Memorial Park Conservancy's renovations include some projects that are rare or never been done before. Photo courtesy of MPC

Memorial Park is undergoing a huge transformation that is mixing a little bit of old with the new.

The Memorial Park Master Plan includes adding breathtaking new projects — like water features, a new athletic complex, and more — as well as conservation efforts that restore parts of the land that were native coastal prairie. The project is a collaborative effort between Memorial Park Conservancy, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park.

The Master Plan is set to deliver a series of projects ahead of 2028, and there are a few initiatives that are innovative and different from other urban parks' transformations, notes MPC's president and CEO Shellye Arnold.

The Land Bridge

Photo courtesy of MPC

A big part of Memorial Park's transformation is restoring the park to native species and ecosystems.

"We're taking ball fields, parking lots, and roads and converting them back to what was here — native wetland coastal prairie," Arnold says. "This serves important stormwater purposes."

In order to connect two native coastal prairie lands on either side of Memorial Drive, MPC is building a unique 30-foot-high land bridge the size of three-and-a-half football fields. The space will be large enough that you don't even realize you're standing over a busy street, Arnold says.

The prairies will serve an important purpose for rainwater collection — a growing need within the city of Houston.

"We're channeling [rainwater] into this prairie where some of it can be absorbed, cleansed, slowed down," says Arnold. "And then what doesn't get slowed down and absorbed can flow through the prairie [on the other side], which is even bigger."

The Land Bridge also serves another purpose that park goers have wanted, Arnold says: Connectivity.

"[They] want access across the Memorial Drive — [they] want to safe access, and so this is the response. It's a pretty bold and visionary response," Arnold says.

BioCycling

Photo courtesy of MPC

In 2011, a major drought decimated the park and areas saw losses of 50 to even 90 percent of the canopy of trees. MPC and its team saved what could be saved, and the rest is serving a new purpose to the park.

"We took the trees that we lost on the drought that people felt such a tremendous loss for and ground them all up, and they are in a biocycle in a two-acre area in the back of the park," Arnold says.

The soil created — some of which includes manure from the animals at the Houston Zoo — has already been used on some plants in the park, and Arnold says those plants are thriving.

"It's cool that those those trees are giving life to the park," Arnold says.

Invasive species of trees that are plucked from out of the park are also being ground up and used in the same way.

"There isn't anything this big like this in an urban park setting like this kind of recycling effort," she says.

The biocycling process is scalable too.

"We could open this up to other organizations," Arnold says. "It's so much better ecologically to take trees and grind them up and use it inside the space rather than haul them out to landfill way outside of town and dump them."

The benefit to the program is that MPC can retain some of the soil it produces for these other organizations and use it on site.

Biodiversity initiatives and research

Photo courtesy of MPC

When putting the plans in place, MPC and its partners called on 25 of the best ecologists, as well as 50 more park and other types of consultants specializing in everything from insects and wildlife to prairies and trees.

Just as the Land Bridge is creating new prairie space, other initiatives throughout the park will be focused on eliminating invasive species and bringing back the natural ecosystem of the park.

The Easter Glades project, which is set to deliver next year, will have a habitat for fish, and will not allow any fishing or boating. Carolyn White, conservation director at MPC, is working with the Texas Wildlife Association to bring in the right species of fish.

Arnold says that MPC works with other organizations in an innovative way to bring native plants into MPC, since the park has the space for these organizations to use to cultivate and propagate plants.

"They bring their native plants and they grow them with their volunteers, and they leave us a little bit here," Arnold says. "We could never buy enough native plants to go inside this park."

Memorial Park Conservancy is gearing up to unveil one if its first projects within its 10-year master plan redevelopment. Photo courtesy of MPC

Memorial Park Conservancy plans to deliver its first project of its master plan redevelopment next year

Coming soon

Memorial Park Conservancy has until 2028 to deliver on its master plan redevelopment project, but if MPC president and CEO Shellye Arnold has anything to say about it, the plan will be completed way ahead of that.

The project is a collaborative effort between MPC, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park. In 2011, a major drought decimated the park and areas saw losses of 50 to even 90 percent of the canopy of trees.

"As tragic as it was, it made people take action," says Arnold.

Following the drought, these organizations looked to the people to see what was needed and wanted by the 3 million visitors and residents of the 170 ZIP codes that frequent the park annually.

"There was a huge outcry to do something," Arnold says. "That something became an effort to define the future of the park in a way that would be powerful, bold, thoughtful, innovative, and very resilient. It would consider Houstonians of the future and Houstonians today. It would consider soils, storm water treatment, the wildlife, and what people want."

When putting the plans in place, MPC and its partners called on 25 of the best ecologists, as well as 50 more park and other types of consultants specializing in everything from insects and wildlife to prairies and trees.

The overall funding plan is a total of $205 million — MPC itself has a capital campaign goal of $50 million — with $32 million to go. A $70 million donation from the Kinder Foundation is the most significant contribution within the fundraising efforts. The foundation approached MPC asking to help contribute to the most transformative project in the master plan, Arnold says, and so they suggested the Eastern Glades, a park within a park and the first project within the master plan to deliver.

MPC expects the Eastern Glades to open next summer — and much of the construction has already been completed. The area will be a 100-acre park within a park with wetlands, a man-made pond, 9 acres of picnic space, and three picnic pavilions.

Eastern Glades

Photo courtesy of MPC

"The full 100-acre Eastern Glades project will provide an amenity that we do not have right now," says Arnold in a release, "a place to put down a blanket and read a book, relax on a park bench, or go for a leisurely walk and just enjoy being outdoors."

In addition to the Eastern Glades, the park will also reopen some relocated ballparks next year.

After next year, the MPC and its master plan partners will deliver a slew of other projects on a rolling basis.

Here are some other exciting ones you can expect in the next few years:

Running Complex

Photo courtesy of MPC

Running is such an important part of Memorial Park, Arnold says, citing the Seymour Lieberman's millions of annual visitors. The $19 million running complex is expected to deliver in 2022.

Memorial Groves

Photo courtesy of MPC

There's a section of Memorial Park that has more history than the rest of the land. The master plan includes a 100-acre, $21.5 million memorial for the fallen soldiers from Camp Logan that's expected to deliver in 2022.

"There were a handful of WWI training camps — this was one of the sites that was chosen," Arnold says. "We have archeological features in the park."

The memorial will feature native pine trees that will be planted in a formation that looks as if they are standing in attention.

The Land Bridge

Photo courtesy of MPC

Possibly the most striking of all the plans is the Land Bridge. The project will connect each of the prairie wetlands on either side of Memorial Drive with a 30-foot-high arch of land. The space will be large enough that you don't even realize you're standing over a busy street, Arnold says. The Land Bridge is planned to deliver in 2022.

Stormwater management

Photo courtesy of Mir

An ongoing part of the transformation will be stormwater management upgrades. MPC has budgeted $3 million to this asset of the renovation. While a part of the plan is tributaries for run-off water, bringing back prairie and wetlands will do a great deal to help abate stormwater.

"We're taking ball fields, parking lots, and roads and converting them back to what was here — native wetland coastal prairie," Arnold says. "This serves important stormwater purposes."

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Houston space tech company snags $9.5M contract, sets launch date for lunar mission

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Business at Houston-based space exploration company Intuitive Machines is taking off on two fronts.

First, Intuitive Machines has landed a nearly $9.5 million Air Force contract to develop technology for NASA’s Gateway project, the first space station that will orbit the moon. Specifically, the technology will support a high-powered nuclear fission system that will supply electricity for satellites, bypassing the need for power from solar, battery, or fuel-cell sources.

“As space exploration ventures become more ambitious and diverse, the need for efficient and reliable power sources in space is paramount,” Pete McGrath, vice president of business development at Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Developing the ability to expand power sources beyond solar, which requires heavy battery storage, could remove the burden of constantly worrying about a spacecraft’s arrays relative to the sun, and potentially deliver long-term stability for satellites that would otherwise lose power over time.”

Second, Intuitive Machines has set January window for the launch of its IM-1 lunar mission in conjunction with private aerospace company SpaceX. The liftoff is targeted for a multiday window that opens January 12, 2024.

“There are inherent challenges of lunar missions; schedule changes and mission adjustments are a natural consequence of pioneering lunar exploration,” Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Receiving a launch window and the required approvals to fly is a remarkable achievement, and the schedule adjustment is a small price to pay for making history.”

The IM-1 mission will be the company’s first attempted lunar landing as part of NASA’s commercial payload initiative.

Intuitive Machines went public earlier this year via SPAC. Co-founder Tim Crain shared a bit of the origin story of the company on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.


Houston sustainable chemicals unicorn to build Midwestern biomanufacturing facility

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Solugen has scored a partnership with a global company to build a biomanufacturing facility adjacent to an existing corn complex in Marshall, Minnesota.

Solugen, a Houston company that's designed a process that converts plant-derived substances into essential materials, has announced its newest strategic partnership with sustainable solutions company ADM (NYSE:ADM). The partnership includes plans for Solugen to build a 500,000-square-foot biomanufacturing facility next to an existing ADM facility in the Midwest. The two companies will collaborate on producing biomaterials to replace fossil fuel-based products.

“The strategic partnership with ADM will allow Solugen to bring our chemienzymatic process to a commercial scale and meet existing customer demand for our high-performance, cost-competitive, sustainable products,” Gaurab Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO of Solugen, says in a news release. “As one of the few scaled-up and de-risked biomanufacturing assets in the country, Solugen’s Bioforge platform is helping bolster domestic capabilities and supply chains that are critical in ensuring the U.S. reaches its ambitious climate targets.”

The company plans to begin on-site construction early next year, with plans to startup in the first half of 2025. The project should create at least 40 permanent jobs and 100 temporary construction positions.

“Sustainability is one of the enduring global trends powering ADM’s growth and underpinning the strategic evolution of our Carbohydrate Solutions business,” Chris Cuddy, president of ADM’s Carbohydrate Solutions business, says in the release. “ADM is one of the largest dextrose producers in the world, and this strategic partnership will allow us to further diversify our product stream as we continue to support plant-based solutions spanning sustainable packaging, pharma, plant health, construction, fermentation, and home and personal care.”

Founded in 2016 by Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt, Solugen's carbon-negative molecule factory, named the Bioforge, uses its chemienzymatic process in converting plant-sourced substances into essential materials that can be used instead of fossil fuels. The manufacturing process is carbon neutral, and Solugen has raised over $600 million from investors that believe in the technology's potential.

“The initial phase of the project will significantly increase Solugen’s manufacturing capacity, which is critical for commercializing our existing line of molecules and kicks off plans for a multi-phase large-scale U.S. Bioforge buildout,” Hunt, CTO of Solugen, says in the release. “The increase in capacity will also free up our Houston operation for research and development efforts into additional molecules and market applications.”

The project should create at least 40 permanent jobs and 100 temporary construction positions.

"As a community with a strong foundation of agriculture and innovation, we look forward to welcoming Solugen to Marshall. This industry-leading facility will serve as a powerful economic driver for the city, creating new jobs and diversifying our industry,” City of Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes says in the statement. "We are thankful for ADM’s longstanding commitment and impact to Marshall, which has paved the way for this remarkable partnership and continues to further economic growth to our region."

It's the second major company partnership announcement Solugen has made this month, with a new arrangement with Sasol being secured last week.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.