MAJOR GREEN TO MEMORIAL PARK

Houston, prepare for a whole new Memorial Park thanks to massive $70 million gift

Houston, prepare for a whole new Memorial Park thanks to massive $70 million gift
Houstonians can expect Eastern Glades in Memorial Park. Courtesy photo

Steven Devadanam is editor of CultureMap/Houston, where this article originally appeared:

In 2011, the future of Memorial Park looked bleak, with news that as much of 80 percent of its trees could be lost to the devastating drought. What a difference seven years makes.

Philanthropic Houston couple Rich and Nancy Kinder have announced that their Kinder Foundation is offering a grant of $70 million to fast-track Memorial Park’s Master Plan, one of the nation’s largest and most visionary urban park restorations. The mammoth gift is the largest to any Houston park, and would fast-track the plan from proposal to reality in 10 years — meaning good news for the Bayou City’s iconic symbol that spans 1,500 acres in the inner loop. The forward-looking plan should elevate Memorial Park — already nearly double New York’s Central Park — as one of the most elite urban greenspaces in the country. 

The new plan calls for a $200 million in upgrades, featuring a unique nature bridge that will connect the park’s north and south sides, providing safe crossing for all people and wildlife within a cohesive park experience of restored prairie and trails. Other additions include a trail/bridge system north over I-10, linking the White Oak Bayou Greenway trail system, and south over Buffalo Bayou; a 1.5-mile accessibility trail through the 600-acre wilderness on the south side; and other trails and crossings.  

Houstonians can also expect a 100-acre Eastern Glades project, already in progress, that will add a large, quiet, and shady respite for picnicking, leisurely strolls, and other passive pastimes, and will feature a 5-acre lake and wetlands.  Other developments include Memorial Groves, a tribute site that will honor Memorial Park’s original use as one of only 16 National Guard training camps for WWI soldiers; a running complex, with a quarter-mile timing track and concessions; replaced and rebuilt ball fields; and ancillary parking, restrooms, and signage. The nationally acclaimed landscape architectural firm, Nelson Byrd Woltz, has led the design of the park.

That the staggering gift should come from the Kinder Foundation should be no surprise to Houstonians. The Kinders have become synonymous with Houston’s urban development, with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research and their continued support of at least $100 million to Houston parks.

The formal announcement was made by Mayor Sylvester Turner during a press briefing on April 25. This news comes as a revised and restated Memorial Park Development Agreement has been presented before the Quality of Life Committee of the City Council, one that requires  city council approval. Spearheading the Master Plan is the Memorial Park ConservancyHouston Parks and Recreation Department, and the Uptown Development Authority.

“With the City Council’s approval, this historic gift will enhance a park that draws users from all over Houston, boosts the city’s entire park system and help make Houston more flood-resilient,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner at the press briefing. “The Kinders’ past generosity to several signature Houston parks, along with this latest magnificent gesture, means their foundation is ever more a constant catalyst for health, recreation, community engagement, appreciation of nature, green space preservation and other quality-of-life factors that help make our city great.

Let’s all applaud Kinder Foundation for its vision and commitment to making Memorial Park a treasured destination place for years to come.

 

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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