It's a bigger, bolder plan than the one originally proposed, but the goals remains the same-educate and excite people about Houston and the surrounding region.


City officials and project organizers broke ground this week on the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, an $80 million history museum and visitor center set for a site just south of Minute Maid Park on the eastern edge of Downtown.


The ambitious project is the brainchild of businessman and philanthropist John Nau. It's being executed in partnership with Houston First, the organization that manages city-owned venues such as the George R. Brown Convention Center.


Set to open in fall 2016, the 70,000-square-foot Nau Center will include a visitors' center, classrooms, a theater, two large gallery spaces of permanent exhibits, a gift shop and a fully-restored turn-of-the-century home. At the groundbreaking, John Nau promised the facility would be "a 21st century museum that tells the story of our region."


The Nau Center is one of several projects transforming the east end of Downtown in the next couple of years, ahead of the 2017 Super Bowl. This includes a major exterior renovation of the convention center, a new pedestrian promenade along Avenida de las Americas, a new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis hotel and more.


When the concept was first announced two years ago, the Nau Center was envisioned as a $40 million project and roughly 60,000 square feet. Nau himself said the scope has grown because of a stronger focus on the educational components of the museum. Now, there will be a separate entrance for school children and additional amenities for them.