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Face to Face: The Ion’s executive director has big plans for the new district

Face to Face: The Ion’s executive director has big plans for the new district

The Ion stands in Houston’s Midtown as a symbol of the future and a reference to the city’s past. The sleek building opened in 2021 after an expansive $100 million renovation to bring the 1939 Sears department store into this century.

The innovation hub plays host to several technology giants, such as Chevron, Microsoft and Transwestern, but the vision is to be more than the landlord of innovators. The Ion District will eventually stretch across the 16 acres controlled by Rice Management Co. to become a destination for entrepreneurs and collaborators to gather for work and play, with retail, restaurants and, potentially, multifamily living.

The building is already 86% leased, with the recent addition of 10 tenants including Rice University’s Office of Innovation. The opening of the highly anticipated Late August restaurant by “Top Chef” alumna chef Dawn Burrell is set for this June, which promises to draw even more attention and visitors to the Ion.

Executive Director Jan Odegard has been involved with the Ion since it opened its doors, first as senior director for industry and academic partnerships. Odegard spent more than 18 years at Rice University, with his last position as the executive director of Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology.

Odegard sat down with the Houston Business Journal to talk about the Ion District’s potential and what’s next for the tech hub.

What is the thought process behind the Ion’s development and tenants?

When we started thinking about building our innovation hub, it was like, “Well, what is that and what ingredients does it need to have,” and it became very clear very quickly that you have to create a place where people want to be.

It needs to be mixed-use because you need to have different stakeholders feel like this is a home for them. So, we have restaurants and food and beverages.

We have programs and open spaces with our partners and for our partners. We also needed to figure out flexible office access, so there’s a place for that, and we have coworking spaces in the building. And then we wanted to have corporations in the building that was part of that full value chain — for entrepreneurs with ideas that want to get into the tech ecosystem to collide with people that are looking for a talent pipeline and looking for new companies and startups.

We wanted to build the entire ecosystem and then repeat it across the district and actually add even more dimensionality to it so that it truly becomes a place where you want to never leave. You want to come here, be here, live here, work here, play here, so that’s an important part of what we do.

The most recent addition to the Ion District was a parking garage. We needed that asset to allow the district to be pedestrian first, no tunnels on the ground, no sky bridges. People in the center, people are the energy. People are what generate value and ideas. Every ground plane will be accessible to take the outdoor spaces and connect them to the indoor part of the building. It could be retail, could be restaurants, could be more kind of lobby spaces that have functions in various ways.

The initial build-up was done as a strategic investment by Rice’s endowment. Future ones will be done more as a joint venture with developers where we’re looking that they will invest in most of the vertical while we kind of do land leases and some ground plane activation.

Why do you think multifamily living options need to be included in the Ion District?

I think this is what people are looking for. You’re looking for that place where your office is next door and you have access to things that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. I think all of these spaces are amenities that actually create value even for residential spaces. If I think about myself, I want to live in a place where I have access to restaurants and people that are changing the world and whatnot, and I don’t want to get in my car. I’d rather leave my car in the garage. I may be biased because I’m European.

The Ion District’s Community Investment Report was recently released, which details the most recent results of Rice University’s Community Benefits Agreement with the City of Houston, including housing affordability and inclusive hiring. What are you seeing in terms of the surrounding communities merging with the Ion?

When we look at the people we pull in here, we see part of that community. Our doors are open. We’re inviting them to come, but they also have to take advantage of it. We’re seeing good traction with the many communities. They’re seeing the value of what we’re doing. When we look at the zip codes that people come from, they come from all zip codes, but they also come from around here.

We’re already making significant investments. We’re continuing to make those investments in the city. We’re going to be announcing a couple of other things and strategic investments in that portfolio very soon. There’s more coming and we’re one year in with that report, we’ve just started year two deployment.

So there’s a lot more to come there, but we are seeing that traction, we’re seeing the engagement.

What are you most excited about right now?

My excitement is really about starting to achieve what we set out to do, which was to showcase Houston and create density around tech and innovation and make that the center of who Houston could be in a few years. I’m also really excited about seeing that we have good representation. It feels good that when we said we were going to make the building work for Houston, seeing that reflected in the kinds of people that come to our event, both in the audience, as well as on stage. It’s important to also think about that when you put people on stage because you want to see somebody that looks like you on the stage.

For those who aren’t necessarily in the tech or entrepreneur space, how could they utilize the Ion?

Give it a chance. Come visit and be open-minded about what it could do for you. Come to Cup of Joey to meet and connect and figure out what your role could be because you could be a subject matter expert, you could be an adviser.

Fully Charged

An Art Deco department store is reimagined as a hub for entrepreneurship and collaboration.

Location: Houston
Client: Rice University
Development Manager: Hines
Architect: SHoP Architects
Facade & Lightwell Designer: James Carpenter Design Associates
Architect of Record and Interior Architect: Gensler
Development Advisor: HR&A Advisors
Structural Engineer: Walter P Moore
MEP Engineer: IAN+A
Lighting Consultant: One Lux Studio
Civil Engineer: Kimley-Horn
Security, AV, & IT Consultant: HMA Consulting
Elevator Consultant: Persohn/Hahn
Acoustical Consultant: Longman Lindsey
Envelope Consultant: Morrison Hershfield
Landscape Architect: James Corner Field Operations

The energy in the air of the Ion is palpable as a throng of visitors mill about, excitedly chatting during a weekly networking event that goes by the name of Cup of Joey. The project’s name, derived from the charged particles that catalyze chemical reactions, is an apt descriptor. Notably absent was the sterile, perfunctory security desk found in most office buildings. Instead, visitors receive a friendly greeting and immediate access to some of Houston’s best local restaurants. It’s apparent that the Ion development team is trying to “think different” (to borrow from Apple’s famous 1990s ad campaign).

Located in Midtown only half a mile from downtown, the Ion building was built in 1939. Originally home to a Sears showroom, it began its second life in March 2021 as the anchor for a much larger endeavor: a district-wide vision to advance and sustain Houston’s economic resilience through the development of the Ion District. In addition to uncovering and preserving much of the building’s original Art Deco detailing, the design team added two new floors to the original three-story structure, bringing the new building to five stories, with a sixth floor below grade. The 266,000-sf structure brings together multiple uses, including Class-A office space, co-working and event spaces, classrooms, prototyping labs, and maker spaces, as well as notable culinary offerings by some of Houston’s finest restauranteurs.

Although the area doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to make it truly walkable, the Ion team hopes to change that. Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, says: “It’s in a perfect location. You have immediate access to a major highway. You have the Red Line that connects downtown all the way to the med center. You’ve got a major connection point here with the Wheeler station that is going to become a major bus and rapid transit thoroughfare. Capitalizing on that and making it a walkable area will only bolster Houston’s future.”

In 2017, the Rice Management Company (RMC) — the entity that manages Rice University’s endowment and that already owned 9 acres in the area — was presented with the opportunity to buy the remaining years of Sears’ ground lease following the department store’s bankruptcy. Around this same time, Amazon was looking for a location for its new headquarters, and the city of Houston approached Rice about putting together a proposal for consideration by the tech behemoth. Though Houston didn’t make the shortlist, Scott Irby, associate manager of Direct Real Estate, RMC, notes that, in retrospect, this was a fortunate turn of events. “It would not have been as impactful as what we have an opportunity to do here,” he says.

RMC opted instead to redevelop the area as a commercial enterprise by leveraging strengths in existing sectors like healthcare and energy and integrating them with the technology sector into a central node. “We realized that technology is something Houston is lacking,” explains Irby. “It’s not lacking in talent. We have entrepreneurship. We have engineering talent. It’s just inside the companies. It’s not really in one place. That’s really what led to the idea of the Ion and the Ion district.”

RMC set to work accumulating more land — eventually taking control of a total of 16 acres — with the vision of building a vibrant, community-oriented district that will host retail, creative office space, hospitality, and multifamily residences while supporting entrepreneurship. Soon after, Rice brought on New York-based SHoP Architects to develop the district master plan and to lead design of the first phase of the project: the Ion building, plaza, and nearby parking garage. James Carpenter Design Associates led the redesign of the building’s skin and central lightwell; Gensler served as architect of record and interior architect for the common spaces; and James Corner Field Operations provided landscape design. “[Rice] is not a developer that’s working in tons of cities around the globe,” explains SHoP project director Anneli Rice. “The whole reason that this district exists, and that The Ion exists, is because Rice is making an investment in Houston. They recognize that the future and the fate of Rice and industry in Houston is tied to this place — the city.”

The building’s programmatic components are intended to support the life cycle of a startup and are organized around a central atrium that slices through the building from top to bottom. The ground floor and lower level contain 50,000 sf of public and shared spaces, which include event spaces, communal workspaces, and drinking and dining options. A 6,500-sf prototyping lab, operated by TXRX Labs, offers large- and small-format 3D printers, classrooms, an electronics design area, a 3D mill, laser cutters, lathes, and power tools. (The original pink terrazzo floors are still visible in the space.) Once a viable prototype has been developed, makers can seek funding from investors just down the hall at the Ion Investor Studio before moving on to an outside facility for large-scale production. Notably, many educators and students regularly use the space, and Axiom Space is using the facilities to develop the Artemis III space suit under a contract for NASA.

Once an enterprise has a need for office space, co-working is a logical first step. With this in mind, the entire second floor is occupied by Common Desk, a popular co-working company that got its start in Dallas. This location, the largest in their portfolio, currently boasts around 600 members representing 260 diverse entities — from nonprofits like BikeHouston to satellites for large corporations, to a luxury sneaker trading company. As an enterprise matures, it can stay within the Ion ecosystem, simply moving up a floor or two into its own private office space; thus, floors three through five are entirely devoted to corporate office space. Recognizing that the leap from co-working to a traditional long-term lease can be difficult, the Ion team opted to operate spaces on the third floor under shorter 1- to 3-year leases. The offices are smaller and come outfitted with kitchenettes, and meeting rooms shared between the floor’s occupants reduce the financial burden on individual enterprises. Offices on floors four and five are available in 5- to 10-year leases, which are suitable for more established entities.

One of the biggest challenges in turning the old department store into a desirable office building was the dearth of daylight. “Daylight was the enemy of shopping,” says Irby. Department stores were intentionally designed to block sunlight, not only to protect the merchandise from the sun’s rays, but also so that shoppers would lose track of time — the same strategy employed by casinos. The entire south side of the building — originally devoted to service space — was entirely windowless, and the only source of daylight to the north was the original Art Deco glass blocks.

Exposing and preserving as much of the historic structure as possible while introducing daylight through a central lightwell were the primary design drivers from day one. New windows that complement the existing glass block punctuate the north half of the building, creating a rhythm that alternates between old and new. The southern half of the building was entirely reskinned with a sleek new curtain wall and perforated metal fins. The newly constructed top two floors, which also employ a structural steel and glass curtain wall system, are recessed to create outdoor balconies — a design move that also diminishes the presence of the new floors when viewing the building from the street level.

The central lightwell was the most challenging design element but also the most rewarding, according to Odegard. Four central columns were removed to make way for the new lightwell, and the remaining slab at each level was hung from the new steel framing over the existing roof level by three-inch diameter stainless steel hanger rods. This approach was used to conceal bulky structural transfer elements while exposing lighter, more architecturally sculpted elements within the occupied space.

Sunlight enters the space through an overhead skylight oriented to the south and refracts off custom perforated metal panels that line the staggered interior balcony railings. (Staggering the balconies provides a secondary benefit of easy visual connection between floors.) Full-spectrum LED lights supplement the natural daylight but can also be programmed to specific color patterns for dramatic effect. Light filters through the entire building down to the lower level, where it illuminates a “forum stair” that functions as a small amphitheater for TED-style talks, panel discussions, and presentations.

At the time of writing, the Ion is nearly 80 percent occupied, a metric that speaks to the success of the project’s first two years. The Ion team is also pursuing WELL Silver certification, demonstrating their commitment to ongoing healthful management of the building. The larger vision for the project, however, is planned to unfold over a decade, and only time will tell as to how the Ion district plays out, particularly in these times of political and economic uncertainty.

Anastasia Calhoun, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, is the editor of Texas Architect.

Second Draught to Bring Robust Selection of Local Craft Beer on Tap to the Ion

The Ion today announced that Second Draught – a 2,000- square-foot taproom from the creators of neighborhood brewpub Baileson Brewing Company – will begin serving a selection of pints from Houston’s 70+ craft breweries on Monday, September 12.

When it opens, Second Draught will boast a rotating array of Houston’s vibrant craft brewers across its 18 beer taps; additionally, it will offer two wines on tap. Local breweries on Second Draught’s taps will include Saint Arnold, Great Heights, True Anomaly, Eureka Heights, Frost Town, and a host of others.

“We are overjoyed to open Second Draught to Houston’s innovation ecosystem – as well as to those stopping into the Ion for innovation-focused and community-centric events – next week,” emphasized Sarah Pope, Co-Founder of Second Draught. “Second Draught is designed to be a communal destination for anyone and everyone who visits the Ion, whether they are here on a daily basis, are coming for a specific program, or are taking advantage of the Ion’s expansive open working areas.”

In step with the Ion’s ethos of empowering entrepreneurs by arming them with access to broader networks, mentorship opportunities, and pathways to funding, Second Draught will provide a platform for Houston’s hyper-local beer scene, including smaller operators whose craft beer will now be readily accessible to the diverse cross-section of individuals populating the Ion’s offices, meeting rooms, and workspaces every day.

Ryan LeVasseur, Managing Director of Direct Real Estate for Rice Management Co., the developer of Ion District, said Second Draught’s opening is exciting – not only because its owners have built a loyal following of local craft beer lovers – but also because it represents RMC’s commitment to diversifying business ownership in Houston. “Women owners have been underrepresented in the industry, and the Ion District seeks partners who bring their unique, local, and entrepreneurial concepts to make this place unlike any other. We also love Second Draught’s commitment to celebrating a broad range of homegrown Houston brewers.”

Cozily offering 66 indoor seats and an additional 20 on the outdoor patio facing the Ion Plaza, Second Draught will be counter service style in its operations with guests ordering drinks at the bar; five HD TVs animate the interior space for sports and other events. Opening just in time for fall football season, the taproom will initially open Monday through Friday from 2 PM to 9 PM, Saturday from 12 PM to 9 PM, and Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM. Hours will be expanded as Second Draught is able to add staff and in conjunction with the openings of Ion restaurants Late August and The Lymbar.

“As the Ion has continued to grow its community of tenants, partners, and collaborators, the need has never been greater for a watering hole for this dynamic group of Houston’s current and future leaders,” said Jan Odegard, the Ion’s Executive Director. “Gathering outside of the office and exchanging ideas in a relaxed environment could spark the next innovation that solves a complex problem. Second Draught brings added vibrancy to the building as programming has expanded and the Ion’s ecosystem continues to evolve,” he added.

About the Ion

Ion: Where ideas go to grow. Located in Ion District, the namesake building is the transformative centerpiece of Houston’s innovation corridor. Designed to bring our city’s entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities into collaborative spaces and programs, the sunlit structure of steel and glass is a home for advancing diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that propel our world forward. From Fortune 500s seeking flexible office space to first-time startups looking for the funding to design a prototype, the Ion provides wide-reaching space and support to connect every What if with What now?—welcoming individuals and teams of all kinds to a place to build a better way.

About Rice Management Company Rice Management Company (RMC) is responsible for the stewardship of Rice University’s endowment. The endowment plays a vital role for Rice. The distributions generated provide approximately 40% of the University’s operating revenues, which makes it the single largest revenue source to the operating budget. The RMC team brings decades of investment management expertise across diversified industries and financial specialties. Through disciplined research and due diligence, we assess and pursue investment strategies that are aligned with the long-term risk/reward profile of the endowment. For more information, please visit investments.rice.edu.

The Ion and Ion District Join The Global Network of Innovation Districts

In a move that further solidifies its position as the home of innovation, The Ion, the epicenter for Houston’s innovation ecosystem, and the forthcoming Ion District, an accessible, walkable, and integrated urban community in Houston’s Midtown have joined a pioneering worldwide collaboration: the Global Network of Innovation Districts. The Ion District is the first innovation district from the state of Texas accepted as a member of the Global Network, which has been developed by The Global Institute on Innovation Districts’ (GIID).

The Global Network is a major initiative created to provide governments and investors with new insights and resources on how to support innovation districts as they re-energize cities. Positioned to become engines of economic development, innovation districts have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive, and sustainable environments.

GIID, led by Julie Wagner and affiliated with the world-renowned Brookings Institution, is the preeminent global organization of thought leaders and developers of institutionally-led innovation districts. Along with 21 other members in the Global Network, including the Pittsburgh Innovation District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis, Missouri, Tech Central in Sydney, Australia, and Knowledge District Zuidas in Amsterdam, Netherlands, The Ion and Ion District will engage, collaborate, and contribute mindshare with innovation districts from across the globe. Additionally, by utilizing the organization’s research to build comprehensive expansion strategies, The Ion and Ion District will have an opportunity to validate its unique value proposition on a global stage.

“GIID’s Global Network is utilizing best practices of world-renowned innovation districts to accelerate regional economies. Their focus on placemaking, startup services, and community engagement are some of the critical components that lead to successful districts,” said Bryson Grover, Investment Manager of Real Estate Development, Rice Management Company, the developer of The Ion and Ion District.

“We are the only venture in Texas accepted into the Global Network to date, which is a testament to our progress and vision. With GIID, we will continue to think creatively about how the built environment and specialized programming can inform future development and allow equitable access to an ever-changing workforce.”

“We’re thrilled for The Ion and Ion District to join our network, especially as it commences its next steps on development later this year,” said Julie Wagner, President of GIID. “Our team has extensive experience working with unique real estate ventures that aim to transform how communities learn, work, and live. We look forward to playing a part in Houston’s transformation, and as we have documented in innovation districts around the world, having a leader like Rice drive the creation of the district is a key ingredient of its continued and growing success.”

Recently completed, The Ion, a 266,000 square-foot innovation hub, is an integral part of the forthcoming Ion District, which also includes Greentown Labs, the largest climatetech startup incubator in North America. The build-out of the Ion District encompasses more than three million square feet of development, which will occur over the next decade. The next building is already under construction, and RMC intends for three more to commence in the next year. In addition to office and research, and development space, the district will include multi-family apartments, retail space, entertainment venues, and several acres of highly programmed, fully-public outdoor space. Together, The Ion and Ion District create the foundational ingredients that entice talent to co-locate and innovate.

The Global Network’s goal for its members, like the Ion District anchored by The Ion, is to accelerate the growth of innovation districts—individually and collectively—through empirical analysis, peer learning, and technical support for implementing new strategies and initiatives in districts and their communities. Through structured engagement led by GIID, The Ion and Ion District will leverage insights and best practices on challenges and solutions that other districts have faced in the past or are currently facing.

“The Ion and the Ion District represent a major commitment and investment in the success of Houston as a center of innovation and a foundation of Houston’s economic future. From the very beginning of our planning, we visited innovation hubs and districts around the country and around the world to make sure that we drew on their experiences and best practices,” said Rice President David Leebron. “And by participating in the Global Network now, the Ion District will contribute to and benefit from a global exchange of knowledge among the very best innovation districts, which complements Rice’s broader international engagements and strategies.”

Rice University Provost Reginald DesRoches added, “Acceptance into the GIID pairs Rice and The Ion District with an unparalleled set of peers around the globe that have created transformative environments to collaborate and innovate. Through the GIID, Rice and the Ion District can lend its capacity to advance translational research to catalyze innovation and embrace global best practices.”

“As we create quality collaborations between entrepreneurs, corporations, academics, and the community, we are thrilled to be a part of the network and look forward to exchanging ideas with other members and their constituents,” added Jan E. Odegard, Executive Director, The Ion. “The valuable interactions the network provides will help our team build The Ion and Ion District into a globally-minded innovation hub and further cement Houston’s technology ecosystem.”

About the Ion

Ion: Where ideas go to grow. Located in Ion District, the namesake building is the transformative centerpiece of Houston’s innovation corridor. Designed to bring our city’s entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities into collaborative spaces and programs, the sunlit structure of steel and glass is a home for advancing diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that propel our world forward. From Fortune 500s seeking flexible office space to first-time startups looking for the funding to design a prototype, the Ion provides wide-reaching space and support to connect every What if with What now?—welcoming individuals and teams of all kinds to a place to build a better way.

About the Ion District: The Ion District is an intentionally accessible, walkable and integrated urban community. It spans 12 city blocks (16 acres) in Houston’s Midtown, where people, ideas, and businesses thrive. Initiated by Rice University, the Ion District energizes a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive future. At actively programmed events and spontaneous everyday moments, the Ion District invites residents, startups, corporate, academic, and civic leaders to unite, explore, and create opportunity together. For more information, visit https://iondistrict.com.

About The Global Institute on Innovation Districts: The Global Institute on Innovation Districts (GIID) is a global-reaching not for profit organization dedicated to conducting independent and practice-oriented research on innovation districts—new geographies of innovation emerging primarily in cities and urbanizing areas. Drawing on deep analytics and proven impact, GIID seeks to identify how districts transform into new engines of city and regional economic growth. During a time of uneven growth, our research and work with a global network of districts aims to identify new systems for advancing inclusive innovation. For more on (GIID), visit https://www.giid.org

TXRX Labs Named Partner and Operator of The Ion Prototyping Lab

The Ion, a 266,000 square-foot innovation hub, today announced TXRX Labs, a Houston-based non-profit ideation, innovation, and training provider, will serve as the operator of The Ion Prototyping Lab. Officially named The Ion Prototyping Lab (IPL) powered by TXRX, the IPL is an innovation center that will allow startups and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and industries access to equipment and technical support. Officially open today, it is the only space of this type in Houston that provides physical innovation capabilities in a collaborative and centralized hub open to the public.

TXRX’s services at the IPL will provide the Houston community with support, equipment, and hands-on training to jumpstart the activity of entrepreneurs, corporations, and researchers, such as scaling ideas or developing a physical model of a product. TXRX’s workforce development training and classes will focus on makers, equipment operation, and CAD/CAM. TXRX also offers ideation services, which include coaching, consulting, and prototyping to address startups’ challenges. Technical support and engineering resources will be provided through a staff of ideation, engineering, and fabrication experts.

Current programming guided by TXRX includes:

● Hands-on training classes in critical digital and manual skills such as SolidWorks, Mastercam, soldering, and embedded development.

● A Lunch and Learn event series that touches on emerging technologies like additive manufacturing, generative design, and IoT development.

● An internship program connecting startups and entrepreneurs with emerging engineering talent from Houston’s many universities.

“The Houston community’s growing need for these services has led to our growth from a small community organization to a partnership with Houston’s leading center for innovation, The Ion,” said Roland von Kurnatowski, President of TXRX Labs. “With our presence at The Ion and in its Prototyping Lab, we are able to join together innovative ideas and technology to create a social and collaborative space to support tomorrow’s entrepreneurs’ needs and challenges. You think it, we make it.”

The IPL’s 6,500 square-foot space was designed by the Houston office of global architecture and design firm Gensler, and is the largest open corporate and startup-aligned prototyping space in Houston. The IPL’s equipment and engineering resources are provided by TXRX and The Ion, which includes prototyping and small-batch manufacturing tools, such as laser cutters, CNC mills and lathes, electronics assembly equipment, and 3D printers. The space also has onsite access to engineers and advanced technicians in industrial design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, additive manufacturing, welding, machining, and laser cutting.

“As part of Gensler’s contributions to the development of The Ion, we strategically designed the Prototyping Lab to function as a dedicated space for innovators and entrepreneurs to collaborate,” said Vincent Flickinger, Senior Associate and Design Director of Gensler Houston. “The Ion Prototyping Lab is equipped with tools for prototyping robotics and other energy-focused innovations and cultivates an entirely new way of doing business in a reimagined, historic building and with one of Houston’s fastest-growing innovators, TXRX. We look forward to introducing the IPL’s offerings to the public.”

“With every step forward, with each new partner added and ongoing input from the community, we are solidifying Houston’s position as the epicenter for innovation and technology,’ said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “There is a growing need for these services among Houston’s startup community. Having ideas is one thing. Being able to execute them is far more difficult, especially if you are a small organization without the financial resources of big corporations and research labs. With The Ion Prototyping Lab powered by TXRX, we are breaking down the barriers that too often prevent entrepreneurs from taking their discoveries from the drawing board to reality.’

“This is another big step forward in realizing the vision for The Ion. The addition of The Ion Prototyping Lab to the Ion District will further drive highly productive collaborations between entrepreneurs, corporations, academics, and the greater Houston community,” said David Leebron, President of Rice University. “We’re thrilled to be opening the IPL in The Ion as these collaborations will not only strengthen Houston’s economic resiliency and competitiveness but attract and retain innovative talent, companies, and institutions.”

With a low-cost membership, participants will be able to access the IPL. For individuals who may need financial assistance, the IPL also provides grant opportunities. Before using the space and its equipment, participants will need to complete a safety and skills training course. Open hours for the IPL are from 9 am to 5 pm CST.

About the Ion

Ion: Where ideas go to grow. Located in Ion District, the namesake building is the transformative centerpiece of Houston’s innovation corridor. Designed to bring our city’s entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities into collaborative spaces and programs, the sunlit structure of steel and glass is a home for advancing diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that propel our world forward. From Fortune 500s seeking flexible office space to first-time startups looking for the funding to design a prototype, the Ion provides wide-reaching space and support to connect every What if with What now?—welcoming individuals and teams of all kinds to a place to build a better way.

About TXRX Labs: Established in 2008, TXRX Labs is a non-profit innovation and job training provider for the greater Houston area. Housed in the East End District, TXRX offers engineering and fabrication services along with job training programs for in-demand careers, along with courses in and access to its rapid prototyping labs, woodshop, machine shop, electronics lab, and a wide variety of other tools for the public. Its goal is to make Houston the 21st-century manufacturing Hub of the United States to ensure a vibrant and equitable economy for all Houstonians.

About Gensler: Gensler is a global architecture, design, and planning firm with 49 locations across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Founded in 1965, the firm serves more than 3,500 active clients in virtually every industry. Gensler designers strive to make the places people live, work, and play more inspiring, more resilient, and more impactful.

Chef David Cordúa to open The Lymbar at The Ion

Chef David Cordúa will open The Lymbar, a neighborhood craft cocktail bar and restaurant with Latin and Mediterranean flavors, this fall at The Ion (4201 Main St.) – the technology and community hub that will anchor a 16-acre innovation district in Houston’s Midtown. The restaurant will be housed in the building’s street level “jewel-box” corner suite and will contain approximately 120 seats in over 4,000 SF of indoor and outdoor dining space, with an emphasis on barrel-aged spirits, small plates and a vertical rotisserie in a theater-style open kitchen.

Gin Braverman of Houston-based Gin Design Group, a longtime Cordúa family friend, is designing the space. The concept is named after Lymbar Drive, the tight knit, ethnically diverse community where Cordúa grew up in Southwest Houston.

The Lymbar joins three other recently announced innovation district restaurants: Late August – a new concept by chef partners Chris Williams of Lucille’s and Dawn Burrell, the James Beard Award-winning semifinalist and current Top Chef contestant; STUFF’d Wings – the first brick-and-mortar version of the acclaimed Third Ward-area food truck; and Common Bond Café – a new on-the-go iteration of the perennially popular bistro and bakery. Collectively, the hyperlocal concepts will establish a culinary nucleus that will help pave the way for a vibrant and bustling district when they begin opening this summer in the epicenter of Houston’s innovation ecosystem.

Cordúa, the former executive chef/owner at Américas and Churrascos, is partnering with his father, Michael Cordúa, on the project. The Lymbar is the first concept from the beloved father-son duo since their departure from Cordúa Restaurants. Michael Cordúa – a native of Nicaragua — founded Churrascos in 1988, introducing a new wave of Latin cuisine to Houston and earning rave reviews from Food & Wine, Esquire and more.

David Cordúa – who was born in Houston and graduated from Strake Jesuit College Preparatory — earned his culinary diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He spent more than a decade with his family’s restaurant group from 2007-18, helping to oversee award-winning concepts Américas, Churrascos, Artista and Amazón Grill.

The Lymbar will continue that storied culinary tradition, but with the inclusion of global influences from afar, presented in a manner that showcases David Cordúa’s roots in French cooking. With a menu that represents an evolution of the father-son duo’s renowned culinary creativity, the concept is “a lifetime in the making,” says David.

“If Churrascos and Américas were our family story in Central America, The Lymbar is our first opportunity to tell our family story in Houston,” David Cordúa said. “We’re really excited to be a place where people meet, think, eat and drink in The Ion, and we look forward to being a part of the heartbeat of Houston’s new innovation district.”

Among the Cordúas’ neighbors on Lymbar Drive were Braverman; the Droubi family, owners of Droubi’s Bakery & Delicatessen; and the Garcia-Prat family, owners of Finca Tres Robles Farm. Each of their influences will be reflected at The Lymbar: Braverman through her design, the Droubi family through Lebanese and Mediterranean menu items, and the Garcia-Prats through local produce sourced from their farm.

The Lymbar will be the first bar-forward concept from the Cordúas, centered around a craft cocktail program with an emphasis on barrel-aged spirits. The bar’s core identity will feel classic and vintage, mirroring the food menu with cocktails that pay homage to Latin, South American and Mediterranean influences. The bar itself will be a glowing presence, located in front of the stunning floor-to-ceiling bay windows of the space.

Burdette Huffman with Blue Ox represented the Rice Management Company, and Emily Durham with Waterman Steele represented Cordúa. The Lymbar will serve lunch, dinner, and drinks seven days a week. Brunch and happy hour will be added in the future.

About The Lymbar The Lymbar is a bar-forward concept with Latin and Mediterranean flavors from chef David Cordúa, located at 4201 Main St. at The Ion in Midtown Houston. It is slated to open in Fall 2021. Stay tuned for more information on The Lymbar’s opening date.

About the Ion

Ion: Where ideas go to grow. Located in Ion District, the namesake building is the transformative centerpiece of Houston’s innovation corridor. Designed to bring our city’s entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities into collaborative spaces and programs, the sunlit structure of steel and glass is a home for advancing diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that propel our world forward. From Fortune 500s seeking flexible office space to first-time startups looking for the funding to design a prototype, the Ion provides wide-reaching space and support to connect every What if with What now?—welcoming individuals and teams of all kinds to a place to build a better way.