West 11th Street Park was originally part of the vast holdings of William C. Hogg, brother of Miss Ima Hogg, and the original developer of River Oaks. He willed most of his estate to the University of Texas, where he had earned his law degree and later served as regent. The will was settled in 1939, at which time thousands of acres of property stretching from west Texas to Louisiana passed to the University. UT owned the property for about 10 years, but then sold it to the Houston Independent School District in 1949. The cost for the 21-acre parcel, as well as the 6-acre parcel where Sinclair Elementary School is now located, was $64,079.63. While this may not sound like a lot now, remember that this was over 60 years ago, and the property was in a virtually undeveloped rural area “way out west.”
Because public money was used for this transaction, HISD had a responsibility to use the property, preserve it for future use, or sell it for a fair market price. Almost immediately, they started talking about either selling it or building on it, and continued to do so periodically for the next 50 years. These efforts were countered, time and time again, by neighbors in the surrounding Timbergrove Manor community, who were determined to save the property from development.
In 2005, HISD decided once and for all to sell the property at auction to the highest bidder. Local developers were lined up to bid, with one plan calling for the construction of over 500 town homes on the site. Timbergrove residents mounted a massive letter-writing campaign, and persuaded HISD to hold back temporarily. Simultaneously, Friends of West 11th Street Park approached the Houston Parks Board and convinced them to begin negotiating with HISD to purchase the property for the City of Houston.
The successful preservation of West 11th Street Park is a wonderful story of cooperation among citizens, community leaders, and local government entities, and the utilization of a truly creative purchasing strategy. Without the tremendous effort and vision of these local leaders, the procurement of this park would not be possible. The Houston Parks Board negotiated a $9 million sales price for the property, to be used as a park. Houston Mayor Bill White agreed to provide $4 million in public funds to purchase the property with the understanding that the private sector would raise the remainder. Despite aggressive fundraising by the Houston Parks Board and by the community, there was still a $3.5 million shortfall at the time that the “option to purchase” contract was set to expire in January 2007.
Because this property acquisition was believed to be critical, and for the first time in its history, the Houston Parks Board took out a bridge loan in order to complete the purchase from HISD, using five acres of the property as collateral. This contingency plan accomplished three important goals: the entire 20 acres would move from HISD ownership to the City of Houston “on time” at closing; the neighborhood was guaranteed a minimum of a 15.2-acre park; and additional time was gained to continue the fundraising to pay off the loan. In February of 2007, the land was purchased by the City of Houston, with five acres on the southwest corner used as collateral for a loan of $3.7 million.
In the fall of 2007, thanks to the efforts of State Senator John Whitmire, a $3.75 million matching grant was allocated in the Texas Legislature to fund the remaining 5-acres of West 11th Street Park. The Houston Parks Board and the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department worked with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to complete the allocation to pay off the loan and transfer the remaining 5-acres to the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department in February, 2008. The park was officially dedicated on February 21, 2008.
Dedication of West 11th Street Park, February 2008