Northstar Meetings Group | Sarah J.F. Braley
The Alamo’s facelift continues, new convention center features are planned, and a host of fine-dining options await groups.
The infectious energy of a Fiesta San Antonio night — the long-running festival that honors the heroes of the Alamo, and the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 — mirrors the excitement running through the city’s tourism industry. A number of projects nearing completion will be perfectly suited to bring meetings to the country’s seventh-largest city (and the Lone Star State’s most visited destination).
Watching the Texas Cavalier River Parade from a plaza outside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center last week — as 45 of the San Antonio River’s signature barges floated by sporting themed decorations, such as the Alamo, Star Wars, a Buddha statue, the Super Bowl, Santa Claus, a German oompah band and more — hosts from the convention facility noted that just over the wall behind the festivities, the new Civic Park at Hemisfair will be unveiled at the end of the year, adding a new lawn for events of several thousand people. Also in the works is a plan to build out the section of the convention center near the park for better access to the new outdoor space, and to add a 15,000-square-foot ballroom and 8 meeting rooms to the facility. A timeline for that construction has yet to be determined.
Breakfasting the next morning in the convention center’s singular Cantilever Room (also known as meeting room 220), I learned of several new hotels being developed, most aiming for 2024 openings. These include the 252-room Park Hotel, the 112-room Artista, the 200-room Curio by Hilton San Antonio and 347-room Kimpton property. Also planned are the 195-room W Hotel San Antonio and a conversion of a former Wyndham hotel into the 390-room InterContinental San Antonio Riverwalk.
The Alamo Rises Again
A visit to the Alamo revealed how much the grounds (above) have changed in the ongoing reconstruction of the site. The street that once passed close to the old chapel has now been closed off to cars, as a new pedestrian plaza is being carved out of the original footprint of the Catholic mission. A peaceful outdoor space has been constructed behind the old walls, and just opened there is the Ralston Family Collections Center, which currently houses an extensive array of Alamo artifacts that were gifted to the city by rock star Phil Collins, who turned a love for the 1950s Davy Crockett TV show into a fascination for the true history of the site. In a few years, Collins’ collection, as well as items from the Donald and Louise Yena Spanish Colonial Collection, will be moved to the new Alamo Visitor Center and Museum, scheduled to open on the new plaza in 2026.
Sampling San Antonio’s Eateries
Foodies delight at the options available in the city. Lunch at Best Quality Daughter featured an array of delicious Asian-American fare from local chef Jennifer Dobbertin (try the to-die-for curry shrimp fried rice and the dairy-free cashew chicken, if you’re only choosing two items, a nearly impossible feat). The colorful eatery in the vibrant Pearl District, decorated with custom wallpaper, hosts small groups for private events.
I enjoyed a particularly memorable dinner in the King William Historic District at Bliss, where chef-owner Mark Bliss’s menu of contemporary American cuisine emphasizes seasonal and fresh local ingredients (including the seared Georges Bank sea scallops on pepper-jack-cheddar Anson Mills grits and sautéed spinach, with avocado mousse on charred jalapeño cilantro beurre blanc, above). Wines were provided by Re:Rooted 210 Urban Winery, pouring the bright 2021 Gruner Veltliner with the hors d’oeuvres, the flavorful 2021 Roussanne for the salad course, and the warm red 2018 Dos Reyes for the main course. We were seated in the natural-light-filled private room that holds 24; the main restaurant hosts 52 people for buyouts, and there is a chef’s table in the kitchen for 10.
Brunch at the historical Guenther House — built in 1860 after Carl Hilmar Guenther relocated his Pioneer Mill to the river — featured airy waffles, pancakes, cinnamon buns and coffee cake using flour ground at the neighboring mill. The flower-strewn Arbor on the back lawn holds 60 people; if the weather is fine, the area opens up for 150. The former ballroom on the top floor of the house is now the Rooftop Garden, which features a terrace overlooking the San Antonio River and accommodates 40 to 50 people.
Source: Northstar Meetings Group