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Discovery Green

Happy tenth birthday, Discovery Green

What a great addition it has been.

Discovery Green opened a decade ago this weekend, drawing 25,000 people to the long-dormant east side of downtown to gawk at parading Clydesdales, dogs in costumes, a puppet show, a magician, musicians and dancers.

Skeptics said the 12-acre green space in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center would become a homeless encampment, that no suburbanite would drive all the way downtown to see a park, that the $125 million the city and philanthropists had jointly invested would prove to be a waste.

They were wrong.

Visitor counts immediately outstripped consultants’ projections, which leaders had worried might be too optimistic. Today, more than 1.2 million people visit the park’s 1-acre lake, its playground and interactive water feature, its restaurants, amphitheater, dog runs and public art installations, its summer putting green and winter ice rink.

Many visitors are drawn by the 600-some free activities the park hosts annually — from regular yoga, Zumba and salsa classes to film, beer and margarita festivals, 5K runs and even a contemporary circus. Others are out-of-towners meeting Houston for the first time with a stroll through the park, the organizers of the event they’re attending having seen Discovery Green as a key part of city boosters’ pitches for major conventions, Final Fours, All-Star games and Super Bowls.

Bob Eury, executive director of the Downtown Management District, said the space has succeeded by functioning as both the city’s backyard and its front door, drawing Houstonians and conventioneers alike.

“It’s really performing every bit the way the founders intended, in that it was this civic lawn that was just a great urban park that people who live in the neighborhood can use, but it’s also something that people from the entire city and region can enjoy,” Eury said. “That was the vision, and it really has achieved that.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but some of that skepticism of Discovery Green was rooted in political dislike for then-Mayor Bill White. Not all of it – this was a new and untested thing being done downtown, where many previous attempts at luring in people outside of business hours faltered – but some of it was. My kids are older now so we haven’t found many reasons to visit lately, but we went there a lot when they were little. It was a great place for the young ones – the playground was super, and there was just lots of room to run around and have fun. It really has been a game-changer for Houston – can you imagine downtown without Discovery Green now? – and I’m so glad Mayor White had the foresight to push for it. May there be many more happy years to come.

Time once again to talk about the Super Bowl and its economic impact

We’re less than 100 days out from Super Bowl LI here in Houston. I don’t know how much people who are not directly involved in the planning and execution of it are thinking about that.

The economic benefits of hosting a Super Bowl and other major events have long been a matter of debate, however. Houston’s host committee has yet to release its impact analysis, but these reports typically estimate that Super Bowls generate economic activity in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Academics who study such events generally find the added activity, with all the costs taken into account, is much smaller.

“I can’t tell you whether there will be a zero net impact or a modest positive one,” says Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College who has long studied the sports industry, “but it’s not going to be large.”

Houston, though, may be better prepared to benefit from the Super Bowl than other cities, for several reasons. First, there isn’t much winter tourism in Houston to displace, as in other Super Bowl cities such as New Orleans and Miami, so the net gain here is much greater. Second, Houston’s hospitality industry needs the business, with new hotels built during the shale boom struggling with lower-than-expected occupancy rates as business travel declined.

Third – and perhaps most important – the city really could use a period of prolonged exposure to show business leaders and the millions watching at home that it’s not just a stodgy oil town like it was in the early 2000s.


The accounting firm PwC has estimated the economic impact of the Super Bowl since 2003, pegging the game’s value to Houston in 2004 at about $130 million in direct spending. It estimated that the last Super Bowl, number 50, was worth $220 million to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cities have gotten better at making the most of Super Bowl week, said Adam Jones, a PwC analyst. By planning events within a relatively small radius so visitors spend more time on experiences than getting to them, cities can capture greater returns.

Houston has done that, with NFL Live at Discovery Green — a 10-day music and food-filled festival open to the public — only a few minutes from NRG Stadium via light rail or taxi. Additional bus and shuttle lines will be available should guests want to venture to the Galleria as well.

“What we’ve seen within the past five years is communities going out, learning what has worked, what hasn’t worked in cities that preceded them,” Jones said. “We continue to see year over year improvement in the model.”

University of Houston economist Bill Gilmer looked at additional tax revenues generated during the 2004 Super Bowl, about $5 million, and estimated the 2017 edition would bring in an extra $6.6 million in sales taxes for the city plus another $2.2 million in hotel occupancy taxes and $6.8 million for Metro.

Longer-term benefits are harder to measure. The city’s tourism promotion arm, HoustonFirst, said it was able to go after bigger conventions when the Hilton Americas was completed in 2004. That added 1,200 rooms directly connected to the convention center, and the Marriott Marquis will have a similar effect. The city booked a record number of room nights for future conventions in 2015 and expects to break the record again this year, according to HoustonFirst.

We’ve discussed this a few times before. I’m sure that the economic benefit of hosting a Super Bowl is generally overstated, but I do think there is a benefit, and I do think it’s possible that cities have learned from past experiences and academic study to maximize the benefit that is available to them. As the story notes, Houston doesn’t have much tourism trade to displace, but we do have an extensive food-and-drink sector of our economy that will surely enjoy having all these out-of-towners around. The spending that has been done on infrastructure is spending that needed to be done, and which will be a public good long after the Super Bowl people have gone home. In the end, someone will put out a number, and we can make of that what we will. Whatever that number is, I expect the city of Houston will look back on this experience and decide that it was worth it.

Other cities want to be like Houston

For parks and landscaping.

The word “infrastructure” typically conjures up images of towering buildings, layered freeway interchanges and heavily monitored drainage ditches; concrete, cars, trucks and impressive feats of engineering that attempt to mold the natural world and resources to fit human needs.

Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., has long been hailed, and criticized, for such accomplishments, but a shift in social, political, and economic values has strengthened lesser-thought of elements of city infrastructure: parks and green space. Architectural and engineering professions in Houston have been historically bolstered by energy and the wealth it has pumped into the city, but the recent downturn in oil prices and a more diversified Houston economy has led the city to focus on what the landscape architect can bring to table.

Just like “infrastructure,” the term “Houstonization” has begun to mean something completely different. Cities across Texas and the nation, including San Antonio, are taking a closer look at the Bayou City and how the Sun Belt’s biggest metropolis, now 180 years old, has done an about-face to embrace the natural environment as cultural and economic assets to retain and attract residents. Literal mud holes and parking lots have become world-class parks.


Like most paradigm shifts, it took an “aligning of the planets,” said Cultural Landscape Foundation President and CEO Charles Birnbaum in the ornate lobby of Hotel ZaZa Thursday evening. He would later reiterate this concept for conference attendees next door in the auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Those “planets” are core patrons – the bureaucratic (city), the civic (philanthropist/corporate) and the citizen patron. The key for Houston, as other cities, has been another three-piece vocabulary, the public-private partnership, the so-called “P3.”

Just as these patron planets aligned for the rise of the highway and construction cranes, they have aligned for green space, Birnbaum said. “People are hungry and ready for parks.”

Houstonians – along with national and international consultants – are currently turning an urban golf course into a botanical garden; they’re redesigning, reconnecting and expanding Memorial Park and its arboretum; they’re connecting 150 miles of bayou trails; and developing engaging programming to activate its 371-and-counting parks.

“It takes big civic ideas and the patronage muscle to pull it off,” Birnbaum said.

That’s a report from a recent landscape architect’s conference that was held in Houston. OffCite was all over this as well. Lots of good reading there if you’re interested.

They also love us for bus system reimagining.

Was it hard to persuade people to focus on rerouting bus lines?

They had us all put together a list of, what are things you’d like to see done. This was on my list. It took about three years for the agency to be convinced to do it.

There was a lot of focus on the fact that ridership was dropping. I was actually offering up a solution that addressed that problem.

It probably didn’t hurt that it was budget friendly?

It’s funny when you look at this. Why haven’t more agencies done this? Because on the surface it’s a no-brainer: make a system better without putting money into it. In the end we put a little bit of money into it, but using your current resources to do more seems like it’s something everybody would be doing. But it turns out it’s actually really rare.


So Houston is open to change and your project has been a progressive triumph. But is the city ever going to reach that urban planning “nirvana”?

Yes. I think we’re actually getting there. There are people from all over the United States looking at Bayou Greenways as a model, looking at Discovery Green and Market Square. We’re a city that has suddenly ended up in the national spotlight when it comes to urban planning, and that’s really interesting because 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, we were the joke at the beginning of every urban planning presentation.

Yes, I distinctly remember the slide in those presentations.

It’s funny. One of the most famous pictures is that picture of downtown Houston covered in surface parking lots, and that’s where Discovery Green is now.

Some of the things we got held up for as being bad, like the lack of zoning, I think are turning out to be advantages. The good restaurant scene we have actually has something to do with the fact we don’t have zoning.

It’s really odd, parks people are looking at Houston, development people are looking at Houston, transit people are looking at Houston.

That’s got to feel pretty good.

It feels pretty darn good.

That’s from an interview with recently reappointed Metro board member Christof Spieler. Spieler has previously said that other transit agencies are closely watching the new bus network rollout – one agency that is considering something similar was here in town on the day that the new maps were implemented, for a firsthand look at how it went. As Spieler says, that feels pretty darn good.

Under the Dome

The latest plan to save the Dome takes a step forward.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County Commissioners Court moved forward on Tuesday with one piece of the Astrodome revival that needs to happen whether or not the park plan is achieved, according to County Judge Ed Emmett.

The court asked for an internal cost assessment for building two floors of underground parking, or a large underground storage facility, beneath the ground floor of the Astrodome.


Edgar Colon, an attorney who serves as the appointed volunteer chair of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, has been managing this undertaking. He estimated the task force of engineers, architects, designers, cost estimators and financial advisers has logged more than 200 hours on Astrodome conversion planning.

He said Emmett took the lead, and the late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee also took great interest in the process.

Under the broader plan, the Astrodome would remain county property, and the park inside it would be a county park. The conservancy would help raise the funds for the project and assist in designing it.

By the end of June, Colon said, the plan for the conservancy’s structure and its role in developing an indoor park should be finalized.

But first, Emmett wants to address the more pressing matter of raising the floor of the Astrodome to ground level and making use of the 30 feet of space underneath it.

“My first goal is to put the Dome into usable condition, whether it be for the rodeo for their food court or the Offshore Technology Conference, or for festivals, gatherings or merely for picnickers in the park,” Emmett said.

“The Dome’s a building. We can’t just leave a building sitting there unusable.”

See here for the background. Basically, the plan is a public-private partnership overseen by a conservancy, similar to Discovery Green, but with more moving parts. Among the attractions of this setup would be the ability to fundraise as a non-profit, which would sidestep the need to put another bond issue before the public. I can’t wait to see what the structure of the conservancy will look like. One presumes the incoming County Commissioner (the Dome resides in Precinct 1) will take a lead role in getting this off the ground, and one presumes that Judge Emmett, who is known to want to retire after this term is up at the end of 2018, will want to have it well in motion by then. KUHF has more.

Is this the plan that will save the Dome?


Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

A few months ago Ed Emmett had a breakthrough moment about how to save the Astrodome, a goal he’s been chipping away at for the better part of eight years. The Harris County judge was driving out of the county administration building lot headed straight for the historic 1910 courthouse in downtown, and he thought, “There’s a building we completely re-purposed without bond money.”

Meanwhile, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation was mulling over a 38-page report by the Urban Land Institute outlining details for transforming the Astrodome into an indoor park with 1,200 parking spaces underneath it. What remained unclear was how to fund it.

And that’s where Emmett’s idea comes in. His plan has now become the blueprint for a public-private partnership overseen by a conservancy that would unite the city, county, the sports and convention corporation and other governmental entities with private investors to revive the Astrodome without requiring voter approval. Under the conservancy model, Emmett said, the Dome would earn tax credits, which would help significantly with covering expenses for renovation.

The details for the partnership – and who will commit to covering what percentage of the costs – are being discussed in meetings between representatives of various stakeholders, including during a session on Tuesday and another one scheduled for Friday.

The finished funding plan will come before county officials likely before year’s end, and, if the majority of the five-member Commissioners Court backs the proposal, the Astrodome revival will commence.


The two newest commissioners, Jack Cagle and Jack Morman, said in interviews Tuesday that they might ultimately support a conservancy to oversee a Dome project; however, neither could say for certain without reviewing the actual proposal.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he would want to hear comments from the public, adding that “a plan that does not involve taxpayers’ money is certainly going in the right direction.”

Commissioner El Franco Lee expressed wholehearted backing for Emmett’s new strategy.

“I support and am pushing for the conservancy approach,” he said. “It gives philanthropic givers an opportunity to participate, and it takes us down the road much faster by doing some creative things.”

Lee said participants in the conservancy discussions are fully aware that the majority on Commissioners Court does not support taxpayer money going toward the Astrodome project, and he said the planning group will certainly keep that in mind as it crafts a proposal.

“At this point, I’m very optimistic,” Emmett said, “that it’s going to happen without a bond issue. That’s the direction we’re moving in. People seem to be coalescing around the idea of re-purposing the Dome as a green space, adding parking underneath, and adding a conservancy to oversee the upper parts.”

That’s the key right there, no bond issue, which would mean no vote need be taken. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of reason to be optimistic about any further Dome-related votes, so avoiding that would be a big deal. As Judge Emmett notes, this is the same concept that the Houston Zoo and Discovery Green use. That would require some kind of board that would be responsible for management and – more importantly – funding, with some operations money coming from the county and likely the city. I expect that would be easy enough to work out. This makes so much sense that you have to wonder why no one thought of it before. Better late than never, I guess. What do you think about this? Texas Leftist has more.

A bike lane to connect to bike trails

Makes sense.

Houston may get its first protected on-street bike route as early as October, as city officials prepare to convert a lane of Lamar Street downtown into a two-way cycling path connecting the popular Buffalo Bayou trails west of downtown to Discovery Green and points east.

The nearly three-quarter-mile connector, from the east end of Sam Houston Park to the edge of Discovery Green, will be painted green and separated from the remaining three lanes of traffic by a two-foot barrier lined with striped plastic humps known as “armadillos” or “zebras,” said Laura Spanjian, the city’s sustainability director.

Signals will be added at intersections to direct cyclists headed east on one-way westbound Lamar. Officials hope to begin work in September and open the lane in October.

Michael Payne, executive director of Bike Houston, said the 11-block dedicated lane will be a crucial link to safely get cyclists from the Buffalo Bayou trails to the well-used Columbia Tap Trail east of downtown that runs past Texas Southern University. A link from that trailhead to the George R. Brown Convention Center is under construction.

“The key here is that physical separation, which makes cyclists feel more comfortable, that their space is defined,” Payne said. “When you’re on a bike route you’re right out there with the traffic. The whole objective here for Houston is to develop infrastructure that makes people feel comfortable, safe and encourages them to get out of their houses and out of their cars and use their bicycles both for recreation and for transportation.”


Jeff Weatherford, who directs traffic operations for the city’s Department of Public Works and Engineering, said Lamar was chosen in part because the lane being converted is devoted to parking except during rush hours.

The other available streets that had a parking lane to give were Walker, McKinney and Dallas, but Weatherford said Walker and McKinney see higher speeds and more traffic movement because they become Interstate 45 on-ramps. And along Dallas, downtown boosters plan retail-oriented improvements. Lamar is the default choice, he said.

Average traffic counts show Lamar also carries fewer cars daily than the other three streets considered. At its busiest, between 4 and 5 p.m., Lamar averages 1,240 vehicles between Allen Parkway and Travis. East of Travis, the counts drop sharply; the blocks of Lamar closest to the convention center, at their busiest, see fewer than 200 cars per hour.

There are a few complainers, of course, but there always will be for something like this. You can see with your own eyes that Lamar is less trafficked than Walker or McKinney, and the connections to I-45 are definitely a key part of that. What makes bike trails effective as transportation, not just as leisure or exercise, is connectivity. The trails themselves are great because they’re safe, efficient ways to travel by bike. Connecting the trails in this fashion makes them that much more effective and gives that many more people reasons to use them. Is it going to magically un-congest our streets of vehicular traffic? No, of course not. Nothing will do that short of a massive paradigm change. But it will give a larger number of people the option of not being part of that congestion, for little to no cost. What more do you want? Houston Tomorrow has more.

Transforming the GRB Convention Center

I don’t think I’d realized that there was a renovation of the George R. Brown Convention Center in the works, but after reading this story, I’m excited about it.

George R. Brown Convention Center

By late next year, people strolling the George R. Brown Convention Center plaza can take in restaurants, sidewalk cafes, landscaped walk-ways and a water fountain. At night, if all goes according to plan, they’ll be treated to a fog and light display.

By the time the Super Bowl rolls around in 2017, the plaza is expected to host a party for 100,000.

Those plans are much grander than when the project was initially bid a year ago. They evolved into a full-blown re-imagining of the area surrounding eastern downtown’s Discovery Green park.

Marie Hoke, a principal at WHR Architects and the project’s lead architect, says she has never worked on a design job that has expanded as much as this one – fitting, perhaps, given the 48-year-old Houstonian’s self-described penchant for “stretching, reaching and not leaving well enough alone.”

Hoke spent her earliest years in her mother’s hometown of Quito, Ecuador. She said she feels at home in a melting pot city like Houston, a place “where you don’t have to leave your culture of origin behind.”

“There is an opportunity to synthesize who you are into something new. We’re all kind of hybrids in Houston, comfortable with each other’s cultures.”


The original proposal Houston First sent to the architectural firms was more modest, Hoke said. It called for a mixed-use parking garage with some office space, and it included a vague reference to making the convention center more pedestrian-friendly.

After Hoke’s team won the bid, she and representatives of WHR and Houston First visited convention centers in other U.S. cities and came back with “game-changing” ideas, she said.

In Anaheim, Calif., they realized they could take buses off the front of the convention center and have drop-offs at the building’s sides, she said. In Chicago, they saw beautifully integrated public art.

A plan to add three restaurants in the area has grown to eight or nine.

And after Hoke brought SWA landscape architects on board, the project “caught fire” with ideas for the plaza, she said.

The city’s Public Works Division and Houston First are in talks to change the lane configurations on Avenida De Las Americas to allow more room for people to roam in the plaza, she said.

Once completed, the plaza “will take on the feeling you have in Discovery Green and extend it to the convention center,” Central Houston president Bob Eury said.

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, a group focused on local quality-of-life issues, said: “This is really beautiful stuff and revolutionary in Houston.”

That’s quite the endorsement. Discovery Green has been transformative, not just in the sense of turning an ugly vacant lot in an unloved part of downtown into a beautiful and heavily used city park, but also in the sense of spawning a lot of good construction around it, some of which is still underway. As someone who works within walking distance – or at least B-cycling distance – from Discovery Green and the GRB, I’m definitely intrigued by that news about the eight or nine restaurants. We’ve been hearing about this for almost three years now, and we’re still a ways off from its completion. I’m really eager to see how it all turns out.

Chron agrees that the Astrodome Park plan is silly

So there you have it.

There is something uniquely Houston about tearing down an historic structure to build a memorial commemorating the history of that very structure. But that is exactly what the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Texans have suggested in their recent proposal for the future of the Astrodome.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett minced no words when he called it a “silly plan.”

Those two primary tenants of NRG park pitched their $66 million idea to county commissioners two weeks ago, which involves razing the Dome and replacing it with green space, including historic markers and possible event stages. It seems like a less ambitious version of the steel-skeleton idea proposed by University of Houston architecture graduate student Ryan Slattery.

We’ve previously supported the idea of turning the Dome site into something resembling a “Discovery Green – South,” but only as a last resort. This proposal falls short of that standard, lacking the ambition and easy access, not to mention funding necessary to create a park that can match Discovery Green. This plan also feels far too willing to ignore the potential that continues to exist in the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Emmett has opposed any demolition, and says that this proposal is a “nonstory.” After all, the Dome belongs to the citizens of Harris County, not a professional sports team.

But it is hard to ignore a plan sponsored by the two largest users of the NRG complex, especially given that they’ve remained generally quiet through all the past ideas, but for their own previously proposed demolition and parking lot plan.

See here for the story so far. I do think it’s a little early to completely dismiss the idea, since the Rodeo and the Texans have not said how much of the tab they would be willing to pick up and what (if any) thought has been given to programming and paying for programming. Of course, the longer we go without any word from the Texans and the Rodeo on these subjects, the more reasonable it is to view this idea through a cynical lens. As the Chron notes, the Rodeo and the Texans have made their preference for demolition clear all along. If they’re serious about this being something more than just a way to make demolition more viable, then it’s on them to spell out the details. We’re waiting.

Astrodome Park: The population isn’t the problem

Greg Wythe addresses one of the central questions about the proposed Astrodome Park in this comment that I thought was worth highlighting on the front page.

As it turns out, there are a number of apartments situated to the east and north of the Dome. Checking Census data, the counts on the area “un-highlighted” in this map view comes to 13,360 for the immediate Dome walking area.

If we look at just downtown, we have only 4,690 total people there to seed Discovery Green with foot traffic. So, on the surface, the Dome area is significantly better situated. If we factor in Midtown and a generous interpretation of EaDo, we get 13,243 people in the “un-highlighted” version of the downtown map. Still less than would be accessible to the Dome park.

Both maps are from roughly the same elevation, so the expanse of territory of those maps should give a good interpretation. Obviously, not all parts of downtown (let alone Midtown or EaDo) are considered “walkable” to Discovery Green and not all parts of the Med Center apartments are going to be “walkable” to a Dome park.

But even if the downtown area were more populated, I don’t think it would make a case in and of itself – highways and a rail line to the Dome generally mean easier access. If there’s a problem with the proposal, proximate population and access aren’t going to be among them.

Greg’s input – and his maps! – are always appreciated around here, so I’m glad he was inspired to do this bit of research. I have three takeaways from it.

1. It seems clear that the residential population around the Astrodome is not an impediment to it becoming a successful park like Discovery Green. Honestly, when you think about it, Houston’s best parks – here we include Hermann and Memorial, for starters – are destinations. People get there by whatever means is most practical to enjoy their amenities. If Astrodome Park is worth going to, people will go to it.

2. That said, I wouldn’t completely dismiss the walkability question, nor the point that Astrodome Park would be a small oasis of green surrounded by a sprawling desert of asphalt, which may have a dampening effect on attendance. Walkability is about more than just distance to travel, it’s about the experience and utility of walking as a mode of transportation. People associate walking with downtown, if only because wherever you’re going downtown, you’re likely going to park a couple of blocks away from it, and once you do park it’s often expensive and inconvenient to move and re-park. That asphalt desert that would encircle Astrodome Park feels like it might be a psychological barrier to the park. I don’t know how to test that hypothesis without actually building the park, and even I will admit that the total effect of what I’d describing here is likely to be minimal in reality, but I do think one reason why people are skeptical of the idea is because of this. It just doesn’t fit with our perception of the place. Of course, there were people saying the same thing about Discovery Green not too long ago, so take this all with an appropriate amount of salt.

3. Really, what Greg highlights here just enhances what Lisa Gray wrote about and I commented on: It’s the programming. The people that conceived, built, and now run Discovery Green have put a ton of work and a few million bucks into making it a place that people want to go. The evidence that we have so far is that other than invoking Discovery Green as an optimistic analogy, the proponents of Astrodome Park haven’t done any of that thinking or planning or fund-seeking. If and when they show their work on this, we can evaluate their plans and compare them to Discovery Green and see how we feel. Until then, it’s just some pictures on a set of PowerPoint slides.

Could Astrodome Park actually work?

Lisa Gray asks a good question about the proposal to turn the Astrodome into green space.

Could that really be a park like Discovery Green? It’s easy to imagine that green space being useful, say, for a Super Bowl party, tailgating during home games, or as an extension of the Rodeo. But outside of those occasional events, what would lure people to an out-of-the-way, surrounded-by-asphalt park? What would it take to convince them to go there seven days a week, even in July?

I asked Barry Mandel, president and park director of Discovery Green.

“What’s their goal?” Mandel said. “Is it to have a space that’s active only during events? Or do they want to draw people in, to have it be active seven days a week? Do they want it to be a catalyst for development?”

If everyday activity is a goal, Mandel says, it has to be baked into the plans from the very beginning. Discovery Green started its planning with the goal of having people come to the park — in what was then considered a very inconvenient, little-used part of downtown — every day of the year. “That was a bold idea,” says Mandel. “Planning started by getting community input. Project for Public Spaces went out to the community and asked two questions: What would it take to bring you here? And what are your concerns?”

Those planners returned with an almost comically long list of features to be packed into the small space: A lake, multiple stages, a dog run, a micro-library, a playground, a quiet garden, permanent public art, green space suitable for Frisbees or ball-throwing, and not one but two restaurants. Only then, knowing what needed to be included, did anyone draw plans.

The park’s baked-in permanent features draw an important steady stream of park visitors: Even when nothing special is going on, people believe the park is an interesting place to be.

In addition, of course, Discovery Green deploys intense “programming” — a dizzying array of events, all through the week, intended to draw people from all walks of life. Concerts. Movie nights. Yoga. Zumba. Dog shows. Temporary public-art exhibits. Kayak classes. Flea markets. Circus performers.

Those events cost money. “Since the park started, we’ve probably spent $5 million on programming,” says Mandel.

Putting this another way, Discovery Green was founded with a lot of foundation money behind it. How much money did it take to make Discovery Green happen? A lot.

The total cost to acquire the land that became Discovery Green was approximately $57 million, and the total cost to build, landscape, and complete the project was approximately $125 million.

The Astrodome Park plan carries a $66 million price tag; the Rodeo and the Texans say they’ll contribute some amount to that, but they don’t say how much. If they’re serious about this, and the invocation of Discovery Green is more than just grabbing for the easy analogy of “urban public parks created from previously unused space”, then I say show me the money. In particular, show me the private and non-profit partners in this venture and their plans for what to do with the place after it opens. I’ll still be skeptical – Discovery Green may have once been in a “very inconvenient, little-used part of downtown” – but it was still close to a lot of people in a way that Astrodome Park isn’t. What’s the plan to bring people there, and what’s the funding source to pay for it? That’s what we need to know.

The Rodeo and the Texans would like to demolish the Dome now, please

Yeah, I don’t know how well this will go over.

County leaders said Thursday they are open to considering a $66 million plan devised by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the NFL’s Houston Texans to demolish the iconic Astrodome and turn the nearly 9-acre site into a massive outdoor space reminiscent of downtown’s Discovery Green.

The two organizations – the primary tenants of the South Loop sports complex where the vacant stadium stands – briefed commissioners on their proposal this week.

The project, titled the “Astrodome Hall of Fame,” calls for tearing down the dome, bringing the floor to ground level and installing an open-air structure where the walls once stood, according to a 37-page proposal obtained by the Houston Chronicle. The plan, drawn up by two architecture and construction firms, is designed to pay tribute to “the Astrodome’s history” and realize its potential as an “outdoor fulcrum” of NRG Park.

Renderings show what looks like the ribs of the former stadium circling a vast, grassy space with multiple event stages. Tributes to the various events, athletes and entertainers – from Elvis to Earl Campbell – who have played and performed at the stadium throughout the decades would be installed on each of 72 structural columns that would stand as tall as the 49-year-old structure.

“We think they came up with a tremendous idea and it’s the one thing we don’t have out there right now,” Rodeo Chief Operating Officer Leroy Shafer said of the plan devised by Gensler and Linbeck Construction. “This puts a park right in the center of our NRG park complex.”

Shafer and Texans President Jamey Rootes said they are open to helping foot the bill for the project, describing it as “affordable,” but would not say how much they would contribute.

Mighty thoughtful of them. You can see their proposal – which has a February, 2014 date on it, by the way – here; the embedded image comes from that document. The inspiration for turning the Dome into green space comes from Discovery Green. I love Discovery Green and I’m generally favorable towards more parks, but I am skeptical of this analogy. Discovery Green is a park surrounded by city blocks that are full of people who can walk to it. Astrodome Park would be surrounded by acres of parking lot that abuts a highway on one side. Who’s going to walk to it? I admit, it’s true that a significant number of Discovery Green visitors arrive by car, so I may be overblowing this. But as I look at the renderings, I can’t escape the feeling that this is something that’s being grafted on to the space. It just doesn’t feel natural to me.

Maybe that’s not important to the proponents of this idea, which include at least two members of Commissioners Court, Steve Radack and Jack Morman. (El Franco Lee is undecided but not obviously opposed, Jack Cagle did not comment for the story, and County Judge Ed Emmett is strongly against it.) Perhaps all that matters is that it would be used Rodeo attendees and Texans fans, and would make a pleasing backdrop for Super Bowl LI. I wonder if they’ll be happier about paying to maintain a lightly-used park than they are about upkeep on the aging Dome.

Reactions I’ve seen so far to this range from ambivalence and resignation to outrage, with a healthy dose of the latter on Facebook. I fall more into the first two camps. I’ve never had an emotional connection to the Dome but I don’t relish the idea of tearing it down, and I still think repurposing it is the better way to go. But after the bond referendum was voted down last year, even if one interpreted that as a rejection of that specific idea rather than of preserving the Dome, it wasn’t hard to imagine this kind of scenario playing out. The powers that be would like to have a plan in place to Do Something by 2017, when the Super Bowl arrives. There’s no consensus for a preservation plan, and no funding source, either. Demolition is the easy way to go, and hey, at least this beats more parking lots, right? If you feel strongly about this one way or another, I advise you to contact your County Commissioner and let him know how you feel. Time is running out. Hair Balls and Swamplot have more.

Hooray for the hotels

We’re going to have a lot of people coming into town for Super Bowl LI. We’re going to have to put them somewhere.

Mayor Annise Parker said Thursday that hosting the 2017 Super Bowl will be another step in Houston’s evolution as a designation city of international prominence.

Speaking to the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston at The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa, Parker praised the industry’s role in gaining the coveted bid this week and touted the city’s continuing efforts to attract more visitors.

She said Houston is gaining worldwide recognition.

“We are now saying, ‘What can we do that is uniquely Houston to bring people to the city?’ ” Parker said.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, applauded the local hoteliers for exceeding the NFL’s requirement for how many rooms Super Bowl host cities must set aside for those attending the event.

Ortale explained that during the bidding process, the NFL asks area hotels to make long-term commitments to ensure rooms will be available and guests won’t be charged exorbitant rates. The NFL asked cities submitting bids for the Super Bowl to commit 19,000 rooms. Houston’s hotels exceeded that number.

I imagine there’s a certain amount of latitude to the definition of “exorbitant”, but never mind that. Like I said, there will be a lot of people coming in to town. You may be wondering what we plan to do with them all while they’re here. The GHCVB has a plan for that.

Those grand plans include a “rocket ship ride” in Discovery Green that aims to blow away the zip line ride over downtown Indianapolis that impressed so many during the last Super Bowl. “We’re going to have something like a rocket ship,” Houston Super Bowl bid chairman Ric Campo promised as the full scope of the Bayou City’s winning Super Bowl vision emerged Wednesday.

“. . . It’s not fully baked,” Campo said after a pause, allowing that many more details will have to be worked out before the pretend rocket blasts off.

Still, the rocket ride speaks to the grand scale of these Super plans for 2017. The renderings on display at One Park Place included a tall, high-tech looking, free-standing structure in Discovery Green that Campo later described to CultureMap as something of a “Space Needle.” By the time it’s fully unveiled, it’s likely to have a more Bayou City fitting name, but there is little doubt that the Super Bowl organizers hope to have NASA involved.

What clearly already blew the NFL owners and officials away is the Houston vision of turning the Super Bowl from a one-week party into a 10-day event. As Campo describes it, the Super Bowl action, which has typically started heating up on the Tuesday of game week, will instead begin the Thursday before the NFL’s typical off weekend — a full 10 days prior to the big game’s kickoff.

“No other city had that as part of their proposal,” Campo said.

Campo admits that will require more money and more big-time events to fill up what’s essentially an extra four days. After many other reporters had left One Park Place following the close of the official press conference, Campo told CultureMap that the early plans call for major concerts (much like the 2011 Final Four, only even bigger acts) and themed days that highlight Houston’s diversity.

“We’ll probably take a page from the Rodeo there,” Campo said of the themed days and making sure all 10 days have major draws. “. . . We’re creating a festival experience for people without tickets.”

The organizing committee estimates that more than a million people will visit Discovery Green during the 10-day “festival.”

Dale Robertson wrote a column before the NFL made its decision that talked about how Discovery Green was a key component of Houston’s bid. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the programmers have in mind. The potential is there for some really awesome events.

One more thing, from the original story:

“Welcome to Boomtown, USA,” Parker said. “We know how to handle a boom because we’ve been through a bust. We don’t want to screw it up.”

I believe the proper expression is “Oh, Lord, please grant me one more oil boom. I promise not to piss this one away.”

Five years of Discovery Green

Five great years for a great park and an awesome city amenity.

Five years after its opening, more than 1 million people annually come to stretch out on the grassy slope to take in live music and movies with the skyline as a backdrop, to play with Frisbees and soccer balls, to splash in the water fountains. People come to the 12-acre park to ice-skate and walk dogs, to attend festivals and flea markets, to stroll under a canopy of live oaks toward the gardens. Once, they came for balloon rides.

Hotels, office and apartment towers have been shooting up nearby, a good deal in part because of Discovery Green. It’s become the city’s “town square,” said Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. It’s helped change the city’s image, he and other civic leaders say.

“It corrects the misconception that Houston is mostly concrete and asphalt and acres and acres of nothing to do,” Ortale said.

“Driving from the airport is one impression, and being in Discovery Green is another,” Hagstette said.

About $1 billion in construction or planned construction has or will go up around Discovery Green, “all of it influenced” by the park, said Bob Eury, executive director of the Houston Downtown Management District. About 80 percent of that development is private, he noted. More Discovery Green-influenced projects have not yet been made public, he said.

Eury noted that Hess Tower, overlooking Discovery Green, recently sold for more per square foot than any Houston building.

Marvy Finger, developer of the 37-story One Park Place apartment tower, said he had considered building on the west side of downtown. After discussions on that proposed project fell through, he began eyeing other property. “But I certainly wasn’t going to look at land east of Main!” he said.

He changed his mind after hearing of the Discovery Green plans. One Park Place, the first new residential construction downtown in 30 years, has a 95 percent occupancy, in great part because its residents want to be across from the park, Finger said.

Finger has begun building a two-block-long apartment complex across from Minute Maid Park, and it, too, would not be going up on if not for Discovery Green four blocks away. He credits the park with establishing “a renaissance on the east side of downtown.”

You have to remember that before Discovery Green, there really wasn’t that much east of Main downtown. The Discovery Green site and a lot of the surrounding blocks were just empty concrete lots. Now we have a beautiful and heavily used park, and new downtown residential construction that was built specifically because that park is there. The George R. Brown is much more attractive now as a convention center because this lovely park is right outside its front door, and there’s a lot of related construction set to happen in the coming years. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Discovery Green, America’s coolest park

From CultureMap:

Travel + Leisure searched around the country for the best, the most exciting and the coolest city parks for their April issue, and Central Park didn’t make the cut — but Houston’s Discovery Green did.

Just three years old — and celebrating that milestone with a celebration Wednesday afternoon — Discovery Green got plaudits for its abundance of entertainment, with T+L noting that it has hosted over 800 events in that short time, including the recent Big Dance concerts by Kings of Leon and Kenny Chesney.

“It’s a place where people can kick back and relax,” Discovery Green founding president Guy Hagstette told the magazine, while noting that the transformation of the 12-acre stretch of the east side of Houston’s downtown from parking lot to green space has also spurred $500 million in development in the area.

Can you imagine downtown without Discovery Green now? I can’t. It’s such a success that even the usual squadron of whining pessimists have had to find other things to complain about. What more could you want?

Happy birthday, Discovery Green!

Two years old now.

Two years after it opened, downtown’s Discovery Green park has drawn 55 percent more visitors than projected and has emerged as a key asset to Houston’s convention business, officials say.

The 12-acre, $122 million park has attracted an estimated 1.7 million visitors, or 850,000 per year, director Guy Hagstette said. Prior to its opening two years ago today, the park’s operations consultant projected it would attract 550,000 people a year, an estimate the park’s leaders thought was too high, Hagstette said.


Discovery Green has become our new town square,” said Greg Ortale, president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates the George R. Brown Convention Center adjacent to the park.

Discovery Green has been a crucial selling point in booking several conventions, Ortale said, giving conventioneers a view of green space teeming with people rather than of the parking lots that occupied the space before the park was built.

We continue to love Discovery Green. The girls are always up for a trip to “the downtown park”. They’re already pestering me to let them play in the Gateway Fountain – sorry, not quite warm enough yet. The only complaint I have is that the children’s playground area needs a little maintenance, and has needed it for some time now. Otherwise, it’s all good. Discovery Green is what downtown Houston has needed for a long time – a focal point that we can all be proud of. I sincerely hope that the Market Square renovation is half as successful as Discovery Green has been.

More on Market Square

Back in October, we heard that the historic Market Square Park downtown was set to get a facelift. Now Nancy Sarnoff has a few details.

The renovation will include an area for pets, art installations, a 9/11 Memorial garden and a Niko Niko’s Greek & American Cafe.

It sounds like a smaller version of Discovery Green, the much livelier urban park on the east end of downtown.

Sounds good to me. Groundbreaking is supposed to be next week, which makes it a bit late; Miya had reported it was supposed to start before Thanksgiving. That suggests to me that the stated completion target of Memorial Day weekend is optimistic as well. But we’ll see.

New digs for Central City Co-Op

Central City Co-Op, Houston’s premier organic produce co-op, has moved to a new location in Montrose.

Central City Co-op moved this week to Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, where the growing organic market’s members have renovated a space for their own use.

The church, 2515 Waugh Drive, was an ideal partner for the 8-year-old co-op, which previously held its weekly Wednesday market at Ecclesia Church, 2115 Taft St. The group also manages a Sunday market at Discovery Green.

“We realized as recently as a year and a half ago that we were outgrowing the space,” co-op board chairwoman Tiffany Tyler said of the Taft Street location. “When farmer deliveries happened on Tuesday nights last spring, we would pack that store room and it would literally be packed floor to ceiling with produce.”

The co-op got its start on a front porch as a way for friends to share the cost of organic foods. Every move since, Tyler said, has doubled the market’s business. More than 200 member families now pay the $48 annual fee, she said, and many others buy $1 passes to shop on market days. The group gets its produce from eight organic farms and from Country Fresh Inc., the same organic supplier used by local groceries.

Tiffany, for those of you who may not know, is my wife. You can find the new location for the Wednesday market here. Come check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

Downtown grocery store coming

Not a traditional big-box kind of place, but this seems like a good fit for downtown.

While it won’t be on the scale of a large grocery chain, local caterer Jerrell “Rusty” Powers is preparing to open a market at the corner of Main and Preston in the heart of downtown.

The Houston Business Journal had a story about it today.

Byrd’s Market & Cafe is expected to open late this month on the first floor of 420 Main Street.

The 1930s structure was the former home of Byrd’s department store.

In 2005, Robert Fretz Jr. of Fretz Construction, whose grandfather originally built the property, restored the structure and spent nearly $4 million turning the top floors into condominiums.

But the first-floor retail space was never filled.

A press release says the mew market will be “organic” and feature “a casual, affordable, chef-driven dining experience.”

Organic and affordable don’t often go together, but we’ll wait and see.

It also says that Byrd’s will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

That should please downtown dwellers who often complain that there’s nowhere to eat breakfast on a Sunday morning.

Sounds like a potential winner to me. They ought to draw from the Discovery Green crowd, which is largely a destination attraction, and if they’re lucky some day from the Market Square crowd as well. In the meantime, here’s hoping they make downtown a more interesting and useful place. Greg has more.

Upgrading Market Square

Market Square, the historic but largely overlooked park on the north end of downtown, is set to get a facelift.

With the opening of Discovery Green and the Houston Pavilions, the south part of downtown Houston has been the center of attention. But business owners in the oldest part of the city were feeling a bit left out. They are hoping that’s about to change.

“It’s not really useful. There’s nothing really to do there,” said Market Square employee Jessica Garza. “It’s kind of like boring space.”
Garza works at a sandwich shop next to the square. Its lack of usefulness has proved frustrating for businesses trying to survive in Houston’s historic district.

“I don’t really know what I would want anymore,” said Market Square business owner Mike Shapiro. “Something that would bring people down here, but I don’t think anything is going to bring them down here, not a park.” Long time business owner Shapiro may be skeptical, but the Downtown District is about to completely overhaul Market Square. In artistic renderings, the new design would include a food kiosk, art walks and even a dog park, all designed to attract more residents and boost business.

“We don’t believe it’s too little too late,” insisted Downtown District spokesperson Bob Eury. “We believe it’s going to be a very significant addition to the historic district.”

The reconstruction of the park is expected to take about six months. Businesses surrounding Market Square are hoping for a big improvement after it’s completed. Construction is scheduled to start before Thanksgiving, with completion date for the park is around next year’s Memorial Day holiday. The estimated cost for the park is $3 million. It will be paid for by using tax increment reinvestment zone funds, not personal property taxes.

I look forward to seeing what they do with it. There’s a schematic design included in Miya’s story that seems to incorporate at least some of the elements to make the space more like Discovery Green. We’ll see how they do with it.

Updated list of all interviews to date

Just a reminder that you can click on the 2009 Election tab at the top right of the index page to get a complete up-to-date list of all the interviews I’ve done for the November cycle. There’s a total of 40 interviews so far, with six more to come – three each in the Controller’s race, which will be next week, and the Mayor’s race, which will be the week after that. After that I’ll get a short break before starting up again with interviews and judicial questionnaires for the 2010 Democratic primaries. There’s so many judicial candidates out there I feel like I’m already behind, but that’s something I’ll just have to worry about later. For now, all of the interviews for this cycle are in one convenient location, so check them out if you haven’t already.

And if you can tear yourself away from football today (this is why God gave us DVRs, right?), there’s a candidate rally/forum at Discovery Green today:

Candidate rally at Discovery Green

Candidate rally at Discovery Green

There may not be all that much coverage in the paper, but there are still plenty of opportunities to learn about the candidates on the ballot this November if you want to do so.

UPDATE: Due to inclement weather, the rally and forum have been moved indoors. The following is from an email sent to the candidates:

We have reluctantly decided to hold the Rally on the Green Candidate Reception under cover due to the threat of thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon. It seemed the most sensible approach to take. While we won’t have the wonderful “Rally on the Green” we’d hoped for we will have wonderful opportunity to meet and share ideas with citizens who decide to join us. Remember, Houstonians are used to a little rain so we have hopes that many will still decide to come to the Rally on the Green tomorrow afternoon.

We have changed the location and the schedule. The changes are:

Location: NEW The Vista Room and Tree House Deck of the Grove Restaurant at Discovery Green, 1611 Lamar St.

Date: Unchanged – October 4th, 2009

Candidate Reception 2p.m – 3p.m.
Controller Candidate Forum 3p.m. – 4p.m.
Mayoral Candidate Forum 4:15p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

The Rally will be held on the second floor of the Grove Restaurant, 1611 Lamar. The Candidate Reception will be on the Tree House deck and in the Vista Room. Controller and Mayoral Candidate Forums will be held in the Vista Room.

Thanks to Robert Kane for passing that along.

Reminder: Central City Co-op garage sale this Saturday

Just a reminder about the Central City Co-op garage sale this Saturday, from 8 AM till noon at the Fixers Automotive on Harvard at 11th in the Heights. This is part of their capital campaign, which I blogged about last week. There’s going to be a ton of stuff at this garage sale – I know this because all of it is currently somewhere in my house or my garage, and it’s getting a bit difficult to see my children amid the large piles of toys, clothes, furniture, musical instruments, and so forth. So please, come out on Saturday morning and buy some of this stuff, as well as some car wash tickets for the Bubbles Express on Washington Avenue, and help out the Central City Co-op. Thanks very much.

Support the Central City Co-op

Some of you may know that my wife, Tiffany Tyler, has been working with Central City Co-Op. Last year, she helped launch the farmers market they run at Discovery Green – she was its first manager – and has continued to work with them on their Board of Directors. Central City is embarking on its first capital campaign this summer. She sent the following email to friends and supporters of Central City, which I’m reproducing here:

As most of you know, I’ve spent the past 2 years working within Central City Co-Op.  I’d been a co-op shopper and member since 2003, and took the opportunity after my corporate severance to become more involved in this community-based organization.  I am now chairman of its Board of Directors.

The Co-op has a central mission of bringing fresh, organic produce to people in the Houston community at a reasonable price.  We use a network of local farmers and a national distributor to source our produce, and a group of strongly committed volunteers supporting the equivalent of 3 paid staff to make the business work.  This includes our Wednesday operations on Taft Street AND the Farmer’s Market at Discovery Green on Sundays.  Each market day, remaindered unsold produce is donated to feed the least fortunate in our community.  In 2008 we donated over $10,000 in produce to support SEARCH, the Salvation Army and the Beacon at Christ Church Cathedral.

Our volunteers and staff have worked in area schools to do nutrition education and outreach, including Healthy Harvard Happenings.  We work now with the Urban Farm Belt coalition to help develop more community-based gardens so that people in the inner city will have access to the fresh produce they need to have balanced diets at reasonable cost.  Our Sunday operation at Discovery Green provides free booth space to community service groups to bring their messages of caring for the environment and each other to the masses of park attendees each weekend.

We pride ourselves on being a Texas not-for-profit corporation, serving our community.  We do not have IRS 501 C3 status, however, and this presents challenges as we apply for grant funding to grow and expand our educational programming.  It also hampers us when we need to replace capital goods.  Things like refrigerators, computers, shelving and scales do break.  The margins we use to keep our prices low don’t allow us a lot of wiggle room.  So we need a capital campaign.

We have begun our first capital campaign this summer, with a goal of raising sufficient funds to replace and expand our refrigeration system, buy new shelving and replace our scales.  We have multiple projects planned throughout the summer and fall to meet this goal.  Our summer projects include:

a car wash ticket sale for Bubbles Express.  Now through the 22nd of July, purchase a Choice Wash ticket from us for $8 (the same $8 they charge you if you drive up), and the Co-Op keeps $4.  We all like clean cars, right?  And the Bubbles on Washington Avenue is really convenient.  And did you know that they RECYCLE the water in their carwash?  Each 18 gallons used in a typical Choice Wash gets used for 2 or 3 cars (depending on how dirty they are).  And of course it is filtered and then sent to the treatment plant.  So there’s no groundwater contamination AND it uses very little water.  Doesn’t it just make you want to buy a block of tickets from me right now?  They’re good through 22 December, so you can stock up!

a community garage sale.  On Saturday 11 July, the folks at Fixers Automotive on Harvard at 11th are letting us use their space for a large community garage sale.  We’d love to have your household goods for sale, and we’d love to have you stop by and clothe your kids or round out your household in some other way.  Contact me for drop-off information.  We’ll be selling from 8 am to noon on the 11th.  And we’ll have carwash tickets there, too.

I encourage all of you to support Central City Co-op.  I’ve found it to be a wonderful group of people who believe passionately in good food, good stewardship and strong community.  We are always looking for more good folks to help, as well, so if the spirit moves you to learn more and become involved, please don’t hesitate to ask me for more information.

Thanks for your time.  I look forward to hearing from you.

You can also follow Central City Co-op on Twitter or join their Facebook group. If you want to help out with the car wash ticket sales, or just want to buy some car wash tickets, please send an email to [email protected] Or just leave a comment here and we’ll get in touch. Thanks very much.

The new Hermann Park train

All aboard!

Hermann Park Conservancy on Saturday will formally unveil $14 million in park improvements, including a new miniature train station, dramatically landscaped grounds and a lakeside plaza featuring a restaurant, gift shop and rest­rooms.

Among other project highlights for the 6-acre tract adjoining the northeastern edge of McGovern Lake, said conservancy executive director Doreen Stoller, were the planting of 300 trees and improvement of a waterway that will drain to Brays Bayou.

Stoller likened the transformation of the area, which abuts parking for the Houston Zoo, to that at downtown’s Discovery Green.

“This is even prettier than I imagined,” she said.

The station will serve as the focal point of the expanded miniature railroad, whose route was lengthened to nearly two miles and now includes stops at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Texas Medical Center and a transfer point to Metro’s light rail system.

We go to the zoo a lot, so we’ve been watching this progress. I can’t wait to take the girls on the new train – they’ll love it. I just hope yesterday’s inclement weather didn’t put a damper on the festivities.

The Tour de Houston

Are you looking for a bicycle race, but without all those tedious mountains and drug tests? Well then, the Tour de Houston is what you’re looking for.

The 2009 ride date will be Sunday March 22, beginning and ending downtown at McKinney @ Crawford, in Discovery Green, across from the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Route distances will be approximately 20, 40, and 70 miles.

Pre-Registration: $25 for adults and $15 for youth 12 years and under. Pre-Registration ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, March 19, 2009. Registrants will pay $35 on the day of the event.

Funds raised will benefit the Houston Parks and Recreation Department through the Houston Parks Board.

Register online now!

NeoHouston has more, including a better map of the routes. What more could you want, other than maybe some donuts? Happy biking!