SXSW’s Convention Center Challenge Will Inspire You to Host an Austin ‘Mini-Wide’ 

A Sponsored Message From Visit Austin

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

3 people posing in front of SXSW signs

SXSW brings nearly 300,000 people to Austin every March. Organizers began experimenting with different venues this year to prepare for 2026, when the Austin Convention Center closes for renovations. (Aaron Rogosin photos)

In many ways, SXSW is synonymous with Austin. Comprised of a conference as well as music, film, and comedy festivals, SXSW draws an audience totaling nearly 300,000 people to the city over 10 days every March, with a campus that starts at the Austin Convention Center and extends into downtown and beyond.

However, following 2025, SXSW will have to reinvent that core part of its event, as the Austin Convention Center will close until 2029 to undergo a major expansion and renovation. That means relocating several major components typically held at the center — what Michele Flores, chief logistics officer at SXSW, calls “the heart” of SXSW — to other venues.

It’s a challenge that Flores is excited about — her team successfully tested several ideas at SXSW 2024 — showing how it’s possible for groups of nearly any size to create their own “mini-wide” event, convention center or not, in Austin. At SXSW 2024, Flores and her team experimented with setting up satellite registration locations throughout downtown and closing down part of busy Congress Avenue, a popular artery in downtown, for red-carpet and other high-profile events to allow for more audience engagement and increased safety.

Flores sees Austin’s walkable and entertainment-packed downtown core as a key element of the SXSW experience, and to make that come alive her team counts on the continued participation and flexibility of the city, public entities like police and the parks department, as well as local businesses. “We’ve done activations all around the city, so we’re very used to going into a bar and taking that over,” or closing down a street, Flores said. “We know what it’s like to have sort of this campus style and decentralize everything, but still put on a cohesive experience in downtown.”

Offbeat and Off Site

Four examples of only-in-Austin venues sponsors utilized during SXSW 2024.

Brazos Hall — The venue of choice for Porsche’s activation, this downtown warehouse-turned-event-space has plenty of character, including 100-year-old longleaf pine floors, exposed steel beams, and brick exteriors.

Estelle’s — Delta hosted a branded pop-up experience at this versatile cocktail lounge space, offering guests custom merch, Starbucks beverages, and free Wi-Fi access.

Clive Bar — Paramount+’s The Lodge gave attendees a hands-on, up-close experience at this local bar, including setting out props and costumes straight from the sets of the TV series “Halo” and “Star Trek: Discovery,” along with themed cocktails.

French Legation — The former home of a French diplomat circa mid-1800s is the perfect setting for a San Pellegrino event. Dubbed Piazza Sanpellegrino, the Italian-themed escape included a Spritz bar, bocce ball, a brick oven pizza, and a host’s mercatino.

woman with glass, long dark hair on stage with mic

Brooke Shields speaks during a panel discussion March 9 on the Center Stage at SXSW in Austin. (Caleb Pickens photo)

A Way to ‘Reinvent’

Looking ahead to when they won’t have the center as a basecamp, Flores said she thinks in some ways, this is going to be a way to “reinvent ourselves.” For example, she anticipates working closely with SXSW hotel partners to come up with creative ideas to attract audiences — like when, a few years ago, in an effort to drive more non-attendee locals to downtown during SXSW, hotels began hosting the Second Play Stages series, featuring live, stripped-down performances by SXSW artists.

She also sees an opportunity to utilize nontraditional spaces more often. One idea is to host food trucks and sponsor activations in outdoor public spaces like Capital Mall, a popular walkway in downtown Austin between attractions that sees significant foot traffic.

“I’m not saying that this is going to be easy, but this is a chance for us…to really look at how we sell things, where we put it, and the purpose,” Flores said. “We want to maintain that [sense of] discovery that SXSW is, and still have that energetic vibe.”

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