Midtown Sears Closure Nets Rice 9 Acres Near the Wheeler Transit Center

MIDTOWN SEARS CLOSURE NETS RICE 9 ACRES NEAR THE WHEELER TRANSIT CENTER The company that manages Rice University’s $5.3 billion endowment last week bought out the 28 years remaining on a 99-year lease the university had signed with the Sears department store on its Midtown property back in 1945. The Sears at 4201 Main St., which opened in 1939, will close in late January, after a liquidation sale beginning early next month, it was announced today. Rice also bought 3 adjacent acres owned by Sears, giving the university a multi-block 9.4-acre chunk of land near Metro’s Wheeler Transit Center and the Southwest Fwy. it can now decide what to do with. Among the properties on that land: the Sears Auto Center at 4111 Fannin and the Fiesta Mart at 4200 San Jacinto, which has a lease that runs for 2 more years. The Sears’s original art deco façade was covered with metal panels in the 1960s. Rice prez David Leebron says the university will now “initiate a process of thoughtful planning for the future use of this land,” with a yearlong study of options directed by the Rice Management Company. [Houston Chronicle; Click2Houston] Photo: Pete Molick via Swamplot Flickr pool

30 Comment

  • Wow, that’s a big chunk-o land in that area.

  • I’m curious if Rice will purchase the small shopping center that my studio is in, across from Sears. I think there is a lot behind it that going to be townhouses; but I don’t think they ever started building them.

  • Finally! Tenured, University jobs for all the homeless in that area! Huzzah!

  • I wonder what Rice intends to do with the land? They must have had some idea before purchasing.

  • What to do with it? Hmm, maybe start with a kush addict rehab center and free public toilets? How about indoor camping? High demand area for all of that.

  • This area could be an excellent mixed used development. However potential developers must make plans for a larger Wheeler TC as that would be where the proposed University Line would meet the Red Line. And of course there’s the issue of the “Wheeler Camp” that the COH is going to have to do something about. Is the proposed rebuild of 59/69 going to effect this area?

  • Congratulations Rice University.

  • I’m sorry to see Sears gone. A large store that sells things you need like tools and tires and appliances is actually a pretty good use for that site.

  • Hooray! I’m so excited to see that part of town redeveloped.

  • Not sorry Sears is closing as it like like the one on North Shepherd are just dumpy. It will be interesting to see how the homeless population in the area is further addressed before future development commences. Will it truly be addressed or just pushed to another area of the city? My bet is it is just shoved to another part of town.

  • Must be nice to play real world monopoly with free money and zero accountability. Unlike a business, the rice endowment is ran by unqualified self appointees essentially just for fun.

  • Would be neat to undress “Fort Sears” and see the original pretty building underneath. If you look closely, you can see that the walls at sidewalk level were once lined with showcase windows, now bricked up.
    While the exterior might have some architectural value, the interior is a blah open space, standard wide open department store with escalators.

    I have shopped at Fiesta and Sears for years, and can attest that the area needs some help. There remains a dearth of retail on that side of downtown (grocery, hardware, household goods, appliances, etc.) and 9 acres presents a rare opportunity. Sears was gradually dying and providing less and less of the full inventory needed to make it worth the trip and the bum gauntlet in the parking lot – last time I went, I needed weedeater string, rat poison, and socks – but by then they had reduced their inventory to only sell the socks, and the bums were in full force (at least 50 camped out on the north side of the store). I never went back. However, the freeway flyover creates some significant problems, as well as the Wheeler bus/train transfer station.

    These elevated freeways are a magnet for the homeless, and the only thing you can do with the section below is a noisy, dark parking lot. This section of 69 and the Pierce Elevated share these issues. Both are filled with a constant flux of homeless seeking shelter under the roadways.

    As for the Wheeler TC, while I dearly love my fellow Houstonians that rely on mass transit, the bulk of the crowd that hangs around this area are ‘rough’ to say the least. There is constant foot traffic between this and the homeless camp north of Sears and at Peggy’s Point Park (with the ‘Bum Shower’ fountain). Bums that collect enough cash run over to Fiesta to get their beer and cigarettes. Litter is everywhere. Occasionally one of the addicts goes a little wonky on their dope and starts doing scary stuff, like yelling at people in the Fiesta parking lot or whipping out their junk at the traffic light. KPRC ran a story on this community just a few days ago, and the reporter was threatened with a handgun.

    A lot of the issue would be easily resolved with NYC-style gates to prevent freeloaders from boarding the train without purchasing a fare. Until that happens, this is the perfect downtown setting for bum city. They can hop on/off the train, get a free meal at the park, sleep in the camp north of Sears when the weather is nice, or duck under the freeway when it’s not, bum some cash at the Wheeler/Spur intersection, nab some cigs or a 40 at Fiesta with that money, then be back on their way – unimpeded.

  • Isnt it run by Harvard and Wharton MBA grads? I think you are being a wee bit loose with your facts CS.

  • 1. Buying out the last 28 years of a 99-year lease means that Rice smells the money to be made on that land.
    2. I agree with HouCynic’s conclusion that the homeless will just be pushed to another section of town once the expensive high-rise apartments break ground. Bye, bye Fiesta in 2 years when its lease is up, too.

  • @commonsense – either you didn’t get into Rice or you likely didn’t graduate high school to even apply. What an idiotic statement. Here’s your answer whether they’re “accountable:”

  • SuperDave: “These elevated freeways are a magnet for the homeless, and the only thing you can do with the section below is a noisy, dark parking lot”

    Actually, Tokyo has solved this “problem” created by elevated railroad tracks throughout the city by building restaurants and bars underneath the tracks. It makes what would otherwise be an eyesore into something that benefits the neighborhood. Google “Yurakucho” to see what I’m talking about.

  • I’m very well familiar with inside workings of Rice, the real workings, I’m on campus quite regularly. Those fancy titled folk are only figure heads and don’t actually do anything, all major decisions are made by golf cart riding overgrown Van Wilder types who regularly do things on a whim without rhyme or reason.

  • Forget the ignorance of the statement, it’s simply too ironic to lash out at Rice for poor money management when Sears is in the same story. CS should be careful, that much irony in one place might create an ironic singularity.

  • I think that there is room to criticize Rice’s management of its endowments as well as how it allocates its budget. However, that is a general topic and I couldn’t apply it to this specific case given the dearth of information made public. It may simply have been that this was a poorly-performing Sears store on pricey real estate, and they wanted to cash out on their gain-to-lease. That would be consistent with Sears general strategy in recent years.
    Yes, IIRC this section of 59/69 is slated to be rebuilt and trenched. The construction will no doubt adversely affect retail sales, but would be an opportune time for redevelopment of the site.

  • Superdave: “last time I went, I needed weedeater string, rat poison, and socks”
    Amazon man. Same day delivery in many places, next day or two day in almost all others.

  • Why would you trust a financial management team that obtains 7-8% annual returns on a $5.5 billion endowment, and is overseen by the board of one of the 15 best universities in the country, when instead you could put your faith in the bitter and unsubstantiated rantings of an anonymous internet commenter?

  • 7-8% over the past decade, or 7-8% recently?

  • Hey man, Commonsense is the guy with the investing advice of never putting a single cent into the East End because it’s a terrible place to invest that will never turn a profit. I mean, with that kind of a proven track record, we should all be bending an ear.

  • ShadyHeighster,
    One conclusion I’ve made about the US, compared to European countries, is that we don’t use space efficiently. We’ve got all these open ditches, grass patches… along our roadways. So this Tokyo solution appeals to me.
    But while I haven’t traveled extensively, I feel that selling/renting under-highway space to retail smacks of third-world. Would Houston ever go for that?
    There is so much filth that washes off roadways and would filter into/onto these shops. A friend has his bike storage cage under the apartment driveway. It’s just a drive! yet the bikes always have a greasy blackness on them. Ever park in an airport garage for more than a couple days? Your car is filthy.
    Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat a taco made under the Pierce Elevated.

  • @Cody – I do use Amazon a lot, but as I vaguely recall on that certain day…I ran out of weedeater string halfway through mowing my yard, saw a huge rat that I wanted to kill immediately, and probably tore a hole in my sock while chasing the rat around with a shovel. Anyway, sometimes you just need to run to the store to get something for right now, and even waiting one day is too long. Dixie Hardware is a great resource over there, but with limited hours (and no socks). And then there’s Sears and Fiesta which aren’t long for the world apparently – for everything else, it’s a drive west to the Galleria/Bellaire area, north through downtown to Sawyer/I-10, or southeast to Gulfgate. And during rush hour traffic, all of these options suck.

  • @Superdave The area has declined horrendously since the opening of a day labor office on the corner of San Jacinto and Wheeler that has served as a magnet attracting homeless people. The sidewalks around are literally covered with homeless people lying around who earn their precarious living with this agency, and it has led to permanent camps and filth in the area. This one business has created a colossal mess in the entire area.

  • Perfect place for what Houston needs- an observation tower ala CN Tower, perhaps not as tall because of FAA regulations. But, the views of downtown, the TMC, the galleria area, east to the ship channel would totally capture the overall vista of the cityscape. Surround the tower with another midtown park- subterranean parking- a hotel, plus retail and a rail hub. Winning.

  • Does anyone know how many square feet the Sears Store is/was?

  • How does this building that is now Houston’s Innovation Center compare with Chicago’s 1871 (may have incorrect name) in size?