Officials Hope for Tourism Bump After Bush Library Renovations

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Before the Bush Presidential Library, 34 motor coaches came to the Twin Cities each year. When they opened, they initially got 50 per month, though now, that number is down to 20 per month.

How do you get those numbers back up?

With renovation.

It's a process that Library officials and tourism experts are thrilled to have happening.

The change is evident at the museum. In a matter of weeks, the progress is measured by bright new colors and brand new walls.

"It was a lot of brushed aluminum before, and now, it's earthy," explained Warren Finch, who heads up the museum. "There are a lot of woods in here now, and the look and feel of it is much more warm and much more inviting."

Fixtures and walls are seemingly sprouting up everywhere in the new library That includes in what will become the situation room, where you'll be able to experience what it was like for the president to make some of the biggest decisions. Television monitors and data will surround a large conference table, with some of the museum's new interactive displays available to test.

Of course, on the other end of those presidential decisions are the men and women of the military, and in the new Gulf War section of the museum, you'll be able to experience what it was like to be out in the desert back in 1991. A large military-grade tent will be accompanied by the sounds of military machinery and the colors of the desert.

If there was a color to the area's tourism outlook over the past 10 years, it would probably be rosy.

"We've really seen a significant growth in tourism, and they have really been very pivotal in all of that growth," said Barry Biggar with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In the first eight years of the library's existence alone, annual travel spending in Bryan-College Station rose $115 million, from $207 million in 1997 to $322 million in 2005. The state's tourism industry today calls Bryan-College Station one of the top leisure destinations, a distinction the area didn't have a few years ago.

As far as what Texan travelers in their state ranked as their favorite spots, the Bush Library didn't make the top 30, but ask out-of-staters, and it ranks 25, above Lyndon Johnson's library, and the only local attraction on the list.

Biggar believes the added travel dollars wouldn't have come to Bryan-College Station without the library, and $8 million in renovations will likley mean millions more coming in.

"When they do come here and they see everything more we have to offer, there is no doubt they will want to return," Biggar said.

Asked if they feel any obligation as a result of being the region's big tourism draw, Finch said, "We feel an obligation to present a great museum that people who are coming from very far off, when they got home, they feel like they've seen something that's met their expectations."

As for President Bush, he is getting constant updates from the library staff on the progress, including pictures and videos of the construction.