Participants in the 44th Annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta race towards the Houston Skyline. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Participants in the 44th Annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta race towards the Houston Skyline. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ivy Taylor will host Tom Bacon, chairman of the Houston Parks Board, at Alamo Brewery on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 5:30 p.m. The conversation will focus on how the Houston community has played a significant and supporting role in creating great parks, which in turn sustain great communities and how San Antonio can apply the same principles that helped Houston ramp up park improvements.

“Tom Bacon’s name is becoming synonymous with civic leadership in parks in Houston,” Taylor stated in an email to the Rivard Report. “And I’m excited to welcome him to San Antonio for a conversation about why parks are central to global competitiveness for 21st century cities.”

Brackenridge Park Conservancy Director Lynn Bobbitt said the organization was inspired to sponsor the event after attending a Houston conference on landscape architecture that featured tours of Houston’s rapidly improving green space stock and ambitious plans for the future.

“We met Tom Bacon there, and he was really adamant about new park space and restoration of old parks in Houston,” Bobbitt said. “In terms of what this means for San Antonio, it will be interesting to hear how we can build stronger public-private partnerships to strengthen the parks system.”

She added that while San Antonio has made some strides, it has a long way to go before it reaches Houston’s heights. Since 2004, private and public investments have poured into Houston’s park system, totaling more than $700 million.

Joe Turner, director of Houston’s Parks Department, told the Rivard Report during the conference in March that the City’s master plan calls for $4 billion in park projects in the next 25 years.

“If you look at Mission Reach and the cultural landscape of the Alamo, I think we’re on our way,” Bobbitt explained. “We don’t have the corporate base that Houston has, so we need to figure out what we can do as a community to use our resources to the best of our ability.”

Fifty-nine parks and recreation projects are being considered for the 2017 bond, which carry a price tag of $116 million. Hemisfair’s eight-acre Civic Park in downtown is slated to receive $21 million in addition to a $5 million allocation for new, internal streets.

Discovery Green in Houston, a 12-acre park which opened in 2008, has similar features to Civic Park. The advantage Houston has, however, is its park-minded philanthropic community. The City of Houston, the Houston First Corporation, and the Discovery Green Conservancy raised $125 million to build, landscape, and complete the 12-acre park.

Hemisfair’s $8 million Yanaguana Garden was largely a public investment. Most of the funding came from the 2012 bond program, and its playscape is routinely crowded with families from all over the city, demonstrating success far beyond expectations. Still, some in the city are hesitant to give Hemisfair the funding it needs.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department is again seeking community input for the Brackenridge Park Master Plan in a variety of ways, including a series of events that Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) called “event-based master planning.” The events aim to showcase the proposed changes to Brackenridge Park in more casual settings.

At press time, Bacon was not available for comment, but sent the Rivard Report a statement via text message Tuesday night.

“Community leadership is changing the shape of American cities, particularly in regard to public green space. Houston is being recognized as going through the most significant transformation of any U.S. city: virtually all community led.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement from Tom Bacon.

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James McCandless

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.