Claims about future culture center raising eyebrows

October 4, 2012 4:40:38 PM PDT
A new center stressing Texas heritage and culture is now in the works downtown. Organizers claim it's going to bring a couple thousand jobs and provide a significant economic impact. But some aren't so sure.

The new center is set to be built on Capitol near Minute Maid Park.

The principles of the project have already toured other visitor centers around the country and plan to build one in Houston that could set the bar.

Along with promoting tourism, it will also feature educational components. The economic impact is also ambitious.

Its renderings depict a state-of-the-art visitors center nestled on a downtown street between Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Center for Texas Cultural Heritage will feature 45,000 square feet of exhibits. Two historic homes will be renovated and serve as food and exhibit locations.

It's all designed to pull in what are called heritage and cultural tourists. Some say they'll will spend an extra day in the Houston area when already in town for a convention.

"They are spending will either be $90 a day more, up to close to $300 a day more," said John Nau III with the Center for Texas Cultural Heritage.

In its first 12 months opening, companies overseeing the project say there is potential to create up to $31.4 million in additional tourism revenue and support an additional 2,400 service jobs.

"Hotels, restaurants, gift shops -- those are the jobs, that these heritage tourists will begin to develop," Nau said.

"The reason people do economic impact analysis is that they are trying to justify their project," University of Houston Professor of Economics Steven Craig said.

Craig says it's ambitious to claim a visitors center can generate substantial dollars and jobs.

"Clearly, the $31 million and 2,400 jobs, those are pretty aggressive numbers for the kind of project that this is," Craig said.

One thing it will serve up is stories of the Houston region to kids and adults.

"So that they can experience the events and the people and the places that created Houston and Texas in the region," Nau said.

Of the $40 million project, Nau has already donated $8 million and they hope to raise at least 50 percent of the funds before breaking ground in 2013.


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