Discovery Green, our city's own Field of Dreams, has exceeded just about everybody's expectations since it opened ten years ago. No, the 12-acre park didn't bring Shoeless Joe Jackson, but it has brought world-class artists, Super Bowl LIVE, NCAA Final Four, concerts, aerialists, ice skating, art cars and even Pokémon, though only briefly.
And just like the iconic baseball movie, taking a trip into our city's past helps give context to how it all came about.
"It is mind boggling. How did these five founders know to come together and do this," asks Park Director Barry Mandel. It began with an idea formed by Maconda Brown O'Connor (the Brown Foundation) — who wanted to save the 100-year-old oak trees from developers — and Nancy G. Kinder (the Kinder Foundation).
"[Maconda] was instrumental in creating this group that went on to develop the park. She went to Bill White when he was mayor and said, 'The Brown Foundation owns some land downtown; let's do some land swapping with Crescent.'
"She represented the Brown Foundation and then Nancy Kinder came on board," says Mandel. "Brady Carruth represented the Wortham [Foundation], Larry Faulkner represented Houston Endownment; they got Jackie Martin, a former president of United Way, because they wanted community involvement in the design and programming. She brought the community outreach experience.
"It was the first time the four foundations came together," says Mandel. "It was exactly the way the founders of those foundations had done years and years before. They used to meet downtown in the hotel rooms, Jesse Jones, the Browns, and they would discuss what this city needed to be built, like the Ship Channel. Now their descendants were doing the same thing to create something out of nothing.
"We’ve averaged 1.3 million people annually. And during those ten days of Super Bowl LIVE we saw 1.2 million people in just those ten days."
The park's popularity has inspired Avenida Houston, added attractions and art at the George R. Brown Convention Center, and nearby restaurants and hotels. "The cost of the park was $125 million: the value of the land, building the park. If you look at what has happened on the east side of the park, on the west side, there is almost 1.2 billion dollars of new construction. A ten to one investment," says Mandel.
It's time for a party and everybody's invited to the park's Tenth Birthday Celebration on April 15. "We are literally kind of re-doing opening day. The park will be activated with different events all over the park — much like the ones on opening day — plus we’ve found ten children who literally grew up here coming to the programming and there will be a little ceremony to recognize them. It’s really kind of wild. We have pictures of these young kids as babies and now ten years later."
Any ten-year-old would be thrilled to have a birthday party with a bouncy house or a clown, but Discovery Green's doing it up right with Mad Science shows, interactive inflatable games with local sports teams, kayak demos, Hula Hoops, goat yoga, parkour, sword fighting fitness, story time with Gwendolyn Zapata and garden tours.
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And even if you weren't there to chip in ten years ago, it's not too late to support Discovery Green. Help sustain the park's next chapter by joining Forever Green with a gift of $120. You'll feel good being part of a special team committed to sustaining the park, and you'll also snag preferred seating when Los Texmaniacs take the stage at 4 p.m.
Sunday, April 15, Tenth Birthday Celebration:
Noon to 12:15 p.m. — Ceremony with park founders and children who have grown up in the park (White Promenade)
12:15 to 12:30 p.m. — Drumline (White Promenade)
Noon to 4 p.m. — Cultural performances by Ballet Folklorico, Aztec dance by Danza Aquetzalli, Dance of Asian America, Brazilian Arts Foundaiton and more (Anheuser-Busch Stage)
1 p.m. — Reading by Writers in the Schools BLOOMS (Lindsey Waterside Landing)
1 to 3 p.m. — Performance by Cirque la Vie (Jones Lawn)
4 to 6 p.m. — Performance by Los Texmaniacs (Anheuser-Busch Stage)
Discovery Green's Tenth Birthday Celebration runs from noon to 6 p.m. April 15, 1500 McKinney, 713-400-7336, discoverygreen.com/birthday, free.