A Surprising Conference in Fort Worth

Fort WorthAs a long time writer for ConventionSouth, I’m used to describing markets and letting our readers know why a particular city is a great destination for meetings and events. In October, I had the opportunity to look at all that from the other side of the fence when I attended a conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

I’m a member of the Association of Personal Historians, an international organization for people who help others save their life stories. Our annual meetings are held around the U.S. and Canada, and when they announced Fort Worth as the site for 2016, I wasn’t excited. I knew from writing about it that Fort Worth had great hotels and meeting venues, but I didn’t think I would enjoy staying downtown. I pictured a big, generic Texas city. I’m happy to say that I was wrong!

Our conference was at the Sheraton Downtown, which was described as being “adjacent to the beautiful Water Gardens and just blocks from Sundance Square.” I’ve written things like that enough to be a little skeptical. Was the Water Gardens more than just a few fountains? And did I want to walk “just blocks” to get to Sundance Square?

The Water Gardens was my first big surprise, and I do mean big: an entire city block was filled with huge water features. And as described, it was just across the street from the hotel. Within a few minutes of leaving a meeting, I was sitting there, watching water cascade down giant steps, disperse in a mist above a reflecting pool, or spill into a tranquil grotto. It was absolutely delightful. The Fort Worth Convention Center was right there too, just on the other side of the Water Gardens.

Our conference material touted the benefit of Fort Worth’s free downtown trolley, “Molly the Trolley,” but every time I saw it, I had either just missed it or it was going away from where I was heading. But it’s okay, because I discovered the downtown to be very walkable. Isn’t it odd how a distance at home on a familiar route seems longer than that distance in a new city? It was around a mile from the hotel to Sundance Square, but it didn’t seem far at all.

The mix of architecture really impressed me. Plenty of the buildings were flashy and new, like I expected, but wisely, the city did not demolish all of its history. Many buildings dated from between 1880 and 1930, and other newer buildings (like 1998’s Bass Performance Hall) are a throwback to older architectural styles. Colorful, old neon signs are abundant as well. Downtown Fort Worth is a real treat for photographers.

I didn’t have many chances to sample restaurants, but what I found I enjoyed. Taco Diner at Sundance Square had the perfect Tex-Mex I was looking for. My favorite find was Acre Distilling, just a couple of blocks from Sheraton Downtown. It’s unique: a coffee shop and deli by day that serves delicious drinks with house-made spirits and a small-plate dinner menu in the evening.

Here’s one last surprise. Trinity Rail Express, a commuter line with a one-hour trip between downtown Dallas and Fort Worth, was also just a block from our conference hotel. One easily could stay in either downtown Dallas or Fort Worth and enjoy both cities. My recommendation? Downtown Fort Worth. And now I speak from personal experience.

By D. Fran Morley