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Dallas and art

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cynthia Calvert

Sheraton Dallas upgrades to fine design, technology For Houstonians who know well the treasures that lay north in Dallas, the main considerations for a long leisurely weekend in Big D is where to stay and what to do. There are old favorites and delightful posh boutique hotels but may I suggest the Sheraton? Established brands such as the Sheraton can seem non personalized and routine. But in December, this particular Sheraton, located in the heart of Dallas within walking distance of the arts district, celebrated a year-long, $90 million renovation. And what a transformation! The Sheraton, a Starwood Hotel and Resort property, is the largest hotel in Texas (1,840 guest rooms) and a top conference destination, offering more than 230,000 square feet of space to meet, confer and gather. Numerous ballrooms, meetings rooms and open spaces can be arranged to suit any need. Up on the 18th floor is the Chaparral Room, graced with fabulous art and a 360 degree view of the city and the perfect place for a company meal. Ray Hammer, general manager, is an enthusiastic and proud leader of the nearly 600 employees at the hotel; several of these folks confided to me that the Dallas Business Journal has chosen it as one of Dallas' Best Places to Work each year since 2002. “We all strive for an emotional connection with our guests,” he told me the afternoon we arrived. “We like to share the feeling of our hotel.” The mid-March weekend we drove in was busy at the hotel, with a large children's music convention in full bloom. While there were many guests gathering in the spacious lobby, check in was quick and efficient. We rode the elevator up to our room and took in the expansive view of downtown. Rooms feature the Sheraton's wonderful pillow top Sweet Sleeper Bed. We had two flat screen TVs and a great downtown view. Perfect for watching the snow fall that night – yes, snow! It was simply lovely to watch it descend past our 16th floor window. There are more than a few aspects of the downtown Sheraton to let you know you've stepped into the 21st century. Electronic reader boards, called Four Winds Interactive signs, are positioned throughout the hotel and conference center. They are graphics-loaded, touch-screen panels that help guests navigate their way around the hotel property. A 3-D image of the hotel alternates with maps of downtown or any destination chosen by the guests. This system alone cost more than $500,000. For those who are concerned with carbon footprints, the Sheraton allows guests to refuse daily housekeeping in exchange for a $5 gift certificates to use on site for food and beverages. The Smart System controls the environment: lights are automatic when guests enter the room and temperature controls in each room responds to guests' body temperatures. If you're not in the room, the system turns off. And yes, old Texans can learn new tricks! There are recycling bins strategically placed to make recycling easy. All leftover room amenities such as shampoo and soaps are donated to local shelters. Computer hookups scattered throughout the hotel and all public spaces are available with complimentary WiFi. Many Sheratons, including this one, now offer The Link – a full computer system featuring 32 permanent computer stations in the lobby where guests may surf the Internet or check email. And coming soon – a suitcase drop on site for busy travelers. The hotel will accept your luggage, drive it to the airport, have it sent through security and checked to your final destination. The 4,000-square foot Fitness Center offers an outdoor pool and $500,000 in the latest equipment. The hotel is pet friendly too; for a small deposit, you are welcome to bring along your four-footed friends. Dining – Keeping with the lively, family feel, the Kitchen Table Restaurant is an open concept in the lobby. Floor to ceiling windows direct your gaze to the patio where fire pits light the evening sky. Complimentary s'mores are often passed by staff who enjoy watching the surprise and delight on guest faces. The Draft Sports Bar is a definite stopping place – there are flat screen TVs throughout and lots to do including pool, darts and Nintendo Wii games. There are two private karaoke salons and be sure to sample the wide variety of beer, both local and international. The menu boasts lots of great favorites like nachos and sliders, mini corn dogs, Frito pie, and pizza. Chill – the frozen yogurt shop is filled with glass jars brimming with colorful candy and the Sheraton's homemade chocolate, Bark Bar. Peets serves up coffee and light snacks. Executive chef Michael Braun is one of the most innovative chefs we have experienced. His banquet repasts were inspiring. Braun uses mini iron casserole dishes and bamboo baskets to showcase tasty creations like a delightful lobster-macaroni and cheese dish. Succulent individual beef ribs, shrimp and a superb breakfast buffet was beautifully arranged and thoughtfully presented. Is it any wonder that Braun has received numerous awards for his cooking? The Dallas Arts District, a 19-block area filled with some of the true treasures of Texas, is home to a fabulous collection of shops, restaurants, and shopping. Do not miss the Dallas Museum of Art, currently offering more than 24,000 works of art from every period and country. The subject of a recent New York Times article, the DMA is led by director Bonnie Pitman, gaining acclaim for her reorientation toward the museum patron. Pitman keeps programming visitor-centered and interactive. Other highlights: The Crow Collection of Asian Art is free and graciously offers galleries full of 50 centuries of Asian art. Stanley Korshak is a must – just to gaze and admire and swoon over the luxurious men's and women's adornments. Other jewels to discover: the Barry Whistler Gallery, lavishly offering some of Texas' finest artists, the Rachofsky House, the Winspear Opera House, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Dallas Center for Performing Arts. Do not forget to visit the original Neiman Marcus at 1618 Main Street. This is ground zero for Texas society and the store pulls out all the stops for its shoppers. Can't afford a $100 picture frame or a $400 shell necklace? Just stand quietly and breathe in the rarefied air. A trip to the Dallas Museum of Art, with shopping at Neiman's – and a lovely and affordable room? That sounds like a spring break to me! One great feature is that many weekend Sheraton specials are offered which often include breakfast. Our weekend, rooms were going for as little as $89 with junior suites just slightly more. We particularly appreciated the check in/check out kiosks near the front desk where you can choose your room, check-in for air travel and print boarding passes. Visit for last minute specials and enjoy a artsy weekend with a high tech flair. Cynthia Calvert is an experienced travel writer based in Houston, Texas. She owns four newspapers, The Tribunes, in suburban Houston with a delivered circulation of 50,000 and an online presence receiving more than 155,000 unique visitors each month. The Tribunes are an accredited (application basis only) part of Google News and enjoy a serious presence on the Internet ( Photos (from top to bottom): Breakfast is a delight. The Sheraton's new look is classic, elegant and rich. Ribs, the Sheraton version. Photos by Larry Shiflet

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