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Reimagining the Urban Oasis: The New Heights of Public/Private Partnership Blossoms at Levy Park

Midway developed the Kirby Grove office building on the northern edge of the redeveloped Levy Park.

Midway developed the Kirby Grove office building on the northern edge of the redeveloped Levy Park.

HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith) The reborn Levy Park – a public private partnership unlike any other in Houston – celebrates its grand opening Saturday with a substantial roster of creating participants cutting the ribbon.

The participants: celebrity TV chef Tim Love; noted landscape architect James Burnett; mixed-use development specialist Midway Cos., Natalye Appel + Associates Architects; and the City of Houston Parks Department. The $15 million park was financed by the Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority.

The park, located off of Richmond Avenue, just west of Kirby Drive, sits just north of Southwest Freeway in the Inner Loop of Houston.

“Who would have thought that the gift of this land in 1941 by Leon Levy to the City of Houston would turn into this wonderful 21st century park in the heart of Upper Kirby?” says Maureen Sanders, Board Chair of Levy Park Conservancy. “This has been almost 20 years in the making and is a true example of public and private partnership that will bring years of joy to Houstonians enriching our quality of life.”

The enrichments at Levy Park? The WiFi throughout the park eliminates any frustrations about connectivity. And the rocking chairs by Fermob, in olive and chartreuse, were first seen in parks of Paris. Nine mature live oaks have been relocated from the perimeter of the park, creating a magnificent oak canopy.

Levy Park, located in the Upper Kirby area, has been redeveloped.

Levy Park, located in the Upper Kirby area, has been redeveloped.

And then there’s the colorful pad made of recycled rubber mulch in the children’s area. A walk on the pad feels like a spa treatment.

“The give on the rubber pad is much appreciated, both by my daughter who is learning to walk and my mother,” says Nicole Romano, Programs and Event Manager for Levy Park. “I wish my whole house had that flooring.”

There are kid-size tables and chairs that match the adult seating.

“We think the armchairs with ottomans will be favorites among the young and the young at heart,” says Doug Overman, Levy Park Director. “A couple of people have told me they have fallen asleep in the rocking chairs.”

Levy’s spectacular event pavilion by Nathalye Appel + Associates will accommodate “almost anything you can imaging happening on a stage,” says Overman. “We provide easy load in and extra power hook-ups.”

Appel is not the only star in the Levy Park firmament.

The Office of James Burnett (OJB), seasoned park builders, has done the transformative landscaping in the park. The OJB firm has received international rave reviews for its design of the trendsetting Klyde Warren Park, which sits on top of a depressed freeway in downtown Dallas.

Landscape architect James Burnett.

Landscape architect James Burnett.

Mr. Burnett himself, who now resides in California, will be in town for the grand opening on Saturday at 10 a.m.

“In addition to the Upper Kirby team and Natalye Appel + Associates Architects, OJB are the ones with the foresight and the vision for the Park,” says Romano, the park’s event manager.

The 5.9-acre urban park has been completely redesigned to leverage innovative environmental practices and to facilitate a multitude of programming needs for the bustling Upper Kirby neighborhood and for people from throughout Greater Houston.

Renovated streetscapes strengthen pedestrian and vehicular connectivity to the park for several mixed-use residential and office buildings located on the periphery. Birdseye views from surrounding buildings were considered, ensuring the Park’s design is memorable from all vantage points. Expected to spur continued economic growth and development, the highly programmed green space will become the new heart of Upper Kirby.

The original Levy Park site was given to the City of Houston in 1941. It opened to the public in the early 1950’s, and left a legacy of 30 live oak trees.

There will eventually be a live performance series, movie nights, a public art program, and the public is invited to hold their children’s birthday parties in the park, 3801 Eastside, at no charge.

Chef Tim Love to open The Woodshed at redeveloped Levy Park, near Kirby Drive in Houston.

Chef Tim Love to open The Woodshed at redeveloped Levy Park, which will have a beer garden.

The Fort Worth-based chef Tim Love is spearheading the culinary delights in the park, from his “Love Shack” which will serve smoked chicken, beer and wine, that guests are invited to take with them for a stroll anywhere in the park. There’s no staying within stanchions like at Discovery Green. Love’s Woodshed” BBQ restaurant set to open in 2018, the “Love Shack” will debut later this year on the northwest corner of the park, and the double-decker London bus that will reside permanently in the beer garden area serving beer, wine, coffee, and snacks. Love hosts the Restaurant Startup show on the CNBC channel.

“We want to watch and witness how people are using the park,” says Overman, who comes to Houston from San Francisco where he was with the Golden Gate Conservancy. “There are no gates or fences and the park will be open until midnight. The park will have 24-hour security.”

Kirby Grove is an office tower with restaurant space developed by Houston-based Midway Cos.

Kirby Grove is an office tower with restaurant space developed by Houston-based Midway Cos.

“We were excited to build a mixed-use development around a world-class community park with Kirby Grove,” says Jonathan Brinsden, CEO of Midway, a Houston-based real estate development firm. “Being the first to form this kind of public + private partnership between Midway and the Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority and the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department made the project more interesting. Maybe we were willing to be the first because we had a great experience with CITYCENTRE, seeing how an active public greenspace can make a positive contribution to commercial and residential development. And the City’s experience with Discovery Green has been so positive.”

Directly adjacent to Levy Park is Midway’s 16-story, Class-A office building in Kirby Grove. It has 225,000 SF of Class-A office space and 25,000 SF of ground floor restaurant space.

“Our first restaurant, Kiran’s, has frontage on Richmond Avenue and when it opened in January, it brought chef Kiran Verma’s loyal fan following. Gensler designed the interiors and it is beautiful,” Brinsden said. “MidiCi The Neapolitan Pizza Company will open in the spring.”

The office tower features views of the park, and three 13,040 SF floors with 20-foot ceiling heights. The integrated parking garage with about 850 parking spaces, was situated on the Richmond Avenue side, to maximize park side views.

On another side of Levy Park, the 270-unit Avenue Grove is Midway’s midrise residential tower, designed to take full advantage of the park setting.

Jonathan Brinsden

Jonathan Brinsden

“We are proud that Midway was able to play a part in creating a gathering place that is going to change the community,” Brinsden said. “We hope our experience with transforming an underutilized green space into a community asset inspires others to find their own opportunities.”

The project will work to attract and retain residents and businesses in the surrounding district and contribute to a renaissance of parks, bayous, and public spaces throughout the metropolitan area.

“The Park’s design highlights cutting-edge sustainability practices while offering visitors various opportunities to reconnect with nature and replenish the spirit,” said OJB Principal Chip Trageser. “The Park’s modern, eco-conscious design, comprehensive and accessible programming, and unique appointments make Levy Park a must-see destination for locals and visitors.”

The design of Levy Park focused heavily on environmental sustainability. The 7,500-SF rain garden harvests and reuses stormwater, creatively mitigating Houston’s frequent flooding and becoming an attractive on-site amenity.

Rocking chair, the old-school programming at the new Levy Park.

Rocking chair, the old-school programming at Levy Park.

The site’s 40 to 70-year-old legacy live oaks helped shape the forms of the park and are strategically incorporated into the design as key components of the elevated boardwalk and tree house located in the children’s garden.

The park’s garden presents a botanical experience while offering unique views from an observation deck.

The overlook, with its boardwalk under an oak canopy that gently climbs over hills and tunnels for games of hide and seek, has already been booked for a marriage proposal.

For those who have already had marriage proposals, there are the rocking chairs and daily newspapers in the reading area.

And sometimes, reading in a rocking chair can be the highest-and-best use of any park.

Feb. 24, 2017 Realty News Report Copyright 2017

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