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Camden McGowen Station & Midtown Park At 2727 Travis St.


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Beautify the `superblock' and watch the Midtown area's tax base grow


Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle News Services

Often we hear in Houston that it's "too late" to do something that would have great positive impact on quality of life. We are approaching one of those moments.

Two years ago, I proposed that a new urban park be created on the Midtown "superblock" on Main Street abutting the McGowen rail stop. This four-block long property with no streets crossing it has been the subject of a hunt for the right development project.

I felt that no urban development really needed that kind of configuration, and indeed that much space with no pedestrian ways across it so close to a rail station would be terribly counterproductive. The only thing that really makes sense there is a great public park.

Many creative people put a lot of energy into the idea, which we tentatively called McGowen Green. The proposal, which was accompanied by exciting drawings from Kevin Shanley and SWA Group,

McGowen Green would be urban amenity, tax revenue source seemed to catch fire for a while. But a Chronicle article last week (``Ideas filling vacant block / Some see park, others see urban oasis in Midtown, Aug. 31'') indicated that the board of the Midtown Redevelopment Authority (MRA) is acting to convey its interest in the property to Camden Property Trust, which already owns about half of it. Camden apparently intends a large apartment project there, probably with some retail or artist space on the ground floor.

This is a real shame for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is loss of significant future tax revenue for the city. Parks are the greatest of urban amenities, and properties adjacent to them tend to rise in value faster than other properties.

With a lush river garden ambience surrounding a formal boat pond and promenade, McGowen Green would produce the highest value center in the Midtown district, and in time one of the most important in our city.

To my knowledge, the MRA board hasn't expended any energy exploring the benefits of a park or the creative means to finance it.

A lot of the important work to determine how parks affect real estate has been done by Dr. John L. Crompton, a Texas A&M professor knowledgeable in the economics of park development. Crompton's studies reveal that people will pay more for property close to parks than for property that does not offer this amenity. This means they pay higher property taxes. In effect, Crompton says, this represents a capitalization of park land into increased property values of proximate land owners.

Crompton calls this the ``proximate principle.'' If the incremental amount of taxes paid by each property attributable to the presence of a nearby park is aggregated, he argues, it will be sufficient to pay the annual debt charges required to retire the bonds used to acquire and develop the park.

As it happens, the board of the MRA is the same board as the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or TIRZ. One of the purposes of a TIRZ is to increase property values during its lifetime (in this case 30 years) so that the city receives greater revenues from the district once it begins to pay full taxes.

Most people who do projections on land values would say that the increase in taxes coming from the four-block Camden project would be dwarfed by the taxes of developing - at a much higher value - the 14 blocks surrounding a park on that property, not to mention the second tier of properties in the next ring of 22 properties.

The public interest clearly will not be reasonably served by encouraging the Camden project, which should be developed on several of the blocks surrounding the park. And why does an apartment project in an urban place need to have continuous land without cross streets? A four-block long apartment project would create a horrible pedestrian environment, and one of the goals for Midtown has been walkability.

In his ground-breaking book Cities in Full, Steve Belmont says that neighborhoods deprived of natural features are severely handicapped in the competition for middle-class households. He cites examples showing that a well designed and maintained park can substitute for natural features as the heart of a thriving neighborhood.

He also claims that for a neighborhood on the path to revitalization, [a park] represents a prudent investment with the power to attract affluence, and he notes that it takes relatively few affluent newcomers to reverse the negative image of a derelict neighborhood.

Last spring, my organization, the Gulf Coast Institute, distributed hundreds of postcards urging Mayor Bill White to pursue the development of McGowen Green. These were signed by nearly 500 people and mailed.

Surely, before it is too late, the mayor and City Council (the property is in Councilmember Carol Alvarado's district) should have a look and determine whether the long-term interests of the city are best served by a great urban park or by another apartment project. Midtown needs an important park that people will actually use and that will draw tourists to the area.

The park would be a gift to future generations that cannot be given later.


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  • 2 years later...

Although this thread is located in the midtown forum, I figured this article sites the same problem that this article is talking about.



I think this is a very important topic. One that may not seem as such a big deal until it's too late.

I'm thankful that right now, I live right across the street from a small park, a ten minute walk from a much larger park, a five minute walk from another decent green space, and a only a few minutes walk from a couple of basketball and tennis courts.

What's it like to get to public parks/courts/public spaces inside the loop in Houston?

Back to the article, I think this is a good idea to require so much green space per residence. More small parks that are close are a big plus in my book. Growing up in the northern 'burbs of Houston, we didn't really have that. The neighborhoods I lived in maybe had one small park in it and then a very large county park not so close and only reachable by car. Now, having public spaces so close to me is such a nice thing to have. I know it's tougher to get outside in the Houston weather, but it's nice to have the option. But trees trees trees would help.

And to bring up something related...I hope that in future developments, public squares are included and are central to neighborhoods. They are great for neighborhood gettogethers.

Edited by lockmat
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  • 9 months later...
  • 4 years later...

Figured I'd go ahead and start a new official thread on this.

Coming Spring 2014 Midtown Superblock Park http://innerlooped.com/1653/midtown-superblock-first-look/

It's going to have underground parking too! There is a link to the full document on InnerLooped.

• Includes a balance of program items that support the overall goals of the Midtown District
• Includes over 140 underground parking spaces that support park activities, nearby retail destination and the Main Street rail line
• Includes over 7,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space


Renderings and info as of 5/2015:









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This is going to be great for Midtown. It's right on the rail line and will help attract more development to Midtown like Discovery Green did for downtown. Does anyone know if Camden is building their apartments also? or is the parking taking up the entire superblock?

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I'm with infinite jim. This is like a Discovery Green part II. We need something a little more interesting and swanky this time around like in Uptown Dallas and maybe a Victory style development.

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I'm with infinite jim. This is like a Discovery Green part II. We need something a little more interesting and swanky this time around like in Uptown Dallas and maybe a Victory style development.

"Swanky" sounds expensive and more $$$ to maintain. I think this rendering looks awesome because it fills a need for the area, brings in more retail and green space, and probably won't be a money bucket for Midtown (my tax dollars) to maintain. It should also spur development on the other side of Main. Seems like a win all around to me.

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A Victory style development is just about the last thing Houston needs.

well, i guess you're right in terms of the unsuccess rate its had in Dallas, but i still would like to see a little more flash in Houston

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1.5 acres? How can that possibly be the case? That land must be at least 200-225' by 1,000' - roughly five acres. Is the entire contiguous space not being developed into the park?

No, it is not. Camden already owns roughly half of the space and plans to build apartments I believe. But the 1.5 acres does seem too small. I found an old Chron article that says the entire parcel was roughly 6.2 acres. If the park will be 1/2 of that, we'd be talking about 3 acres. That seems more likely than 1.5

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As nice as this park project sounds,1.5 acres really isn't large enough to make an impact as the 11 acre Discovery Green did.

Remember that Discovery Green was built with nothing around it other than the convention center. This park will finally bridge the East and West sides of Midtown.

In other words, people will now be encouraged to walk from Reef, over to Leon's (or Mongoose vs Cobra coming soon)... or over to Nouveau, etc. In other words, this park will fill the empty gap in the middle of Midtown and encourage people to stop seeing Main street as some border you can't walk across. It doesn't have to be enormous... it just has to have lighting, people, some restaurants, and green space. Plus, it's right at a light rail stop.

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I like the basic programmatic elements (like parking) but let's hope that they hire a different landscape firm than the designers of Market Square and Brown park. It just looks like the city is in the tank for certain firms (not naming names but w/r/t the rendering). Those are good parks, but what's the point of going here if it's just going to be another "consumer park?"

Why a restaurant?

Why a museum, library, or sculpture park?

Why any of these things?

Why not create a simple verdant green with dynamic topo?

No dog area?

Why are people so quick to judge Klyde Warren park? (I'm going there next week btw)

Now is the time to ask these questions.

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Why not create a simple verdant green with dynamic topo?

What exactly is dynamic topo? Is that some kind of A/V setting on one of these newfangled 3D HDTV sets? Or is it that the soil content is modified so that topography changes at an accelerated rate compared to the natural soil over geologic time? Perhaps it means that there are actuators under the surface? Gigantic subwoofers that generate minor earthquakes at random intervals, just to keep people on their feet (and off the park benches)? Or is it a swimming pool filled with green jello? That would be verdant, green, and dynamic...so long as verdant green isn't anything at all like soylent green...let's not have that, shall we?

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