History of the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center

The Joe C. Thompson Conference Center (TCC) is named for the late Joe C. Thompson of Dallas, an alumnus of the University who, at the time of his death in 1961, was Chairman of the Southland Corporation and a member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents. The Center has served as an academic link between the University and the community since 1970. As the focal point of the University of Texas at Austin's continuing education efforts, the Center's mission is to provide excellent conference facilities, services, and programs for people to continue their educational development and personal enrichment. The Center has a 1,000- person instructional capacity.

Thompson Conference Center building
Thompson Conference Center in 1973. Photo by Frank Armstrong

As a full-service, non-residential conference center, the Center serves over 200,000 people each year. Designed specifically for continuing education programs, the Center serves a variety of clients and hosts a wide assortment of educational programs and events. University colleagues, mainly through their academic associations, bring colleagues from around the nation and the world to scholarly meetings. Governmental entities use the Center for workshops for their employees as well as for meetings with the general public. External use, with University co-sponsorship, includes not-for-profit educational events planned by corporations, non-profit agencies, and business associations.

Conveniently located on an oakshaded hill on the northeast corner of campus, the Center is bounded by Red River Street on the east and by Robert Dedman Drive on the west. It is also surrounded by Dean Keeton (26th Street) on the north and by the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum on the south.

Thompson brothers
Thompson brothers, left to right: Jodie Thompson, John Thompson, and Jere Thompson at the Thompson Conference Center on the 25th anniversary

Mr. Thompson first casually suggested the idea of a conference center to members of the University's Development Board in October 1956. He saw it as a means of bringing the University and its constituents closer together. When he was appointed to the Board of Regents in 1957, he expressed his feeling that a conference center should be built. He recommended that it should be selective of the best that state agencies, the University, industry, and the professions had to offer. During his term as a regent, the building became a part of the University's 10-year expansion plan.

Mr. Thompson's first choice for the Center's location on campus was an area between the University Law School and the Texas Memorial Museum. However, as the concept for the Center expanded, and the East Campus was developed, the location was changed to a more convenient and beautiful site on a hill at the north end of East Campus. Accessibility, parking, and other accommodations proved the decision wise.

Regent Joe C. Thompson died in June 1961. On December 4, 1962, UT President Smiley appointed a project committee for the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center, as the preliminary plans for the Center had been authorized by the Board of Regents on December 1. Dean Norris Hiett's last major assignment at the University included planning for both the conference center and the programs. Project Architects were Fisher and Spillman, Inc. of Dallas, Texas. University faculty, students, and administrators enthusiastically endorsed the project and the final architectural plans were approved in June 1966. The B.L. McGee Construction Company of Austin was the general contractor. Construction began on August 28, 1968, and was completed on June 10, 1970.

The exterior of the building is of exposed aggregate concrete, Texas shellstone, and glare-reducing glass.

Thompson Conference Center Main Auditorium
Thompson Conference Center Main Auditorium, 1970

A 42-foot by 90-foot front terrace serves as the entry and is adorned with decorative lights. In the north center of the facility is a 54-foot square garden patio. With a total of approximately 54,000 gross square feet, the building contains three levels and a basement. Spaces inside the building were designed for a wide variety of uses to make group sessions effective and convenient. They include a 250-seat auditorium, 13 conference rooms accommodating from 20-200 people, a computer lab, reception and public areas, and administrative offices. A large two-story, carpeted dining room is enclosed on three sides by glass, extending from the basement through the first-floor level. The two levels are connected by a broad, pre-cast terrazzo staircase. Three-hundred-year old oak trees on the north end of the dining room inspired its name of "Under the Oaks." The Center's convenient parking lot is located at the intersection of Red River and Dean Keeton (26th) Streets and accommodates 267 vehicles.

Thompson Conference Center computer lab
Thompson Conference Center computer lab, 1997

The Joe C. Thompson Conference Center was officially dedicated on Friday, October 30, 1970, at 11:00 a.m. Among the principal speakers at the opening were Former Governor Allan Shivers (Governor of Texas, 1949-57), who appointed Mr. Thompson to the University's Board of Regents. In his dedication address, Shivers stated that it was appropriate for the building to have been designed and dedicated as, "a place where people can meet face-to- face and mind-to-mind, with mutual respect and mutual goals of broadened understanding and constructive planning in an era that so urgently needs both." Chairman Frank C. Erwin, who was central to the development of the East Campus areas, stated, "This Center signifies The University's deep commitment to continuing education and service to this state." More than 300 people attended the ceremony, including former president Lyndon B. Johnson and members of the Thompson family.

The Center was made possible by the allocation of funds by the University of Texas System Board of Regents and by generous gifts of the Thompson family, members of the Southland organization, employees of the Southland Corporation, and friends of Mr. Thompson. The total project costs, including construction contract, fees, furnishings, and miscellaneous expenses, were $1,330,000.

During the Thompson Center's first year of operation (1970-71), approximately 330 conferences, institutes, and meetings were conducted serving over 30,000 participants. In 2000-2001, over 1,200 conferences, institutes and meetings were conducted, serving approximately 200,000 participants.

The University of Texas at Austin colleges and departments sponsoring Conference Center programs include Business Administration, Social Work, LBJ School of Public Affairs, Engineering, Law School, Nursing School, Natural Sciences, Education and Computer Science. Non-UT agencies conducting meetings at TCC include the Office of the Governor, Austin Symphony Orchestra, State Bar, Texas Parks and Wildlife, National Institutes of Health, Department of Public Welfare, and the Texas Medical Association.

Looking ahead to the future, the University System Board of Regents is considering a proposal to build an $80 million hotel and conference center on or adjacent to the University campus. The board first discussed the idea at its Finance and Planning committee meeting on July 3, 2001. Meanwhile, the Thompson Conference Center continues to serve the educational needs of over 200,000 people per year.