Irving’s walkable visitors’ district includes the Toyota Music Factory (clockwise from top left), the Westin Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas hotel, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas, and the Texican Court. (Derek Malone for ICVB)
In the past two years, an entertainment complex and two new hotels have risen up in Irving, Texas, within spitting distance of the architecturally awe-inspiring Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas. Well, within walking distance.
And that was the goal of the late-September media trip sponsored by the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau (ICVB) — to show off this walkable and vibrant new visitor district.
After arriving at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, I grabbed a cab for the under-20-minute ride to my host hotel, the Westin Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas, which is next door to the Irving Convention Center. The DART Light Rail Orange Line also can bring you from the airport to a station that’s a five- to 10-minute walk from the convention center in around 17 minutes.
The first question I had about my visit was to clear up whether I was in Irving or Las Colinas. Actually, both. Las Colinas is a 12,000-acre, master-planned development within the city of Irving. Its mix of corporate buildings, residences, restaurants, and hotels dot the land around 56 small lakes, canals, parks, and part of Campion Trails, a 22-mile greenbelt along the Trinity River.
The distinctive Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas features a copper “skin” and a terrace with views of Irving. (Photos courtesy Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau)
The March opening of the Westin added more than 30,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and 350 guest rooms to the destination, just steps from the Irving Convention Center — 78 steps, exactly, for Renee Reding, the Westin’s destination sales executive, from the hotel’s Harmony Ballroom entrance to the center’s exhibit entrance. The hotel’s architects, she said, tried to mirror the convention center by lining up the side and front doors, the car park, and even the restaurant with similar parts of the center.
For our first group meet-up, we had drinks at the hotel’s roomy Mesa Mezcal restaurant and bar. Then we strolled over to Boi Na Braza Brazilian Steakhouse at the Toyota Music Factory entertainment complex, just steps away, for dinner. The Factory, opened in September 2017, includes restaurants, bars, The Pavilion concert hall, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and Texas Lottery Plaza, a 50,000-square-foot outdoor event space.
Various cuts of meat and poultry sliced from the skewer onto my plate served as the ideal carnivore prelude to the butchery and ballads of the “Games of Thrones” Live Concert Experience at The Pavilion, our after-dinner activity. The concert hall can be converted into an intimate 2,500-seat theater, a 4,000-seat indoor theater, or an 8,000-seat indoor/outdoor amphitheater. The main floor can be transformed into a dance floor or mosh pit, which was the case two nights later when EDM (electronic dance music) powerhouse Zedd performed.
Planners can buy seating blocks for scheduled events, or even do a takeover of The Pavilion. In fact, any of the Toyota Music Factory venues can be rented, including Blue Fire Catering’s three spaces on site. And when there are no evening events planned, attendees can purchase tickets night-of, if available. Entertainment is never in short supply here.
The Pavilion, part of the Toyota Music Factory, opens up to become an indoor/outdoor amphitheater.
Feast for the Eyes
The next morning, we traded the dragons of “Game of Thrones” for the Mustangs of Los Colinas — a sculpture by Robert Glen installed 35 years ago of nine larger-than-life bronze mustangs galloping across Williams Square Plaza. But not before getting a tour of the Irving Convention Center, guided by Maura Allen Gast, ICVB’s executive director.
The convention center was a long time in the making — 12 years from the first project studies to its opening in 2011. Gast couldn’t be happier with the end result — what she calls “my baby.”
The distinctive architecture of the Irving Convention Center caused quite a stir when it was opened in 2011.
“I love that we didn’t build a box with docks,” she told Convene, adding that architect Barbara Hillier “thought way outside the standard. When we saw the first drawings, I thought, ‘there’s no way they’re going to let us build this,’” she said. “And they did.”
Because of its vertically stacked layout, it doesn’t seem possible that the facility offers 100,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. A nearly 50,000-square-foot, column-free exhibition hall dominates the ground floor, but the lobby and prefunction area outside the hall — with so many eye-popping architectural choices — set the tone for what we would see as we went skyward on the escalator.
A natural copper “skin” wraps around the upper part of the building’s exposed beam framework, creating mesmerizing grids as light shines through its perforations. When first added to the building, the reflection off the copper was so bright that drivers in the area complained, Gast said. But as planned, the metal is aging naturally and currently is a deep bronze on its way to a green patina.
Beyond aesthetics, the perforated pattern helps reduce air-conditioning demand, and contributed to the facility earning LEED Silver status. Another bonus, according to Gast, is that copper acts as a natural repellant to grackles, birds that look like crows but act like pigeons. You may find them roosting all over the Southwest, but not on the convention center structure.
The two upper floors offer a variety of meeting rooms, a 6,840-square-foot junior ballroom, a 19,264-square-foot grand ballroom, and a covered outdoor terrace with steps leading to the mezzanine level terrace and café, and to the ground level.
Nine larger-than-life bronze mustangs have been a fixture in Irving for decades. (Photos courtesy Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau)
A Pedicab Ride Away
After our tour, pedicabs took us for a 10-minute ride to lunch at Hugo’s Invitados, one of many Irving Water Street development restaurants, which sits next to Lake Carolyn and a large urban park, and across the street from the Mustangs sculpture.
After taking photos in the bright sunlight, we hopped back on the pedicabs for a quick ride-by of the area, where we saw people gliding in gondolas and paddle-boarding on the Mandalay Canals. We also got a peek at two nearby lakeside hotels, the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas and the Marriott Dallas Las Colinas. Both offer meeting spaces and are just a short pedicab ride — and even shorter car ride — from the convention center.
For our final stop on the walkable Irving tour, we stepped across the street from the convention center to Texican Court, a boutique hotel from the Valencia Hotel Group that looks like a revamped older motel — a charming architectural style I mentally classified as “Southwest Kitsch.” The property offers 3,500 square feet of meeting space and 152 guest rooms, decked out in bright Southwest colors.
With its communal wood-burning fire pit, circular pool, outdoor mini-bars in small covered wagons, Two Mules Cantina restaurant, tequila bar — and rocking chairs set out on the porches of each room — the hotel invited me to sit a while. Exactly what I needed after our walking tour of two destinations in one, Irving and Los Colinas.
The kitschy Texican Court boutique hotel that sits across the street from Irving’s convention center has open outdoor space for events. (Derek Malone for ICVB)