Just as the fate of five acres of the West 11th Street Park was looking bleak, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, put a line item for $3.75 million in the state's urban park budget, which will keep the 20.2-acre park whole.
Since 2005, grass-roots organizations and city leaders have been working to raise $9.2 million to purchase the 20.2-acre park in Timbergrove Manor from Houston Independent School District to keep it from being sold for development.
"It was a real bolt from the blue," said Loraine Cherry, president of Friends of the West 11th Street Park. "We had all been getting prepared to go down to city council again and I had been sending out more and more grants. We had some success and had gotten some money, but we still were coming up about $3 million short.
"And then Sen. Whitmire called me one morning and said, 'I want to let you know this is what I'm trying to do.' It was one week before the end of the legislative session."
Said Toni Lawrence, the District A council member who helped with fundraising, "The neighbors in that area worked to keep that green space and it's actually coming through. We had some people step forward, but in the big scheme we needed a little more boost or we would lose that five acres."
"I watched on the sidelines with interest the efforts to save the park. I followed it very closely and they came up short," Whitmire said. "Historically, the state thinks urban parks are the responsibility of local government.
"It just seemed like a natural thing to do given my position on the Finance Committee. Everyone had done so much -- the city, the Parks Board, the neighbors -- I was just pleased to be in a position to do something.
"I just spoke up and put that item in the budget," Whitmire added. "I didn't say anything until I knew it was safeguarded."
If all goes according to plan, the Parks Board should get the $3.75 million to pay back the loan and accrued interest on Sept. 1.
"The only concern, and it's a guarded concern, is that obviously the governor has to sign the budget," Whitmire said. "I've been informed this park is in good shape."
"When the money is in the Parks Board hands, I'll celebrate," Lawrence said.