Work kicks off on state complex honoring President George H.W. Bush

Former President George H. W. Bush, who used the phrase “a thousand points of light” to describe ordinary people working to improve their communities, was praised as a “supernova” of public service Thursday as state officials heralded the imminent start of construction on a $581 million project north of the Capitol that will include a building named in his honor.

Bush’s grandson — Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush — spoke during the event and said the former president, 93 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, wasn’t able attend. The elder Bush’s spokesman previously said he would be in Maine on Thursday.

The initial phase of the planned state office complex includes two new buildings, above- and below-ground parking and a pedestrian-friendly green space stretching along what is now Congress Avenue from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 16th Street. It’s expected to be completed by late 2021.

The Texas Legislature has so far declined to fund a $357 million, second phase of the project that’s on the drawing board. It would include two additional state office buildings, more parking and completion of the so-called “Texas Mall” promenade to 15th Street.

Still, those on hand for Thursday’s ceremonial groundbreaking said phase one will transform the area immediately north of the Capitol into an attraction. Actual construction is expected to begin soon, officials said, once permitting is complete.

“This is a pretty lonely stretch of roadway on most days — unless you really enjoy Railroad Commission meetings,” joked state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. But when the work is finished, “it will be a place that’s worthy of the people of Texas,” Watson said.

The ceremony took place across from the Bullock Texas State History Museum, in a parking lot that’s the future site of a 14-story, 603,000-square-foot office building to be named the “George H. W. Bush State Office Building.”

The building — with an estimated price tag of $170.4 million — will serve as new headquarters for the Texas Lottery Commission, and will also house other state government departments that haven’t yet been determined. In addition, it will include space for performances and a restaurant and gift shop, aimed at complementing the Bullock museum.

Members of both political parties who attended Thursday called the decision to name the building after Bush a tribute to his legacy of public service.

George P. Bush described his grandfather as a humble man who “would have never expected an honor like this.” The building, once complete, “will remind us of a good president — but a great man,” he said.

The aim of the state project is to consolidate employees in state-owned buildings and eventually save an estimated $22.6 million a year that taxpayers currently spend to lease over 1.1 million square feet of private office space in the Austin area. Once complete, the first phase will save about $15.1 million annually in leasing expenses, according to the Texas Facilities Commission.

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