Levy Park Renovation The Next Project For Kirby Grove

Houston Chronicle

By Lindsay Peyton

As work continues on office facilities and a residential tower in the planned Kirby Grove development off Eastside Drive, construction of the third and central component of the project - the $12 million renovation of Levy Park - is set to begin in March.

Construction on the 5.6-acre park, a once-bustling gathering place that fell into disrepair, is slated to take a year to complete and provide a performance pavilion seating 3,000. The park’s design includes a large observation deck shaded by oaks.

“It’s going to be pretty spectacular,” Upper Kirby Management District president Jamie Brewster said of the park. “We will have an outstanding playground. We will have a small and large dog park.”

The park’s community garden will be moved to a sunnier spot. Other features will be an Americans-with-Disabilities Act-accessible playground, native landscaping, water features and an event lawn.

The space will host concerts and community events throughout the year. An event lawn will also be used for curated activities.

Brewster said Urban Harvest will eventually relocate its Eastside Farmers Market to the site.

The park was hidden in the surrounding neighborhood before, she said.

“It didn’t draw people before, because people just didn’t see it,” Brewster said.

Overlooking the park in the 11-acre Kirby Grove development will be Avenue Grove, a 330,000-square-foot luxury mid-rise residential tower that will offer 270 apartment homes, integrated parking garage, outdoor terraces, a fitness center and a 10,000-square-foot outdoor deck and pool.

The other part of Kirby Grove, One Grove Street, will include 225,000 square feet of office space and 25,000 square feet of ground-floor restaurant space.

Kirby Grove is being constructed through a collaborative partnership between the district and Midway, the development company behind CityCentre in west Houston and Kings Harbor in Kingwood.

The One Grove Street office building is already 60 percent leased, said Shon Link, Midway’s executive vice president of development.

Construction on One Grove Street is expected to be complete by early fall.

Work on the Avenue Grove tower is expected to wrap by the end of the year.

Levy Park was deeded to the city of Houston by Leon Levy in 1952.

After the park fell into disuse, the Upper Kirby district took it on as a project.

As one of the only green spaces in the district, the park became the subject of a number of studies aimed at improving use by the community.

The district funded removal of a dilapidated pool, added the community garden, cleared a jogging trail around a baseball field and provided a designated area for dogs.

Brewster said a key development was a half-acre expansion that opened access to the park from Wakeforest. Joe Turner, director of the city’s parks and recreation department, was instrumental in the acquisition, she said.

“He had great ideas for helping us formulate this,” Brewster said.

Impressed with The Office of James Burnett landscape architecture firm’s design of the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, the management district hired the company to dream up the park renovations.

The district also called Midway.

“I asked them if we could just brainstorm a way to make this work,” Brewster said.

Midway took over a 99-year lease of a 3.7 acre tract adjacent to the park.

Funds from Midway’s lease will go toward paying for improvements to the space.

“At the same time, we’re creating tax revenue that will go to maintain the park for perpetuity,” Link said.

He hopes this solution could become a model for other parks and cities.

“It’s one of the problems cities are facing these days - how to maintain a green space,” Link said.

“This could be a way that public-private partnerships could solve that problem.”

Now that the plan is in place, Brewster is eager to see what develops.

“This was not an overnight success,” Brewster said. “We’ve been working for 15 years to make this happen.”

A double-decker bus is being repurposed for the park. The vehicle had been sitting in a field after mechanical problems shut it down.

“We’re bringing it out of pasture,” Brewster said. “We’re hoping it can be a coffee kiosk, with maybe some wine and snacks.”

There are also plans to place a restaurant in the park.

“We haven’t selected a restaurateur yet,” Brewster said. “We’re still in negotiations.”

Two private roads will be constructed to link Eastside Street and Wakeforest. There will be 200 parking spaces around the park’s periphery.

Brewster’s vision is for Levy Park to once again become a hot spot in the neighborhood.

“We want to see the park used from sunrise to sunset,” she said. “Parks today are even more important than they have been, because of the density of development. People need to be able to get outside.”

Link said that the multifamily building and office tower are being designed with that idea in mind and will offer views of the park and access to the outdoors.

“The connection to the park is an essential part of this project,” he said.

Link added that by combining green space with restaurants, offices and residential apartments, the development should create an economically sustainable model.

“We think it’s critically important to find creative ways to integrate uses and create a better lifestyle for people,” Link said.