New Innovation Hub Open for Business Acceleration

HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – The Ion – a hub of innovation – is open for business.

Also, it is open for entrepreneurs, academics and collaborators who can create and advance start-ups in a new campus in Midtown Houston.

The Ion is a redevelopment of an 82-year-old, multi-story Sears building by Rice Management Co, which manages the $6.2 billion Rice University endowment.

Academics Collide with Entrepreneurs

 As Houston’s nucleus of innovation, the 266,000 SF Ion is on a steady track aiming to enhance resilient and robust economic growth.  Space, medicine, technology and clean energy stakeholders have already attracted major international players like. Microsoft, which has leased the entire fifth floor. Chevron Technology Ventures is building out their space on the third level.

“We want to create collisions between academics and entrepreneurs,” says Deanea LeFlore, Senior Director of Partnerships for The Ion.  She shared that the Ion now has four accelerators in place:

  • The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator (Super Demo Day set for June 14-16.)
  • The Ion Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises
  • DivInc Houston (the first cohort is already running)
  • Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator (set to begin in early summer)

LeFlore and Bryson Grover, Investment Manager for Real Estate Development for the Rice Management Company led tours for local journalists this week.

“The Ion starts a 5 to 10-year, phased development. As a Rice graduate, I’m excited the University, the City, corporate and community partners are united and committed to Houston’s future in innovation and inclusion,” says Ann Taylor, who has joined the RMC team as Communications and Marketing Strategy Lead for The Ion District.

The Luminescent Blue Screen

A luminescent blue lobby screen welcomes visitor as they enter from Wheeler Avenue, for now as the finishing touches complete on the inviting outdoor seating areas and landscaping.

Third floor view of The Ion on May 13, 2021. Photo credit: Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report.

The second level features a behemoth stair-stepped amphitheater with seating for 250. “Capital Factory will be on this floor, near the academic flex space,” Grover says. College students may congregate here in spaces for business advice on startups or talks with angel investors.

“First tenants will finish construction this summer,” says Grover.

At present, The Ion offices are open and some members of the Rice Management Company team were able to work from there during the tours Thursday.

Grover is perhaps most excited about the natural light that embraces the atrium, from the rooftop down.  “As we penetrated the building’s central core, we opened up to access natural light.  Even at this scale, normally you would not get this level of natural illumination,” he explains.

Guests walked outside the glass walls of the fourth floor on a terrace — with a gorgeous view of downtown Houston — that was once the Sears roof.

Can the Historic Sears Sign Be Saved?

Removed from the former retail building, this blackened Sears sign was removed from the retail building on Main Street in Houston. Photo credit: Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report. copyright 2021

The beautiful marble columns have been retained, as has the terrazzo tile on the main floor.  The massive central escalator – the first in Houston when the store opened in 1939, no longer connects the floors. The 40-foot Sears sign has also been saved. Grover said RMC hopes a creative future use can be found for it as an art piece.

The building is pursuing Platinum Wired Score, WELL Building, and LEED Gold Certification. Among its wellness components is a large bike storage and showers.  “We are creating a district that will be walkable and we want to encourage bike commuting and public transit,” says Grover.

Who else could possibly be trusted with the transformation of a space so dear to the hearts of Houstonians? Gensler and SHoP Architects of New York City, a firm of craftspeople, problem solvers and highly trained specialists charged with designing for the future collaborated to create an architectural feat that will no doubt attract national and international attention. ShoP recently completed the design of Uber’s new headquarters -a pair of 6 and 11-story buildings in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.

Mr. Gerald D. Hines

Hines, the Houston-based real estate development firm founded by the late Mr. Gerald D. Hines, is managing the redevelopment of The Ion.

Described as understated but suave, the sleek dark glass walls with bronze accents. Unlike some glass buildings, the two do not have a uniform skin.  Some are clear enough to see the metal staircases inside while others are laminated to shield the sun. There is a natural ventilation component, which includes portions of the building’s skin that are designed to open, with paired panels folding out like an accordion.

Meyerland’s Lymbar Drive – Roots Run Deep

The Ion has four interesting new restaurants on board, including The Lymbar, a collaboration between Latin chef Michael and David Cordua, marking a return of the father-son restaurant team that left Houston in 2018. The Lymbar is named for Lymbar Drive, the neighborhood street in Meyerland where Michael Cordua grew up, along with neighbors like the Droubi family, of Droubi’s Bakery and Mediterranean Delicatessen. Architect Gin Braverman of Gin Design Group, another childhood friend of Lymbar Drive, designed the ground level concept with 120 seats spread over 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining space. An open kitchen and bar with an emphasis on barrel-aged spirits will provide refreshment for the entrepreneurial set. A sampling Thursday revealed globally inspired flavors in Latin, South American and Mediterranean dishes.

Flavors Galore in New Ion Restaurants

Joining the Corduas will be Common Bond On-the-Go, a version of the well-known Montrose bakery. Common Bond president George Joseph said he brought in Sarah Ono Jones from the Food Network to lead his hand-crafted cake team. Jones has made cakes for Cirque de Soleil and is well respected for her creativity with wedding cakes.

A new restaurant, Late August, led by Chris Williams and Dawn Burrell of Lucille’s brings international flavor from Cuba, Jamaica and several African countries. A fourth venue, Stuff’d Wings, a popular food truck at 6402 Tierwester in the Third Ward revered for stuffed boudin and chicken wings will soon have a brick-and-mortar location at The Ion. That will be a first for owner Jarrod D. Rector, a native Houstonian.

There will be parking in a soon-to-be-erected multilevel garage in back of the nearby Greentown Labs, which occupies the space that once housed a large Fiesta grocery.

Coworking operator Common Desk will occupy an entire floor in The Ion to provide flexible work arrangements to startups.

A 16-Acre Challenge

In 1945, Rice University leased the land to Sears under a 99-year agreement. In 2017, the management company bought the department store out of its lease as it was closing stores across the country.

Rice Management controls 16 acres around The Ion, which is near METRO Rail’s Wheeler Station and an awkward transit pathway that runs in the street, instead of being elevated or below grade, like many urban transit systems. On the south of The Ion, the rail line comes at a diagonal over from Fannin to Main and it’s extremely confusing to drivers.

Rice Management intends to redevelop the entire 16-acre district, which is dominated by surface parking lots and underdeveloped retail and commercial. A couple of blocks away, under a freeway bridge, there was a major homeless encampment that was closed down by the city health department a few years ago so city workers in hazmat suits could hose it down.

May 12, 2021 Realty News Report Copyright 2021

For more about Texas real estate, check out the book Houston 2020: America’s Boom Town – An Extreme Close Up  by Ralph Bivins. Available on Amazon







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