What started a decade ago as a small idea for how Houston arts groups could share space and services has grown to become one of the most innovative collaborations in the nation's arts scene. And with a groundbreaking this week, that concept will soon become a reality.

The Midtown Art & Theatre Center Houston (MATCH) is a $25 million development at the intersection of Main and Holman streets. The nearly 60,000-square-foot facility will bring together several performing and visual arts groups under one roof, creating a new hub for the arts in a vibrant part of Midtown.

"There isn't a model like this in the country," says Emily Todd, board chair of MATCH. "We're creating it, and if it's successful, it's certainly possible that other cities and other arts communities will look to MATCH as an example of how to do this right."

Todd says with a myriad of small and midsized arts groups in town, many often fly under the radar. "What we're hoping to realize with MATCH is a facility that will house a number of different Houston arts organizations in one central place where people-local patrons and visitors alike-can see the richness of what we have here."

But it takes more than a good concept to make such a venture successful. As the idea began to percolate among the arts groups through the years, a board was formed and a study conducted to examine the need. Once the need was established, location was key and a search for the right spot began. Meanwhile, the area sometimes referred to as Mid-Main where Main Street intersects with Alabama has become a hotbed of activity in recent years. Monica Pope's Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, Marcus Davis' Breakfast Klub and the live music haven Continental Club have acted as anchors for the two-square-block enclave. The nearby Ensemble Theater and the HCC/Ensemble rail stop also help draw traffic. Those factors helped MATCH see promise in an available block just to the north.

"Being located between Downtown and the Museum District, we're at a crossroads really," Todd says. "It's also connected north-south and east-west to most of the city's major universities. It was really fortuitous that this piece of property became available at the right time."

Todd says what makes MATCH different from other projects is that it didn't originate with a big arts organization or the city itself. Rather it was a grassroots effort, one where the independent arts groups themselves came together to chart a new course.
With this week's groundbreaking, construction is expected to be complete by late spring or early summer 2015. That should give MATCH and the resident arts groups enough time to prepare for a fall opening, just in time for the start of the performing arts season.

In addition to performance spaces, a gallery and a flexible use space, MATCH will also feature a coffee and wine bar, administrative office space, classroom and rehearsal spaces and a large plaza facing Main Street.

So far, $20 million of the necessary $25 million has been raised. Todd says it was important to the board that at least 80% of the money was raised before beginning construction. "We played it conservatively, but we still have some substantial fundraising to go," she says.

Exactly which arts organizations will end up as tenants of MATCH is not yet determined. Many, including DiverseWorks, Main Street Theater and Theater Lab Houston have expressed interest, but no lease deals have been signed yet. Todd says that process will start soon now that construction is underway.