History of Discovery Green

History of Discovery Green
Discovery Green is a beautiful, vibrant 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston that opened to the public in April 2008. The park was envisioned by several committed Houston philanthropists, who saw the space as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an urban park that would redefine the landscape of downtown. In less than four years, the site that became Discovery Green was transformed from an undeveloped, concrete eyesore into a beautiful and vibrant destination adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center. Discovery Green exemplifies a successful public-private partnership between the City of Houston, the Houston First Corporation and Discovery Green Conservancy, the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that operates and maintains the park.  The Conservancy produces hundreds of free events each year and receives no direct city funding.

The Discovery Green Site

The current site of Discovery Green was originally a high-end residential neighborhood in the late 19th century. By the late 20th century, the site had become two large parking lots adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center, with a small strip of green space known as the Houston Center Gardens.

Creating Discovery Green

The City of Houston acquired a portion of the land in 2002.  When the rest of the property went up for sale, a group of philanthropists led by Maconda Brown O’Connor of the Brown Foundation, and Nancy G. Kinder of the Kinder Foundation approached then-Mayor Bill White with their idea of turning the space into an urban park. The Mayor agreed and became a strong advocate of a public-private partnership. Several other philanthropic foundations joined the effort, including the Wortham Foundation and the Houston Endowment, Inc

The City of Houston purchased the remainder of the land in 2004 and created the framework for the park’s construction and operations, including the role of the new organization, Discovery Green Conservancy, incorporated in 2004. When the Houston City Council approved the contracts to provide funding and support to the park, it also mandated that the “public at large” be engaged in the design and development of the park. With the guidance of Project for Public Spaces, the Conservancy mounted an intensive public process, which included both large public meetings and smaller focus groups to solicit public feedback. This feedback became the basis for the park’s programming.

The Conservancy also worked with the local media and community sponsors and sought the help of the public by creating a contest to name the park. More than 6,200 entries were submitted.  "Discovery Green" was selected as it fit the personality of the park, and invited discovery and education, delight and surprise.  

Early in the redevelopment, the Conservancy engaged Elmore Public Relations, a public relations firm.

Construction

Hargreaves Associates, an internationally renowned landscape architecture firm based in San Francisco, oversaw the design effort. The lead designer, Mary Margaret Jones, grew up in Baytown before achieving international stature as a landscape architect. PageSoutherlandPage designed the park's architecture and Larry Speck, former dean of the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, was their lead architect. Lauren Griffith Associates, an experienced local landscape architect, provided landscape and horticultural design services. Artists Margo Sawyer and Doug Hollis were integral members of the design team and produced three works of art for the park. A large team of local and international engineers and specialists supported the core design team.

Present and Future Impact of Discovery Green

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. 

Since opening in 2008, the park has helped drive convention activity and has served as a catalyst for $625 million in downtown development.  Additionally, an estimated $1 billion in future office, hotels and housing projects are in the pipeline. Many significant projects have chosen locations on the east side of downtown largely due to proximity to Discovery Green:

  • One Park Place, a high-end residential tower with 346 units, opened in 2009;
  • Hess Tower, an office development which sold for – the highest price per square foot for commercial space in Houston at the time -- opened in June 2011; 
  • Marriot Marquis convention hotel just north of Discovery Green, currently under construction, planned June 2016 opening;

Discovery Green’s economic impact is not limited to new building construction. The park also has had a transformational effect on Houston’s Convention District, helping lure corporate giants like Microsoft and Starbucks to hold conventions at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Discovery Green is also the planned entertainment zone, or “Super Bowl El Centro,” for the 2017 Super Bowl.

Most importantly, Discovery Green has helped Houstonians re-conceive downtown as a destination for play as well as work. During the planning phase, attendance was projected at an ambitious 500,000 a year, which was actually achieved in the first six months. Six years later, in 2014, Discovery Green sees over 1.2 million visitors to its 600+ free events annually. As a village green for all Houstonians, Discovery Green has engendered a level of ownership by all residents in the downtown core and throughout the region, and instilled a renewed sense of civic pride in the city.

Ultimately, the most compelling part of Discovery Green’s history is like the story of Houston itself. Many of the city’s great institutions can be attributed to the partnership and shared vision among Houston’s philanthropic community, its business leaders, its public officials, and Houstonians themselves.

To learn more about Discovery Green’s history, read Discovery Green’s magazine, a publication commissioned in 2013 to commemorate the park’s 5th birthday.

Discovery Green Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) organization.
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