GALVESTON — Imagine a Stewart Beach that includes a raised boardwalk, restaurants and retail shops. One that includes a large shaded area for concerts, a gated area for pets and a modern pavilion for weddings. Imagine all that happening in the next five years.
On Tuesday, the Park Board of Trustees got its first look at a master plan that includes those things and more. The board heard a presentation from Knudsen LP, the urban planning firm hired earlier this year to study ways that the board could better use its two most popular beach parks — Stewart Beach and East Beach.
“The conceptual plan talks about what is the functionality and services that we want to provide,” said Park Board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun.
The plan, which officials stressed was still in a draft form, paints a picture of a Stewart Beach that is divided into a number of “activity zones,” areas that are separated by features such as streets, boardwalks and landscaping dedicated to different kinds of uses.
The most striking part of the plan is the idea for the board to turn a large part of the park — the area adjacent Seawall Boulevard that is currently an empty field — into a boardwalk featuring restaurants and others shops.
“It’s kind of taking all the land and figuring out what we can do with it,” said David Hoover, one of the members of the group that developed the plan. “It’s a starting point.”
The area in question has been used before, Hoover said, perhaps most memorably as the location of a miniature golf course. The land has long been up for lease, and officials say they hope by developing a vision for the property it attracts some attention.
The plan also calls for things such as a covered parking garage and widened streets that could be reversed to accommodate the beaches traffic flow on high-use weekends. The group’s pitch also featured a similar, although less detailed, plan for the East Beach areas.
During the meeting, Park Board members were quick to separate out simple fixes that could be made to the beach parks now, such as rebuilt and landscaped toll booths at the park entrances, and things that will require more effort and thought in the future, such as a boardwalk area leased to restaurants and retailers.
“I don’t think this is what Stewart Beach is going to look like, but I think there’s an opportunity for us to take some of things that were presented and hopefully incorporate them into what Stewart Beach might be,” Park Board Chairman Melvin Williams said. “We want to make immediate changes, and the only things that we can do immediately are things that we have funds for now.”
Still, the plan was called by some officials as the most “realistic” master plan to be developed in years. The Knudsen team aimed to create a plan that was accomplishable within three to five years.
De Schaun said previous master plans — including a frequently circulated one developed in the 1990s featuring a crescent-shaped, multistory pavilion on Stewart Beach — did not account for some of the most critical aspects of the beach parks, such as paid parking, which is the largest revenue generator for the Park Board.
The plan laid out on Tuesday did not address the so-called “South Beach, Galveston” plan being promoted by District 3 City Councilman Ralph McMorris. That idea is essentially a proposal for the city to purchase land seaward of the seawall in order to prevent high rise development from being built on the beach, particularly in an area directly west of Stewart Beach’s boundaries.
Walter Preble, one of the supporters of that plan, told the board that the people behind that plan have a keen interest in what the Park Board does with its properties.
“What we’re looking at is a little bit larger scope than just Stewart Beach,” Preble said of the South Beach idea. “We’re looking at how this impacts the neighborhoods.”
After the meeting, Preble said he did not believe that the South Beach Plan and the Park Board’s master plan were in opposition to each other.
The Park Board has not met with McMorris nor anyone else is supporting that idea, de Schaun said.