Culture / Newsy

New Tilman Fertitta Family Police Training Center is More Than a Legacy Play — It’s About Houston and Giving Back

Forget the Golden Shovels, H-Town's Most Famous Billionaire Wants to do More and More

BY // 01.28.19

It probably only seems like nearly every new high-profile project in Houston has Tilman Fertitta’s name on it. Houston’s most famous billionaire is clearly on a roll (even for him), with The Post Oak hotel, The Fertitta Center basketball arena at the University of Houston and now the just revealed Tilman Fertitta Family Tactical Training Center coming in rapid succession.

“God, I hate to think I’m thinking about my legacy,” Fertitta tells PaperCity in an almost quiet moment after the ceremony before launching into a quick quip. “I may be dying (then). No, I think some of it is you are a little older and you want to give back to your community. A lot of it I think has been timing. I hope I’m able to continue to do a lot more. Houston’s been a great city for me — and it’s been wonderful.

“The more I can do to help it out, I’m looking forward to it.”

Let’s just say Fertitta definitely has this groundbreaking ceremony thing down pat. There he is on Monday, holding another golden shovel, making sure things move along in a sea of blue — including the Houston Police Department’s highest-ranking officials, efficient men who are used to giving the orders. But on this day the target practice shooting going on at the nearby HPD firearms training facilities does not stop until Fertitta mentions that it would be great for it to halt so people can hear the groundbreaking remarks.

Within minutes, the shooting suddenly completely stops. Just like that. This is how things go for the man with the golden touch.

For the 61-year-old Fertitta, this particular project — a $10 million state-of-the-art center in North Houston designed to allow Houston’s police officers to train for active shooter situations in realistic settings, a center that will rival the one in Washington D.C. as the most advanced law enforcement training center in the entire country — is personal. A longtime supporter of the HPD, who’s held the True Blue Gala (a vital police fundraiser) at his own River Oaks home for more than a decade, long before he became a true full-fledged national figure with his Billion Dollar Buyer  TV show, long before he bought the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion, Fertitta seems t0 understand better than most what kind of danger police officers must jump into these days.

“Since Columbine it’s no longer we sit out there and try to find out what’s going on in there,” Fertitta says. “We attack immediately. So every police officer on the street has to know how to handle this type of situation. So more people — old people, young people — can do whatever we have to do to get in there to stop the shooter. And bring the shooter down.”

Leave it to the no-nonsense business tycoon to cut right to the stark heart of the matter (and the reality of America in 2019) on a day of happy speeches, golden shovels and impressive looking renderings.

The shooting of four HPD officers serving a drug warrant just hours after the ceremonies drives home the stark truth of the dangers police officers face every day — and the responsibility to provide them every possible training tool and advantage.

This Tilman Fertitta Family Tactical Training Center isn’t just another building. It’s not even just another impressive looking building with his name on it.

It is a potential life saver. Many times over.

Training for Reality

The 44,000 square foot hanger-type structure — designed by the famed Ziegler Cooper architects no less — will have interior city scenes inside that can look like the inside of an actual school, office building, hotel or streetscape. Plans also call for actors to be used during training once the center opens (projected for December of this year). This will be as close as a police officer can get to an active shooter scenario without being in the real thing.

“I was at the movie with my son Jake, we were watching a movie, and they had a preview about the Mumbai (hotel terrorist) attacks ,” Houston police chief Art Acevedo says. “I don’t know if anyone’s seen this Hollywood movie or not on the Mumbai attacks. It happened in Mumbai, but we know it’s coming here, to a city near us.

“As a result of this commitment — of Tilman Fertitta, he takes something good and makes it great — and of all the people who support the Police Foundation, our men and women are going to have training that truly is second to none. And I think it’s going to make our people so much better prepared. I promise you — we will never be able to identify the moment, the time, the location, or the person — but as a result of this $10 million investment in our men and women, I promise you, we’re going to save lives.”

“And in all seriousness the life we save may be one of yours, your loved one, your neighbor, your friend or your co-workers.”

It is all a lot different stakes than creating a one-of-its kind $400 million showcase hotel that alters how visitors think of Houston, or a dazzling new high-tech, on-campus arena that changes everything for the UH basketball program. It’s all much more serious.

Especially on this Monday in Houston, a day with news of a horrific attack on the police and the hospital vigils that follow with three officers in critical condition. “A tough day the city,” as Mayor Sylvester Turner put it.

Turner, former police chief Charles McClelland (who first brought Tilman into the idea of a tactical center), a host of dignitaries and that courageous sea of blue all showed up earlier at a large patch of dirt and a trailer at 17000 Aldine Westfield Road — right next to the Houston Police Academy, and not far from IAH. Tilman Fertitta is still there too, talking about the kind of topics you usually don’t hear him discussing. With Paige Fertitta and his son Patrick there to lend support.

Fertitta contributed the initial $2.5 million of the $10 million project, getting everything rolling.

In diving right into the project, Fertitta visited a number of police training centers around the country with Houston police officials. This is a tycoon who does his own research. When Fertitta saw the tactical training center in Washington D.C., he knew what Houston should have.

Legacy matters. And Tilman Joseph Fertitta would never claim he does not think about such things. But sometimes your city’s needs mean even more.

Fertitta might seemingly build everything. But this one’s for Houston. And its brave protectors in blue.

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