Planning to open in the coming months, The Ion Houston has made great progress on its construction. Scroll down to view the slideshow. Photo by Natalie Harms

The Ion Houston is expected to open its doors this year, and the building's exterior is close to completion. Now, the construction team is focusing on interiors and then tenant build outs.

The 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub owned and managed by Rice Management Co. is slated to be a convening building for startups, corporations, academic partners, investors, and more. The building is organized as follows:

  • The underground Lower Level will act as academic flex space with a few classrooms and open-concept desks for The Ion's accelerators, including: The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, DivInc, the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator, and the Aerospace Innovation Hub and Accelerator. There will also be an event space and The Ion's own programming.
  • On the first, street-level floor, The Ion's restaurant tenants will reside with access from both the greenspace as well as into the building. The Ion's first three restaurant tenants include: Late August, Common Bond, and STUFF'd Wings.
  • Additionally, the first floor will be home to a venture studio and the prototyping lab. There is additional space available for other tenants.
  • On the second floor, there will be 58,000 square feet of coworking space managed by Common Desk. Note: For floors 2 and up of the Ion, tenants will have access cards that allow them entrance. The first and lower floors will not require access cards.
  • The third floor of the building will house eight to 10 tenants each with 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of space. Chevron was announced as the first tenant and will reside on this floor.
  • On the fourth and fifth floors, The Ion will house one to two larger tenants on each level. These levels of the building were added on to the existing structure. The fourth floor features two balconies that tenants will have access to. Microsoft is signed on to have its space on half of the fifth floor.
The Ion is still planning on an open date in late spring or summer. For leasing information, click here. Scroll through the slideshow of construction images and renderings to see the progress of the building.

Exterior nears completion

Photo by Natalie Harms

The building's exterior is almost complete and kept much of the original building's facade. The new materials brought in match the existing color scheme.

The Ion has named three new tenants — and they are bringing something tasty to the innovation district. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion Houston reveals 3 new restaurant tenants

Eye on the ion

The Ion revealed its first three restaurants tenants. When it opens this summer, Midtown's innovation-focused mixed-use development will be home to Late August, Common Bond, and STUFF'd Wings.

Currently under construction at the site of the former Sears at Main and Wheeler, The Ion serves as the anchor for an innovation district led by Rice Management Co. The 288,000-square-foot building will host a variety of uses, including co-working spaces, maker resources, classrooms, event spaces, and eateries.

First announced last week, Late August will be a new project from Lucille's Hospitality Group chef-owner Chris Williams and Dawn Burrell, the Olympian-turned-chef who earned a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination for her work at Kulture and will be competing on the new season of Top Chef. In homage to the building's history as a Sears department store, the restaurant's name references the time of year when Sears mailed its famous catalog.

Burrell's menu will "explore the soul of Afro-Asian flavors" with lunch, brunch, and dinner items. She will preview some of the dishes and ideas in a series of pop-ups named for her Pivot meal kit delivery service.

"Our goal with Late August is to honor the origins of the property, while also tapping into its future," Williams said in a statement. "Under chef Dawn's leadership, I'm confident that the food will not only match the ethos of its surroundings, but also bring a fresh take to Houston's immensely talented culinary scene."

Common Bond On-the-Go Ion will repurpose the cafe's new drive-thru format for the complex. Expect all of its signature croissants, cookies, and pastries, along with breakfast dishes, cold sandwiches, and salads. The cafe will offer both indoor and outdoor seating.

"We look forward to bonding over good food, extraordinary pastries, and great coffee with Houston's entrepreneurial community — as well as all Houstonians who visit and utilize The Ion's resources — within its state-of-the-art collaborative environment," says Common Bond CEO George Joseph.

Third Ward food truck STUFF'd is getting a brick-and-mortar space. Photo courtesy of The Ion

STUFF'd Wings will provide a brick-and-mortar home to the Third Ward-based food truck in a 2,400-square-space that's adjacent to The Ion. As its name implies, the restaurant's wings are stuffed with options that include three different kinds of boudin and mac and cheese. The restaurant will allow proprietors Prisoria and Jarrod Rector to expand their with smoked wings, milkshakes, and other new creations.

"The new restaurants coming to The Ion and District showcase Houston's deep culinary culture and local flare that Houstonians identify and connect with," adds Rice Management Company's Sam Dike.

The Ion previously named Texas coworking company Common Desk to develop and manage The Ion's more than 58,000 square feet of experiential, flexible office space on the second floor of the building and Transwestern to oversee property management for all of The Ion through its building, tenant, vendor, compliance, client, and administrative services.

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Microsoft has announced it will be leasing space in The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

Microsoft announces lease in rising Houston innovation hub

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Microsoft and Rice Management Company — the owner and management of The Ion, a rising innovation hub in Houston — announced that the tech company will be leasing space on the 288,000 square-foot building's fifth floor.

"Over the last several years, Microsoft has made it clear it is committed to Houston," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a press release. "With the work Microsoft is already doing with the City and The Ion to support entrepreneurs, workforce development and energy transition, it is only fitting its new home should be in our City's hub for innovation. This news is an exciting next step in our partnership with Microsoft as we continue to grow Houston's innovation ecosystem and become a leader in the global energy transition."

Microsoft has an existing partnership with The Ion and is a founding sponsor of its Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator. Earlier this year, the technology leader has also committed $1 million to skills programming.

"The Ion is fast becoming a hub for Houston's startup community and driving forward innovation in energy transition technologies," says Ravi Krishnaswamy, corporate vice president of Azure Global Industry at Microsoft, in the release. "My team and I are excited to get to work there, supporting Microsoft's vision of powering a sustainable future and accelerating energy transition with the expertise of partners, customers, and industry."

According to the press release, Microsoft will also be a programming partner for The Ion and will host advancement opportunities and events, including a monthly executive forum and virtual symposiums, and support future accelerators for advanced manufacturing, digital skilling, and smart and resilient city innovation.

"The Ion and Microsoft will provide the necessary tools and knowledge needed to become more resilient, strengthen our workforce and create new innovations to accelerate the energy transition," says Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director, in the release. "We were delighted this summer when we announced Microsoft's sponsorship of The Ion programming and are now even more ecstatic to welcome a division of Microsoft to its new home. My team and I look forward to showcasing our great programs that are enabled by corporate sponsors like Microsoft to the entrepreneurs, academics, corporations and community in Houston and around the world."

Microsoft's partnership with The Ion, which is set to open in just a few months, is due in part to the city's collaboration with Microsoft.

"Having Microsoft as a major tenant is a huge step forward in realizing the vision for The Ion as a dynamic hub bringing together key elements of innovation in Houston," Rice President David Leebron says in the release. "We are very grateful to Microsoft and Mayor Turner for advancing this vision."

A coworking company and a real estate firm have been tapped by The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

Rising Houston innovation hub announces real estate partners

eye on the ion

Last week, Rice Management Co. announced the latest partners for The Ion. A Houston-based real estate management firm and a Dallas-based coworking company have signed onto the project.

Texas coworking company Common Desk, which recently opened a new space in Houston's east downtown, was tapped to develop and manage The Ion's more than 58,000 square feet of experiential, flexible office space on the second floor of the building.

"For a project as special as The Ion, it was important that we selected a flexible office space operator that understood the building's ethos as a space for collaboration and innovation," says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Direct Real Estate at RMC, in a news release. "From the moment we met with the Common Desk team, it was clear they represented the right balance of sophistication and excitement and shared a commitment to creating a sense of community."

Additionally, Common Desk will be responsible for a coffee bar and maintaining a vibrant and engaging space for tenants, startups, and community members.

"We're thrilled to be a part of this prestigious project and are looking forward to offering individuals, small businesses, and high-growth companies the chance to experience the unique programming and innovative spirit of the building," says Dawson Williams, head of real estate at Common Desk, in the release. "We're excited to be a strategic gateway to helping Houstonians experience all The Ion has to offer."

RMC tapped Transwestern to oversee property management for all of The Ion through its building, tenant, vendor, compliance, client, and administrative services.

"Very few companies have Transwestern's breadth of experience and proven success of managing high-quality, talent-attracting workplaces," LeVasseur says in the release. "Add to that the company's deep roots in Houston, and we're confident we're working with the best team to ensure a flawless, attractive, activated, and efficiently operated hub for the growth of Houston's innovation ecosystem."

Based in Houston, Transwestern has over 400 properties locally across office, multifamily, health care, and other industries.

"Transwestern is excited to work alongside Rice Management Corporation as property and facilities manager for The Ion, while contributing to its mission of innovation, collaboration and inclusion," says Kevin Roberts, Southwest President at Transwestern, in the release. "As Transwestern continues to elevate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, we are proud to stand alongside The Ion in supporting minority and women-owned businesses in enabling innovation that will shape the future of Houston."

Chevron has signed on to have space in The Ion. The company will also be a program partner. Photo courtesy of The Ion

Rising innovation hub announces Chevron as first tenant and program partner

eye on the ion

Chevron is the first tenant to sign a lease at The Ion, an innovation hub rising in Midtown Houston's former Sears building.

The Ion, a Rice Management Co. project expecting to premiere at 4201 Main St. in spring 2021, announced the new tenant and program partnership this week.

"Our first tenant at The Ion is one of the most recognizable brands in the world," says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Real Estate at Rice Management Co., in a news release. "We're thrilled to welcome Chevron into the Innovation District. They'll be the first of many companies, local startups, and business owners who make a home at and around The Ion as we continue to develop this groundbreaking, mixed-use space."

Chevron's Houston-based corporate investing arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, will be leading the space. The location can also be used by employees for networking, professional development and other opportunities within the innovation ecosystem.

"We are thrilled to support The Ion as a key component of Houston's growing innovation ecosystem," says Barbara Burger, president of CTV, in the release. "We have a long history in Houston with its role as the global energy capital. We believe The Ion will help to ensure that Houston retains that distinction and plays a leading role in the energy transition through innovation."

Founded in 1999, CTV has been an integral part of the Houston innovation ecosystem with its investment efforts and Catalyst Program. Recently, the group added two new startups to the accelerator.

CTV and Chevron in general have an existing relationship with The Ion and its team team, and Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion, says he's excited for the relationship continue.

"By becoming our first tenant and a founding program partner, Chevron has shown it is committed to ensuring The Ion is Houston's premier destination for innovators, entrepreneurs, and academics to collaborate on workforce development, build tech-enabled businesses, and support the community," says Odegard in the release. "We're grateful to welcome such an esteemed organization to our space with which we share the same mission and values."

Jan Odegard has been named interim executive director of the Ion. Photo courtesy of The Ion

Houston innovation hub names interim leader

eye on the ion

A developing innovation hub rising in Midtown Houston has named an interim executive director following the sudden exit of its former leader.

Jan Odegard has been named interim executive director of the Ion after Gabriella Rowe announced her resignation. Odegard has served as senior director of Academic and Industry Partnerships at The Ion for six months and as the executive director of Rice University's Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology since 2002.

"I am excited to help move forward and ensure the Ion is a success," Odegard says in a press release from Rice. "My interim role is made easier by the fact that everyone involved in the Ion, including Rice Management Co., is focused on making it a success for all Houstonians."

Rice Management Co. is leading The Ion project, a renovation of an old 270,000-square-foot Sears building. The goal is to create an innovation hub for startups, entrepreneurs, academics, corporations, and more.

"We're already supporting business owners, the community and entrepreneurs," Odegard says in the release. "Our building is slated to open in early 2021, but the Ion is more than a place. It is the programming, partnerships and resources we are creating to support Houston's innovation and tech economy, and above all, it is the people who are coming together to take part and join us."

In an interview with InnovationMap, Rowe shared details of her resignation and says that she will continue focusing on technology and equity.

"I am stepping back from the Ion role in order to focus my time exclusively with the issues of equity and access in growing our tech ecosystem and economy," Rowe says, "because I think that is going to be an instrumental part of the recovery of Houston moving forward."

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Comcast donates tech, funds to support diversity-focused nonprofit

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A Houston organization focused on helping low-income communities by providing access to education, training, and employment has received a new donation.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program announced the a donation of a $30,000 financial grant and 1,000 laptops to SERJobs. The gift is part of a new partnership with SERJobs that's aimed at educating and equipping adults with technical skills, including training on Microsoft Office and professional development.

“SERJobs is excited to celebrate 10 years of Comcast's Internet Essentials program,” says Sheroo Mukhtiar, CEO, SERJobs, in a news release. “The Workforce Development Rally highlights the importance of digital literacy in our increasingly virtual world—especially as technology and the needs of our economy evolve. We are grateful to Comcast for their ongoing partnership and support of SERJobs’ and our members.”

For 10 years Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected more than 10 million people to the Internet at home — most for the first time. This particular donation is a part of Project UP, Comcast’s comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity.

“Ten years is a remarkable milestone, signifying an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration with our incredible community partners across Houston,” says Toni Beck, vice president of external affairs at Comcast Houston, in the release.

“Together, we have connected hundreds of thousands of people to the power of the Internet at home, and to the endless opportunity, education, growth, and discovery it provides," she continues. "Our work is not done, and we are excited to partner with SERJobs to ensure the next generation of leaders in Houston are equipped with the technical training they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.”

It's not the first time the tech company has supported Houston's low-income families. This summer, Comcast's Internet Essentials program and Region 4 Education Service Center partnered with the Texas Education Agency's Connect Texas Program to make sure Texas students have access to internet services.

Additionally, Comcast set up an internet voucher program with the City of Houston last December, and earlier this year, the company announced 50 Houston-area community centers will have free Wi-Fi connections for three years. Earlier this year, the company also dedicated $1 million to small businesses struggling due to the pandemic that are owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

President Joe Biden appoints Houston green space guru to lofty national post

new gig

Aprominent and nationally acclaimed Houston parks presence has just received a hefty national appointment. President Joe Biden has named Beth White, Houston Parks Board president and CEO, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the organization announced.

The NCPC, established by Congress in 1924, is the federal government’s central planning agency for the National Capital Region. The commission provides overall guidance related to federal land and buildings in the region. Functions include reviewing the design of federal and local projects, overseeing long-range planning for future development, and monitoring capital investment by federal agencies.

Fittingly, White was initially appointed to NCPC as the at-large presidential commissioner in January 2012, per a press release. She was reappointed for another six-year term in 2016. Most recently, White served as the commission’s vice-chair.

“I’m honored to chair the National Capital Planning Commission and work with my fellow commissioners to build and sustain a livable, resilient capital region and advance the Biden Administration’s critical priorities around sustainability, equity, and innovation,” White said in a statement.

Before joining Houston Parks Board in 2016, White served as the director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land, where she spearheaded development of The 606 public park and was instrumental in establishing Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge.

Renowned in the Windy City, she also was managing director of communications and policy for the Chicago Housing Authority; chief of staff for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Chicago Transit Board; and assistant commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. She was the founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Urban Land Institute Houston.

The graduate of Northwestern and Loyola universities most recently received the Houston Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEO award, per her bio.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.