born on the bayou
Houston's East End is in the midst of a renaissance, as evidenced by booming residential development, new restaurants and retail, and quality-of-life initiatives like hiking and bike trials near the East Downtown Trail.
This East End renaissance, to that end, goes hand in hand with Buffalo Bayou. Now, an ambitious master plan is closer to being realized, thanks to a game-changing new gift from Houston's biggest benefactors, Rich and Nancy Kinder, who've just donated $100 million to its completion.
Just days off a $50 million donationto their eponymous Rice University Kinder Institute, the Kinders have gifted a colossal $100 million to help expand Buffalo Bayou Park eastward, as part of the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan.
A historic gift
The Kinders' $100 million will help Buffalo Bayou Partnership leverage the additional $210 million of public and private investments it will require to realize the first 10 years of the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan, per the organization.
Plans call for new bayou parks, trails, housing, cultural destinations, and infrastructure improvements into the Greater East End and Fifth Ward neighborhoods. The plan moves to consideration at Harris County Commissioners Court and Houston City Council on Tuesday, September 27 and Wednesday, September 28, respectively, according to a Buffalo Bayou Park Partnership (BBP) press release.
By the numbers, the Kinder Foundation’s $100 million gift is the largest single donation in Houston parks history. The gift, combined with approximately $37 million already raised by BBP, helped secure $83.5 million of public funds from the City of Houston; $24 million from Harris County; and $14 million in federal housing tax credits. Civic leaders such as Mayor Sylvester Turner, Commissioner Adrian Garcia, and Commissioner Rodney Ellis have been vocal in their support.
BBP adds in press materials that it will continue to raise the remaining $46 million in private funds needed to complete the 10-Year Plan by 2031.
Parks, waterfront fun, and more
With a push for green spaces for all residents, the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan envisions new and improved waterfront trails, expanded and enhanced parks and open spaces, new bridges and boat landings, the transformation of existing industrial relics into community event spaces, a mixed-income housing project, and infrastructure enhancements.
Visitors can expect trails and bridges, community waterfront gathering spaces, a sweeping gateway, and more.
Tony Marron Park, a 19-acre City of Houston park on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, will be expanded into nearly 40 acres and will include improved sports fields, a boat launch, an expansive nature play area, wildflower meadows, bayou lawns, a barbecue plaza, and spaces for community events.
Japhet Creek, a tributary stretching into the Fifth Ward, will see improved trails, interpretive signage, site furnishings, and wildflower and native grass plantings. Two new pedestrian bridges will link Fifth Ward to the trail system.
In an adaptive reuse initiative, a former barge terminal on a historic oxbow known as Turkey Bend, will become a waterfront recreational and cultural hub. Its large wharf, large, covered warehouse, and 50,000-square-foot building will host performances, public art, and boating activities.
Linking the city
Civically, the plan will reunite the Greater East End and Fifth Ward neighborhoods, which have been long separated from the bayou and each other. More connections to Houston’s regional trail network are also in store.
“Buffalo Bayou Partnership is honored that the Kinder Foundation is entrusting our organization to steward this extraordinary gift,” said Anne Olson, Buffalo Bayou Partnership president. “This plan is not only about parks and trails — it is a comprehensive community development plan for a part of town that has not seen this level of investment before. The cultural destinations, infrastructure improvements, and connectivity in Buffalo Bayou East came directly from the input we received from the East End and Fifth Ward communities. We are grateful to the Kinder Foundation as well as the City and County for joining together with us to make the communities’ vision a reality.”
Rich Kinder, Kinder Foundation chairman, responded in a statement: “There is a rich history and a valued culture along Buffalo Bayou east of downtown, and Buffalo Bayou Partnership is to be commended on the decades spent in the community laying the groundwork for this plan. The 10-Year Plan is in good hands under the direction of Buffalo Bayou Partnership.”
For those keeping score: The Kinders have broken their own record with this new gift. In 2018, as CultureMap reported, the Kinders gifted the largest amount ever to a Houston Park (at the time) with the $70 million infusion to the Memorial Park Master Plan.