Equitable Development Plan & Real Estate Impact Study for Harold Simmons Park

The Trinity Park Conservancy is proactively linking park investment with community development to address systemic inequities in the neighborhoods around the new Harold Simmons Park.


In 2016, the Trinity Park Conservancy received a generous gift to facilitate the creation of a 200-acre park, the first of a chain of parks within the 11,000-acre Trinity River floodway. Harold Simmons Park will connect three distinct neighborhoods – Downtown Dallas, West Dallas, and Oak Cliff – a microcosm of Dallas’ extreme racial and income segregation. Development of the park is expected to catalyze real estate and neighborhood investment along the Trinity River. The Conservancy is committed to creating a park that faces the challenges head on of creating a stronger, more just city. To facilitate equitable development of the park and local neighborhoods, the Conservancy engaged HR&A to recommend implementable strategies to leverage the $150M park investment to benefit the diversity of neighboring communities and create a model for equitable park and infrastructure development.


HR&A created an Equitable Development Plan (EDP) that provides the Conservancy with a detailed toolkit of policies, advocacy efforts, initiatives, and partnerships to achieve the organization’s equitable development vision. First, HR&A conducted real estate market, demographic, and socioeconomic analysis to understand the neighborhood context and consulted with local stakeholders, community members, and national experts to identify core risk factors (e.g. displacement of existing residents, loss of cultural heritage, perpetuated racial and socioeconomic segregation) and opportunities to be addressed in the EDP.

By evaluating the successes and failures of past efforts and the unique context of Harold Simmons Park, HR&A developed an Equity Toolkit that provides discrete tactics to prevent involuntary displacement, facilitate the creation of opportunity neighborhoods, protect cultural heritage, promote wealth creating and community ownership, and establish equitable policies and practices within the Conservancy for park management and operations. Finally, HR&A prepared an action plan to guide implementation of the EDP, detailing roles and responsibilities for Conservancy, the City, and private partners. Implementation of the EDP will require adding responsibilities within the Conservancy and growing capacity among community and implementation partners, and actions today to position the project for success.

In addition to the EDP, HR&A conducted a real estate impact study for Harold Simmons Park. HR&A’s analysis projected that the $150 M park investment will generate approximately $3.5 B in net-new real estate value, and $1.2 B in net-new property tax revenues between 2020 and 2050. These projected values accounted for a reduced market value assuming tradeoffs are made between maximizing real estate value and uplifting equity, inclusion, and community development consistent with the EDP.


The Conservancy has begun implementation of the EDP, including advocacy for policy changes and internal capacity building. The plan will inform the organization’s forthcoming programming plan, public sector engagement, and investment strategy in advance of a groundbreaking in 2020 or 2021.

The Ion Innovation District Master Plan and Development Strategy

HR&A is serving as strategic partner and development advisor to Rice Management Company, which manages the Rice University Endowment, for both The Ion and broader 16-acre Ion District, overseeing real estate and programmatic development of the project with the goals of creating a thriving and inclusive tech ecosystem in Houston.

Beginning in 2018, HR&A managed the recruitment of a planning and urban design team and the development of a master plan that prioritizes the public realm, creates investment value over time, and supports the resilience of the Houston economy. The plan draws on an examination of precedent innovation districts across the country, assessment of market supply and demand in Houston, and cutting-edge urban design and open space planning. At full buildout, the project will include 3-5 million square feet of mixed-use development

To catalyze the District, HR&A managed the design and development process of The Ion on behalf of RMC by overseeing the transformation of the 266,000-square foot former Sears Department Store into an innovation hub to bring Houston’s entrepreneurial, corporate, academic, investment, and community members together. HR&A led the financial planning, tenanting strategy, programming, operator solicitations and partnership development, community engagement, and branding processes to ensure that the building benefits its neighbors by fostering an inclusive, welcoming neighborhood and creating equitable economic opportunities. The Ion now houses classrooms, a large forum staircase for events and programming, flexible workspaces for startups and investors operated by Common Desk, and offices for major tech tenants, including Microsoft and Chevron Technology Ventures. The Ion is also now home to three minority-owned restaurants. HR&A also supported RMC and its community partners in developing a Community Benefits Agreement signed with the City of Houston. Concurrently, HR&A provided the analysis underlying a substantial development agreement between Rice Management Company and the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone that will support district infrastructure.


In Spring 2022, RMC, the City of Houston, and its partners celebrated the official grand opening of the Ion. With The Ion fully operational, HR&A is now supporting RMC in the selection of a development partner for the next phase of the 16-acre District. This work includes drafting solicitation documents, marketing the project to potential developers, reviewing proposals, and advising on partner selection and negotiation. Already, the Ion District is home to Greentown Labs, Houston’s first climate-tech incubator and a development partner for the next phase of the District is expected to be announced in 2023.

Buffalo Bayou East Sector Investment Framework and Master Plan

HR&A developed an investment framework to guide the long-term planning and investment in the East Sector and is managing development of a Conceptual Master Plan.


The  Buffalo  Bayou  Partnership  (BBP)  is  the  nationally-recognized  developer  and operator of Houston’s celebrated 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park, which was completed in 2015 and has become one of the country’s great urban green spaces. Building upon this success, BBP seeks to extend the Buffalo Bayou greenway network along four  miles  of  Buffalo  Bayou  waterfront  east  of  Downtown  Houston,  catalyzing broader   neighborhood   revitalization   in   a   predominantly   industrial   and   post-industrial landscape that is disconnected from the surrounding historic communities.


HR&A’s Investment  Framework  Report assessed existing  conditions  and  defined  a vision, key priorities, and next steps for BBP’s activities in the waterfront areas of Houston’s Second and Fifth Wards, collectively known as the East Sector, consistent with principles of authenticity, connectivity, and inclusiveness. The report identified open  space  and  neighborhood  redevelopment  opportunities  and  strategies  and provided a long-term implementation plan for BBP’s activity and investment in the East  Sector,  including  recommending  the  initiation  of  a  masterplan  for  the  East Sector.



Following the investment framework report, HR&A managed the completion of the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The plan provides a blueprint for 40 miles of new and improved trails, 200 acres of public open space, and inclusive development, all informed by robust community input. The plan prioritizes the integration of community and open space, including early development of a mixed-income housing development on BBP-owned property. The long-term vision will pay tribute to Houston’s industrial roots, celebrate culturally rich neighborhoods, and serve as an important symbol for the city’s continuing commitment to accessible park space for all.
In 2020, The Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan won the Top Honor Award for Planning as part of the Excellence on the Waterfront Awards Program. Buffalo Bayou Park is moving forward with implementation of the first phase of trail and park development with a $10 million award from the Houston Endowment.

Economic Impact Analysis for the Expansion of Klyde Warren Park

The Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation used a detailed economic impact estimate to generate support and funding for the expansion of Klyde Warren Park.


Following the remarkable success of Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre park spanning over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation considered expanding the park by an additional block. This expansion would enhance value by improving park functionality, activating new development parcels, increasing connectivity with major venues in the city’s arts district, and creating opportunities for new attractions. To gain a clearer understanding of how the proposed improvements would affect the city, the foundation engaged HR&A to assess the potential economic and fiscal impact of these park improvements.


HR&A analyzed the incremental benefits of the park expansion in three district scenarios: (1) an economic baseline of the impact of the park since opening, (2) the future economic benefits of the current park without improvements, and (3) the future benefits of an enhanced park. The team assessed potential benefits in each scenario including – an increase in park-oriented real estate development, increased value of existing properties due to an enhanced park amenity, increased downtown tourism, and local spending and multiplier impacts of capital and operating investment.
HR&A estimated that the impact of park, at the time of the study, was $1.3B and the incremental value of the expansion would generate an additional $870 million in future economic impact.


The foundation used the findings from our reports to support outreach to potential funding and implementation partners for the project. In 2017, the Woodall Rodgers Foundation successfully secured $10 million in bond funding from the City of Dallas, $20 million from a private donor, and additional funds from the North Central Texas Council of Governments for the project.
In 2018, the park finalized a partnership with VisitDallas to create a new, best-in-class visitor center in the expanded park, which will solidify the park’s role as the central hub of Downtown Dallas’ visitor experience. Construction on the expansion is scheduled to begin in 2019.

Creating a Racial Equity Agenda for the United States Conference of Mayors

The United States Conference of Mayors developed a comprehensive understanding of the programs, policies, and projects that are effectively advancing racial equity across the country.


Across the country, discriminatory policies and practices have created lasting disparities in social and economic outcomes across races. To work against this harmful legacy, the United States Conference of Mayors, with its strong tradition of leadership on issues of civil rights and social justice, is using its national platform to help mayors and cities understand and implement the policies and practices that can reduce racial inequities in cities.
The organization engaged HR&A to survey existing racial equity programs in cities and create a set of recommendations for how it could help member cities proactively make meaningful change in their policies and practices.


To understand their most pressing challenges, we interviewed mayors and staff from 13 cities. The collective feedback showed that some cities are incorporating racial equity through place-based initiatives, programmatic initiatives, and policy change. Additionally, cities are seeking help from external partners to directly address race in their communities. We learned the importance of mayoral leadership and that clear definitions of equity are needed to translate commitments into practice. Synthesizing our findings, we outlined the ways that the U.S. Conference of Mayors could serve as an important convener for mayors and a source of best practice and technical assistance.
Our deepest insight emerged from our conversations with economic development departments. Unlike many social services, these functions are siloed from conversations on racial disparity even though they are charged with decisions that impact the physical, demographic, and economic realities of communities. This insight helped us design a program that would connect these departments with training, resources, and technical assistance to embed equity into daily practice.


Capacity Building for the National Disaster Resilience Competition

The National Disaster Resilience Competition institutionalized the practice of resilience in cities across the country.


To confront increasing physical vulnerability to the effects of climate change and decreasing public funding available for infrastructure and community development, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation partnered to transform resilience building policy and practice through the National Disaster Resilience Competition. In 2014, President Obama allocated $1 billion in HUD funding to competition winners, which were selected from places that suffered presidentially-declared disasters between 2011 and 2013.


HR&A supported the Rockefeller Foundation’s management of the program, providing technical support for 67 cities, states, and counties as each prepared competition submissions. This work ensured that the projects and programs would respond to a broad array of climate-related risk, and address social, economic and environmental challenges. HR&A also designed and delivered a capacity-building program for participants that provided individual technical support to teams to guide them through proposal development; regional “Resilience Academies” that brought together a network of experts to support teams in assessing risk and developing strategies and projects to address them; and tools and other resources to help interpret HUD guidance.


The competition enhanced local, state, and regional resilience techniques by offering resources and encouraging partnerships to amplify potential financial and social benefits activated by federal funds. In 2016, HUD announced the 13 winning cities, states, and counties of the $1 billion competition. Funded projects include state watershed, coastal protection, community flood grant, and public housing resilience pilot programs; and coastal wetland and rural river resilience efforts among other projects.
Following the awards, the Rockefeller Foundation engaged HR&A to incorporate workshop teachings into a permanent resilience curriculum, which was deployed across the world through the Global Resilience Academy.

Menil Collection Neighborhood Preservation and Development

Since 2012, HR&A has supported the Menil Collection in realizing its vision for a “neighborhood of art” in Houston’s urban core.

Founded by John and Dominique de Menil in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, the 30-acre campus currently hosts four museum buildings that display modern exhibitions and select works from the Menil’s private collection of over 17,000 works of modern, contemporary, and African, Pacific Islands, and Pacific Northwest art, as well as two neighborhood parks.

HR&A was pleased to serve as a strategic advisor to the Menil Foundation to guide the organization through the development of a real estate and implementation strategy; provide solicitation and transaction support; and help secure economic development incentives from the City of Houston.  The Menil engaged HR&A at the onset of its planning effort for a fifth museum building – the Menil Drawing Institute – and a new adjoining park, to prepare for the mission, financial, and managerial implications of the expansion.

HR&A advised the Menil through a series of strategic decisions regarding the density, program and phasing of new real estate development on its campus, ultimately supporting the Menil through a real estate solicitation for the first phases of new development. HR&A also crafted a neighborhood property business plan that would ensure the restoration of the unique aesthetic form and fabric of the Menil neighborhood, which is characterized by dozens of historic Arts-and-Crafts style bungalows and a network of open spaces.

Images Courtesy of: The Menil Foundation

Economic Value Study of the Dallas Park System

The City of Dallas identified opportunities and secured new funding to maximize the economic value of its park system.


The Dallas Parks and Recreation Department oversees one of the largest park systems in the nation, comprised of 382 parks and 145 miles of trails. This immense portfolio not only provides community benefits, but also revenue generation and value capture opportunities. With growing municipal budget constraints, the department engaged HR&A to develop detailed analysis on the financial return of its parks to advocate for park expansion as a viable economic development strategy.


HR&A assessed the incremental impact of the park system on real estate, tourism, environmental, and city-building. After reviewing factors attributing to spending and value – including visitation and increased real estate values – HR&A found that Dallas parks contribute a seven-to-one return on public investment, which is approximately $678 million to the local economy every year. However, after reviewing the system’s assets, operations, resources in relation to peer park systems, HR&A found that the Dallas spends almost 40% less per resident on operations and 45% less on capital improvements than its peers. Working with the City, HR&A helped identify key projects and investments that would maximize the value created by the City’s parks.


The Dallas Parks & Recreation Department used the study as a critical piece of its advocacy for a $262 million bond proposal. The request also generated support from local public and private entities that pledged an additional $150 million in matching funds. In 2017, the Dallas City Council added the proposal as a ballot proposition, which voters overwhelmingly approved.


Catalytic Real Estate Development in San Antonio’s Promise Zone

HR&A led a multidisciplinary team to create an inclusive, place-based, and market-guided strategy for economic development in the city’s Promise Zone.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designated the Eastside, a 22-square mile economically distressed area, as a Promise Zone in 2014, streamlining access to federal programs that could support neighborhood revitalization. San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside a nonprofit steward of the Promise Zone, also known as SAGE, engaged HR&A through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to complete an Economic Development Strategy that aligns Eastside investments with neighborhood goals.


The HR&A team, which included Alamo Architects, Moore Icafano Goltsman (MIG), and Infrastructure Design Solutions Engineering (IDS), conducted a series of analyses to deliver a targeted and actionable strategy for economic development on the Eastside.


The team began with extensive outreach to SAGE, its public partners, neighborhood stakeholders, and the broader community to identify the core goals for economic development and opportunities and challenges related to those goals. We then analyzed the existing context of San Antonio’s Eastside to learn about the demographics, physical layout, and strengths and challenges around economic development and reviewed a set of potential policies to advance SAGE goals within this context.


Guided by SAGE’s focus as an economic development organization, we then identified opportunities to realize these policies with new real estate development. We conducted a site analysis of the entire Eastside to identify all vacant, underutilized, and neglected parcels, as well as “prototypical” parcels for which we created illustrative development concepts that reflect both community aspirations and market context.


We then conducted rigorous financial analysis to evaluate the feasibility of each concept. Based on this analysis, we identified existing incentive programs that can support development on the Eastside, as well as new policies that can facilitate a broader range of development uses and locations. Lastly, we developed an organizational implementation strategy to help SAGE prioritize among recommendations and develop the capacity needed to pursue these priorities.


This Strategy lays the blueprint for the next generation of growth on the Eastside, and will form the foundation of SAGE’s work plan in the coming years.

Center City Strategic Framework

On behalf of Centro Partnership of San Antonio and the City of San Antonio, HR&A created a Strategic Framework Plan to bring new economic and cultural vitality to Center City.

HR&A began by assessing the City’s goals set forth in its ambitious SA2020 plan, leading community workshop sessions for over 500 residents and conducting extensive stakeholder outreach. During this time, HR&A also worked closely with senior City staff, the Mayor and Council to prepare a plan for the next decade and guide public and private efforts in Center City.  Through this initial effort, HR&A recommended a “housing first” keystone strategy focused on  attracting residential development to revitalize a downtown long associated with convention and tourism uses.

In collaboration with local planning and design firm Alamo Architects, HR&A then developed physical, financial, and policy approaches to attract new residents to Center City, grounded in extensive market analysis, physical site assessment, and community and stakeholder consultation.  Our recommendations included target neighborhoods for new residential development; priority infrastructure investments; and neighborhood-based development typologies that reflect market conditions and the existing neighborhood fabric.


Next, through a series of related efforts, we developed an implementation strategy for Centro Partnership and the City of San Antonio to realize these recommendations. We conducted rigorous development financial analysis to identify recommended residential development incentives that were calibrated to different building typologies and locations throughout Center City.


To support these incentives and the recommended range of infrastructure investments, we developed a funding strategy by drawing upon public and private resources and the opportunity to leverage new value created to create an enhanced level of downtown investment. Finally, we identified organizational and managerial changes to both Centro and the City of San Antonio to create the capacity required to oversee a transformation at this scale.


The Strategic Framework Plan has become the driving agenda for Centro Partnership since its Board adopted the Plan in February 2012.  The Plan has also become the governing framework for downtown policy since San Antonio’s City Council officially adopted the plan for implementing growth and development in the City’s Center City in June 2012.  The Council unanimously passed one of the Plan’s key recommendations, a clear and consistent incentive policy for downtown housing, which has resulted in the planned development and construction of 5,000 new units since 2011.


HR&A has continued to support the implementation of the Strategic Framework Plan through a variety of related efforts. We developed a downtown retail strategy to bring new activity to the street level, as well as a strategy to attract a new grocery store downtown to serve the emerging residential population. HEB opened a new downtown grocery store in December 2015. We have also supported key downtown planning efforts – including for a downtown fixed-rail streetcar service and the revitalization of Hemisfair Park. Most recently, HR&A conducted a five-year market update to refine Center City’s incentive policies and continue to support new development in Center City with an ever-increasing focus on density, activity, and diversity.  Additionally, HR&A completed an economic development strategy for San Antonio’s Eastside, a historically distressed area of the city.  The goal of study and subsequent real estate analysis was to improve economic conditions on the Eastside and likewise ensure that the area is able to participate in new opportunities for growth across San Antonio.

Image Courtesy of: Zereshk