Rice University will transform the former Sears property in Midtown into an innovation center for technology companies as part of a broader effort to spur on the local startup community in the wake of Houston’s failed bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.
The four-story, 190,000-square-foot landmark retail center and surrounding parcels of land will be renovated into a startup incubator featuring co-working spaces, classrooms, offices, as well as as restaurants, cafes, shops and other amenities.
The $100 million redevelopment, formally announced by university, city and business leaders Thursday morning, would revitalize a long-neglected stretch of Main Street by attracting new technology companies and venture-capital firms. It also would help the region further diversify from its blue-collar roots.
We can no longer be in the shadow of Chicago or Silicon Valley,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding that Houston has lagged in attracting startups. “We’ve got to tap into our collective resources, our collective talents and collective brainpower to compete globally.”
City and business leaders have long envisioned a centralized tech hub where a creative work force can collaborate on cutting-edge technologies and tap into academic, financial and business expertise on site. The innovation would focus on such core industries as energy, health care, data and logistics.
Thursday’s announcement sprang from a year-long effort to make that vision a reality. The leaders convened two task forces, commissioned consulting firm Accenture to develop a strategic plan and toured several technology hubs around the world, including 1871 in Chicago, Tech Square in Atlanta and Tech City in London.
However, when Amazon eliminated Houston in the first round of candidates for its HQ2 earlier this year, it exposed the city’s chronic shortcomings in attracting technology companies and accelerated plans to develop an innovation district to foster startups.
Houston was the largest city nationally to be taken out of the running for the e-commerce giant’s coveted $5 billion campus and 50,000 jobs.
“I think there is a growing realization that Houston needs to act and act quickly to build up the digital economy,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. “The Amazon result served as a catalyst for much more immediate action than we had previously anticipated.”