Chop Talk

Houston remains embroiled in what to do about Memorial Park

Members of the alliance don't oppose the entire plan. Eroded trails do need to be closed or repaired, says alliance member Frank Monteverdi. But he argues that erosion is beside the bayou, not beneath the ball fields.

All of the alliance members have coached and played soccer and softball in the park. And most members run leagues. They insist that they usually operate at a loss, spending any profits on tournament trophies and T-shirts. They all have day jobs. For example, the owner of one softball league is an attorney, and the president of one soccer league runs an import-export business.

Alliance members are afraid ball players will be kicked out of the park immediately. "I don't think it's a realistic fear," Parker says. The city has a shortage of ball fields, so it won't eliminate heavily used fields without first replacing them, she insists. Besides, the plan states very clearly that fields will move if and only if better fields are built.

Ralph Vasquez calls the creators of the master plan 
arrogant, controlling country-club liars.
Daniel Kramer
Ralph Vasquez calls the creators of the master plan arrogant, controlling country-club liars.
There are nearly as many runners at 4 a.m. as there 
are at 4 p.m.
Daniel Kramer
There are nearly as many runners at 4 a.m. as there are at 4 p.m.

"They tend to gloss right over that," Rondot says. "They don't even want to read that part."

Alliance members say they read that clause, they just don't believe it.

For the past 30 years alliance members have asked the city to build a sports complex. If the city would provide the land, ball players would volunteer to build, run and maintain the fields. But the city never had the money to fund the fields.

It still doesn't.

Even if the plan passes tomorrow, Parker says, nothing will change for many, many years -- if ever. The entire city park system has a master plan. About two-thirds of the plan lacks funding, Parker says.

"The city's not capable of facilitating sports complexes, much less fixing the streets," says Councilman Bert Keller. "We need to stay within the boundaries of realistic achievements."

The alliance argues that the master plan is not complete because it doesn't suggest where the city is supposed to move the fields or how it should pay for them. Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs wants to see a plan illustrating how to implement the master plan. "It's half finished. We have to have the second part," she says.

Caudill says it isn't the conservancy's job to plan how the city will find and fund land outside the park. The conservancy cares only about what happens inside the park.

The city emphasizes that new fields will be in a comparable location. But alliance member Monteverdi points out that fields at other city parks aren't used. Location matters, he says. "Where are they going to be? Are you going to find 20 acres in Conroe, or on the other side of Clear Lake, or on the other side of Friendswood?" Vasquez asks.

Finding land for a new ballpark is part of the park board's "Park Creation, Parkland Acquisition" campaign, Rylander says. One location the board is considering is directly across the street from the park, Rondot says. On the other side of I-10 is an old factory that could be torn down. If the new fields were relocated that close to the park, the plan might be worth considering, Monteverdi says. But the fact that the city hasn't nailed down a specific spot worries alliance members.

The Parks and Recreation Department is also thinking about using land in the floodplain, or other surplus city property. "You can build a ball field or a tennis court on any piece of flat land," Caudill says. "It may be nicer with trees around it, but you just have to have flat land."

Grouping the fields would make them more efficient and easier to maintain. "Memorial Park ball field facilities are crippled," Rylander says. "They're scattered."

The alliance argues that to be fair, the golf course should be moved, too. That would free up plenty of room for Frisbee, they say. The problem is, the golf course takes up a lot more land. It's easier to find ten acres of undeveloped land than 300, Caudill says. And any hunk of golf-course-appropriate terrain in the city already has a private course on it, she says. Plus, the golf course is self-sustaining and makes money that is put into other parts of the park.

"That is a treasure, that golf course," says Councilman Mark Ellis.

Spokespeople for other groups slated to move, such as the tennis and croquet associations, say there is nothing to be upset about, because nothing definite has been proposed. Attorney Lee Hamel, a founding member of the Houston Croquet Association, believes the master planners will work with his organization and move the croquet courts to a comparable location. However, he's steadfast that the only comparable location is within the park.

The alliance refuses to take the croquet club's optimistic wait-and-see approach. If they wait, they fear that contractors will be hired, and it will be too late to stop anything.

A meeting is scheduled this week for the alliance and the parks department. "We need to torpedo this," Vasquez says.

The Gulf Coast Women's Equine Society holds tree-trimming parties in the park. Diana Hobby rides her son's polo pony across the park to the wooded bayou trails to help.

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