New Downtown Tourism Center To Send Tourists to Nearby Tourist Attractions

The regional tourism building planned for the northern of the 2 blocks between Minute Maid Park and the GRB will be called the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, Mayor Parker announced today. It’ll be named after beer distributor and $8-million-donor John Nau; fundraisers hope waving the rendering pictured above will help drum up an additional $32 million to get the thing built. ($15 million more is coming from Houston First, the “government corporation” that runs the city’s convention center, the Hilton Americas Hotel, and several city performance venues.)

The design leaves room for 2 houses dating from 1904 and 1905 and moved to the site last year, the only surviving structures from the neighborhood on nearby blocks named Quality Hill that by the 1930s had vanished — along with its storied reputation for integrity and elevation. The rendering also shows (at far right) the saved-from-scrap 1919 Southern Pacific 982 steam engine parked on the curb across from the East End Light Rail Line along Capitol St. Between the houses and the locomotive will sit the Nau Center’s signature dome entrance, held aloft, the rendering from Bailey Architects shows, by a ring of dainty columns resting at sidewalk level and a circular wall of glass.


Included in the 60,000-sq.-ft. Downtown venue, which Houston First expects to become a tourist attraction in its own right, will be museum-quality advertisements for other visitor attractions in southeast Texas, including the nearby San Jacinto Monument, the Strand in Galveston, the Port of Houston, Ima Hogg’s Bayou Bend, and the Johnson Space Center. In promotional materials, the organization claims the multimedia exhibits planned for the inside will “help turn a one-day visit into a multi-day adventure.”

On Wednesday, city council approved the purchase of 2 lots on the site — which is bounded by Texas, Capitol, Hamilton, and Avenida de las Americas — for $1.8 million.

Images: Houston First

29 Comment

  • Wow, that will be pretty freaking sweet! Cant wait to see that come to fruition.

  • I’m all for the center, but why such horrendous architecture? Is Harris County involved in this: which would explain the Greco-Roman BS rendering. It’s a tourism center about Houston. And Texas? So why not regional architecture? What the hell does a pseudo ancient Roman temple with glass walls have to do with Houston or Texas, or the USA, for that matter. Great idea. Embarrassingly bad architecture. I guess it will appeal to the folks who think that the faux East Coast, faux train station design of Minute Maid is “awesome”. Yet another missed opportunity for Houston.

  • I agree with Jon,

    This could be a better building if it was dedicated to Houston’s more unique bayou architecture or mid-century modern flourish like the rest of downtown. But I doubt the final design is set. This is just a teaser first shot.

  • Jon, what would you recommend in terms of architecture?

    I think it looks great, considering its surroundings, which include the ballpark, GRB, new hotel, light rail, Discovery Green, new Dynamo Stadium. Where everything has its own unique look.

    I’m curious as to what you consider more regional.

  • So basically we’re talking about a museum dedicated to other area museums? Only in Houston! And that rendering made me think of the Bullock State Museum in Austin (which is not a great museum).

  • How do you pronounce “Nau”?

    I am usually very suspect of pouring dollars into the whole convention racket. But, I learned today that the police cars that have been staked out all along Memorial drive the past few mornings were hired to help direct traffic to get a fleet of buses from the Galleria to the GRB for the Starbucks convention (10,000 in attendance). The only downside is that my mother in law always wants to come for the quilt show.
    The architecture isn’t too far off. The dome borrows from the many similar Texas courthouses, including the new civil downtown and the restored old civil, now court of appeals.
    My only “aw come on now” moment is the idea that this center will convince people to vacation in Houston/SE Texas. People vacation in this area because they have to ($), not because they want to.

  • @Jon: I would agree that they took the train theme a little too far at Minute-Maid, but keep in mind that part of the structure is an actual, non-faux train station.
    And I’m in favor of doing just about anything to fill in the eastern downtown parking prairies. A tourist center? Why not?

  • On picture number 6 from above, are the utility poles behind the locomotive faux and part of the theme park’s exhibit that sends tourists back to the year 1919, or are they actual Houston infrastructure items from 2012?

  • I wished the agency/organizaiton behind this had put more thought into it. It appears that Houston might have some Austin envy and wants its own BB Texas State History Museum complete with IMax experience and weird architecture. Many prefer to see their history in situ when possible especially if it’s nearby. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was just another way to cash in on that visitor and convention tax. But what do I know . . . . .

  • Let’s hope the interior and displays are designed by a firm that steers clear of trendy kitsch. Those in the renderings already look cheesy and dated.

  • Given the anount of Houston’s outstanding modern and contemporary architecture, the fact that this is 2012 (and not 1812), and our standing in the national contemporary art scene, it saddens me to think that Houston would be represented to the world by such a beyond-dated, time-inappropriate building.

  • The historic homes are there because one can’t see them in situ, but the other exhibits are there to encourage one to go to those places.

    Reminds me of a long ago road trip where I saw the Judge Roy Bean West of the Pecos Museum in El Paso, later saw the real one in Del Rio, swung by the Alamo movie set in Bracketsville and then passed through San Antonio for the real thing.

  • Langtry, TX, not Del Rio (that was a different road trip).

  • money pit

  • What’s the point of this thing? Don’t people these days just Google things they want to go see and plan their trips accordingly? Why would I need to physically go to a place to find a place I physically want to go to?

  • For once I agree with Commonsense

  • History museums are hard to do. Even the Smithsonian one is easily the least of its offerings. But maybe this is only meant to be a place to hand out brochures, and the $40 milllion is for Buc-ee’s style restrooms.
    It’s not that Texas history isn’t interesting – it is, but I don’t think outsiders care about it. I strongly agree with Mschuler about preferring history “in situ.” A half-hour here and there at Texas’ historical sites and small town museums is time better spent.
    I’m surprised that an architect wanted to sign his name to even a preliminary design that is so reminiscent of the Bullock museum, and that his client happily paid for it. But no tile mosaic floor?
    (You’re looking at the tops of their cowboy hats.)
    The murals evoke the less-sanitized ones on “Parks and Recreation.” It appears from the pictures they will change from day to night like that mall in Las Vegas?
    Forewarning: the Bullock museum may serve as a useful primer for the many newcomers to Texas, but it is definitely not a place one visits more than once.
    I hope Houston’s focus, insofar as it has a choice, continues to be on the fine arts, in honor of the earlier generation of oil-rich Houstonians who no doubt weathered a great deal of snobbery, and devoted no small part of their fortunes, in pursuit of that quixotic legacy.

  • I do appreciate that this land is being developed, but I have a real, honest-to-goodness question: When was the last time you went into a visitor’s center? If we want a Houston museum, fine, but why build something whose only purpose is basically supplanted by Siri?

  • Looks like a propaganda display.
    Isn’t the tourism center already in city hall?

  • It needs to be faux-Tuscan, with flying entry arches, and made from beer cans and recycled shipping containers.

  • For everyone saying we don’t need a visitor’s center, the fact is, convention-goers will go to this thing. Most people come here frankly not knowing anything about the place other than it’s a big city in Texas, and East Downtown is still pretty bare of options for when you’re tired of the convention. People will go to it and leave with more of a sense of the city.

    My only concern would be spending so much money on a short structure in a neighborhood where the highest and best use longterm is something taller.

  • Finally, Mike with a voice of reason. I see this as mainly for folks who have come downtown for one thing (convention, ball game, performance) and are looking for other things. If I ended up in a city I didn’t know much about and saw a place like this, I would certainly go in and check it out. Have any of you been to the current place in city hall run by the Greater Houston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau? It’s lovely, but not that easy to get to-you have to make a real effort to seek it out and get there. If you’re already near the GRB, Minute Maid, hotels over there you’re going to see that dome and go. The cultural heritage thing may be a bit too fancy a name, but I think this will serve a great purpose.

  • Astroworld was a tourist attraction.
    Waterworld was a tourist attraction.
    The Astrodome is still a tourist attraction, and I know people outside of Texas who are sad, because they think we already tour it down.

    This place…. Is dull and talks about everything that Houston used to be.

    Houston Used to be.

  • This idea is underwhelming. Most of the exhibits seem like they could be set up on poster boards out in front of the GRB at street level or within it along one of the concourses.

    I propose that we should spend money making or enhancing cultural attractions, then heavily market websites and cell phone apps to our tourists in order to do the educating.

  • On a realistic note, it would be nice if you could have a visitor center and then get the Saturn V from the porta-shed at the JSC and display it vertically in a glass fronted space. Now you have something interesting.

  • Can someone explain why the architecture is vaguely Soviet Realist?

    Stalin built numerous buildings that look similar: see the Red Army Theater or the All-Union Agriculture Exhibition Hall or the Sanatorium in Saratov.

  • What they need to do to that thing is put a Space Needle-esk viewing tower on that site so that visitors can see which direction each attraction is.

    Hell, Dallas has a viewing tower. San Antonio has one too. Why not?

    Too bad they didn’t have more land. Could’ve built a giant oil derrick meant to pay homage to the Eiffel Tower.

  • What a depressingly bad design

  • A waste of money and effort – I can get all that info and more from the brochure rack in the lobby at any cheap hotel in the area.