An economic development deal struck between the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and Rice Management Corp., representing The Ion, would allow for Rice to lead a series of improvements such as sidewalk and street repairs, the construction of public plazas and a new parking garage. The Midtown TIRZ, which collects funds through a portion of area property taxes, agreed to reimburse Rice for a portion of the projects, providing $65 million toward the effort. Board members anticipate the economic impact of The Ion’s development will generate more revenue for the area in the years to come.
“This is a new bucket of unrestricted money that we can use for other public projects in Midtown,” board member Caton Fenz said, adding it will be able to set aside more funding for affordable housing.
Activists concerned with The Ion’s effect on property values and gentrification in neighboring Third Ward, however, said the vote was a missed opportunity to secure more protections for the surrounding community. Members of local advocacy group Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement have been pushing the Midtown TIRZ to require Rice Management Corp. enter into a Community Benefits Agreement with the HCEDD before signing off on the deal. Representatives with Rice, however, have said the city of Houston is facilitating a benefits agreement instead.
“Rice Management Co. has billions of dollars in its endowment and it is asking for millions of dollars of public funds,” HCEDD founder Uyiosa Elegon said. “Before any public funds go to these developers, you should ensure there is a Community Benefits Agreement with the community.”
The only dissenting vote from the TIRZ board came from Zoe Middleton, a housing advocate who said she is concerned that longtime Third Ward residents’ needs have not been adequately considered throughout the development of The Ion.
The improvements are slated to take place in two phases and be completed by 2025, a draft of the agreement stated. Houston City Council still needs to sign off on the agreement before it takes effect, according to a draft of the plan.