The historic four-story Sears building on the corner of Main and Wheeler has long awaited its renovation, after plans were announced in April 2018 for a new “innovation district” in Midtown encompassing 9.4 acres anchored by the former retail structure. The project, which rechristens the Sears building “The Ion,” was conceived as a hub designed to bring Houston’s entrepreneurial and technological ecosystem to a centralized space for investors. Ground was broken in late July.

The Ion will be the 270,000SF center of a four-mile stretch from downtown to the Texas Medical Center where entrepreneurial, corporate and academic communities will meet through collaborative spaces and programs. The project will support start-up businesses at all phases of their life cycle and provide resources such as entrepreneurial workshops, thought-leadership conferences, industry lectures and networking opportunities.

Houston’s newest innovation district is expected to spur retail and office space real estate development in the area, and the commercial real estate industry has embraced the startup community as a way to expand small businesses in a city that has been a challenging place to get venture capitalist dollars. But with a strong local economy, job growth and diversity, innovation infrastructure has a prime opportunity to expand in the Bayou City.

The Rice Management Company, which manages the Rice University endowment, is spearheading the effort. It’s expected to be completed in late 2020, continuing to drive Houston’s real estate market and local business economy forward.