Millions of dollars in parks improvements are expected to become accessible over the next few years as Pearland and Friendswood tap into bond funds to provide residents with more green space, sports fields, walking trails and outdoor recreational activities.

graps Sources: city of Pearland capital improvement program 2017-2022, city of Friendswood capital improvement program 2017-2022/Community Impact Newspaper[/caption]

Pearland has $16.8 million in parks and trails projects slated to break ground this year and in 2018, according to a 2017 capital projects report.

“I can’t overemphasize how important a strong parks system is to a community’s long-term viability,” Pearland City Manager Clay Pearson said. “We’ve seen the economic benefits, health benefits, and the building of neighborhoods and neighborhood connections by having a variety of parks.”

Friendswood is slated to spend up to $8.3 million on parks improvements from 2017-21, according to its 2017 capital improvements program.

Funding parks

The Pearland Parks and Recreation Department oversees 17 public parks with a total of 450 acres as well as 59 miles of walking trails, Pearland Parks and Recreation Director Chris Orlea said. The city does not manage neighborhood parks; homeowners associations care for neighborhood green spaces.

Although the city does not track park attendance, it conducted an annual survey in 2014 that showed nearly 600,000 entries across three parks—Centennial, Independence and Southdown—as well as an average of nearly 50,000 users on six trail segments in the Magnolia Corridor alone in 2016.

“I know people regard our parks system highly, and in some ways, we can’t build them fast enough. We are getting onto it,” Pearson said.

The city opened the 65-acre Shadow Creek Ranch Sports Complex in April. The $10.1 million project was funded through bonds.

An additional $16.8 million in upcoming parks improvements slated for 2017 and 2018 also stem from the 2007 bond referendum. Of the $162 million in voter-approved debt, $19.9 million was set aside for parks and trails development.

While park developments can come with a hefty price tag, they can also bring economic value over the long term.

According to a 2015 report from the National Recreation and Parks Association, local and regional parks across the U.S.—not including state and national parks—generated $140 billion in economic activity in 2013 alone through jobs, capital spending and hiring.

Public green spaces also affect economic development by improving real estate values, attracting homebuyers, and drawing affluent retirees and high-skilled workers, according to the American Planning Association.

The economic activity translates into property tax and sales tax revenue.

“When people pick places to live or even when companies decide where to move, quality of life is a very important factor,” said Kevin Roth, vice president of research at the NRPA.

Orlea is preparing for five parks ground breakings, three of which are trails, between 2017 and 2018.

The parks department is chipping away at its 2007 Pearland Trail Master Plan to improve mobility across the city. The plan would extend trails as far south as Lakes of Savannah and along major waterways—Clear Creek, Hickory Slough and Mary’s Creek—as well as along Hwy. 35, Pearland Parkway and the McHard Road corridors.

Although Shadow Creek Ranch has a relatively robust trail system when compared to the city overall, most residents in east Pearland do not live within walking or biking distance from a trail, according to the city’s trails system map. The city also lacks east-to-west trail connectors across Hwy. 288.

“The goal of all of these projects is to provide access to alternative transportation, whether that be biking, hiking or means that are nonmotorized,” Orlea said.

Putting Pearland on the map

Of all the projects underway in Pearland, the renovation of Independence Park is the most significant. The $3.98 million expansion will be the first phase of development to transform Independence Park into a flagship green space and entertainment venue.

The expansion is in the final phase of design and is slated for a September ground breaking, Orlea said.

“This is going to be one of the parks projects that puts Pearland in its rightful place among parks and recreation peer agencies,” Orlea said.

The first phase will create a stage and amphitheater with an earthen berm and seating for about 5,000 people. A new four-lane boulevard entryway will open onto Pearland Parkway and additional parking and lighting will be added as well as renovations to existing facilities.

A second phase of Independence Park will round out the city’s vision for the area as a destination park for ecotourism. Plans include a dog park, a habitat island on the existing detention pond, a boathouse and restaurant, and a playground adapted to incorporate the needs of the disabled. A construction timeline has not been set yet.

The parks department is considering a public-private partnership to fund construction of the boathouse restaurant, dog park, amphitheater and pavilion through five- and 10-year naming rights contracts, which would be a policy shift for the city.

Private investments could range from $10,000-$50,000 per year over the duration of the contract, according to sponsorship documents. No formal partnership has been struck yet.button

“That’s been a successful model in Houston. What the scale of that is in Pearland, I’m not sure, but it can be a win-win for private businesses to showcase themselves, partner up with the city and make our public dollars go farther,” Pearson said.

New and Improved Friendswood

Friendswood’s parks are undergoing a reboot to bring existing parks up to date and expand for future growth.

Friendswood’s growth has been steady over the years, growing from just under 36,000 in 2010 to roughly 39,000 in 2017, an 8 percent uptick.

Residents passed $24 million worth of bonds in 2013, $7.3 million of which was dedicated to park improvements. The city is expected to allocate up to $8.3 million for additional parks development between 2017-21.

“Parks are vital in tying all the community together,” said Thomas Goodwin, a longtime member of the parks board, which is a subcommittee of Keep Friendswood Beautiful. “And it’s vital for ecotourism, bringing business to our community.”

The most recent addition to the parks system is the 40-acre Lake Friendswood.

The city has also upgraded existing parks—Centennial, Stevenson, 1776 and Renwick— over the past two years and acquired land for future development.

“I’ve been told that our parks system is one of the reasons why they moved [their families] to Friendswood,” said James Toney, director of parks and recreation in Friendswood.

The parks department will work with Keep Friendswood Beautiful to create an updated 2020 parks master plan. The department is reviewing its plan and will send out surveys and hold townhalls in the next two years.

The city will also create a plan to provide citywide trail connectivity  between parks along its system of creeks.

“Within each one of those goals has been the need and the desire for the parks board staff and the citizens to be able to tie all those parks together in the trail format,” Goodwin said.