Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage project in downtown Houston secures big donation


Images from Houston more than 80 years ago capture the look and life of a growing city. Now they're historical documents, and what happened Tuesday may be history as well.

The look of a section of downtown is about to change drastically: The George R. Brown Convention Center will get an update and a connecting convention hotel is about to be built; and atop land across from what had been union station will be a place to celebrate the history of a city, a region and its people to inspire others.

"They can visit the Nau center and learn about what is it that truly makes us unique. They will learn how they can seize opportunities and get big things done," John Nau who's spearheading the project.

It is called the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, and it focuses on Houston and southeast Texas. From Spindletop to San Jacinto and beyond, it is the creation of Nau, who's not Texan by birth, but by choice for more than 26 years.

"We'll have iconic artifacts like the engine and the picture of Houston, but most of it will be interactive, educational experience," Nau said.

About $30 million -- more than a third of the project budget -- has already been raised. Today, a million-dollar donation was announced by Union Pacific against the backdrop of Engine 982. It will be a focal point of the heritage center.

"We hauled all the goods, we hauled the people, we did the mail and the troops. Everything that needed to move was moved by rail until the interstate highway system was created," Union Pacific VP Brenda Mainwarring said.

The deadline to complete the center and the hotel is less than three years away -- in time for the Super Bowl, which is another chance for Houston to show off and open a new chapter in the city's history.

"We are a vision of the future of American and that's what it's gonna say to people," said Ric Campo with Houston First Corporation.

The facility also will feature a separate entrance for school buses so it can control noise.

Construction is expected to be complete near the end of 2016.

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