Sugar Land aims to showcase history, boost tourism with new museum
The Sugar Land Heritage Museum and Visitor Center is one step closer to having a permanent home after the Sugar Land City Council approved a contract for the construction of the dual-purpose space in May.
For five years, the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation operated an interim museum where it stored the artifacts it has collected of Sugar Land’s history - from prehistoric times to its boom as a company town and beyond. The foundation closed down the interim museum last December to focus on preparing for the move to the new facility, which will take up the second floor of the Container Warehouse - a relic of the former Imperial Sugar Company Refinery that played an important role in Sugar Land’s development.
“Our goal is to preserve important structures that mark Sugar Land’s history,” explained Teresa Preza, administrator of the city’s Tourism and Destination Services.
The City of Sugar Land will pay $567,480 to contractor Rosenberger Construction, LLC for the build-out of the museum and visitor center, which is almost $70,000 more than the consultant hired to design the project estimated. The City Council agreed to make up the difference from the Capital Improvement Program Fund balance.
While the city is funding the construction of the site, the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation is working to raise the funds to put together the museum exhibits, which will include a timeline of Sugar Land’s history, from prehistoric times to the modern era. The new facility is set to open by the end of this year.
This project will be the completion of an idea nearly a decade in the making.
“The city, about nine years ago, had a vision - an idea - that, given the uniqueness of Sugar Land, it would be important to capture its heritage,” said Martin Nicholas, president of the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation board. “To create a means by which we could collect our history.”
The inaugural timeline exhibit will be about 30-feet long and include interactive displays to introduce visitors and resident alike to Sugar Land’s past, Nicholas said. The Sugar Land Heritage Foundation is preparing to launch a capital campaign this summer to raise funds for future exhibits, which could include displays on how sugar was made, daily life in a company town and snapshots of different eras.
“We (in Sugar Land) have an outstanding record of education, economic strength, community life - the diversity of this city is unparalleled.” Nicholas said. “Aspects of that reach way back into our history. We feel it’s important to preserve and showcase that history. What we are now comes from what we were once.”
The expansion of the museum and conception of an official Visitor Center is part the city’s push in recent years to become more of a tourism destination. In the past few years, the city has added Constellation Field - the home of the Sugar Land Skeeters minor league baseball team - and the new Smart Financial Centre - a cultural arts venue attracting big names in entertainment. The heritage museum will be part of another major development project to increase Sugar Land’s attractiveness to visitors - Imperial Market, an 850,000-square-foot, mixed-used development on the grounds of the original Imperial Sugar Company Refinery. The development will include upscale shops, restaurants, office space and a boutique hotel, in addition to the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center and heritage museum.
″(Imperial Market) will blend much of our history along with boutiques and office space that are much more modern,” Preza said.
Sugar Land’s gross sales in arts, entertainment and recreation grew from $51.3 million in 2011, the year before Constellation Field opened, to $65.7 million in 2016, according to the Texas Comptroller Sales Tax Report. The Smart Financial Centre opened in early 2017 and is projected to bring an additional $26.1 million to the community, according to a statement from the city.
Preza expects that the new Sugar Land Heritage Museum and Visitor Center will also have a positive impact on the local tourism industry.
“We always knew we would need a central location … it will allow us to deliver excellent customer service,” Preza said. “We are ready for people to explore Sugar Land.”