It’s full speed ahead for the ambitious Memorial Park Master Plan after Houston City Council gave its approval to the plan at its April 1 meeting. Now, the hard part of actually getting the effort from the drawing board to reality begins.
Council voted unanimously to approve the far-reaching plan that will see the city’s largest and busiest green space transformed over the next decade and beyond. Developed following months of public meetings and workshops, the plan would restore much of the park’s drought-damaged ecosystem and improve access to the park and increase parking within its boundaries. Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) Director Joe Turner says officials are beginning the task of determining how the plan will be executed.
“The next steps include continuing to work with the Memorial Park Conservancy (MPC) and the Uptown TIRZ (Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) to start the process of prioritizing the cost of the different pieces of the plan, then we’ll put those pieces into an order of completion. Some of the items could be completed now if the funding was available and some will take infrastructure projects to be completed first,” Turner said.
The project’s chief architects, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, is preparing a report that will, according to Turner, include pricing on the various components of the plan and an order of completion for those elements.
Turner says improving traffic flow into and inside the park was not an element that was included in the initial plan, but is something that council members voiced concerns about, so HPARD is working with the city to address those issues.
“We will work to put together a group consisting of the presidents of neighborhood associations in the area of the park and the Traffic Department from the city’s Public Works Department and Parking Management, along with the Memorial Park Conservancy and TIRZ to meet to see if we can find a better way to move traffic around the park,” Turner said.
He says many of the elements of the plan will rely on the completion of infrastructure projects before primary construction on Master Plan elements can begin. Some of those projects include traffic flow remedies, repairing park surfaces and fixing drainage issues.
“Those projects must be designed and scheduled. The Lieberman Exercise Trail is being resurfaced to give us four to six years of use as we move through the planning process,” Turner said. “We really want to get those pieces done that could be accomplished now so the Conservancy can put together a capital campaign and move forward.”
The goal of the Master Plan is to restore, preserve and enhance the 81-year old park, and it evolved from a partnership between the city of Houston, TIRZ, HPARD and the MPC. The groups shared concerns ranging from reforestation, traffic issues, accessibility and ecological decline, and the plan as presented intends to address those issues and plot the park’s course of care and maintenance for generations to come.
The MPC will spearhead much of the fundraising efforts for the plan, and the organization’s Executive Director, Shellye Arnold, says they are laying the groundwork for preparing the necessary fundraising campaigns.
“We have to define and focus on which projects should be completed first,” Arnold said. “Getting to this point was critical, but we will be stepping up those fundraising efforts.”
The plan also seeks to re-connect areas of the park that have been divided over the years by road construction and other elements. A key player in that effort will be the construction of a spectacular land bridge over Memorial Drive that will be topped by a massive green space.
Turner says it will be several weeks before a timeline can be determined regarding when construction on various elements of the plan will begin, but gaining council approval was the first hurdle to be cleared.
“I’m always confident (of winning council approval), but until they vote, you just don’t know,” Turner said. “But I’m very pleased council voted unanimously to let us move forward.”