Once the go-to spot for Pokémon Go players in Houston, Discovery Green will soon become a Poké-wasteland.
Amid growing concerns about safety, Discovery Green officials have requested that Niantic – the creator of Pokémon Go – remove everything Pokémon-related from the park's grounds, Discovery Green President Barry Mandel says. The park's gym and its many, many Pokéstops are expected to vanish within the next week. Players will also no longer be able to catch Pokémon within the park, or place any items there.
Through wandering around real-world places, players can use their phone to spot virtual Pokémon, the fictional “pocket monsters” that dominated '90s culture with TV shows, trading cards and video games. Pokéstops, which litter Discovery Green, are especially popular places to catch, battle and train Pokémon. (Still confused? Check out our guide to playing Pokémon Go in Houston.)
“We love the concept of Pokémon Go. It's kind of in line with the mission of the park: Get people up, get people moving, get people outdoors,” Mandel says. But, he added, “Safety and security are just kind of non-negotiable to us.”
In their attempts to become the very best, like no one ever was, trainers often accidentally cross into the street or walk in front of Discovery Green's garage without checking for traffic. A few days ago, Mandel says, a driver pulling out of the garage nearly hit a family of four – the parents were too into their game to make sure that their young children weren't about to be run over.
“It's been a lot of near misses,” Mandel admits. The other main issue, he says, is that people will show up at Discovery Green late at night – and then refuse to leave, even though the park closes at 11 p.m.
In a video posted to the Pokémon Go: Houston Community Facebook page, what looks like hundreds of Pokémon Go players mill around Discovery Green in the dead of night – walking right past a sign that clearly reads, “PARK HOURS: 6AM-11PM.” “Now, I've got four people on security that are supposed to deal with that kind of crowd,” Mandel says.
The frequent foot traffic caused by Pokémon Go has also dramatically increased the cost of park upkeep. “The park has seen a significant increase in costs related to trash pickup, facility maintenance, additional overnight security, landscape and other unforeseen expenses for the park,” read a statement issued by the Discovery Green Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages Discovery Green.
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How much, exactly, has Pokémon Go cost the park? “It's expensive,” Mandel says, adding, “I've almost tried not to figure it out,” saying it would be just so much.
Mandel didn't know of any other public areas in Houston that have requested that Niantic remove Pokéstops and gyms from their premises. However, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., recently requested that visitors stop playing Pokémon Go in the building (for what should be obvious reasons).
Three Pokéstops have already disappeared from Discovery Green, Mandel says. Go catch 'em all – while you still can.