The Ion Innovation District Master Plan and Development Strategy
HR&A is serving as strategic partner and development advisor to Rice Management Company, which manages the Rice University Endowment, for both The Ion and broader 16-acre Ion District, overseeing real estate and programmatic development of the project with the goals of creating a thriving and inclusive tech ecosystem in Houston.
Beginning in 2018, HR&A managed the recruitment of a planning and urban design team and the development of a master plan that prioritizes the public realm, creates investment value over time, and supports the resilience of the Houston economy. The plan draws on an examination of precedent innovation districts across the country, assessment of market supply and demand in Houston, and cutting-edge urban design and open space planning. At full buildout, the project will include 3-5 million square feet of mixed-use development
To catalyze the District, HR&A managed the design and development process of The Ion on behalf of RMC by overseeing the transformation of the 266,000-square foot former Sears Department Store into an innovation hub to bring Houston’s entrepreneurial, corporate, academic, investment, and community members together. HR&A led the financial planning, tenanting strategy, programming, operator solicitations and partnership development, community engagement, and branding processes to ensure that the building benefits its neighbors by fostering an inclusive, welcoming neighborhood and creating equitable economic opportunities. The Ion now houses classrooms, a large forum staircase for events and programming, flexible workspaces for startups and investors operated by Common Desk, and offices for major tech tenants, including Microsoft and Chevron Technology Ventures. The Ion is also now home to three minority-owned restaurants. HR&A also supported RMC and its community partners in developing a Community Benefits Agreement signed with the City of Houston. Concurrently, HR&A provided the analysis underlying a substantial development agreement between Rice Management Company and the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone that will support district infrastructure.
In Spring 2022, RMC, the City of Houston, and its partners celebrated the official grand opening of the Ion. With The Ion fully operational, HR&A is now supporting RMC in the selection of a development partner for the next phase of the 16-acre District. This work includes drafting solicitation documents, marketing the project to potential developers, reviewing proposals, and advising on partner selection and negotiation. Already, the Ion District is home to Greentown Labs, Houston’s first climate-tech incubator and a development partner for the next phase of the District is expected to be announced in 2023.