By GILBERT HOFFMAN
Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia unveiled an ambitious plan for 26 historical sites to be developed in Precinct 2, at a meeting held last week for the local media.
She explained that the idea for an Historical District, to act as a tourist attraction and a new economic tool, grew out of conferences she held in September 2003 to study and improve the quality of life in her Precinct 2.
While she is working with industry to improve appearances and air quality, at the same time she wants to change the image of the area from industrial to emphasize it?s national importance as the birthplace of democracy.
She has teamed with the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region and 15 municipalities, the Port of Houston, and the City of Houston that are part of that alliance, to build and maintain these sites. Each area will get to say what is important to their history, and develop the sites to their own specifications, said Jan Lawlor, President/CEO of the Alliance.
As presented to the press, the project will encompass 26 sites through the southeast portion of Precinct 2. However, one of the main features will be the development of Battleground Road, past the San Jacinto monument, into a new ?Independence Parkway?. The northern terminus of this parkway will be the I-10/Crosby-Lynchburg Road intersection. It will be marked with four high pylons, topped with single stars. This same design will be used at the other sites, to integrate and mark the project.
Included in the development, and set to break ground in the near future, will be the redevelopment of David G. Burnet Park in Lynchburg. Burnet was the first president of the Texas Republic. A replica of his house will be constructed on the site where it stood in the park.
Garcia said that she has raised some of the money for the project, which will be funded mostly by private donations and grants, with some funds coming from her Parks budget. She has applied for state grants for the first three sites to be developed, which are a gateway park in Harrisburg, the Independence Parkway, and new ?roundabouts? at the ends of the Washburn Tunnel. As part of the Stars project, Garcia plans on a complete renovation and update of the tunnel. It is over 50 years old, built in 1950, she said, and many of the systems need replaced.
Many of these sites are intended to be teaching areas for children, as well as tourist attractions.
Another feature of the designs will be huge ?Epic Art? photomurals on the sides of oil storage tanks along Routes 225 and 134 in Pasadena and Deer Park. These will depict the battle of San Jacinto, as families drive to the battlefield.
Garcia said that two new ferries are still part of the overall Master Plan, but the actual contract for these ships has been delayed until market conditions dictate a favorable bid price.
New signage at the Stars sites will help visitors understand the importance of the area, and the steps in the historical march to independence.
To help pay for this project, Garcia held a benefit gala last month along with the Alliance. Guests who normally contribute to her political campaign were invited to fund the Stars Project instead. Over $500,000 was raised at the banquet, which included a good natured roast of Garcia.
Guests at the gala included former mayors Kathy Whitmire and Bob Lanier and many other well known figures. She was honored for her 20 years in public service, and the event was a sellout at the downtown Hyatt Regency hotel.
Another feature of the plans is to restore the Lynchburg cemetery, and to get it historical designation by the state. Garcia has personally investigated the cemetery site, which she said is in disrepair, partially underwater, and has only 5 intact headstones that can be seen, although it is thought by historians to hold over 100 bodies.
Garcia will be honored again this week, when she is awarded the Visionary Award at a Banquet in Houston.
Garcia plans PROJECT STARS Historical District for Pct. 2
By GILBERT HOFFMAN