Plans to renovate Memorial Park in works

May 7, 2013 3:33:08 PM PDT
The drought that we've had off and on for the last couple years has taken a major toll on Memorial Park. Now, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department is working on plans to renovate the Houston mainstay, as well as looking for ways to pay for the upgrades.

On a gorgeous spring day at Memorial Park if you look past those jogging and relaxing, you'll notice dead trees and dry, rocky trails. The park hasn't been upgraded in years and 2011's drought killed thousands of trees.

Park visitor Darla Shinn said, "The trail was really shaded. In the summer, of course, when it's hot, the shade is huge."

That's why the city's parks and recreation department is proposing major renovations. They're not cheap.

"We need water, lighting, there's a possibility of additional restroom facilities," said Parks and Recreation Director Joe Turner. "We know it's considerable dollars, probably $75 to 100 million."

Turner is asking the city to designate Memorial Park as a tax increment reinvestment zone. In other words, the park would be labeled financially struggling and be entitled to extra city funding.

"It's a proposed funding plan," Turner explained. "It doesn't give control of the park to TIRZ. The park is still a city park, always under the operations of the city parks and rec department."

But some worry the new designation could lead to a power struggle.

One concerned resident said, "They're going to come back later and say, well, we're going to give you $150 million, but do you mind if we have a Nike ad? Well, what about a running track? What about the commercialization of the park?

On May 15 city council members will vote on whether to allow the designation. But according to the parks and rec department, renovations are coming, no matter what.

"Then it would be done with public money or the conservancy would raise private money," Turner said.

Whatever is decided at the city council, the parks and rec says it will take about a year to come up with a master plan for renovations.

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