Houston's always been a city with great big ideas, and the year 2015 will, no doubt, see more innovative plans proposed and carried out.
Here are just a few very notable visions CultureMap covered in 2014 that are now overlapping into the New Year. We'll continue to follow the progress and update you on more details and results as they become available — as only 2015 will reveal.
Houston Needs a Swimming Hole
Just last month, social and business entrepreneurs Monte Large, Evan O'Neil and Jeff Kaplan proposed a natural and public swimming spot in the Bayou City. With more than 270 backers already making pledges in a Kickstarter effort, the campaign is running strong and is receiving waves of support from civic leaders and organizations, including the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the Greater East End District, the city of Houston Sustainability Office and the Shell Center for Sustainability at Rice University.
Joining the local trio is Sherwood Design Engineers, a leading international engineering firm that has expertise in water, parks and urban spaces and designed Google's Campus in Bay View. A swimming hole in Houston would join the ranks of the historic Bondi Iceberg in Sydney, Streets Beach in Brisband, and a handful of other international man-made swimming destinations.
The first phase of the Houston project, to compile a feasibility to raise funds for construction, will be funded through the Kickstarter campaign that has raised $30,000.
The New AstroWorld: Grand Texas Sports & Entertainment District
This 630-acre development to be located along Highway 59 just north of the New Caney exit is still projecting a spring 2015 debut for the water park and end-of-year grand opening for the theme park. At the November 2013 announcement for Grand Texas, developer Monty Galland said the theme park is only a single component of a larger scheme that involves 450,000 square feet for retail and dining, multiple hotels, an RV area and a 6,000-seat stadium designed for minor league baseball games.
As many as 1,600 construction workers are expected to be used during the building process, which began in January. Photos of small bulldozers clearing way for big construction equipment at the site have appeared on the Grand Texas Facebook page throughout the year. And by 2020, officials anticipate 4.5 million annual visitors to the theme park district.
When Houston voters rejected a $217 million bond to transform the existing structure into a multipurpose special events center, the ultimate fate of the iconic stadium was left unknown. Then efforts to designate the "Eighth Wonder of the World" as a "state antiquities landmark" were delayed indefinitely by the Texas Historical Commission.
Most recently, however, the prestigious Urban Land Institute presented an ambitious plan to renovate and repurpose the Astrodome and even dared Houstonians to make it happen. Pro-Astrodome Harris County Judge Ed Emmett gave this plan "almost 100 percent" chance of succeeding and awaits the final report, which is due within 90 days.
The plan calls for an oak-lined promenade leading from the METRO light rail station on Fannin to the Astrodome, where a grand space could be used for a variety of functions including, but not limited to, a park, sustainable farm, farmer's market, festivals and museums with an educational component. The top area of the dome could include a viewing area as well as an Adventure Park, with zip-lining, hike-and-bike trails and indoor rock climbing.
Memorial Park Long-Range Master Plan
The final design for the city's beloved park goes before the Houston City Council for consideration in April. That proposal includes more than doubling bike and pedestrian trials to 50-plus miles as part of the $100 million makeover.
Thomas Woltz, principal with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, has been highlighting the updates to the Memorial Park Long-Range Master Plan at many ongoing public input meetings hosted by the firm and key players. Woltz has explained the plans call for dedicating 8.5 miles for mountain bike trails, as well as 17 miles of paved walkways for bikers and pedestrians. These trails would take park enthusiasts over the proposed grass- and tree-covered land bridge spanning about 800 feet across Memorial Drive designed to reconnect Memorial Park's north and south sections.
Funding for the project, estimated to take as long as 20 years, is coming from the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and Memorial Park Conservancy. And looking at the proposals, the long-range goals are designed to bring Memorial Park back to a healthy state, with natural enhancements, and be second to none as one of the nation's largest urban green spaces.
What's 20 years, when the McGovern Centennial Gardens in Hermann Park were just realized, even though the original 1924 master plan included this focal point for the green space?
We'll keep you posted.