Steel. Asphalt. Concrete.
“For many people in the larger city, when they visualize downtown, they think parking lots,” says Bob Eury, president of the Houston Downtown Management District. But there’s something they should know. “That has changed, okay?”
The downtown green-space revitalization that began with the opening of Discovery Green in 2008 and the revamped Market Square Park in 2010 is continuing at the 1500 block of Fannin, formerly home to a Goodyear mechanics’. It’s currently a fenced-off construction zone, but come March 2021 the roughly acre-size, L-shaped lot—surrounded by Bell, San Jacinto, Leeland, and Fannin streets, next to Houston House—will become the city’s newest park. And while it doesn’t yet have an official name, you can call it Southern Downtown Park for now. “For all we know, people might start calling it Goodyear Park,” Eury laughs.
The plan is for Southern Downtown to serve as a vital green-space for our city’s ever-evolving urban center. With a price tag of $5 to $6 million, funded via the Downtown Redevelopment Authority through tax increment dollars, it will function in much the way Market Square does, as a partnership between the city, the DRA, and the Downtown District, which will be responsible for management and programming.
This portion of downtown is increasingly residential—there are currently 1,800 units available for purchase or lease in the immediate area, and by 2020 some 3,000 people are expected to be living here. The idea is to serve those residents. “If you had a small town and 3,000 people living there,” says Eury, “what would you want? A place to walk, to bring your dog.”
The park’s designer, Lauren Griffith Associates, which also did Discovery Green and Market Square Park, has structured the design around what residents requested: a gathering space with safe pedestrian connections, good lighting, and lots of greenery. “We heard loud and clear, people really wanted a respite,” says Eury. “They really wanted a place to go that was shady, with lush gardens. We heard the term ‘backyard’ a lot.”
Expect quite a bit of lounging room, covered and open seating, a B-Cycle Station and bike-repair area, a fenced-in dog run, and a centerpiece in the park’s casual café with indoor and outdoor seating, all of it surrounded by live oaks, native flowers, and shrubbery. And, says Eury, “We wanted to create as many flex spaces as possible.”
That means several lawn areas that can easily host social events for 50 to 150 people or, well, nothing at all; a trellis-covered seating area that will also serve as a stage; and the café’s patio doing double duty as a rest area for an adjacent play zone for ping-pong and cornhole, complete with clever lighting that will set the mood whether it’s lunchtime, happy hour, or movie night. And yes, even if you don’t live downtown, you’ll be most welcome here.