A Heritage Corridor

Can Buffalo Bayou beshaped into an economic redevelopment tool?

While Buffalo Bayou has been gussied up at the Wortham Center and lined with hike-and-bike trails and public art to the west, in its historic heart, the industrial East End, it has suffered from years of neglect. That, though, promises to change over the next few years under an ambitious plan of civic improvements put together by the East End Area Chamber of Commerce and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership.

The Heritage Corridor plan for the eastern sector of Buffalo Bayou calls for building a series of improved parks, hike-and-bike trails and other civic and cultural amenities that would unify the neighborhood and help attract new businesses and homes. Several million dollars has been committed to the effort, with more to be raised if the long-term dreams are to come true.

The main bike-and-hike trail, Heritage Corridor Trail, will run four miles along Buffalo Bayou from Allen's Landing downtown to the Turning Basin; it's already been funded with $4.6 million in federal transportation grants and matching city money. Another route, called the Harrisburg Trail, will run east along a disused railroad right-of-way from Allen's Landing and connect north and south to Brays Bayou and Buffalo Bayou by another such trail known as the Sunset. The Harrisburg Trail has been funded with $2.4 million in federal money and $606,000 in matching city funds. The network of ten miles of trails, expected to be completed by the end of next year, will connect major employers, parks, community services, public housing, schools and churches along their routes. Since many of the residents of the largely Hispanic neighborhood lack automobiles, the trails are likely to be well used, says Ann Olson, director of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which is coordinating the effort.

Roughly $400,000 will be spent to rebuild and stabilize Allen's Landing, the site of the founding of Houston at the east end of downtown. But more money will be needed if, as some propose, the landing is to be converted into a departure site for a water taxi service or a public market.

The city has also committed some money to improve two parks along the bayou. One of these, Guadalupe Plaza Park, already an important center for Hispanic festivities, will receive $103,000 to bring it up to standard. Meanwhile, the theatrical group Talento Bilingue de Houston is turning the vacant Oscar's supermarket near the park into its first permanent theater after 17 years of working with inner-city youth. Funded with $992,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Program, the theater will have a 300-seat auditorium and complete backstage facilities. Historic Hidalgo Park, built in 1927 at the head of the Turning Basin, will receive $173,000 in city improvements.

But the corridor planners don't want to stop there; they'd like even more. They're calling for soccer fields, improved landscaping, a special-event facility and boat landing for North York Park. They want to adapt unused land on the north side of the bayou from the U.S. Highway 59 right-of-way for a park.

Other hopes along Buffalo Bayou include a nautical museum at the Port of Houston visitors center, a railroad museum to be constructed from an old incinerator site, a technology museum at the historic Willow Street Pump Station across from Allen's Landing downtown, and an energy museum at the Gable Street Power Plant, a 1929 brick building overlooking the bayou at the McKee Street park.

-- Michael Berryhill

 
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