Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
Explore and celebrate American culture in Oklahoma and ArkansasThere’s a distinct characteristic that Oklahoma and Arkansas have in common beyond the borders they share, and that’s pride—in their history, their American culture and their foundation. It’s apparent in the heartfelt college sports culture that radiates from University of Oklahoma—fans adorned in crimson and cream Boomer and Sooner gear—in the numerous spaces dedicated to former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the First Lady in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he served as governor, and in the preserved and restored historic buildings and countless museums that tell the stories of early settlers. The Great Plains, Ouachita Mountains, sprawling lakes and robust forests are just some attractions of these two history-soaked meetings destinations. Bordering the line that divides the Southeast and Midwest, Oklahoma and Arkansas offer plenty of hiking, running and biking trails as well as water sports. As the official Olympic and Paralympic training facility for rowing, kayaking and canoeing, the Boathouse District of Norman, Oklahoma, serves as a rite of passage to world-class athletes. Inland, tourists will find quickly expanding cities eager to capitalize on their convenient central location by creating vast meetings and events opportunities. Spacious convention centers coupled with lively pubs, breweries, restaurants and clubs make Oklahoma and Arkansas inspiring places to meet, bond and unwind. An influx of funding in both regions is giving way to increased public transportation and accessibility, public parks, meeting spaces and more, ensuring that their reputations as business and leisure destinations are here to stay.
Oklahoma CityThe state capital and home to National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City (OKC) exemplifies the state’s pioneer history while maintaining a hip, young vibe that’s evident in its revitalized downtown nightlife scene and modern hotels. Visitors have ample activities to choose from, including catching an Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game; grabbing a bite and hailing a water taxi tour in the Bricktown Entertainment District; and visiting the many history and art museums OKC has to offer, not to mention the outdoor attractions brought by Oklahoma River, Myriad Botanical Gardens and Lake Hefner. Key meeting space: Just steps away from the bustling Bricktown Entertainment District is Cox Convention Center, with a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and more than 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 21 meeting rooms. It’s located across from three downtown hotels and 1,400 guest rooms, making nearby lodging a snap.
State Fair Park, Oklahoma CityPerhaps the most representative venue of the city, the colossal State Fair Park, can accommodate the largest events. Covering 435 acres, the venue hosts large conventions and sporting events, and has 10 expo halls and 304,872 total sq. ft. of meeting space. Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center Hotel is an upscale AAA Four Diamond hotel, as well as the largest conference center in the state, boasting 113,712 sq. ft. of event space that accommodates 3,200. Sheraton Hotel Oklahoma City Downtown is the largest hotel in the downtown area, with 396 guest rooms and 14 meeting rooms, including a 5,586-square-foot ballroom and a recently unveiled 2,600-square-foot ballroom that boasts 29-foot ceilings and can accommodate 300 guests. Lodging: There are more than 16,000 hotel rooms in OKC, and 2,378 of them can be found downtown, all within walking distance to the hottest nightlife spots and attractions. Homewood Suites by Hilton Oklahoma City-Bricktown, offering 100 guest rooms, is a prime example, located just steps from Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark and the canal. Courtyard Oklahoma City Downtown, at the corner of Chesapeake Energy Arena and across the street from Cox Convention Center, provides 225 guest rooms and 10 meeting rooms. For those looking to stay out of the downtown area and still access all its amenities, the Northwest corridor offers ample lodging, including Tower Hotel Oklahoma City, a business hotel with a full-service business center and 354 guest rooms. Where to have fun: Bricktown is the obvious attraction, with its myriad dining options, music venues and mile-long Bricktown Canal, but OKC’s other districts offer unique attractions, as well. Uptown is a must for delicious casual dining and some of the best barbecue the city has to offer. Stockyards City is where OKC’s authentic Western heritage really shines—from cowboys to Western stores and the largest live cattle auction in the world. Appropriately named, OKC’s Adventure District is where you can find it all: Science Museum Oklahoma, horse racing and the nationally renowned Oklahoma City Zoo are all just a short drive from downtown. Quotable: “We’ve collected a billion and a half dollars with MAPS, [Metropolitan Area Projects],” says Dennis Johnston, vice president of sales for Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “All the development that’s been happening since 1995 was paid for as it was built. And when we open the new convention center, it will debt-free, too.” (Read more about MAPS in the adjoining sidebar.)
NormanJust 20 miles south of Oklahoma City is the metropolitan city of Norman, home of the National Weather Center and University of Oklahoma. The city’s seven shopping districts, diverse dining and world-class museums are just some of the reasons Norman is an ideal meetings destination. Key meeting space: Winner of the 2015 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award, Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center boasts an expansive ballroom that accommodates 2,320 people and 20 meeting rooms, totaling 50,000 sq. ft. of space. The upscale high-rise features 283 suites and is less than 6 miles from the Riverwind Casino. Easily accessible, NCED Conference Center and Hotel on Highway 9 offers 964 recently refurbished guest rooms in addition to its 46 meeting rooms and 8,568-square-foot ballroom. It boasts more than 60,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space. University of Oklahoma offers two beautiful event spaces. Oklahoma Memorial Union features more than 25,000 sq. ft. of event space, from intimate rooms and lounges to a 6,500-square-foot ballroom. The OU College of Continuing Education offers 14 seminar rooms and three meeting rooms for a total capacity of 600 people. Lodging: A mile from Westwood Park Golf Course, The Norman Hotel has 150 sleek guest rooms and 7,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space comprised of ballrooms, boardrooms and conference rooms. There’s no better place to feel like a local than Sooner Legends Inn & Suites, a sports-themed causal hotel with 136 guest rooms and three meeting rooms that can accommodate 300. Where to have fun: Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History on the University of Oklahoma campus features six galleries displaying 500 million years of Oklahoman narrative. In southeast Norman, Redbud Ridge Vineyard & Winery’s tasting room serves up smooth red blends. Eleven miles down the road is Chickasaw Nation-owned Riverwind Casino, which boasts a 219,000-square-foot gaming floor. The National Weather Center offers free tours of its state-of-the-art, 9-acre facility, Full of incredible technology, including Science on a Sphere. Quotable: “Between the athletic events and world-class museums, the University of Oklahoma is the state’s largest attraction,” says Stefanie Brickman, communications manager of Norman Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Plus we’re centrally located, both in the U.S. and in Oklahoma; we’re very close to the intersection of two of the most traveled interstates, so that makes us very attractive to a national, regional and state audience.”
Coming to OKCIf you think Oklahoma City has plenty to offer now, wait until you see what’s in the works. The Metropolitan Area Projects’ (MAPs) one-cent sales tax initiative is onto its third enterprise after passing in 1993. MAPS 3 will build several major public projects in the coming years that will make the city an even more attractive meetings destination. Here are some things to look forward to. New Convention Center: The proposed center—with a $252 million budget—will feature nearly 200,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and 50,000 sq. ft. of additional meeting space. With a prime location just south of Myriad Botanical Gardens & Tropical Conservatory (pictured) and across the street from Chesapeake Energy Arena, the yet-to-be-named convention center is scheduled to open in 2019. New State Fair Park: Oklahoma State Fair Park will have a new 279,000-square-foot expo building. Scheduled to be completed in 2016, it will replace the current Travel & Transportation Building on the east side of State Fair Park and include 201,000 sq. ft. of expo space and an 11,100-square-foot kitchen to support catering. 70-Acre Downtown Park: This park will provide citizens and visitors with a variety of recreational activities, including concerts, walking, biking and running trails, picnic sites, youth sports fields, play areas, public art, interactive water features and outdoor education opportunities—all to promote a healthier lifestyle. The park will connect downtown Oklahoma City to the shores of the Oklahoma River and is scheduled to be completed in 2021. Whitewater Rafting Facility: A new whitewater rafting facility is scheduled to open in the Boathouse District later this year—a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site that boasts multiple unique meeting spaces with gorgeous views of the Oklahoma River, such as the Chesapeake Boathouse, which features three meeting rooms and can accommodate up to 345. Modern Streetcar System: A streetcar system built unlike any other in the United States will span 5 to 6 miles of downtown OKC, linking major attractions and offering accessibility for locals and visitors. The first phase of construction is expected to be finished in 2018 and the second phase is scheduled for completion in 2021.
The River Market District, Little Rock, Arkansas
Little RockNo traffic, no hassle and no cross-country flights: These are just some of the reasons Little Rock is a popular destination for meetings. Known as a major cultural and economic center, Little Rock has an arts center, repertory theater, symphony orchestra and many large corporations that call the city home. Full of museums and historic districts, Little Rock offers groups many reasons to visit. Key meeting space: William J. Clinton Center and Park, located in the River Market District downtown, features 20,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and Forty Two restaurant. Great Hall offers 3,500 sq. ft. and boasts 40-foot ceilings, unveiling a panoramic view of the city. The Garden View Room and adjoining patio are perfect for smaller meetings, with 2,600 sq. ft. that can accommodate up to 150. Scholars Garden is an outdoor venue space between buildings that has 13,500 sq. ft. Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau operates three meeting facilities, including Statehouse Convention Center, comprised of Wally Allen Ballroom, an exhibition hall and an atrium. The exhibition hall can be divided into four halls and spans 82,892 sq. ft., plus there’s an additional 15 meeting rooms. Wally Allen Ballroom provides 18,362 sq. ft. and divides into five more intimate spaces, and features elegant foyers for pre-event gatherings and exhibits. Situated in North Little Rock, The Verizon Arena is a 370,000-square-foot entertainment and convention facility with 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The arena can seat 18,000. Lodging: Centrally located, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Little Rock is walking distance to many local attractions and 15 minutes from Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT). It offers 288 guest rooms and flexible meeting space, including an 8,490-square-foot meeting room. Take a step back in time at the Capital Hotel. Established in 1876, the historical building recently underwent a $24 million restoration that highlights modern amenities while still paying tribute to its elegant past. It offers 94 guest rooms, five meeting rooms and 6,400 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Ottenheimer Market Hall, Little Rock, ArkansasWhere to have fun: The River Market District is the city’s restaurant headquarters. Whether dining at one of their restaurants or grabbing a bite from vendors inside Ottenheimer Market Hall, there is an abundance of options, plus art galleries and specialty shops, museums and bars. Downtown, the vintage River Rail Trolley tours Robinson Center Music Hall, Riverfront Park and Amphitheater, and the Clinton Presidential Center, among other sites. Big Dam Bridge, the largest bike bridge in North America, spans 4,226 feet over the Arkansas River and Murray Lock and Dam, and is open only to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Quotables: “One of the things we’re most excited about is the brand new Robinson Center,” says John Mayner, vice president marketing and communications of Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s our most iconic building downtown and it’s being completely reimagined with a $70 million renovation.” The 26-month-long project will be completed in November, and will offer a combined 45,000 sq. ft. of meeting space with the adjoining DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, according to Mayner.