“When I first heard about this project, I wasn’t sure it was for us,” says Jonathan Brinsden, CEO of Midway Companies. “But then I walked in the lobby and I was all in.”
He’s talking about the space at 708 and 712 Main Street, an entire city block now reimagined as The Jones on Main, Downtown’s newest office venture, which promises to be as unique as the neighborhood itself.
Both buildings were owned by Jesse H. Jones, the iconic entrepreneur behind such projects as the Houston Ship Channel, the Texas National Bank and Houston Endowment. 712 was completed in 1929, a 37-story Art Deco skyscraper soaring above the Downtown street scene, unsurpassed in height until 1963. Originally the Gulf Oil Building, it’s now the JP Morgan Chase Building, and Chase will remain in the re-christened space. 708 was acquired by Jones in 1908, another frescoed fantasy that showed off Houston’s commitment to commerce. Together the two buildings heralded that the young city of Houston was ready to make its mark as a center for business.
Nearly a century later, the Bayou City’s Downtown core is recognized around the world as a place where entrepreneurs and industrialists, the creative class and educators, and financiers and analysts alike power the economic engine that is Houston. From full-service firms to small businesses, the city is heralded as a place where those with a can-do spirit can grow their dreams into realities.
That’s the energy Midway, along with partner Lionstone, plans to capitalize on in The Jones on Main.
“Houston is still a young city,” says Brinsden. “We don’t have the same sort of historic building stock that you’ll find in Boston or New York or Philadelphia. The Jones is somewhat unique in our Downtown landscape in that regard. But, it’s also part of a broader trend for U.S. companies right now.”
Businesses have always looked to their property managers to provide excellent service and space for the companies housed there to thrive. Over the last decade, however, Brinsden says, there’s a new x-factor that’s crept into decision making when it comes to where to base a business.
“It’s authenticity,” he says. “Companies are very attracted to spaces that feel unique, vintage, different. You see that in the tech industry in Silicon Valley, that people want spaces that aren’t like anything else. The Jones provides that experience.”
Indeed, Midway’s plans for the property include allowing its original self to shine. Keeping the Art Deco elements, and augmenting it with modern but complementing touches promise to make The Jones a place of distinctive style and elegance. Brinsden says they’ll expose the building’s original masonry. He wants to be certain that tenants in the building feel they are in a place that is original.
He says his own reticence over whether to be part of the project had to do with the idea of how to blend preserving The Jones’ history while also serving a modern business clientele. In the end, though, he knew Midway needed to be part of the project, precisely because the space is so compelling.
“You can really feel it when you walk in,” he says. “It’s historic. It has character. There are a lot of great new buildings, but this is unique.”
One of the things that will surely build on that uniqueness is the Currency Lounge, a sprawling 7,500-square-foot space in the lobby of The Jones that Brinsden says will make a statement. The dual-level social and meeting place will boast communal tables, deeply plush couches and chairs, tech hook-ups and all-new artwork. Dazzling chandeliers, marble tile and rich, dark woods pay homage to The Jones’ history, while the casually elegant vibe and tech touches bring it into the modern age.
“This is a place where people can come for meetings, or simply come for a few minutes to get out of their offices,” says Brinsden, who says the Currency Lounge will feel like the lobby bar in a great hotel. “I envision that people who don’t have offices in the building might come in to work for a while, just to enjoy the atmosphere.”
He says the idea that those who come into work on their own might well meet with tenants in the Jones, which means the lounge area should offer great opportunities for networking.
“It’s really about connecting on a human level,” he says.
That connectivity has been a cornerstone of Midway’s projects, and the foundation of the group’s partnership with Lionstone. The two first collaborated with GreenStreet, which epitomized the two organization’s desire to be part of building projects that afforded people opportunities for what Midway’s Vice President for Strategic Communication Ann Taylor calls “social connections.”
“With GreenStreet, we had a partner in Lionstone where we could see that the sum of the parts was better than the individual pieces. Lionstone has a long reputation of finding unique places for productive people to work, as well as being distinctive properties. “
The Jones on Main should be the kind of high-impact property that showcases that philosophy. Each suite will have its own unique touches, simply because the building is historic. Brinsden says keeping original elements is pivotal to the Jones’ philosophy. A new Lobby Connection will bring together 708 and 712 Main Streets, providing an uninterrupted flow to the buildings’ iconic charm. JP Morgan Chase retains its residence in 712 Main, bringing its own distinctive architecture and vibe to the overall project.
Brinsden believes that boutique firms, in particular, will find The Jones appealing. The building’s square footage for suites like that is between eight and 12,000 square feet; by contrast, a typical office footprint in a Downtown building might be closer to 25,000 feet. The smaller spaces in The Jones allow for intimacy and individual personality. So far, firms that have taken up shop in the space have been legal and financial firms, although Brinsden notes there’s an architectural firm as well.
“These are not your grandfather’s firms,” he quips, a nod to the younger entrepreneurial generation drawn to The Jones on Main’s commitment to common spaces and tech capabilities, as well as its emphasis on being a space where lifestyles and business can intermingle.
There’s also the element of stewardship, which Brinsden says is important when it comes to a space like this one. He’s aware of the importance The Jones has to Houston’s history and loves the idea that the newly reconfigured block nods to that past and preserves it for present-day users.
Having a philosophy about how the block itself is a character in the story of the businesses who will call the Jones home is essential, says Taylor, who stresses that Midway went into the project with the idea that the Jones should promote not only that it is a productive and evocative office space, but is connected to the health and wellness-conscious lifestyles favored by millennial entrepreneurs and other new economy business owners.
“We will have a bike valet outside,” she says. “And we’re on the confluence of three different METRORail lines, as well as connected to the Downtown tunnel system. That provides people with real transportation choices to The Jones, whether it’s by rail, bike, driving or walking.”
“Downtown has been evolving,” says Brinsden. “It’s gone from a 9-5 business destination to one that’s 24 hours – it’s residential, there’s entertainment, it’s walkable. There’s more retail and public greenspace. And the kinds of businesses choosing to come Downtown is evolving, too.”
Those changes in lifestyle and transit are assets for The Jones, Brinsden feels. It allows the venture to present itself as a space where diverse industries can thrive in the unique suites and historic space, while lending a modern edge to the city’s business vibes. He says that Downtown is the original mixed-use environment and watching the city core come into its own as a destination to live, work and play has been an asset to Houston.
The Jones on Main is poised to be a unique addition to the Downtown business scene. With its emphasis on originality, as well as a commitment to being both authentic and modern, it looks to be the sort of space that straddles two important aspects of Downtown: its rich past as a commercial center, and its future as a leader in innovation and business. Brinsden feels that a business with an address in The Jones on Main can make a statement about the kind of firm it is – one that values the sense of history that comes from having an office in a building like this, but that also shows it’s capable of nimbly moving with the times.
“There’s a tremendous juxtaposition with The Jones,” says Brinsden. “We have a terrific modern space in a historic building. It’s beautiful and interesting and lends itself to all kinds of different opportunities.”