Two Ways to Get a New Community Center: Alief vs. Sharpstown

Two Ways to Get a New Community Center: Alief vs. Sharpstown
Elected officials and government staff outside the aging Sharpstown Park Community Center on December 30, 2023, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and Council Member Edward Pollard

For Alief to get a new, $58 million community center last January, it took decades of advocacy from the Alief Super Neighborhood community, according to District F Council Member Tiffany Thomas. By many accounts, it had a lot to do with the Alief Super Neighborhood Council (SNC).

Houston is split into eighty-eight Super Neighborhoods, but Alief is one of only fifty-two that have active SNCs: nonprofits with elected boards designed to represent community members and business stakeholders—and communicate their wants and needs to the city. Alief's SNC is small—recent minutes only name three board members—but apparently, it was still able to push for the construction of the community center.

Unlike Alief, the Super Neighborhood of Sharpstown doesn’t have an SNC. But it’s getting a new community center anyway, thanks to a coalition of multiple government branches at the city, county, and federal level. Together, District J, the Houston city council, TIRZ #20, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Harris County Precinct 4, and U.S. Representative Al Green are assembling ~$14 million of the ~$16 million needed to fund the project.

Sharpstown Park Golf Course was purchased by the city and taken over by Houston Parks and Recreation in 1978, but the community center on its grounds hasn’t been renovated since 1988, according to District J Council Member Edward Pollard. He and the course manager, Doug Randall, took a golf cart ride two years ago and decided the center needed an upgrade.

So the city will build a brand-new community center—on the same site—to replace the current one.

One of Sylvester Turner’s last acts as Houston’s mayor was to speak at a December 30 press conference at the current Sharpstown Community Center, less than 48 hours before passing his power to Mayor John Whitmire.

Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks outside the aging Sharpstown Park Community Center on December 30, 2023

Turner said, “We’re committed to bringing equity and fairness to different neighborhoods… We don’t want any neighborhood to feel left out.”

At the conference, Pollard envisioned the new building as a “town center” in the style of Houston's suburbs: “When I would go out into the outskirts, some of the more affluent areas and suburban areas, you’ll see that their communities are centered around the golf course… So I said, ‘Why don’t we have that in District J?… A place where the entire community can come to one place and engage with one another.”

A 3D concept schematic of the planned Sharpstown Community Center

According to Turner, the city council voted to contribute $5 million of federal community grant money, and Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones “has pledged five million dollars to match.” He said that Representative Al Green and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #20 are each working to provide around $2 million more. “You see how we’re stacking this.”

That leaves two million to be funded, possibly through "public-private partnerships," said Pollard.

Chief of staff Alice Lee also spoke on behalf of HCP4 Commissioner Lesley Briones’s office: “This is a win-win-win for everyone.... It's hard to say no to this type of collaboration."

Kenneth Allen, director of Houston Parks and Rec, drew attention to the golf course, as well as the pool and playground just across the street. "To the 59,000 rounds of golf played on these grounds, to the thousands of swimmers that swim at school during the summer, to the people that walk the grounds and play on the playground...good news."

Dale Davidson, a Sharpstown resident, spoke on behalf of TIRZ #20. “I'm so excited to see that we redevelop and refurbish the area in a way that makes living here better and brings our people together in community.”

Will this level of Sharpstown-friendly government cooperation continue in other ways? Some of it was probably thanks to Pollard’s apparently strong relationship with Mayor Turner. But we're in the Whitmire era now.

Time will tell what the next years hold.

See the Sharpener's previous article for a concept drawing of the new community center.