A new project in Houston promises to funnel fresh loads of heritage tourists to Galveston, drawn here after immersion in one of the most innovative history and visitor centers in the nation.
The Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage is still on the drawing board, but ground is ready to be broken once a good portion of the $40 million capital campaign is set. Then, in 15 to 18 months, a state-of-the-art facility will debut in the shadow of Minute Maid Park, prime conventioneer, visitor and heritage tourist territory.
“It’s not a museum in the traditional sense. It’s a combination visitor center, historic and cultural experience, with a focus on aspirational education,” said John L. Nau III, Houston businessman and chairman of the center’s board. “We’ll be the first 21st century center (like this) in the country.”
When Nau talks about “aspirational” education, he refers to one of the center’s goals, to encourage visitors, as well as 4th and 7th grade students taking Texas history, to aspire to learn and do more. The center also aims to highlight historic, cultural and natural resources within the southeast Texas region, grouped together so visitors can plan side trips.
Galveston has much to gain from the success of the project.
“I think of all the entities that are associated, Galveston is probably going to get the biggest benefit from it,” said Fred Burns of Galveston.
Burns is known, along with his wife, Pat, for his philanthropy and interest in historic preservation. He has joined the center’s board of directors, impressed by the forward thinking on enlivening history.
“People are interested in history — they want to study history — and if we can capture them for two or three days here, it will be very good for Galveston,” Burns said.
He and his wife restored the Menard House, Galveston’s oldest surviving residential dwelling, now operated as a museum by the Galveston Historical Foundation.
“Galveston still has this rich collection of artifacts of the 19th century that few cities are blessed to have.”
The Galveston Historical Foundation will be helping the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage develop its Galveston story line on attractions, including the Tall Ship Elissa, Bishop’s Palace and other properties.
“We see the center as a way to draw visitors to the island who might otherwise not be aware of what we offer here as attractions and history,” said Dwayne Jones, executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation.
“Galveston’s rich history and architecture will be major aspects of the center and will clearly demonstrate to Houston visitors that the island is extraordinary. This should play well with the growing economic impact of the heritage tourist who spends more money and stays longer at major attractions like Galveston.
“We expect that these visitors will spend less time at the beach and more time learning about our history and architecture.”
Nau counts himself among avid heritage tourists. His interest in history dates to grade school days, when he had to have a note from his mother to check out history books outside the children’s section at a Chicago library. Now a successful businessman and CEO of the nation’s largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products, Nau hopes to make history more accessible and teach a Texas-sized lesson.
“We want visitors to leave not just the center, but their time in the region with the idea that people in this region think big things and get big things done,” he said.
At a glance
WHO: Bailey Architects, known for their work on the new Washington-on-the-Brazos Visitor Center and other historic sites, will design the center. BRC Imagination Arts, known for its work on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and Texas State History Museum, will handle concept development, production and installation. Houston First Corporation, the consolidation of the City of Houston Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department and the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation, will operate and manage the center. The Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage will oversee programming. The Galveston Historical Foundation will help in developing the Galveston story line at the center.
WHAT: Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, a new hybrid visitors center, education facility and museum that will feature Galveston’s historic assets as well as others in southeast Texas. The center is named in honor of John L. Nau III, Houston businessman and chairman of the center’s board, who donated $8 million to the capital campaign.
WHEN: The project will likely take 15 to 18 months to construct, with work beginning once 60 percent of the capital campaign goal is tied down.
WHERE: A multistory, approximately 60,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, along with two historic homes, to be near the George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green and Minute Maid Park in Houston. A grand rotunda, open entry lobby, a promenade for gathering, an information center and hospitality room, a gift shop, enclosed walks and entryways, a rooftop garden, function rooms, exhibition and gallery space, and the two historic homes will make up the center.
HOW: Interactive learning stations, story galleries and multimedia, multi-sensory special effects will be used to tell the stories of historic sites and offerings of southeast Texas, including Galveston’s historic Strand, Galveston Bay and other sites.
HOW MUCH: A $40 million capital campaign raised from private funds will fund construction. Galveston businessman Tilman Fertitta is among the members of the campaign. Houston First Corporation will also contribute $15 million to the project.