On September 28, 2022 in Houston, Texas, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) announced that the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan will become a reality thanks to a historic public-private partnership anchored by a $100 million gift from the Kinder Foundation, which is leveraging another $210 million of public and private investments.
This visionary plan integrates new bayou parks, trails, housing, cultural destinations, and infrastructure improvements into the Greater East End and Fifth Ward neighborhoods. It’s the sort of approach that would work well with the new revitalization and resilience-building tools now being offered by the RISING PLACES initiative.
The Kinder Foundation, a family foundation established in 1997 by oil industry baron Rich Kinder and his wife Nancy of Houston, provides transformational grants that impact urban green space, education, and quality of life.
Over and above the City and County funds committed to the Buffalo Bayou East project, $1.5 million in federal dollars are coming to the bayou’s east sector through the efforts of U.S. Congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia.
“I have long supported Buffalo Bayou’s revitalization and my commitment continues,” said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
“The $750,000 community project funding that I have successfully secured for the Buffalo Bayou East project will help restore Japhet Creek, the historic tributary that connects the bayou’s east sector up into the Fifth Ward neighborhood. Once completed, a nature trail along the creek will connect Japhet Creek Park, a green space refuge along Clinton Drive, to Tony Marron Park via a pedestrian bridge as well as the bayou trail system, thereby giving Fifth Ward residents direct access to the entire Buffalo Bayou East network of destinations,” she explained.
Realizing the Plan
As documented in the 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity, the vast majority (over 90%) of urban plans are never implemented: they just provide a risk-free illusion of progress for elected leaders.
To help prevent the plan’s merely joining a long series of previous plans on a shelf, BBP’s implementation of this 10-Year Plan will be overseen by the Buffalo Bayou East Standards Committee comprising representatives from BBP, the City of Houston, Harris County, and Kinder Foundation. Several members will be stakeholders from the Greater East End and Fifth Ward communities. Additionally, a neighborhood stakeholder committee will provide ongoing input to BBP and the project teams as they design and create these spaces.
The transformational gift from the Kinder Foundation represents approximately one-third of the $310 million total investment needed to realize the first 10 years of the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan. This donation enables BBP to deliver key park, green space, and trail project components of this 10-Year Plan, as well as provide for the long-term care of these projects.
Inclusive Revitalization and Community Building
Throughout the Master Plan’s community engagement process, neighborhood residents voiced their need for affordable housing. Responding to this need, BBP is devoting 13 acres of an overall 18-acre property to develop a mixed-income housing project and green space amenities.
Located on the south bank of the bayou along Lockwood Drive, the development is slated to include multi-family apartments, townhomes, and single-family residences adjacent to over six acres of new parks and trails. Partnering with Brinshore, a Chicago-based affordable housing developer, BBP has been awarded $24 million in 9% federal tax credits and Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant financing for Phase I of the project, which consists of 80 multi-family units. BBP hopes to announce future phases of the affordable housing development soon.
BBP will assume maintenance and operations of 10-Year Plan projects as they are completed. As a sustainable and comprehensive funding strategy for maintenance is critical, the Kinder Foundation will allocate $11 million of its grant and BBP will raise an additional $2.5 million as part of its overall fundraising efforts for a maintenance endowment. The City of Houston and Harris County are also providing ongoing annual funding for maintenance. Green spaces east of downtown will be maintained at the same level of quality as Buffalo Bayou Park which is also overseen by BBP.
Catalyst Gift Serves as Cornerstone for Public-Private Funding of 10-Year Plan
Funding for delivery of the Buffalo Bayou East 10-Year Plan is a premiere example of public and private entities working together to provide equitable green space for all. Kinder Foundation’s $100 million gift, combined with approximately $37 million already raised by BBP, served as the catalyst to secure significant public funds from the City of Houston ($83.5 million), and Harris County ($24 million), as well as $14 million in federal housing tax credits.
BBP will continue to raise the remaining private funds needed to complete the 10-Year Plan, with a goal of raising an additional $46 million by 2031. The Kinder Foundation’s $100 million gift is the largest single donation in Houston parks history.
Community-Focused Master Plan Highlights History of Buffalo Bayou East
In 2019, building on its legacy of creating award-winning urban green spaces, BBP unveiled a Master Plan for Buffalo Bayou East, which encompasses the four-mile stretch of the bayou from US 59 to the Port of Houston Turning Basin. With significant community input over a two-year period, the core principles of authenticity, inclusivity, connectivity, and resiliency emerged to guide the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan.
The plan envisions parks and destinations that reflect the cultural and industrial legacies of Buffalo Bayou East, while simultaneously ensuring that these spaces welcome long-time residents, and connect neighborhoods to the waterfront.
“Buffalo Bayou Partnership is honored that the Kinder Foundation is entrusting our organization to steward this extraordinary gift,” says Anne Olson, Buffalo Bayou Partnership President.
“This plan is not only about parks and trails – it is a comprehensive community development plan for a part of town that has not seen this level of investment before. The cultural destinations, infrastructure improvements, and connectivity in Buffalo Bayou East came directly from the input we received from the East End and Fifth Ward communities. We are grateful to the Kinder Foundation as well as the City and County for joining together with us to make the communities’ vision a reality,” she added.
Kinder Foundation Responds to Visionary Plan
The Kinder Foundation was inspired by the Master Plan’s commitment to providing accessible park space for all Houstonians. With new and improved waterfront trails, expanded and enhanced parks and open spaces, new bridges and boat landings, transformation of existing industrial relics into community event spaces, a mixed-income housing project, and infrastructure enhancements, the Master Plan reflects a vision to extend the natural beauty of Buffalo Bayou into surrounding communities. The plan will also reunite the Greater East End and Fifth Ward neighborhoods, which have long been separated from the bayou and one another, and provide connectivity to Houston’s regional trail network.
“There is a rich history and a valued culture along Buffalo Bayou east of downtown, and Buffalo Bayou Partnership is to be commended on the decades spent in the community laying the groundwork for this plan,” stated Rich Kinder, Chairman, Kinder Foundation. “The 10-Year Plan is in good hands under the direction of Buffalo Bayou Partnership.”
Kinder Foundation’s gift to Buffalo Bayou East is its second transformational gift to Buffalo Bayou Partnership. In 2010, the foundation served as the catalyst funder with a grant of $30 million for improvements to the existing 160-acre, 2.3 mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou Park from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street.
Major Components of the Plan will be Realized Over the Next Decade
As part of the 10-Year Plan, new trail links will be built, and existing segments will receive upgrades, reconstruction, and bank stabilization. This will extend the system from the downtown area just east of US 59 to Jensen Drive on the north bank, where the trail will connect to other trails being developed as part of the East River project, and ultimately to Japhet Creek. On the south bank, BBP’s trails will extend from just east of US 59 to Lockwood Drive.
This plan also includes expansion of the existing Tony Marron Park – a 19-acre City of Houston park on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou – to nearly 40 acres. The newly enhanced park will serve as the open space anchor for Buffalo Bayou East, providing residents and visitors with a wide range of activities, including improved sports fields, a boat launch, an expansive nature play area, wildflower meadows, bayou lawns, a barbeque plaza, and spaces for community events. The park will also be home to a central maintenance facility that will house park operations for the entire Buffalo Bayou East area, along with BBP’s waterway cleanup operation.
On the north side of Buffalo Bayou, across from Tony Marron Park, is Japhet Creek, a tributary stretching deep into the Fifth Ward. As part of the 10-Year Plan, a restored and more accessible Japhet Creek will provide Fifth Ward residents with improved trails, interpretive signage, site furnishings, and wildflower and native grass plantings. Additionally, two new pedestrian bridges will link Fifth Ward to the trail system: one unifying Tony Marron Park and Japhet Creek, and a second connecting trails and Gregg Street on the north bank to the trails and Velasco Street on the south.
Another project in the 10-Year Plan is the repurposing of a former barge terminal, on a historic oxbow known as Turkey Bend, into a waterfront recreational and cultural hub. The existing site includes an expansive wharf, large, covered warehouse, and a 50,000 square-foot building facing Navigation Boulevard which will house the City’s Hispanic History Research Center (HHRC) and Archives. The Master Plan envisions performances, public art, and boating activities at this unique destination.
Local leaders created a chorus of praise for the gift.
“The City of Houston is grateful to the Kinder Foundation for this generous investment that will accelerate the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan. The visionary plan will enhance our community and serve as a thriving and welcoming destination for Houstonians and visitors. Public-private partnerships are critically important because there are never enough public funds to address infrastructure and quality of life issues. By working together, we can make a meaningful and enduring impact on the lives of every Houstonian,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
“This gift is especially noteworthy as it touches on two of the city’s underserved communities – the Fifth Ward and East End. Providing and enhancing access from these communities to Buffalo Bayou is particularly important to the city,” he added.
“It’s not an overstatement to say this is one of the more exciting developments in the history of the City of Houston and Harris County metro area,” said Harris County Precinct Two Commissioner Adrian Garcia.
“The Buffalo Bayou East trails will revitalize and reconnect historic neighborhoods, while also allowing both residents and visitors to enjoy world-class recreational activities. Lastly, it’s fitting that these trails provide an important connection to the new Joe Campos Torres Plaza in downtown. Given that Buffalo Bayou was where Campos Torres’ body was unceremoniously dumped decades ago in a grave injustice, the new Buffalo Bayou East trails represent a move to a new, fairer future in Harris County,” he continued.
“Parks and quality greenspaces are essential for all communities, no matter what zip code you come from. They improve community health, build social connections, and expand environmental safeguards,” said Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
“That’s why I’m so proud of Harris County Precinct One’s investment in the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan, a transformational project for communities of color along Buffalo Bayou who lack access to quality greenspaces. Thank you to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and all involved for working to make this incredible vision a reality,” he added.
“Green space is the great equalizer, a place where all families can gather. The west side has Memorial, downtown has Discovery Green, and now the East End gets a world-class park of its own. I’ve strongly supported Buffalo Bayou and its parks and trails for several years. Tony Marron Park and Yolanda Black Navarro Buffalo Bend Nature Park are two green space projects that I’m particularly proud to have helped develop,” said Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia.
“Most recently, I was successful in championing federal funding in the House-passed FY23 Appropriations Bill Package for the realignment of Navigation Boulevard. This important community project is a component of the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan. This will provide a key connection from one of the East End’s major thoroughfares to the bayou,” she concluded.
Kinder Foundation’s Commitment to Houston’s Green Space
The Kinder Foundation’s transformational gift builds upon an impactful history of grants to parks and green space which includes Memorial Park, Discovery Green, Buffalo Bayou Park, Bayou Greenways, Emancipation Park, SPARK, and Willow Waterhole. Kinder Foundation’s historic $100 million solidifies its legacy as a steward of Houston’s urban green spaces. BBP’s development of the 10-Year Plan was also made possible by the early support of The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Cullen Foundation, Garver/Black/Hilyard Family Foundation, Houston Endowment, The Powell Foundation, The Wortham Foundation, and other generous donors.
Established in 1986, Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) creates and stewards welcoming parks, trails, and unique spaces, connecting Houstonians with the city’s most significant natural waterway. The non-profit organization’s geographic focus is the 10-square mile stretch of the bayou that flows from Shepherd Drive, through the heart of downtown, into the East End, and on to the Port of Houston Turning Basin.
Thanks to the generous support of foundations, corporations, individuals and government agencies, BBP has implemented more than $250 million in improvements for the redevelopment and stewardship of the waterfront – spearheading award-winning projects such as Buffalo Bayou Park, protecting land for future parks and green space, constructing hike and bike trails, and operating comprehensive cleanup and maintenance programs.
Buffalo Bayou Partnership also activates the waterway through pedestrian, boating and biking amenities; volunteer activities; public art; and wide-ranging tours and programs that engage tens of thousands of visitors each year.
All images courtesy of Buffalo Bayou Partnership.