Mixing It Up in Midtown Houston
By: Kirsten Cornell, Walter P Moore
Houston’s 2.5-acre Midtown Park, which opened in October 2017 and will be completed in fall 2018, is a sustainable, living public space set above a below-grade parking garage. The park features an entertainment pavilion, water feature, playground and social games area as well as a dog park. Photography by Shau Lin Hon - Slyworks Photography
Houston’s new Midtown Park offers a wide array of amenities, plus an underground parking garage, coupled with sustainability.
HISTORICALLY KNOWN as Houston’s second residential neighborhood, Midtown flourished through the mid-1940s, boasting Victorian homes owned by well-known families. After declining in the 1980s and 1990s, Midtown has rebounded to become one of Houston’s most bustling neighborhoods. It is now also home to Midtown Park, a landmark project scheduled for completion in fall 2018 that features a 2.5-acre park above a parking garage plus an entertainment pavilion, water features, an additional half-acre pocket park, restaurants and luxury apartments.
“In addition to increasing community gathering opportunities and enhancing quality of life for current Midtown residents, the park will become an economic development catalyst to attract new development to Midtown, says Marlon Marshall, director of engineering and construction at Midtown Redevelopment Authority (MRA), a nonprofit organization created to manage basic infrastructure improvements as well as encourage new residential and commercial development in the neighborhood. “Parks help maximize the long-term value of real estate since businesses and residents are willing to pay a premium to be near parks.”
Challenges and Solutions
In addition to 400 parking spaces, the underground garage houses essential drainage and pump systems that help sustain the park. They also prevented the garage from flooding during Hurricane Harvey.
Since the late 1990s, MRA had been working with developers and property owners to assemble what became a 6-acre tract of land commonly referred to as “the SuperBlock.” Over the years, the MRA board, staff and design team consultants, with community and stakeholder input, worked to create a vision for a mixed-use project featuring an underground garage. “We wanted to create a premier urban park space in the heart of Midtown to become the focal point for the community and attract new development along the Main Street corridor,” says Marshall. The group brought in parking consulting firm Walter P Moore as lead consultant for the project. “The goal was to bring nature to Midtown and revitalize the East Side, which had experienced a decline in retail occupancy,” says Brian Lozano, director of parking services at Walter P Moore.
Camden McGowen Station will occupy 3 of the 6 total acres of development. Once completed in September 2018, the 8-story complex will boast over 300 luxury spaces divided among studios, apartments and townhomes. The multifamily community will include amenities such as a private parking garage, chef-inspired kitchens, spa-reminiscent bathrooms, and – capitalizing on its serene location – a community pool overlooking a portion of Midtown Park. “Camden specifically responded to the scheme of the park with the design of their building forming an ‘H’ and allowing for both park and downtown views,” adds Lozano.
One challenge that proved surmountable was how to host a living, sustainable park above a below-grade parking garage. Walter P Moore structural and diagnostics engineers worked closely with parking engineers to design an operationally efficient garage while allowing the park’s trees to also grow and thrive. “Partnering with landscape architect Design Workshop, we planted large trees throughout the park that needed over 5 feet of clearance from the soil to the top of the structure to allow [the roots] to grow,” says Lozano. “We sloped the lid of the garage, allowing for proper clearance for the grass blanketing the lawn space, and a greater distance to sustain the trees.”
The 400-space parking facility – which opened February 2017, just in time for Super Bowl weekend – sits virtually unnoticed below the Super- Block. An intricate system of under-slab draining capabilities, robust waterproofing, pumps and a rainwater vault not only serves to self-water the landscape but also prevented the garage from flooding during Hurricane Harvey, which destroyed many surrounding homes and underground structures in August and September 2017.
As a nod to Houston’s “Bayou City” nickname, the bayou landscape and waterway serve as part of the park’s stormwater infrastructure, mimicking the recirculating system of natural bayous and wetlands. “Rainwater is collected through a piping system in the garage before it is pumped into a 70,000-gallon irrigation vault underground,” says Lozano. The team planned for the impressive rainfall that often hits the Houston area and integrated a backup plan. “The parking garage underslab drainage system pumps water into the irrigation vault, which is used for watering the various landscape features in the park,” Lozano adds. “When the vault fills up and cannot receive any additional water, a series of valves in the system allows the water to bypass the vault and drain into the bayou water feature, which also serves as the detention for the Midtown Park site.”
In addition to ensuring that the parking garage met all safety standards, the parking team at Walter P Moore installed additional lighting to help drivers adjust when transitioning from below ground to above ground. “There are no hidden corners. People feel extremely safe when entering and exiting the garage. That was important to us,” says Lozano. The team also incorporated a “glass cube,” which houses a staircase, wrapped around the elevator to allow natural light to flow into the garage. Concrete was colored to mimic the pavers used throughout the park to not only create connectivity between the spaces but also clearly identify high-traffic pedestrian areas.
Fun Meets Functional
Bound by the SuperBlock of Main, McGowen, Travis and Anita streets, Midtown Park, which opened in October 2017, offers residents a blend of urban living and functional green space. Many educational and sustainable features are interwoven into the fabric of the park’s design. “When we considered the audience that would be utilizing the space, we pictured young professionals living in the area, working in downtown,” says Lozano. “The first day the gates came down, we saw urbanites in the park with their four-legged friends.”
Camden Pavilion will be the setting for concerts, exercise classes and other events.
All of the spaces in the park and garage were employed to create a multiuse area that appeals to all brands of outdoor enthusiasts. The slope of the garage entrance, for instance, also operates as a portion of the off-leash dog park and serves as a highly popular dog run.
Camden Pavilion’s water feature boasts a rainfall simulation program that can be turned on and off to allow a still layer of water to remain (approximately 1/4-inch deep) that appears as clear as glass but morphs into a replication of a rainstorm in mere seconds. “Jets shoot up through the water, making it look like raindrops,” explains Lozano. “The intensity gradually increases, and the lights within the feature and around the pavilion come on. It’s really quite mesmerizing to watch.”
The pavilion will host concerts and other types of performances, as well as exercise classes and various other public events. “There is also a designated space with plug-ins for food trucks, and the area behind the stage is wide enough for vehicles to pull up behind it to unload equipment,” says Lozano. Tent anchors are set into the ground along the Promenade, encouraging farmers markets, craft fairs and other similar events.
A playground encourages exploration as well as activity, with climbing spheres, sound tubes, adult-size swings and interactive pipe sections. The social games area – where patrons can play bocce, washer pitching (a game similar to horseshoes) and other games – is surrounded by lush gardens.
“Since the start of construction at Midtown Park, there have been six new private development projects announced within three blocks of the park,” says Marshall. “These ongoing, planned or recently announced redevelopment projects include mixed-use residential/retail, multifamily and office projects, which we expect to generate an estimated $338 million in new taxable value in Midtown.” From art walls to swingsets, Midtown Park answers the need for a flourishing green space in an urban area.
Kirsten Cornell (email@example.com), corporate communications, Walter P Moore