Time Running Out To Save Park Near Heights

A deal to officially turn a 21-acre urban forest just west of the Heights into a city park could be in jeopardy because of a lack of funds to buy the land. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, supporters of the West 11th Street Park say they need to raise several million dollars before the end of the year to keep the land the way it's been for decades.

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The Houston School District has owned the heavily wooded property since the 1950's and about a year and a half ago agreed to sell it to the City of Houston for $9.2 million. The only catch is that the city and the Houston Parks Board have to raise the money before the end of this year, part of what's called an "option-to-purchase" agreement. Now, with just a few months left to raise the money, the Parks Board is millions of dollars short. Nancy Greig is part of a grass roots effort to save the park.

"They've been working on it very hard, but frankly they haven't had nearly as much success as any of us had hoped and sort of now the 11th hour we learn that we are still $3.7 million short."

The West 11th Street Park is the third largest green space inside the loop, behind Memorial and Hermann parks, but isn't recognized as an official city park and is largely undeveloped, with only a few trails and benches. Greig says it would be a shame to see the land sold to developers.

"There's other pieces of real estate that don't have trees on them. This has 70-year-old trees and to cut this down to put high-density homes on would be awful, where there are other place in the vicinity which are going now to developers. That's the disconnect is how could you take this and go backwards. You could never recover it."

Officials admit that fundraising for the park has been slower than expected. Roksan Okan-Vick is the executive director of the Houston Parks Board the money raised so far includes a $4 million matching pledge from the City of Houston.

"There are many wonderful causes out there so we're competing with a lot of them and sometimes in different environments the fundraising goes slower than you expect, and this just happens to be one of those cases."

Okan-Vick says the Parks Board does have a contingency plan in the works to make sure the funds are raised before the scheduled closing in early January. She says she's confident the West 11th Steet Park will continue as an urban forest.

"Until you get all the money in place of course you are always a little worried as to whether or not the full funding is going to come into place but because we are putting together the back-up plan we feel a lot more comfortable and more confident that we're going to be able to secure a park for this area of our city."

Officials with the Houston School District say they have no immediate plans to sell the property to developers if the deal with the Houston Parks Board falls through. You can see pictures of the park and find out more about the fundraising effort on our website, KUHF.org.

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