Seeds planted

Historic Houston Farmers Market officially breaks ground on transformation project

Houston officially has an innovative culinary mecca in the works. Courtesy of Houston Farmers Market

The massive effort to transform the Houston Farmers Market into one of the city's leading culinary attractions finally has a timeline. MLB Capital Partners, the local investment firm that purchased the almost 18-acre tract at the corner of Airline Drive and 610 in 2017, broke ground on the project Tuesday, August 6, with a goal of completing the work by late 2020.

"As the country's fourth-largest city and leading culinary capital, Houston is long overdue for a world-class market," said MLB Capital Partners managing principal Todd Mason in a statement. "We are thrilled to reinvigorate this local landmark into an experiential destination for both Houstonians and visitors to enjoy."

MLB's changes to the property will include "new climate-controlled spaces, shaded open-air market areas, restrooms, and common seating areas," according to a release. Better traffic flow and expanded parking areas will separate commercial traffic from pedestrians, and expanded facilities will accommodate a host of new merchants and food vendors. The market will remain open during the renovations.

James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd is serving as a culinary consultant on the project and will open a new concept at the market, which shouldn't come as a surprising considering Mason is also Shepherd's partner in Underbelly Hospitality. Other participants in the project include landscape architecture firm Clark Condon Associates, Studio RED Architects, Houston-based consulting firm Gunda Corporation, and Arch-Con Construction.

"We'll be doing something here," Shepherd tells CultureMap. "As far as what that is, I've narrowed it down to about 50 things."

Renovations to the market will include new greenspaces. Courtesy of Houston Farmers Market


Shepherd is also working with Mason to identify the vendors that will occupy the market's new stalls. While some have expressed concerns about the market losing its character, Mason told CultureMap in 2017 that he wants to preserve what people like about the market while enhancing the overall experience.

"When you really start talking to people about what they like, what they like is there's a lot of different cultures and there are things you can get and see there that you can't get anywhere else," Mason said. "We'll keep those tenants. I don't think we'll have to charge them much if any more rent. We'll still have an open air market with vendors selling directly to you. All of that experience will still be there, but it will be a cleaner, safer environment."

For his part, Shepherd sees the project as a positive development.

"I think it's amazing what's going on," he says. "I think, 10 years from now, you're going to look back and be like this was the moment where we changed the city a little bit . . . It is one of those defining things that will bring a lot of tourism over here."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Florida startup Fit:Match chose Houston for its first location of its AI-enabled retail store. Photo via shopfitmatch.com

In November, on the first floor of Friendswood's Baybrook Mall, wedged between the Abercrombie & Fitch and the Apple Store, a small studio popped up. At the window, a bubblegum assortment of balloons replaced the usual spruced-up manakin, and the shop is sparse for racks of clothing.

That's because the Fit:Match studio isn't really trying to sell clothes — it's trying to help you buy them online. By fusing artificial intelligence with retail shopping, Fit:Match makes ordering clothes online more trustworthy. The writing on the walls promised to revolutionize the way that people could: "Shop what fits. Not what doesn't," reads a neon sign. The tech might not only reduce long waits for the dressing room — it could abolish it altogether.

"You never have to try on clothes again," says Haniff Brown, founder of the Florida-native startup.

The store does have a fitting room, but Brown says it's not really for trying on clothes — it's for preparing to "get fitched," the process through which the imaging tech measures a customer's body.

It's fitting that the pop-up sits next to the iPhone giant. Fit:Match uses the same 3D imaging tech as Apple's FaceID, Brown says, which blasts infrared light at thousands of dots at a user's face. Where the light bounces off, the AI technology images the person's face. The sensors at the Fit:Match studio in Baybrook Mall expand this to the rest of the body. In 10 seconds, the AI sensor lets people sketches a customer's shape through 150 measurements.

Those measurements become indicators of how well a piece of clothing will fit the wearer. In the initial phase of the project, Brown's team fitched thousands of women — wanting to keep things neat, the company hasn't ventured into men's fashion yet — and compared the scores of the AI's algorithm with how the women scored their own clothes.

Now, once a customer has been fitched at the Baybrook studio, she can log online through an app or the company site and sift through thousands of clothes that will likely fit her. Each clothing item — mostly smaller brands that range from eclectic pieces and dresses to athleisure right now, Brown says, although he's already working to partner with better-known labels — is rated with a percentage of how well it's likely to fit the individual customer, based on her measurements and on how snug or loose she likes her wear. From the array of brands, she'll get specific matches — clothes that have a 90 percent chance or higher of fitting — that might look completely different from a friend's. Over time, the app will also update her on the latest matches.

"You're going to have this personalized wallet," Brown says, adding that this will also decrease a store's rate of return. "You will see a completely truncated assortment of clothes that are meant to fit you."

The Baybrook Mall hosts Fit:Match's first location. Brown says he chose the Houston area for its size and demographics, calling it a "hotbed to test new ideas, to get traction, to get customer feedback," and is even considering expanding to the Woodlands Mall and other places around Texas, too. It's also not far from the Austin-based Capital Factory, which brought Fit:Match under its wing late last year to help the startup raise $5 million.

In the meantime, the five-member management team at Fit:Match is focused on getting more Houstonians fitched. In the first month of operations, the studio measured more than 1,200 mallgoers, and Brown says the company could fitch a quarter million in the next two or three years.

"We think that the opportunity here is immense," Brown says.