A development worth waiting for
La vie Bohème Houston-style: How the new IAC arts complex will transform Midtown
We’ve been waiting for a long time for a great urban project to take shape along the Main Street rail line, but with the Independent Arts Collaborative’s (IAC) announcement that it is going to build its long-awaited space at 3400 Main (near the Ensemble/HCC rail stop), the wait is finally over.
Or at least it will be by 2015, when the complex is scheduled to open.
As Tyler Rudick reported, the 85,000-square-foot complex will include four or five small performance spaces, a 400-seat theater, exhibition space, classrooms, and office space. No one has signed a lease yet, but the tenants/collaborators will surely include some of the city’s strongest mid-level arts organizations, such as DiverseWorks, Main Street Theater or Suchu Dance. Emily Todd, president of the IAC board, told me that the organization has been in talks with 38 different companies.
Beyond the benefits to the arts groups and the arts patrons, I’m most excited about what this complex will mean to neighborhood and even the city itself.
According to Todd, the various organizations “want to be sure they won’t lose their individual identities” by joining the collaborative. But there’s little doubt that the final roster will be stellar, as the IAC will be able to offer its members powerful benefits.
The spaces should be affordable—not costing more than the organizations pay now—despite the increased visibility they will offer. And the collaborations between the groups should be spectacular.
The benefits to the arts patron are immediately obvious. Todd says the complex will be “an arts multiplex.” If you’re looking for something to do, but you don’t know exactly what, you can simply head on over (hopefully on the train) and see what’s playing. This is a very exciting concept, one that Todd says is more or less unique nationally, at least at this scale.
But beyond the benefits to the arts groups and the arts patrons, I’m most excited about what this complex will mean to neighborhood and even the city itself. As I said, the rail line has not inspired the kind of immediate development people perhaps naively expected. Midtown remains pocked with surface parking lots, and the whole idea of using rail to promote dense inner-city development, rather than as a commuting tool for suburbanites, was looking rather dubious. This project should change that perception — at a time when the next wave of rail is already under construction.
Significant neighborhood development
The IAC complex is sure to inspire, or at least accompany, significant neighborhood development. Developer Bob Schultz, co-owner of the Continental Club and of the colorful boutiques that are the Continental’s neighbors, says he’s planning extensive further developments in the blocks just south of IAC. He’s planning to build housing, a parking garage, and more unique retail. A hotel is also on the drawing board.
Schultz told me, “The hope is that we’ll have a 24/7 city (in the area).”
And just blocks away, HCC Central Campus has already begun a very exciting redevelopment of its historic campus, one that will mend and strengthen the area’s badly torn urban fabric.
This development comes at an interesting time in the city’s growth. Recent developments in Montrose—the opening of H-E-B, and Marvy Finger’s announced plans to build a massive “Mediterranean style” apartment complex in the Fiesta space across the street—appear to finally signal the end of Montrose’s status as “the strangest neighborhood east of the Pecos,” as Texas Monthly dubbed it way back in 1973. It’s simply become too shiny and comfortable.
Of course, to a large extent la vie bohème Houston-style has already moved on, without really settling anywhere. Midtown should soon become its new and soulful home.