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Innovation vs. gentrification: Third Ward residents want to grow with neighborhood, not be replaced

Change is coming to the Third Ward. It's inevitable. Residents just want to make sure they're still around to see it.

HOUSTON — This time next year, Houston will be home to an innovation hub. It's called The Ion and the $100 million project will pop up in Midtown, inside a renovated building that used to be a Sears store. 

The Ion will be the first phase in what will eventually become an innovation district that will stretch through Midtown, which neighbors the historic Third Ward. 

As Houston moves into another decade, some Third Ward residents worry their history and culture may disappear.

"And the Ion, it’s going to move us out of this community," said Carl Davis, who is part of a coalition to improve the Third Ward while preserving its history and culture.believes. "And we’re concerned about that. This is our heart and soul."

The Third Ward is in the middle of a facelift. Old homes and buildings are being sold and torn down to make way for expensive townhomes and new restaurants. 

"You know, you never get anything unless you ask," Davis said from  Emancipation Avenue. It's the site of the historic Emancipation Park. 

In 1872, Reverend Jack Yates, a Baptist minister and former slave, with the help of $1,000 in donations, bought 10 acres of open land for a Juneteenth celebration. In honor of their freedom, they named it Emancipation Park. 

That's one piece of a very rich history of the Third Ward, home to the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. 

Rice University is now working to renovate the old Sears building, and by the end of 2020, it will look like this: 

Credit: Rice University

Davis and the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development Without Displacement want Rice University to agree to a community benefits agreement. There is currently an online petition in support of such an agreement. 

"We’re asking for affordable housing, historical and cultural preservation," said Davis. "We’re also asking for procurement opportunities for blacks who are in business to make a difference."

Rice University administrators are out for winter break, so we couldn't interview them in person. But a spokesperson sent KHOU11 this statement:

“We really appreciate the fact that so many people are interested in the Ion and the South Main Innovation District. We’re talking with a variety of people including community leaders about how the district will create opportunities not only for our neighbors in Midtown and the Third Ward, but also for people throughout the greater Houston area. We’re committed to building an innovation district that celebrates the diversity of our city.”

-Rice Management District

"We have not talked directly with TSU or UH, but they’re on our radar," said Davis. 

Change is coming to the Third Ward. It's inevitable. Residents just want to make sure they're still in the neighborhood to see it.

Third Ward Community Meeting:

Wesley AME Church 

2209 Emancipation Avenue

January 14, 2020 

6 p.m.

As of November 2019, these were the community organizations who created the coalition:

  • Houston Society for Change 
  • Greater Third Ward Superneighborhood 67 
  • Emancipation Economic Development Council 
  • Third Ward is Home Civic Club 
  • Northern Third Ward Neighborhood Implementation Project
  • Project Row Houses 
  • Harris County AFL-CIO 
  • Houston Black American Democrats 
  • Texas Coalition of Black Democrats- Harris County 
  • Senate District 13

RELATED: The iconic Sears sign atop old Midtown store has been taken down

RELATED: Midtown Sears building transforming to new tech hub

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