Memorial Park Conservancy has until 2028 to deliver on its master plan redevelopment project, but if MPC president and CEO Shellye Arnold has anything to say about it, the plan will be completed way ahead of that.
The project is a collaborative effort between MPC, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park. In 2011, a major drought decimated the park and areas saw losses of 50 to even 90 percent of the canopy of trees.
"As tragic as it was, it made people take action," says Arnold.
Following the drought, these organizations looked to the people to see what was needed and wanted by the 3 million visitors and residents of the 170 ZIP codes that frequent the park annually.
"There was a huge outcry to do something," Arnold says. "That something became an effort to define the future of the park in a way that would be powerful, bold, thoughtful, innovative, and very resilient. It would consider Houstonians of the future and Houstonians today. It would consider soils, storm water treatment, the wildlife, and what people want."
When putting the plans in place, MPC and its partners called on 25 of the best ecologists, as well as 50 more park and other types of consultants specializing in everything from insects and wildlife to prairies and trees.
The overall funding plan is a total of $205 million — MPC itself has a capital campaign goal of $50 million — with $32 million to go. A $70 million donation from the Kinder Foundation is the most significant contribution within the fundraising efforts. The foundation approached MPC asking to help contribute to the most transformative project in the master plan, Arnold says, and so they suggested the Eastern Glades, a park within a park and the first project within the master plan to deliver.
MPC expects the Eastern Glades to open next summer — and much of the construction has already been completed. The area will be a 100-acre park within a park with wetlands, a man-made pond, nine acres of picnic space, and three picnic pavilions.
"The full 100-acre Eastern Glades project will provide an amenity that we do not have right now," says Arnold in a release, "a place to put down a blanket and read a book, relax on a park bench, or go for a leisurely walk and just enjoy being outdoors."
In addition to the Eastern Glades, the park will also reopen some relocated ballparks next year.
After next year, the MPC and its master plan partners will deliver a slew of other projects on a rolling basis.
Here are some other exciting ones you can expect in the next few years:
Running is such an important part of Memorial Park, Arnold says, citing the Seymour Lieberman's millions of annual visitors. The $19-million running complex is expected to deliver in 2022.
There's a section of Memorial Park that has more history than the rest of the land. The master plan includes a 100-acre, $21.5-million memorial center for the fallen soldiers from Camp Logan that's expected to deliver in 2022.
"There were a handful of WWI training camps — this was one of the sites that was chosen," Arnold says. "We have archeological features in the park."
The memorial will feature native pine trees that will be planted in a formation that looks as if they are standing in attention.
The Land Bridge
Possibly the most striking of all the plans is the Land Bridge. The project will connect each of the prairie wetlands on either side of Memorial Drive with a 30-foot-high arch of land. The space will be large enough that you don't even realize you're standing over a busy street, Arnold says. The Land Bridge is planned to deliver in 2022.
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