The Ion and South Main Innovation District Master Plan and Development Strategy

Rice University is creating Houston’s first innovation district to grow the local tech economy, attract new investment, and foster entrepreneurial talent.


Houston has the third-highest concentration of STEM workers in the country and an abundance of innovation occurring at its universities and leading companies. Nevertheless, the city is not known as a hub of entrepreneurship and has struggled to attract private investment. Rice University is seeking to change this narrative by creating Houston’s first innovation district.
Rice Management Company, the university’s endowment manager, owns 14 acres in Midtown Houston anchored by a historic Sears department store and hopes to transform the underutilized assets into a vibrant innovation hub and district. To accomplish their goals, Rice engaged HR&A to serve as project manager for both the Sears building and broader district, overseeing both the real estate and programmatic development of the project.


HR&A is managing the implementation process on behalf of RMC by overseeing 15 firms working on the design and construction of the building. HR&A is also leading the financial planning, tenanting, programming, partnership, community engagement, and branding processes to ensure that the building serves as a vibrant and inclusive place for all Houstonians to collaborate and interact.
For the surrounding district, HR&A is concurrently supporting the development of a master plan that 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. As project manager, HR&A is ensuring that the Sears building construction and implementation processes maintain a pace that will ensure delivery in alignment with the broader master plan.


In 2018, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Rice University publicly announced plans for the new South Main Innovation District and, in July 2019, broke ground on The Ion, the district’s innovation hub in the renovated Sears building. Rice Management Company anticipates the launch of The Ion in early 2021.