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Culture / Newsy

Houston’s Showcase Downtown Park is Getting a $12 Million Makeover — a New Discovery Green is Coming

Totally New Playground and More Changes With the Times are on Tap

BY // 02.07.19

Downtown Houston’s favorite park has gotten the green light for a major revamp. Urban oasis Discovery Green is in for a dramatic $12 million makeover.

The main points of the renovation are the redesign of the playground in the northwest corner of the park and the reimagining of the entryway.

“When the park was built, there was no Park Place, there was no Hess Tower. No Marriott Marquis. That whole corner was basically a parking lot,” Discovery Green president and park director Barry Mandel tells PaperCity. “Now, it’s become not only a gateway to the park but a gateway to Downtown.”

The new design will open that up with the addition of a lighted alley of trees that will lead visitors into the park. As they look up, they’ll see 70 pickup stick lights that look as if they’re floating in the tree canopy.

As for the kiddos — they’ll be able to play at a park like they’ve never seen before. The old playground area of the 12-acre park has been torn up to make way for new-and-improved additions coming in just about seven months. Not to worry though, because a temporary playground will be up and ready in the next two weeks.

After the renovation, kids will be able to enjoy 20 structures, up from the original nine, in two different areas designated according to age groups (one section’s for 2 to 5 year olds, the other for 5 to 12 year olds). Both play areas will feature comfortable seating for parents to relax and watch their kids run amok.

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But parents don’t have to wait all those months to show their kids a fun time at the park. Continuing Discovery Green’s flair for public interactive art installations, Yuri Suzuki’s “Sonic Playground” installation will be there to wow visitors for six months starting in March. The half-dozen trumpet-style structures known for playing with sound come from Atlanta’s High Museum.

“It creates new opportunities for play,” Mandel says.

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The number of play structures will double.

Interactive installation “Gust,” from Mexican artist collaboration Cocolab, is currently on display and will be up through March. The collection of pinwheels down Oak Alley was the first project of the Discovery Green Conservancy’s fund to keep the art evolving over the next few years.

Discovery Green is set to become an even bigger destination with these features. It’s impressive, considering it already attracts 1.5 million people annually.

That’s a whopping 200 percent more visitors than anticipated when the park was first planned.

“It’s the uniqueness of a green space in the middle of Downtown. It’s the programming. We do over 700 free programs a year, exercise classes, festivals, movies, concerts,” Mandel says.

“It attracts people from all walks of life. Our audience demographic is an exact replica of the city’s demographics. It gives people an opportunity to meet new people, learn about new people and experience new cultures.”

And now, it’s all getting a $12 million transformation.

That’s no piddling price tag. Houstonians can thank the original foundations that launched Discovery Green, which celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year, for this next chapter. Each one of the founding foundations, including the Kinder Foundation, Wortham Foundation and The Brown Foundation, is reinvesting in the park.

The creation of Discovery Green a decade ago marked the first public-private partnership with the City of Houston and a private entity.

“It was the first time the four foundations had come together — the actual heads of the foundations — sat at the table and together conceived, designed and built the park,” Mandel says. “I would say they would tell you it is very near and dear to their hearts.”

Discovery Green Conservancy currently has to raise $2 million more to meet its goals for the transformation.

Park Moves

Discovery Green is not the only Houston park making moves or underway.  The Downtown Redevelopment Authority plans unveil a new green space in the southern side on October 20th. The Museum District’s set up to get a new park feature called Commons at Hermann Park, and the city’s taking parks seriously, with its ambitious Bayou Greenways 2020 plans.

Get ready for a walk in the park — or four.

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