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RECAP: Ideas Forum - Building Better Parks

November 2, 2016

The November RECA Ideas Forum Luncheon took place yesterday at the Four Seasons Hotel. If you weren't there, you missed the opportunity to hear leaders from some of Texas' most popular parks share their stories and perspectives about what makes a park successful.

Moderated by Judy Maggio of Judy Maggio Media, panelists included Barry Mandel with Discovery Green Park in Houston, Colin Wallis with the Austin Parks Foundation and Willis Winters of the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department.

A special thank you to Coleman & Associates for sponsoring the lunch — you can view the photos here.

Two Success Stories

The panelists began the discussion by presenting overviews of their city's most successful parks.

Winters described Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, which connects the uptown neighborhoods with the arts district and downtown. He said the park's commitment to private funding that compliments public dollars and their commitment to diverse programming and community events have led to a successful park.

Mandel talked about Discovery Green in Houston, which is a 12-acre urban park that sits between Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center. He said Discovery Green was originally estimated to attract 500,000 visitors per year, but has actually seen more than 1.2 million.

Austin Parks Foundation Executive Director Colin Wallis talked about how his organization is leveraging both public and private funds to improve Austin's parks. He also shared renderings of the proposed plans for Republic Square Park downtown, which could include a small restaurant or cafe.

The panelists said there is a desperate need across all of Texas for better funding not just to acquire parkland, but to maintain it properly as well.

"Compare our funding per capita against places like Minneapolis or Chicago," Winters said. "They are at about $260 per person and our large cities in Texas are at about $60 per person."

Thoughts on Safety and Some Advice for Austin

The panelists discussed the importance of providing a safe environment for visitors and shared their advice for helping Austin's parks attract more visitors.

"In Dallas, we take a multi-pronged approach to safety," Winters said. "The biggest factor is your park's distance from a homeless shelter. We work closely with our police department to conduct sweeps and we also ensure there's regular programming, which creates foot traffic that homeless people want to avoid."

Asked to share their advice with Austin on creating, the panelists agreed that it essentially boils down to providing a good experience for your visitors.

"For us, water features and the two restaurant anchors at Discovery Green have been the most important factors," Mandel said. 

"Building a strong partnership with the City, providing diverse programming and making sure you're not skipping out on maintenance have been crucial to the success of our parks and ensuring people return to your park," Winters said.

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