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.

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Building Houston

 
 

innovation delivered

Self-driving pizza delivery goes live in Houston

Domino's and Nuro announced their partnership in 2019 — and now the robots are hitting the roads. Photo courtesy of Nuro

After announcing their partnership to work on pizza deliveries via self-driving robots in 2019, Dominos and Nuro have officially rolled out their technology to one part of town.

Beginning this week, if you place a prepaid order from Domino's in Woodland Heights (3209 Houston Ave.), you might have the option to have one of Nuro's R2 robot come to your door. This vehicle is the first do deliver completely autonomously without occupants with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a news release.

"We're excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino's customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer, in the release. "There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Orders placed at select dates and times will have the option to be delivered autonomously. Photo courtesy of Nuro

The Nuro deliveries will be available on select days and times, and users will be able to opt for the autonomous deliveries when they make their prepaid orders online. They will then receive a code via text message to use on the robot to open the hatch to retrieve their order.

"Nuro's mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we're launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino's," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We're excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino's customers in Houston. We can't wait to see what they think."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Steam the episode here.

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