Generations of Heights children have enjoyed Donovan Park, where there are swing sets and several structures to run through, climb atop and slide down from. There’s even a wooden replica of a train kids can pretend to conduct.
The 24-year-old park at 7th Street and Heights Boulevard has been utilized more and more in recent years as the neighborhood has experienced a revival and exponential growth. That has accelerated the erosion of Donovan Park, where safety and the need for upgrades have been become increasing concerns.
“It’s a well-used, well-loved park,” said Bill Baldwin, a prominent Heights Realtor and former president of the Houston Heights Association (HHA). “It is apparent when you’re there that things need attention.”
Baldwin and other neighborhood leaders are tending to the park’s needs, and they’re asking for residents to do the same. Baldwin leads the “Friends of Donovan Park” committee that is starting a capital campaign called “Donovan Park Reimagined,” which aims to improve and overhaul the park so it can be enjoyed by future generations of Heights children.
The public is invited to a news conference scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the park, where the Friends of Donovan Park will announce a fundraising goal of $1 million. Baldwin said the first $500,000 will be used to revamp the 37,505 square foot park, which is owned and operated by the HHA, and the other $500,000 will be allocated for future maintenance.
“It’s a big part of our history,” said Damian Ogier, the new president of the HHA. “That whole thing was built and developed by citizens.”
Baldwin said the HHA purchased the land in 1979 with funds from the Houston Endowment. The green space initially featured a volleyball net, and the park in its present form was constructed in 1996.
Baldwin said park usage has spiked in the last couple years, with previous average traffic of about 200 people on a Saturday ballooning to about 1,000. That has contributed to the deterioration of the mostly wooden structures at Donovan Park, with Baldwin saying there has been an increased number of splinters and other injuries in recent years.
He said the park, which will maintain its name, needs safer construction materials, improved drainage, a restroom and increased accessibility for children with physical and mental disabilities.
“Everything (else) is on the table,” Baldwin said. “Nothing has been predetermined other than those givens. Basically, what it looks like and how it’s going to function is open for engagement. We want community engagement. We want people to weigh in.”
Community input will be solicited and collected during the next few months, beginning with the next HHA meeting Feb. 9 at the Historic Heights Fire Station. There also is a picnic event at the park scheduled for May 2.
During the interim, Baldwin said Friends of Donovan Park will be periodically stationed at the park to listen to feedback. Heights residents also will be able to weigh in, and make donations, online and with their mobile phones.
Among the things for citizens to consider, Baldwin said, are charging stations, power sources and WiFi at the park, entrance and exit locations, the configuration of sunny and shady spots and the incorporation of food trucks and other vendors. The park also could cater to special exercise events, cyclists and dogs.
“We want the community to come together, recognize it’s an asset and give their input on what and how they want to use it,” Ogier said. “From there, we’ve got to go raise the money, come up with a vision, hone in on what that vision is going to cost and then go execute it.”