Mayor Announces New Innovation Corridor in Midtown Houston

(Photo courtesy of Rice University)

Houston is on the cusp of creating a culture of innovation, said Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday, April 12 as he announced the transformation of one Midtown Houston’s iconic landmarks.

The Sears building at 4201 S. Main Street at Wheeler Avenue, built in 1938, is about to undergo a two-year renovation to create a 200,000-square-foot center for innovation and technology which will bring top-paying jobs to the area, the mayor added.

“This is a very important day for the entire City of Houston,” he said. “We see this as a site of opportunity in this building. It signals a transformational moment that will allow various stakeholders to come to the table in a collaborative way.”

The corridor will house space for corporate innovation, cross-industry collisions, a business incubator and accelerator, prototyping, co-working, an academic presence, programming, and events, and food and entertainment, all of which will bring top-paying jobs, the mayor said.

The plan to develop an “innovation ecosystem” brings to fruition long-standing efforts by the Mayor’s Task Force on Innovation, the Rice Business Plan Competition, TMCx, Houston Exponential, RED Labs, and several expanding creative workspaces across the city.

The four-story building sits on nine and a half acres that are part of Rice University’s real estate endowment, which previously leased the space to Sears for 99 years. Rice Management Co. bought out the remaining portion of the lease in October just before the retail store shut its doors in January.

The site of the new innovation center gives new life to a Midtown Houston historic treasure,” said Matt Thibodeaux, Executive Director of Midtown Houston. “It aligns with the district’s vision for the community, with emphasis on innovation and sustainability.”

Alan Arnold, Rice Management’s investment director, said every effort will be made to preserve the character of the 80-year-old Art Deco building. The renovation is in an “exploratory stage,” he added, and hidden historical and architectural surprises are still being discovered.

“The challenge is to save what we can of the old while making way for the new,” he said.

Architect James Carpenter, known for his work with light and glass, will collaborate with architectural firm Gensler to open up the space with more natural light, Arnold added.

The site of the new innovation center in Midtown Houston is ideal because of its proximity to downtown and the Texas Medical Center. Seven colleges and universities, including Rice, and the Texas Medical Center are all located within a two-mile radius of the building with Houston’s MetroRail line running directly in front.

“The innovation district will leverage the region’s unique economic strengths and help transform Houston into a world leader in data science and digital technologies centered on energy, industrial, healthcare, and logistics industries,” Rice President David Leebron said. “We aim to attract talent and support all stages of the innovation life cycle.”

“We know a little something about innovation in this city,” Mayor Turner added. “And now, it’s time.”