Emancipation Park gets $33 million makeover

Houston will celebrate the renovation of one of its most important landmarks when historic Emancipation Park is rededicated on Saturday, June 17, followed by another celebration on Monday, June 19. Located in Third Ward, it is the oldest public park in Texas and a symbol of freedom for African-Americans.

The timing of the celebration is important, said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“It is significant because the land Emancipation Park is on was originally purchased in 1872 for the purpose of holding Juneteenth celebrations,” Turner said. “It became a City park in 1916, and today 145 years later, we celebrate the vision that the original founders had for this land by rededicating it during this year’s 2017 Juneteenth celebrations.

Emancipation Park’s $33.6-million dollar renovation was made possible with funding from the OST/Almeda Redevelopment Corridors-Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 7 (TIRZ#7), Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Houston Endowment, Kinder Foundation, Timken Foundation of Canton and the City of Houston.

The Emancipation Park Conservancy was established to preserve, fund and protect the cultural legacy of the park, and is under an agreement with the City of Houston to provide strategic oversight and direction and other services.

Turner said the park renovation is a plus for Houston and Third Ward.

“The original goals for the redevelopment of Emancipation Park were to create a beautiful and functional park for the residents of Third Ward and surrounding communities, to be a catalyst for local business development and to become a draw for national and international visitors,” Turner said. “We believe that all three goals are being met with the redevelopment of this historic park.”

Ramon Manning, chairman of the Conservancy, also recognizes the park’s importance.

“In the course of following our charge, I personally learned how valuable this resource is to our community and what it represents for it to be fully restored to its rightful place of prominence,” Manning said.

Manning added that he “tips his hat” to Judge Zinetta Burney, chair of the TIRZ #7 board; Joe Turner, former director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD), and the state agencies and philanthropic organizations that “all supported the construction effort.”

Manning is anticipating the park’s redevelopment activities.

“This rededication ceremony has been a long time coming and we can’t be more thrilled to finally be making this historic park and green-space destination available for all to enjoy,” he said. “As the stewards of this community treasure, we, the Conservancy, appreciate the commitment of our funding partners and the patience the community has demonstrated with this worthwhile initiative.

“Our unwavering desire is for Emancipation Park to serve as the center of the community and a vibrant community showpiece for all to enjoy.”

Algenita Scott Davis, vice chair of the TIRZ #7 board, agrees that Emancipation Park is “an essential part of the Third Ward community” and is pleased that TIRZ #7 played a major part in its redevelopment. The objectives of the TIRZ are to create and support an environment attractive to private investment primarily along the Almeda, Old Spanish Trail and Griggs corridors and in the Upper Third Ward area.

Davis stressed the historical importance of Emancipation Park and its founders who were former slaves – Rev. Jack Yates, Rev. Elias Dibble, Richard Brock and Richard Allen. The four men raised $800 to purchase the park land to honor their newfound freedom.

Davis said attending the rededication activities is one way Houstonians can recognize the city’s history and history-makers.

“They need to be there to celebrate the cultural recognition of freedom,” Davis said. “We’re celebrating what the Colored People’s Festival and Emancipation Park Association did only six years out of slavery. We’re celebrating the audacity of their inspiration. We’re celebrating the fact the people have used Emancipation Park since 1872 and that land, that plot, hasn’t moved.”

Lisa Johnson, interim director of HPARD, said Emancipation Park is important because of the history behind its creation, and that the park will take its place among the best properties in the country.

“We offer our thanks to the founding fathers who boldly embraced their future to purchase this land long before the city created a parks department,” Johnson said. “We also offer our thanks today to all of our partners, to future park users and to all the visitors that we believe will come to visit Emancipation Park. We hope they will all cherish and embrace the history and beauty of the park.”

Park features numerous improvements

Emancipation Park is designed to be functional and beautiful. Improvements include:

  • A new 16,000-square feet recreation center, which includes a gymnasium, weight room, classroom, lobby and reception area, and office and storage space. The building is designed to have access to an outdoor stage area which will be built when additional funding becomes available.
  • The existing community center was renovated and restored to more closely resemble the original design and honors the historical importance of the building (built during 1938-1939) and creates a functional facility for the community. The building provides meeting spaces, lobby area, office, and kitchen. The stage area, referred to as the Blessings Theater, was restored and provides space for small outdoor or indoor performances.
  • The swimming pool was removed and replaced with a modern pool, and the existing pool house was renovated and air-conditioned so that it can be used during special events.
  • All buildings are LEED Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and the project integrates sustainable site design and low impact development principles that include site storm water management. All lighting is energy efficient and utilizes LED fixtures.
  • Parking is on the perimeter of the park (excluding Elgin) and additional land was purchased for an off-site parking lot on Tuam.
  • Other features include an entry plaza, splash pad, playground, walking trail, porch-like covered areas and several picnic areas. The baseball field and tennis and basketball courts were replaced and upgraded.

Source: Houston Parks and Recreation Department