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It was a full house at the Friday dedication of the William Hodges Education Center at the Sam Houston Statue Visitor Center. (Rich Heiland Photo)

Full House at Grand Opening of Visitor Center Expansion

By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today


THE CITY OF Huntsville unveiled the long-awaited expansion of the Sam Houston Statue Visitor Center Friday evening to a packed house. The two-hour event featured proclamations, music by the No-Fooling String Band and a “Taste of Huntsville.”

The William Hodges Education Building, named for the late four-term mayor who was instrumental in getting funding for both the original center and the David Adickes statue of Houston, adds 1,000 square feet for meetings, classes and events.

In addition, the center has a full catering kitchen and office space for center and tourism staff. Restroom improvements are included in the project. Huntsville Mayor Andy Brauninger and Walker County Judge Danny Pearce read proclamations honoring Hodges and the center.

The original center opened in 1994 in conjunction with the dedication of the statue. Adickes, who attended the Friday evening ceremony, created the idea of the huge statue and raised money to offset costs. The Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, which initially operated the city-owned facility, raised funds for the base.

The dedication drew then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards as well as CBS Anchorman and SHSU Alum Dan Rather, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, State Representative Allen Hightower, State Senator Jim Turner, former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander (a Republican presidential candidate), and U.S. Republican Charles Wilson.

The chamber operated the center and gift shop until a few years ago when it was taken back by the city. The statue has had more than an estimated 1.4 million visitors since its dedication and the original visitor center ultimately was overwhelmed. Restrooms proved to be inadequate and there was no space for any education programming.

The design of the new William Hodges Education Center expansion at the Sam Houston Statue Visitor Center was designed to match the current visitor center. It will allow for expanded programs and education and is availble for rental. (Rich Heiland Photo)

THE CITY FIRST considered expansion in March, 2016, when a design study was approved. Initial cost estimates caused further concerns, but then Economic Director Aron Kulhavy (now city manager) and staff were able to whittle costs down from close to  $1.9 million to $1.2 million. Hotel Occupancy Tax funds were used for the bulk of the project with city funds used for periphery work.

The original center had 2,500 square-feet and the new addition, designed by Houston-based firm PGAL Architects, adds 4,000 square-feet. The design matches the existing center.

Tourism Director Kimm Thomas said the space also can be rented by local groups in addition to being used for center programs. The space offers selections from 100 chairs, 10 round tables, 35 rectangle tables with a projector, screen, sound system and podium. Any groups wishing to book the space can contact Leara Phillips at  lphilllips@huntsvilletx.gov or 936-291-9726 .

Rich Heiland is a former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media. He has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached at solutionsmap@msn.com or 936-293-0293.

One comment

  1. George H. Russell

    Absolutely pathetic and ILLEGAL use of HOT Funds in order to compete with tax dollars against Magnolia Lakes and other non-socialistic competitors.

    It is so strange that persons who did not use anything but tax dollars are honored by naming tax dollar funded projects in their names.

    I liked Hodge but and his widow is super kool but I do not believe in honoring anyone using tax dollars to build monuments to themselves.

    A million bucks would have allowed The Ethician Foundation to restore historic buildings to create the largest complex of FREE museums in America and visitors would have had to come into Huntsville to visit the museums.

    I suspect that no more than 10% of the visitors to the cement statue went into Huntsville to spend money or “put heads in beds”.

    The fact that the expenditure was ILLEGAL is totally disturbing and disgusting.

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