Heritage Tourism Center

The City of Houston and the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance are preparing to launch a multi-million dollar project to save two historic homes in downtown Houston and turn them into a regional heritage tourism center. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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It's those two old and decrepit looking houses between Minute Maid Park and the Brown Convention Center. David Bush of the Preservation Alliance says those two houses are almost all that's left of a part of town known as Quality Hill, one of Houston's oldest and most exclusive neighborhoods.

"Quality Hill was, I guess you could call it the River Oaks of its time. It was where the more well-to-do people in Houston lived. At that time the commercial district was centered on Main Street and west of Main Street around Market Square, and the residential areas were east of Main Street and south of the bayou. So it was a fairly substantial neighborhood."

The only other remnant of Quality Hill is Annunciation Catholic Church and School, built in the 1870s and 80s to serve a neighborhood that disappeared long ago. One of the two remaining houses is on its original site. The other was built across from the church on the block now occupied by Union Station and Minute Maid Park, and was moved to its current location when the baseball park was built a few years ago. Until recently, no one was sure what would happen to the houses, but a deal to save them is in the works at city hall. If city council goes along, the Preservation Alliance will raise money to restore and renovate the houses, and the city will turn them into a tourism center. Alliance Executive Director Ramona Davis explains how it will work.

"The city will operate the regional heritage tourism center, and it will draw people from the convention center, and anybody who wants to come to the tourism center and find out what is going on in the area, in the 18 county region around here, of what sort of historical resources are there, what sort of festivals are going on, what sort of things are there to see, and how do you get there and who do you talk to?"

The Preservation Alliance will also move its offices into one of the houses. Davis says it will cost between five and six million dollars to restore and renovate the houses and bring them up to codes, and turn the entire block into a downtown plaza. The Alliance will be responsible for raising that money from private donors, but Davis says they'd like to get it all in a lump sum donation in return for naming rights to the plaza.

"It's unheard of to actually be able to put your name on a whole city block downtown, in an area of town that's going to see a minimum of ten million people a year coming through there, with all the ball games, the convention center, the hotel, and somebody, if an angel wants to step forward and fund this whole project, can have their name on that whole block."

The project is now in limbo while the agreement works its way through City Hall. A spokesman at the city's Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department says city lawyers are still working on the leases and contracts with the Preservation Alliance, and he can't predict when it will go to city council for approval. He says he hopes it will be soon, because plans for the heritage tourism center have been in the making for several years. Stay tuned. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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