Remaking Main Street

Dan Zimmerman, a former Rice football star whose family is known for creative redevelopment in Montrose, is tackling a forgotten corner of Downtown. Will his Main & Co. restoration project, planned as a co-working space, ‘activate’ the area, as he says?

Phoebe Rourke
IMG_0632
IMG_0632

Dan Zimmerman kicks up sawdust as he strolls over a sunlit, century-old, herringbone-patterned hardwood floor. Tall, tan and strapping, his longish hair tucked beneath a Patagonia baseball cap, he exudes the chill, California vibe of a pro surfer. It’s only Zimmerman’s calm, measured directives to a construction crew in hard hats, as he juggles phone calls over the shrieks of power saws, that reveal him to be a seasoned commercial real estate veteran, and a rising star of Houston’s development scene.


“This is the corner of Main Street and Commerce Street. It doesn’t get more ground zero for Houston,” says Zimmerman as he overlooks his under-construction, Downtown passion project, Main & Co, a group of four buildings at the 100 block of Main he hopes will be open for business by the end of the year. The name plays on locale — it’s where Main and Commerce meet — and “company,” which harks to the area’s origins as a commercial hub. Allen’s Landing, where the Allen Brothers settled in 1836, and developed what would become Greater Houston, is nearby. Here, Buffalo and White Oak bayous converge, University of Houston Downtown buildings anchor opposite corners, and Metro rail cars zip through the block.

Zimmerman, 33, is betting on this forgotten corner and its historic buildings, which date back to 1876 and fell into neglect and disrepair. When he approached two major architecture firms, he was advised to tear the buildings down, and start over. “That would’ve been a tragedy,” says Zimmerman, who champions restoration and adaptive reuse in development.

“Look at the history of this building,” he says, gesturing to the exposed-brick walls, the panels of windows and the original terrazzo flooring and hand-cut wainscoting in the lobby, a hallmark of Houston’s Art Deco period. “There’s even a story in that skylight. I could’ve put in skylights from Home Depot, but people used to sort cotton under this skylight. That’s a story relevant to this building, to the history of this block, and the history of this city.”

The next big workplace story could cement success for Main & Co. Zimmerman has partnered with the Texas-based Foundry Club to create a multi-floor co-working space. Barry Capece, CEO of Foundry, an entrepreneurs club that offers shared workspace, networking and conference facilities, estimates there are 14,000 collaborative workspaces nationwide. “The workplace is changing,” Capece says. “Even Fortune 500 companies are looking to cut space, and spend less to house staff. Co-working is more attractive than long-term leases and expensive build-outs.” To prove the point, national co-working giant WeWork will open an 80,000-square-foot facility just down the street, at 708 Main, and another was just announced for the Galleria area. The East End may be shaping up as a capital of co-working sites in H-Town, with a smattering of them popping up or proposed.

As other co-working players also eye Downtown for space, Zimmerman sees it not only as a trend, but as a win-win for professionals. “You’re sitting there in an incubator for what’s happening in the city,” he says. “There are designers, architects, people trading cryptocurrency, sitting side-by-side — it’s all very synergistic.” Main & Co’s anchor building will boast eight co-working suites, and the top floor will be an art gallery and event space.

Imagining new life for overlooked spaces is a Zimmerman family value. Zimmerman’s father, Stephen, saw value in Montrose when others scoffed, and launched arguably Houston’s first boutique hotel, La Colombe d’Or, in the ’70s, in a repurposed 1923 private mansion. He also founded Zimm’s, which is “Houston’s first sidewalk bar,” notes the elder Zimmerman. Just as his father foresaw Montrose’s walkability, Dan foresees the same for this historic Downtown block.

“My goal is to activate the street, knit together these blocks, and build a sense of place,” says Dan, who lives upstairs on the Main & Co site, and enjoys the Downtown life. He recaps his daily Downtown routine: a walk to the Honeymoon Café for coffee in the morning, outings to the Market Square dog park twice a day, and a run or bike ride on the Allen Parkway trail. “I walk every single day. And more Houstonians want that. People want to be around each other. Our generation wants an urban environment where they can live, work and play in a small area. People are raising kids in an 1,100-square-foot Downtown apartment. Four years ago, that was unheard of in Houston.”

When he’s not overseeing development for his company, NewForm, Zimmerman checks in on the popular farm-to-table restaurant Pax Americana, which he co-owns. He was also instrumental in engineering a partnership between the Zimmerman family and real estate giant, Hines. The partnership was formed to launch the Residences at La Colombe d’Or, a 34-story, 285-unit luxury apartment tower to be built just behind the boutique hotel.

For now, Zimmerman, a former Rice football player whose conversations jump from renewable energy to urban-planning author Jane Jacobs and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, is focused on Main & Co’s unveiling. “I went to school on these buildings,” he says, adding that he pored over city records, building documents and old photos of Main’s 100 block. “Every possible corner presented a challenge. My construction guys joke that there’s a ghost that doesn’t want us to finish. But I want to build something that will add to the neighborhood. This block has been dead for years. My goal is to preserve — for the space, for the city and for the planet.”

Business+Innovation
Thrive + Inspire: Former Texans President Rootes Says ‘Commit to Pushing Back’

AN INTERVIEW WITH Jamey Rootes, former President of the Houston Texans

When did you know that something big was going to impact Houston? It was 7:30am on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, and I was participating in one of the first-ever meetings of the Greater Houston Partnership Executive Committee to be conducted via Zoom. The normal public policy and economic development focused agenda was hijacked by a discussion regarding the potentially devastating impact of a new and highly contagious virus. It was hypothesized that this virus, the novel coronavirus, could absolutely overrun the capacity of our local health system. I was skeptical. I thought, "We have the largest medical center in the world. It would take something of biblical proportions to exhaust our medical capacity." As I learned, Covid-19 was pounding Europe, especially Italy, but we had yet to have a documented case of community spread in Houston. That was all about to change.

Keep Reading Show less
People + Places

CALL IT NAKED ambition. This holiday, Houston's top jewelers tout baubles beautiful enough to pair with the season's most festive fashions — or with nothing but a luxurious fragrance from centuries-old Parisian perfumer House of Creed, which just opened a Galleria boutique.

Keep Reading Show less
Style

The crowd partied with Galantis at the grand opening of Sekai Night and Day in EaDo.

HOUSTON IS WIDELY known for many things. Space exploration, medical research, energy production, even dining and shopping. But, much to the chagrin of some party-hearty Houstonians, the city hasn't been in the national spotlight for its nightlife.

Keep Reading Show less
Art + Entertainment