This is a proposal for an active and romantic urban park that will create a string of highly prized addresses in Midtown Houston, and will help to transform Houston's image in the 21st Century.
McGowen Green will occupy the superblock on the west side of Main Street adjacent to the new light rail stop. With its lush river garden ambience surrounding a formal boat pond and promenade, it will produce the highest value center in the district, and in time one of the most important in the City.
Parks are the greatest of urban amenities, and properties adjacent to them tend to rise in value faster than other properties. The Green will help create a powerful, growing inner-city tax base. This environment calls for high-density development. The draw of the Green will support top-quality projects and a lively public street scene, including kiosks and vendors ringing the park.
In this setting, names like Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton, and others could be prominent along the four-block Main Street boulevard overlooking the park. It is a place where people will expect wonderful and diverse restaurants to emerge.
The park will be an attraction for both tourists and Houstonians. It will be designed for leisurely activities relaxation, nature study, bird watching, and walking. The park will include a shallow pond suitable for paddle boats and canoes. The pond will be fed by streams at each end that are accessible to boaters and will take them into lushly planted creek-like areas.
Local studies show there is market demand for some 110,000 housing units in the Citys urban core. This market desires an urban lifestyle with close proximity to downtown and the ability to use the new light rail system. People who live in Midtown and work Downtown or in the Medical Center or any of the other activity centers along the rail line will find they can live significant portions of their lives along the corridor without using a car.
They are just rail stops away from jobs, stores, a multitude of services, three major sports facilities, theaters and music, a fast-growing number of museums, Hermann Park and Zoo, health care, the central Community College, Rice University, several churches and hundreds of restaurants and night clubs.
Along the way will be a dozen or more different neighborhoods and easy access to Rice Village, the Montrose, the Third Ward, and more.
Who will live in Midtown? It is likely they will be the people that Professor Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon calls the creative class, the driving force of metropolitan economies. Those creatives, according to Florida, tend to seek the rich lifestyle of urban places, where life begins on the street and where the preferred mode of movement from one place to another is by walking, cabs, or public transit. They are people who seek diversity and change.
Some of these people can afford higher-end dwellings and amenities while others will need more modest digs. In a real city, all of these options are available in mixed-income, mixed-use neighbor-hoods that flow together seamlessly.
The effects of McGowen Green would be many, but chief among them would be the accelerated rise of the tax increment that will fuel the redevelopment of Midtown over the next 23 years. If the Green were developed in
its most ambitious form which includes the three blocks north of McGowen and west of Main that would house a new library and Fire Museum in a people-filled public plaza 20 blocks of immensely desirable property would be available for development. If only the Green is created, there would be 14 such blocks.
The increment for these properties is estimated to be more than $170 million and perhaps as much as $300 million. This is several times any previous proposal for the increment in this area. No conceivable alternative development concept is likely to come close to this huge benefit for the Midtown District.
The Green will be supported by an underg round parking garage that will provide sufficient revenues to build the facilities and maintain them. The garage will be a four-level underground structure with approximately 3,600 parking spaces. Over the long term, it will provide parking facilities for developments surrounding the Green, allowing those developments to forgo building their own parking garages in order to provide more living, working, and playing space.
On weekdays the garage will serve as a park and ride for the rail system, supplementing parking Downtown and at the Texas Medical Center. On evenings and weekends, the garage can be a park and ride for major sports venues and theaters. This is an efficient way to minimize parking to aid the transformation of the area into a successful transit-oriented development.
In its best form, McGowen Green would be part of a complex that also includes three more blocks north of McGowen. Here , a public plaza would front McGowen and lead to a new Public Library. Beyond the Library will be the new Fire Museum. Besides the two facilities, the compound would provide a large gathering place where we might see jugglers and musicians on weekends. Many tables and chairs would be provided, as would vendors.
To enhance the experience, the library could sit above the ground on columns, with a portion at grade to house an Internet Café, an appropriate entrance to a modern library. South of the park, a signature hotel or mixed-use residential and office building of twenty or more stories will anchor the neighborhood, providing one of the most prestigious addresses in the city. Its view of the park and skyline would be spectacular, and its amenities unparalleled in the region. A balcony on its second floor would extend across the street to the Green and provide a place for parties and an elegant descent into the park.
West and South is the existing Vietnamese retail and office neighborhood, which should be enhanced to retain its identity. The East side will offer a kind of Fifth Avenue opportunity for a row of elegant residential and commercial properties.
A second tier of development ringing the primary tier would contain thousands of residential and commercial units. As many as 5,000-7,500 people could live here. There are 24 of these second-tier blocks in the large concept, 18 in the smaller- version.
Achieving the ever-changing, fine-grained character that Midtown must offer to the creative class will require vision and daring. McGowen Green will provide an explosion of high-end development - and thus the increment - to support that innovation.
Note: The original concept for McGowen Green was proposed by the Gulf Coast Institute, which is now called Houston Tomorrow, the garage was proposed by Ian Rosenberg, and today the project is an initiative of the Midtown Urban Planning Committee of the Midtown Management District, led by Dan Barnum.