Discovery Green Marks its Fifth Anniversary

June 14, 2013
by Kim Tarleton

Transformational park has had a significant impact on Houston since its opening in 2008

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of Discovery Green, the downtown park and one of the transformational green space projects in the city. By all accounts, Discovery Green has been a remarkable success. 

“Discovery Green has come to represent the best of Houston – beautiful and active outdoor space, the diversity of our community, and a ‘must-see’ for visitors,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “To say it has had an impact on our city is an understatement. It is part of a wave of park projects that are transforming Houston.”

Park President Barry Mandel went on to say, “As a fourth-generation Houstonian, it has been amazing to see the dramatic changes on the east side of downtown. Furthermore, our partnership with the convention center and visitor’s bureau to utilize Discovery Green has brought new conventions, tourists and visitors to our city.”

As an Economic Generator
Discovery Green has had a significant economic impact, in part, due to its location in east downtown, across from the George R. Brown Convention Center and Hilton Americas Hotel and blocks away from the Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park. Following the park’s conception in 2004, a significant number of projects have come to fruition, including the residential high-rise One Park Place, one of the first residential projects in Houston in 40 years; HESS Tower, the commercial development which sold for a record $442.5 million, one of the highest real estate transactions in recent history; and the 262-room Embassy Suites Hotel. Collectively, these projects represent some $625 million in downtown investment. In addition, new projects have recently been announced including the Marriott Marquis Hotel, Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, and The Finger Companies’ residential project across from Minute Maid Park. 

Furthermore, the park is considered an asset to the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (GHCVB) and the George R. Brown Convention Center in attracting to Houston some of the most coveted conventions in the world. According to the GHCVB, Discovery Green’s existence has made it possible for the city to secure conferences and events such as the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in 2008, NCAA Final Four in 2011, Starbucks Global Conference in 2012, and NBA All Star Game in 2013, which had a combined economic impact of almost $200 million for the city.
As a Major Houston Destination
Early planners of Discovery Green estimated the park would average approximately 500,000 visitors per year with that audience frequenting the park primarily during the week days. In reality, the park averages more than one million visitors per year with individuals driving from all areas of Houston, both inside and outside Loop 610 and Beltway 8, mostly during the weekends. The natural features of the park – lawns, lake, playground, water features – are a draw; however it is the high quality, free programming that the park presents every week which brings hundreds of thousands of repeat visitors. On any given week, the park offers exercise and writing classes, a concert, a film, children’s activities and more, while beloved annual events include ice skating and ice carving and dog jumping competitions, traveling art exhibits and a wide variety of special licensed events such as New Year’s Eve Live, the Korean Festival, Earth Day Houston, and Houston Marathon. 

In addition, the George R. Brown Convention Center estimates conference attendance over five years at more than 4 million (mostly national and international constituents) with a high percentage of those individuals introduced to the park through collaborative events or simply as the convention center’s “front yard.”

In Design and Reputation
Since its opening, the park has garnered the interest of city planners locally and nationally. Discovery Green has been honored with numerous local and regional awards including the Central Houston Allen Award for Civic Engagement and the Urban Land Institute-Houston Development of Distinction and, nationally, as a finalist for the Urban Land Institute Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award. The park is also considered a model for successful urban parks and its developers have consulted with planners in cities including Columbus, Ohio; Corpus Christi and Dallas, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Tampa, Florida; and even on the Olympic Park London.

Discovery Green has positively impacted the reputation of the city, being recognized by Southern Living Magazine as “the perfect city park”; by the New York Times as “an emerald gem”; by Texas Monthly as an “urban oasis”; and by Landscape Architecture Magazine as “the biggest little park in the world.”

On the Environment
Discovery Green is a model of environmental sustainability for Houston. The park was designed to use the latest technology in “green” building methods, energy conservation, and sustainable, environmentally-friendly park operations. Discovery Green earned a Gold rating from the LEED Green Building Rating System, which is the national benchmark for the design, construction, and operations of high-performance green buildings. In addition, Discovery Green achieved Corporate Lands for Learning (CLL) certification from the American Wildlife Council for the establishment and documentation of site-based education programs through providing exemplary conservation education experiences for the community. Read more about the park’s sustainability

Discovery Green was envisioned by several committed Houston philanthropists and then-Mayor Bill White, who saw the space as a once in a lifetime opportunity to create an urban park in the heart 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. The park exemplifies a successful public-private partnership between the City of Houston and Discovery Green Conservancy, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, which operates the park and produces hundreds of free events each year. Read more about the history of the park.

An Anniversary to Remember
Discovery Green is marking its fifth anniversary with a year-long series of celebratory activities including:
• En masse commissioned by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts: April 20, 2013
• Exxopolis - Architects of Air: April 29 - May 5, 2013
• World’s Largest Zumba Class: Sunday, October 20, 2013

Other commemorative signature events will take place throughout 2013 and will be announced as dates become available. Information about these commemorative events – as well as more on park’s “50 for the 5th” fundraising campaign to raise $50,000 in 2013 to support the over 400 free programs, events and activities held at Discovery Green each year – can be found at  
See a slide show of Discovery Green over the years. 


Discovery Green
Discovery Green is a 12-acre park created by a public-private partnership between the City of Houston and the non-profit Discovery Green Conservancy. Since the park opened in April 2008, it has welcomed more than 5 million visitors and hosted more than 2,000 public and private events. The Discovery Green Conservancy works with hundreds of programming partners to present three dynamic programming seasons each year most of which are FREE and open to the public. As a non-profit organization, the Conservancy raises all the funds needed for the programming that Houstonians enjoy.
  • Size: 12 acres
  • Opened: April 2008
  • Cost: $125 million
  • Original attendance estimates: 500,000 people annually 
  • Current annual attendance: +1,000,000 people annually 
  • 400+ free events annually 
  • $625 million in economic development surrounding the park 
  • Public-private partnership of the City of Houston and the non-profit Discovery Green Conservancy
  • Designed by Hargreaves Associates, PageSoutherlandPage and Lauren Griffith Associates