Houston: Rice University Proceeds with Parking Garage/Retail Building for the Ion Project
Feature Illustration (above): Aerial view of the site for Rice University’s future Ion innovation center and parking structure, with inset sketch of pedestrian realms at two corners of the 11-story garage. Courtesy: Google Earth and City of Houston public records.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Houston (Harris County) — Rice University introduced its concept to the Planning Commission for an 11-story parking structure with ground level retail, a facility meant to complement The Ion innovation center in Midtown that was reviewed by the commission back in March.
The commission heard a request Oct. 17 for a traffic intersection variance involving a waiver to the required visibility triangle at the corner of Cleburne and Fannin streets. No visibility triangle is needed at the Fannin-Cleburne corner due to the direction of opposing traffic.
Visibility triangles are being provided at the other three corners up to 20 feet in height.
The Ion project, which VBX reported here on March 14, is an adaptive reuse/remodel and expansion of the former Sears department store building. The parking garage is to be constructed cater-corner to the Sears building on a city block that was the Sears automotive center.
Elevation schematics courtesy of SHoP Architects.
Rice University wants to create a pedestrian realm around the entire block. Plans for the parking garage are to serve the “previously approved Ion Building, as well as other future area development,” staff noted in its analysis report.
“On the ground floor facing Eagle (Street), there will be a transparent façade that wraps around the corner on both Fannin and San Jacinto. Where the transparency requirements are not being met by glazing, they will be satisfied openings in the screen wall system.
“On Eagle Avenue, there is 16-feet, 9-inches from the back of the curb to the building façade. Currently there are no trees on Eagle, but 3-inch caliper trees will be provided for every 30 feet of frontage. On San Jacinto, there is 15 feet from the back of the curb to the building façade; 3-inch caliper trees will be provided for every 30-feet of frontage.
“On Cleburne Street, there is approximately 21-feet, 11-inches from the back of the curb, but the pedestrian realm is not a consistent width. There are existing trees to be preserved on Cleburne. On Fannin Street, there is 15 feet from the back of the curb to the building façade; 3-inch caliper trees will be provided for every 30 feet of frontage.”
The distance between the building facades and the existing power lines will be sufficient to meet OSHA standards, staff claimed.
The areas of the first floor of the parking garage that will not be initially used for retail. They will be used for parking as a temporary use until area redevelopment creates a market for additional ground floor active uses and/or the demand for parking diminishes. The first floor will have a 16-foot ceiling height in order to accommodate such uses in the future.
Those areas not used for retail will be screened by a wall system that will allow natural ventilation for the garage. It will be architecturally significant and will limit pedestrian and driver views of parked cars within the garage. This screening will be replaced when active uses replace the parking.
The pedestrian realms on all four streets will include safety buffers to shield the pedestrian from vehicular traffic, pavers on sidewalks greater than the required 6 feet width, and street furniture such as benches and trash receptacles. The pavers will be something other than normal brushed concrete.
The designs were prepared by SHoP Architects of New York City.
The Ion parking garage site plan. Courtesy: SHoP Architects.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.