Education, tourism and the celebration of Texas’ cultural heritage are the focuses of a new, state-of-the-art visitors center in Houston that is currently in the planning stages. The Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, a destination visitors center utilizing innovative 21st-century exhibit technology is slated to be complete prior to Super Bowl LI being held in Houston’s Reliant Stadium in 2017 and should boost the regional economy, representatives of the center said.
John Nau III visited Beaumont’s Art Museum of Southeast Texas recently to talk about the Nau Center and reach out to local business people and other potential benefactors for donations toward the construction of the facility. Nau is the Nau Center Board of Directors chairman and CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors, the nation’s largest distributor of Anheuser- Busch products. Nau’s family is the namesake of the center and plans to contribute 20 percent of the total cost for the facility, currently estimated at $40 million.
In June 2010, Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker asked Nau to chair a committee to build a regional heritage tourism center for the upper Gulf Coast region. Nau accepted, he said, because he has always been interested in Texas history and culture, and he believes the new center will promote learning and provide amusement for visitors.
The center will be comprised of an “Aspirational Learning Center” with immersive exhibits where Texas history and culture are experienced interactively and the Foley and Cohn homes, which were moved onto the Nau Center site and are the only two remaining houses from Houston’s Quality Hill neighborhood built at the turn of the 20th century.
Nau said, “In my roles both with the state and federal government, I have had an opportunity to travel all over the country seeing what communities have done to highlight their heritage and cultural assets. So, the very first purpose was to create a visitors center, and that would help highlight regional assets, from your museums in Beaumont to Washington on the Brazos. The second purpose was to create a heritage and cultural museum or center. … Houston does not have such a facility. The third objective was for education, for the young people, particularly fourth and seventh graders who have to take Texas history. …We have been looking at what the teachers have told us they want, meeting with educators all over the region. We can send tourists to Beaumont.”
Nau said Beaumont’s history regarding energy, including the history of oil production symbolized by Spindletop, would be a big draw for potential tourists interested in cultural heritage. Nau said a database with historical information regarding energy, shipping and railroads and more features that make Southeast Texas special will be included on a database available at the center. A study by the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) requested by Houston First Corporation, who donated the land for the center and will be responsible for day-to-day operations, indicated the Nau Center’s “primary function will be to provide out-of-town visitors with information on local historic sites, entertainment venues, dining options and shopping opportunities” and said “several studies have shown that when tourists receive more information about a region, they often stay longer, spend more money, and generate additional tax revenues.”
A GHP study excluded Jefferson and Orange counties, but Nau said he believes those counties will experience positive effect to their economies also. Nau said the visitors center has a lot of potential to bring in tourists from surrounding attractions. Not only will the property be in a prime location and likely to be swept up in the wake of the tourism current generated by the adjacent George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green and Minute Maid Park in Houston, but it is located off the popular U.S. Highway 59 thoroughfare often utilized by travelers journeying through the region, Nau said. He believes the economic boon the center will cause will radiate outward into the region toward Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, particularly since area attraction Spindletop will be a featured, and likely interactive, exhibit.
The Wortham Foundation of Houston pledged a $3 million challenge grant announced by the Nau Center on Aug. 1. Once $20 million has been collected for the new center, the Wortham Foundation will donate $3 million. Additional funding for the center was announced on Sept. 4 after the Nau Center received a $2.5 million grant provided by the Kinder Foundation of Houston. Funds are rolling in, but so far it’s not enough to get the project underway, Nau said.
For more information or to donate, visit the center’s website at naucenter.org.