CITY ACCEPTS GIFT OF BARNHILL CENTER
After agreeing to the gift of the Barnhill Center during an Executive Session almost 2 weeks ago, the Brenham City Council finally released a press release about it. Although many more proceeds were used in totally remodeling the theater, the ballroom, and the newly constructed Morriss Hall, the city has agreed , with HOT funding reserves, to contribute approximately $480,000 to finish payment of the loan from Brenham National Bank. In 2003, the group known as the Brenham Main Street Historical Preservation, Inc. purchased the Simon Theater and began plans for the space. Through many fundraisers, they remodeled the theatre and purchased the adjacent Kugel property to build the Morriss Hall. The Visit Brenham Destination Marketing Organization, financed by the same HOT funds, will continue to operate and manage the facility and oversee the transition of The Barnhill Center to city-owned property.
City of Brenham Press Release:
The Barnhill Center at Historic Simon Theatre Gifted to the City of Brenham
In 1925, the James Simon family of Brenham commissioned noted Houston architect Alfred C. Finn to design the Simon Theatre, providing the community with a new entertainment and retail venue. Following years as a vaudeville theatre, the Simon then became a movie house, then offices for the Chamber of Commerce, an insurance agency, and finally the site of a Chinese restaurant (many remember the House of Chen). In 2003, the dilapidated theatre was purchased by Brenham Main Street Historical Preservation, Inc. (BMSHP), a non-profit entity originally organized to preserve the architectural heritage of Downtown Brenham.
City Council recently voted to accept a gift of the restored theatre, along with an additional, freshly constructed ballroom and meeting space. BMSHP Board President Hal Moorman stated, “I am so glad the city has made the decision to accept our non-profit’s gift of the Barnhill Center. This is much more than a performance venue. It is an economic engine available for our community.” He continued, “I want to thank all the folks that worked on our Board and committees and all the people who gave generously to the campaign. Two names stand out among all of them: John Barnhill, and Tom Bullock, Senior. Their leadership helped us get where we are today.”
Soon after purchasing the historic property, BMSHP hired a theatre consultant to lead community meetings to determine the best use for the theatre. A downtown conference center was proposed to not only preserve the historic building but also contribute to the economic and cultural vitality of the community. The plan was for the non-profit to raise funds for the project and eventually gift it to the City to own, operate, and manage.
In 2009 enough funds had been raised to begin the first major phase of the project. The first-floor space facing Main Street was designed and constructed as home of the Brenham and Washington County Visitor Center, with a creatively designed complete terrazzo floor map of Washington County that can be seen upon entering. Still recognized as a creative gem, more than 12 years later, the Visitor Center received the Best Visitor Center Award in a mid-sized community by Texas Travel Awards.
It was after years of fundraising, renovations, and restoration, and with great vision and insight from BMSHP, the non-profit purchased the Kugel property next door to the theatre, with plans to further develop the property adding space for additional restrooms and space for meeting rooms needed for conferences and events.
Fundraising, construction, and renovation continued to make significant progress with the opening of the Bullock Ballroom in 2015. That year, the City of Brenham agreed to operate and manage the facility with Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds committed to the operations, marketing, and promotion of the venue (HOT is a 7% charge collected by lodging properties for each overnight stay and is paid by visitors to our community). In 2016, the City’s operation and management of the conference center by City staff began as well as the opening of the restored 321-seat theater, now known as Hasskarl Auditorium. The newest addition to the facility, completed in the Spring of 2020, is Morriss Hall which features state-of-the-art projection and sound equipment in modern conference spaces.
The nearly 20-year public-private partnership between the City and BMSHP has evolved from the vision of a group of leaders dedicated to the preservation of a historic property, through decades of fundraising, planning, and phased construction, to a thriving anchor of our community in Downtown Brenham.
The decades-long fundraising efforts of BMSHP were highlighted by significant contributions through the years including donations by Jane and John Barnhill, the Hasskarl family, HEB, and honorary donations in the name of Tom Bullock, Sr, the Lowe family, and the Schulte family. The non-profit raised more than $9 million to accomplish the project, which included both federal and state historic tax credits.
The addition of Morriss Hall, important to the success of the facility as a conference center, added a new challenge of fundraising for completion, and the City of Brenham, with HOT funding reserves, is contributing approximately $480,000 to finish payment of the BMSHP loan from Brenham National Bank.
Visit Brenham Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), financed by the same HOT funds, will continue to operate and manage the facility and oversee the transition of The Barnhill Center to city-owned property.
Mayor Tate said, “The City proudly recognizes and applauds the two-decade-long restoration efforts by Brenham Main Street Historical Preservation, Inc. to preserve this historic downtown landmark. Our community has shown enormous support for the Barnhill Center, and we look forward to continuing the dedicated efforts of preservation and growth.”
The Barmhill Center is an amazing asset for the City of Brenham. I remember moving here over twenty years ago and seeing this huge eye sore in downtown. It had a failing Chinese place that only utilized part of the building. The people who headed up the fundraising and restoration of this facility did a great service for Brenham and should be honored for what they did. They did a fantastic job restoring a historic building. The facility can be used to attract meetings, weddings, entertainment events, and so much more. Yes, the city will pay off a small loan when compared to the value of the facility and they are responsible for maintaining this property, however many cities have convention centers and manage them well while using them as a source of economic growth. I would expect the same for the City of Brenham; you have been given something special for our city, now go forth and use it for good. To the naysayers, there is probably not much I can say to change your opinion, but I believe it to be shortsighted.
It’s amazing to see the complaints about the city paying $480,000 for the last payment of a loan used for all of the work done to rebuild the theater. If you read the entire article you’ll see that over $9,000,000 was raised and spent to refurbish the theater. This doesn’t include the countless hours spent by volunteers to work with architects, engineers and contractors while the concept was taken from idea to finished product.
The group certainly could have just kept the theater and operated it themselves. They also could have sold it to a private investor for a hell of a lot more than $480,000. Instead, they are gifting it to the citizens of their hometown. None of the members of the group that raised all of the money, spent many hours, and accomplished all of the work will get a dime. We’re lucky to have a group that saved the building at all, it could have just been allowed to continue to deteriorate. We could all be looking at a disheveled, dilapidated building instead of a great asset to the community. And, for one payment of $480,000 out of hotel/motel taxes (paid by out of towners) it now belongs to the City of Brenham, free and clear. Now, it will attract more visitors to town, many of whom will be paying hotel/motel taxes to replace the money spent to pay back the loan. Growth, it’s not a bad thing.
The long-term implications of another city-owned building is that the city will now have to funnel funding from other departments to keep it maintained, but because the city is supposed to be “non-profit,” it cannot simply just put funds aside outside of its annual budget. It can turn into another money-pit like that of the Aquatic Center. Don’t get me wrong, I like our Aquatic Center, but the reality is that it is losing money; I foresee the Simon theatre endure a similar fate if the budget cannot meet utilization. A private owner(s) would have the means to lay out a plan that could bring in a good profit, employment opportunities, plus bring in taxes, if done right.
I agree with you. The city COULD make a profit with the Simon if they’d do things there that regular Brenhamites could afford. Schedule Christmas movies and a realistic rate during the season, host musical events that don’t cost and arm and a leg, etc. The average person who lives AND works in Brenham can’t afford to attend many of the things they currently host.
Well said Old Man!!
Its NOT a GIFT if you have to pay for it… Glad to see the city is so flush with cash that they can do this while the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet during these hard times of sky rocketing Grocery prices and cost of living. I hope this does not cost us tax payers any more money for the years ahead
How can it be a gift with a 480,000 price tag?
It is a very nice, intimate venue with the upstairs Ballroom. I have been to several different events there and had a great time at each one.
I think people should be proud to have such a nice theatre and small event center in this town. Yes, it will cost money to run and upkeep, but so do all of the parks and baseball fields and swimming pools and everything else.
Stuff costs money.
It all costs money.
It’s still cheaper then all the waste that the school district does. New weights, always wanting more upgrades, not doing preventative maintenance, not giving the salary amounts when asked repeatedly by the Brenham Banner.
At least this will help attract more tourists who will ultimately spend more money in town and help pay for it.
Enjoy what it is, it is nice.
It’s great to see the Simon Theatre building, where I used to watch movies as a kid, restored to its original splendor. I have seen some really great talent perform there at the Barnhill Center recently, and I do hope they keep “filling up the house.” Wishing them a great self-sustaining future!
Could any of the bright minds that commented below explain how they contribute to the HOT fund (which can only be used for tourism/hotels/conventions) if their permanent residence is in the area?
Gee we get the generous gift of a building I don’t want plus the amazing opportunity to pay $480000.
here we go. more city building maintenance for the taxpayers to peel out money on. it is another failing business venture that obviously never made a profit. has it ever broke even? the taxpayers can’t continue to absorbing business losses that others can’t capitalize on.
I am sure one day we will be paying additional taxes to support this also… like everything Tate supports