-foot stage and seating for 1,000. Hotel venues in Abilene, such as Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Abilene, MCM Elegante Suites and the Rodeway Inn, offer affordable accommodations with modest meeting space.
Special event venues in Abilene provide a real Texas welcome. Groups can travel back to Texas circa the 1870s to 1920s when they attend an event at the Buffalo Gap Historic Village, a collection of buildings, artifacts and four meeting rooms with a capacity of 20 to 80 people. Chuck-wagon meals are the specialty of Little Bend Ranch, which features room for 1,000 people, a beautiful outdoor pavilion, volleyball courts and softball fields.
Group-friendly restaurants include Cypress Station & Abilene Brewing Company, which welcomes guests with a friendly vibe and casual fare such as pizzas, steak and chicken dishes and craft beers. In nearby Buffalo Gap, Perini Ranch Steakhouse has hosted events for George W. Bush, actor Robert Duvall and executives from major corporations. The steakhouse fits parties of up to 92 guests, and there are also outdoor catering areas that can accommodate groups of to 1,000 for sizzling meals.
A walking tour of Historic Downtown, exploring the many museums, shops and legendary landmarks, is a great way for groups to unwind. Grace Cultural Center, housed in restored early 20th-century hotel, is home to three different museums: The Art Museum, The History Museum and The Children's Museum. For an interactive immersion of the Old West, Frontier Texas! puts visitors in the midst of wildlife, stampeding buffalo and card game shoot-outs. At Nelson Park, located right across from the West Texas Fairgrounds, is the Abilene Zoo, a lake with paddleboats, playgrounds, duck pond and festival garden.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons user : Keithimus