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Buffalo Bayou Partnership

Cleaning up Buffalo Bayou

This is a big job, and it’s going to take a long time.

Three months after flood torrents from Hurricane Harvey submerged Buffalo Bayou Park under almost 39 feet of water, scars left by the storm are still evident.

Mounds of sand still sit waist-high in some parts of the 160-acre park, branches and stripped trees still hang from the underside of bridges spanning the bayou and waterlogged plant matter still chokes tributaries that feed into Houston’s central waterway.

“The silt levels that resulted from Harvey were beyond anything that we have ever seen with any flooding event,” Buffalo Bayou Partnership president Anne Olson said.

The complete recovery effort, estimated to take another four to six months, involves clearing the over 70,000 cubic yards of sediments the bayou deposited along its banks as floodwaters made their way to Galveston Bay.

“Initially, the sand was higher than my head,” the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s volunteer coordinator Leticia Sierras said. “The trails here were all buried.”

Here’s an update from the Buffalo Bayou Partnership detailing the work they’ve been doing to clean things up. The bayou is both functional and one of the city’s best features, so getting it fixed up, and giving some thought as to how to mitigate against this kind of damage in the future, is a priority.

East End former KBR site sold again

I’d forgotten all about this.

When a sprawling tract of land lining Buffalo Bayou east of downtown hit the market three years ago, some of Houston’s most prominent observers of urban development put forth ideas about what could be done with the 136-acre site boasting both water and skyscraper views.

Visions for the property included repositioning existing buildings as cutting-edge workplaces, adding townhomes and apartments along tree-shaded streets where trolleys could shuttle people to and from downtown, and creating spots where Houstonians could rent bikes and take canoes into the bayou.

Now, with the recent sale of the property, some of those visions may start to take shape – though they could be years away.

An affiliate of Houston-based Midway, the company behind CityCentre, GreenStreet and other local mixed-use developments purchased the site in May, property records show.

The seller, William Harrison, a wealthy Houstonian with business in energy and real estate, bought it in late 2012 from KBR. The engineering and construction company had owned the onetime office and industrial complex since 1919, when the company was Brown & Root. Most of the buildings there have been demolished.

[…]

Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, lauded Midway for its focus on park space, including a project the company is developing in the Upper Kirby neighborhood next to a park that’s been around for more than 60 years.

The partnership owns an easement on the property that will allow it to expand its hike and bike trail system through it.

“It’s been a coveted spot for some time just because of its size,” Olson said. “I don’t know if there’s a site that big in the inner city.”

See here and here for the background. People were excited when the property was sold in 2012, then it continued to sit there undeveloped for almost four more years before being sold again. Maybe this time will be different, though with the current state of the local economy and the housing market, it’s hard to imagine anything happening in the short term. Swamplot and The Urban Edge have more.

Downtown post office has a buyer

Redevelopment, here we come.

Photo by Houston In Pics

Lovett Commercial, a Houston-based developer of neighborhood shopping centers and urban redevelopments, is under contract to buy the downtown post office property and potentially turn it into an urban complex of shops, offices, housing and perhaps a hotel.

“It’s extremely rare to find a 16& acre parcel in any major U.S. downtown,” the company said Monday in a statement emailed to the Chronicle by vice president Burdette Huffman.

Conceptual plans are still being devised, but the company said it expects “to attract multiple uses such as retail, creative office, residential and/or a boutique hotel. Tenants that we have visited with are extremely excited about the project, its location and the possibilities.”

Lovett is also exploring ways to reuse portions of the site’s existing buildings, which sit on the northwestern edge of downtown, just north of Buffalo Bayou and across from the Theater District.

[…]

Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, was pleased to hear of the company’s plans.

“I think Frank Liu is a real visionary,” Olson said of Lovett’s president, who also develops urban housing. “I think he’s willing to think outside the box.”

She said the plans are in line with the type of mixed-use development the partnership recommended more than a decade ago in a comprehensive master plan for the bayou.

Olson recalled several years ago during a bayou-related focus group when multiple prominent developers called the downtown post office property “the key site for development along the bayou.”

See here, here, and here for an abridged history of this site. It has always seemed to be destined for some form of mixed-use development, with a bit of speculation about it as a transit hub thrown in for flair. There’s not a whole lot immediately around it, so it will be interesting to see if this project spawns other development, or if this project is executed as something that is intended to be a stand-alone destination. What would you like to see in this space?

Finally doing that front door facelift

Better late than never.

Renovations started this week on the historic Sunset Coffee Building at Allen’s Landing on the north end of downtown.

The more than 100-year-old structure, now behind a fence as construction begins, is getting a $5.3 million facelift from Houston First Corp. and Buffalo Bayou Partnership. They hope the new design will reconnect the bayou with downtown Houston.

The building sits on a spot often referred to as “Houston’s Plymouth Rock,” according to a joint announcement Friday from the Partnership and Houston First. Brothers August Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen established Houston there in 1836.

[…]

The project should be completed in about one year. At that time the building will have an outdoor plaza with refreshment and rental facilities for runners, canoeists, kayakers and bikers. The first level will be office space for the partnership and the second level and a rooftop terrace will be used as event space.

A walkway will connected the building to Commerce Street. Ultimately, the building will connect to Buffalo Bayou’s trail system that stretches to Shepherd Drive.

We first heard about this almost a year ago. At the time, the plan was for work to begin in April, 2013. I don’t know what caused the delay – this story doesn’t indicate – but at least it’s getting started now. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s finally done.

Beautifying Buffalo Bayou

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this winds up.

The nonprofit Buffalo Bayou Partnership is overseeing $58 million in ecological restoration and enhancement to upgrade the 2.3-mile stretch between Shepherd and Sabine into a green gem with a slew of amenities and surprisingly diverse landscapes where native plants will star.

The Kinder Foundation’s $30 million catalyst gift launched the ambitious project in the 160 acre-park. The Wortham Foundation’s $5 million moved the partnership closer to its $23 million fundraising goal, and Harris County Flood Control District is contributing $5 million, partnership president Anne Olson said. One of the city’s tax zones will contribute $2 million per year for the park’s maintenance and operations when it’s completed in 2015.

The private-public effort will add trails, pedestrian bridges, public art, a nature playground, two ponds for dogs, quiet areas and recreational spaces and parking.

But one of the project’s key goals is restoring the diversity of landscapes historically found along the bayou.

“We’re trying to keep the park natural and green but take it to a more refined level by removing non-natives and invasives,” Olson said.

The flood control district has been clearing unwanted plants, dredging silt and sculpting bayou banks to improve water flow, decrease murkiness and ease erosion.

I’ve written about this project before, and the more I hear about it the more I can’t wait to see the finished product. If you’ve driven down Allen Parkway lately or were there for the Art Car Parade, you’ve seen some of the progress that they’ve been making. Where things go after the work is done is even more interesting to contemplate. There’s already a B-Cycle kiosk the Sabine end of the bayou; adding another at the Montrose/Studemont entry point, and another at the nearby Regent Square Alamo Drafthouse would be good ideas. Connecting the Bayou at the west end to Memorial Park would also be awesome. Lots to be excited about here.

On a fascinating little tangent, a couple of weeks ago a rare alligator snapping turtle, which had been thought to be extinct in Harris County, was found in the Bayou. It’s since been nursed back to health (it had fish hooks in its mouth) and released in the wild where it belongs. This doesn’t have anything to do with the story, I just thought it was cool.

Fixing our front door

This sounds very cool.

The century-old Sunset Coffee Building, looming in disrepair over Allen’s Landing at the north end of downtown, will become Houston’s “front door” with an $8 million public-private renovation set to begin in April.

The three-story brick structure is boarded up, marked with graffiti, and has shrubs growing out of some second-floor windows.

Come mid-2014, however, the facility will house kayak, canoe and bike rentals on the first floor, office space on the second floor, private event space on the third floor, a rooftop terrace, and will be flanked by outdoor plazas and walkways connecting to Commerce Street.

Most of the money comes from private donations to the nonprofit Buffalo Bayou Partnership. The fundraising also was boosted by a $500,000 federal grant and finished off with a $2.4 million infusion from Houston First, the board that runs the city’s convention and arts facilities.

[…]

Susan Keeton, chairman emeritus of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, said it has been a long road, with some skepticism from the nonprofit’s board members, since the partnership first bought the building in 1997, with the dream of making it a focal point of recreation on the bayou. Renovations had been slated to start in 2008, but fundraising lagged amid the national recession.

“It is our Plymouth Rock, and the wonderful thing about it is that, unlike Plymouth Rock – which now is sort of small and forlorn, I’ve seen it off of Cape Cod – this, particularly when the Coffee Building gets renovated, is not going to be a lonely place,” Keeton said. “A day like today, this beautiful slope ought to just attract people, too many, almost.”

Sounds awesome to me, and long overdue. Kudos to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Houston First, and the city for making this happen. I can’t wait to see the finished product. Here’s the Houston First press release, and CultureMap and Swamplot have more.

One more thing about the Buffalo Bayou transformation

You saw Trudi Smith’s guest post about the transformation of Buffalo Bayou, which was recently kicked into high gear. There’s a point that needs to be addressed about the project and the lovely park that’s being built up, and the Chron discussed it in a recent editorial.

How will people get there? And where will they park?

While the Rosemont Bridge and a few over/under passes on the north side help people cross Memorial, Allen Parkway is severely lacking in easy bicycle and pedestrian crossing. Crossing at Waugh or Montrose can feel pretty risky, especially during heavy traffic. And the intersection at Taft has no crosswalk at all, with joggers and bikers playing a life-size game of Frogger across the mini-highway that is Allen Parkway.

As it is now, Allen Parkway makes it difficult for Buffalo Bayou Park to become a neighborhood green space for people in Montrose and the Fourth Ward. Updates to the park will be nice, but of limited value if people cannot get to them.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership chairman Bob Phillips and Andy Icken responded in an op-ed a few days later.

The Buffalo Bayou Park Master Plan outlines very specific ways to create better and safer public access to Buffalo Bayou Park from Shepherd Street to Sabine Street. The proposed solutions that are outlined in the Master Plan will require effective use of city property and collaboration with the city of Houston and developers in the surrounding neighborhoods. Examples include new pedestrian crosswalks to allow safer access into the park and improvements to Allen Parkway to increase parking.

Our goal is to finalize our strategy now so when the construction is complete in 2015, we can welcome people who are walking, biking, using public transportation or driving.

Most of the items they specify in their piece have to do with parking, which highlights the irony of building a gorgeous bike trail that people have to access by car. I live a bit more than a mile and a half from the entry to the trail at Studemont/Montrose, but there’s no good way for me to get there by bike. Biking on Studemont from where it underpasses I-10 borders on suicidal. The only other roads to get you there coming from the north are Heights/Waugh and Durham/Shepherd. The latter is as bad as Studemont, the former is okay except for the stretch where it passes over Memorial and Allen Parkway. I might brave it myself some day, but I’d never want to have my kids ride along with me, it’s too dangerous. It’s a shame that it has to be this way, especially since the trail provides a useful entryway into downtown and thus can serve as a path for bike commuters. I wish I could say I had a good suggestion to deal with this, but I don’t. This is the way things are in Houston.

Trudi Smith: What’s going on with Buffalo Bayou

The following is from a series of guest posts that I have been presenting over the past few weeks.

Transformation of Buffalo Bayou Park, one of Houston’s most iconic green spaces, is well underway. With an historic $30 million catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation, a strong public-private partnership has been created to include Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), City of Houston led by the Houston Parks & Recreation Department and Harris County Flood Control District. BBP has been charged with leading the enhancements of the 160-acre, 2.3-mile bayou stretch from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street.

Likened to Houston’s own Central Park, the ambitious $55 million project will:

  • Restore the bayou to a more natural and self-sustaining version of what exists today
  • Reintroduce native park landscape
  • Add amenities to enhance safety and visitor experience

After two years of design and engineering, trail work is being constructed and additional improvements are slated to begin this summer. The entire project is expected to be complete in mid-2015. Here’s the Master Plan.

Buffalo Bayou Park Phase I Begins

Steps to Crosby Outfall along Allen Parkway just west of Sabine Street

Phase I work will be executed in two stages. The first stage includes a new pedestrian bridge at Jackson Hill, a new bridge and trails providing access to the Police Memorial, and a new footbridge, stairs and earthwork at the Crosby Outfall area at the intersection of Sabine Street and Allen Parkway.

The 345-foot Jackson Hill Bridge will be the first bayou spanning bridge to be built, and it will connect via a small plaza to the existing pedestrian bridge which crosses over Memorial Drive. Similar in aesthetic to the Hobby Center Bridge, it will provide a safe and convenient route for cyclists and pedestrians to cross over Buffalo Bayou. A trail connector to the east and a footpath connector to the west will also be added.

Improvements planned at Sabine Street and the Crosby Outfall will complement the existing trail into Eleanor Tinsley Park. The new footbridge will be 53 feet long and stairs will be upgraded to resemble those at the Sabine Promenade.

Phase I construction is expected to be completed by September 2013.

Harris County Flood Control District Begins Work at the Police Memorial

In August, the Harris County Flood Control District will start its channel conveyance restoration project. Work includes restoring the conveyance capacity of the bayou by removing accumulated sediment, repairing erosion and stabilizing bank failures. The District will also conduct selective clearing to remove invasive vegetation and, ultimately, implement a tree planting plan.

The District’s work will begin on the bayou’s north bank near the Police Memorial (north of Memorial Drive) and then proceed in seven phases to Shepherd Drive. This work will continue until late 2014 and is a continuation of the successful Pilot Project the District completed in 2010.

Overall, trail use in this area should not be heavily impacted. However, trails may be temporarily closed due to construction traffic crossing the trails. During these times, the construction contractor will have flagmen on-site directing pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Canoeists and kayakers should note there will be times when the bayou will be closed for safety reasons due to the construction.

South Bank Trail Closure at Taft & Allen Parkway

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the City of Houston continued work on the 4.6-mile Sandy Reed Memorial Trail on the south side of the bayou at Taft and Allen Parkway, extending eastward to Sabine Street. Trail users: Please note that for safety reasons the trail on the south side of Buffalo Bayou at Montrose (on the west) and Sabine (on the east) will be closed through approximately October 2012. Trail users are asked to stay on the north bank trails or detour from the south across the Rosemont Bridge.

The Water Works Cistern

In early January, the Houston Chronicle highlighted one of Buffalo Bayou Park’s most fascinating features. Below the signature lawn being developed as The Water Works performance area, north of the existing Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park, sits an unused City of Houston water reservoir. This 100,000-square-foot area has enormous potential. While there is currently no funding to develop the “Cistern,” as it has been dubbed, Houston-based SmartGeoMetrics has volunteered to produce 3D imaging of the cavernous space. Their work will help BBP accurately document the Cistern’s current as-is condition, conceptualize ideas for developing the space, and, with luck, facilitate funding. Imaging is expected to be completed by late summer. SmartGeoMetrics’ imaging will be given to the University of Houston’s Texas Learning and Computation Center (TLC2) who will vet a web-based public ideas process to come up with creative and sustainable potential uses. Stay tuned for details on this public ideas process!

Behind the Scenes: Familiar Faces-SWA Group

Front left to right: Jenny Janis, Jiyoung Nam, Josh Lock, Peng Xu; middle left to right: Clayton Bruner, Tim Peterson, Kevin Shanley (President, SWA Group); back left to right: Jake Salzman, Scott McCready, Michael Robinson; not pictured: Xin Sui, Alaleh Rouhi

Friends of Buffalo Bayou Partnership will recall SWA Group leading the award-winning Sabine Promenade Project. SWA Group is once again collaborating with Buffalo Bayou Partnership on the design of Buffalo Bayou Park improvements. As one of the world’s top landscape architecture and planning firms, SWA has designed countless projects in Houston and around the world. Their work includes revitalization of the landscape architecture of Hermann Park and framework planning for Houston’s Brays Bayou Corridor, among others. The Buffalo Bayou Park team is led by President Kevin Shanley, who has been involved in innovative flood management projects along a majority of Houston bayous. Rounding out the skilled team are Scott McCready, lead designer, and Tim Peterson, project manager.

For additional information on the Buffalo Bayou Park Shepherd to Sabine, click here.

To read more of the July/August 2012 In the Works e-newsletter, click here.

To sign up to receive Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s monthly e-newsletters, click here.

Trudi Smith is the Director of PR and Events for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is the non-profit organization revitalizing and transforming Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s most significant natural resource.

Buffalo Bayou begins its makeover

This is going to be great.

The jogging and biking trails that wind through Buffalo Bayou Park west of downtown are about to get a bit more circuitous as a $55 million effort to transform the area into an iconic green space for Houston begins in earnest this month.

[…]

The Harris County Flood Control District will kick off $5.1 million worth of earthwork along the bayou next month, dredging silt from the channel, fixing erosion problems and pulling or planting vegetation.

“It’s a very popular area. The challenge is leaving the park open for the public to use while we have large construction equipment in there,” said Sandra Musgrove, infrastructure division director for the flood control district. “I just hope people will be patient and tolerate all the construction, because the end result will be a really nice park.”

The district generally will work westward, reaching Shepherd by December 2014. The partnership will follow, extending the landscaping, distinctive blue lighting and waterside jogging trails it built between Bagby and Sabine to Shepherd by spring 2015.

Work to replace the main hike-and-bike trail through the park already has begun, overseen by the Texas Department of Transportation.

See here for full details of the plan, and this Swamplot post from last year for more pictures. Buffalo Bayou Park is already one of this city’s great amenities. The completion of this project will make it that much better.

Transforming Buffalo Bayou

Awesome.

A $55 million upgrade to parkland along Buffalo Bayou is set to add performance venues, improve recreational areas and revitalize downtown-area green space that officials hope will become a magnet and refuge similar to New York’s Central Park.

Houston City Council on Wednesday approved an operating agreement paving the way for construction, including a major restructuring of Buffalo Bayou and restoration of its ecosystems. The Harris County Commissioners Court will take up a similar agreement Tuesday.

The plan’s cost will be covered by $50 million in donations, including $30 million from The Kinder Foundation, with construction expected to run from June 2012 through 2015. The city will contribute $2 million annually to maintain and operate the upgraded park, and the Harris County Flood Control District will pitch in $5 million to assist with changes to the waterway. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership still is raising private funds for the project.

The restructuring effort will focus on a 158-acre, 2.3-mile stretch of the bayou between Shepherd and Sabine, with an emphasis on “resculpting” the bayou channel to restore a more natural meandering path that was scraped away during a 1950s flood control project, said Guy Hagstette, a consultant for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which developed the plan.

The city’s press release is here, and you can learn all you want to know about the project at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership webpage. Keep in mind that the San Antonio Riverwalk started out as a flood control project, and transformed over time into a star attraction and a reason for people to visit the city. Buffalo Bayou already has some nice amenities, and what’s being planned now will really make it something. Who knows what it could be in once this is done?

Beautifying the bayous

Very cool.

A local nonprofit hopes its $55 million plan to overhaul 158 acres of parkland along Buffalo Bayou west of downtown will transform the area into an iconic green space for Houston.

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s plan calls for extensive upgrades along the bayou between Shepherd and Sabine, intended to improve aesthetics, attract more visitors and reduce the risk of flooding.

The plan will reach City Council this week and Commissioners Court later this month. These expected nods of approval will start talks on final details, to be fleshed out in the coming months.

Construction is expected to start in mid-2012 and take three years.

The effort will be funded almost entirely by private donors, save $5 million from the Harris County Flood Control District. The Kinder Foundation has given $30 million, believed to be the largest gift ever given to a park project in Houston. That leaves the partnership with $20 million to scrape together.

“That area of the bayou is so used,” said Nancy Kinder. “The trails are in such dire shape. That was really what caught our focus — that this could be a world-class park if you did just some basic work.”

You can read more about the plan here. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this all shapes up.

In the meantime, Tuesday was the ceremonial grand opening of the bridge formerly known as Tolerance, now simply called Rosemont. I went by on my way home with my camera, intending to take a few pictures, but the “ceremonial” aspect of the opening meant that the bridge itself was not yet available. I did actually take a few shots, but then I saw that Swamplot had a much better assortment, so I figured I’d save myself some time and just point you there. I’ll try again some time after the bridge becomes open for real.