Contact Us

EXCLUSIVE: Inside A Century-Old Fifth Ward Building That Could Alter The Fortunes Of Houston's North Side

A storied property on Lyons Avenue in Houston’s Fifth Ward Cultural Arts District is getting a new life, complete with an attraction that could draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

The longtime home to Moncrief-Lenoir Manufacturing Co., which made sheet metal there from 1917 until the company ceased operations in the 1990s, will welcome the immersive, interactive art experience Meow Wolf  — part of a development expected to help revitalize a once-neglected corner of the city.

The developers of Meow Wolf at Moncrief-Lenoir plan to leave the sheet metal manufacturer's name on the exterior of the building, which was built in 1917.

Meow Wolf, an art and entertainment company that got its start in Santa Fe, New Mexico, operates locations in Las Vegas and Denver, with a Grapevine, Texas, location set to open this summer. Touting exhibits that “transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration," its Houston venue is scheduled to open in 2024.

The multimedia, multisensory experience offers something like "your brain on drugs," according to one Instagram user. But its Houston home also represents a concerted effort to reconceptualize a historic site in an area with huge untapped potential, its developers told Bisnow during an exclusive tour this week.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Meow Wolf (@meow__wolf)

The future space of Meow Wolf, which will occupy 33K SF at 2103 Lyons Ave.

In the years after Moncrief-Lenoir Manufacturing Co. ceased operations at 2103 Lyons Ave., the property fell into the hands of a recycling company. More recently, it was under contract to a multifamily developer, which planned to tear the buildings down to make way for apartments, Ori Batagower said.

Batagower, The Deal Co.'s new development and acquisitions director, said the company made it a priority to get its hands on the property, buying it in 2020. 

“We really rescued this from the wrecking ball,” Batagower said. “I mean, it would have been an absolute travesty.”

The Deal Co. is working to revamp the six buildings and 133K SF on the 6.8-acre property into a vibrant, mixed-use development that includes Meow Wolf, which is expected to bring in more than 750,000 visitors annually, if its properties elsewhere are a guide. 

In addition to Meow Wolf, The Deal Co. is planning an inviting courtyard and spaces that could have tenants like restaurants, event venues, offices and art studios.

A rendering of the courtyard at 2103 Lyons Ave. in Houston, which the developers hope will eventually house a large screen to show programming like sports, movies and award shows.

Anchor attraction Meow Wolf began as a collective of painters, architects, sculptors, performers and writers in Santa Fe who wanted to publicly display their art. This led to Meow Wolf's style of immersive environments that are maximalist in nature, according to its website.

Meow Wolf opened its House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe in 2016. It features more than 70 rooms visitors can walk through and explore hands-on art. One room allows guests to walk into a pseudo-refrigerator portal into an alternate universe.

Its Denver and Las Vegas locations opened in 2021. The Las Vegas location is called Omega Mart, and it starts as an "extraordinary supermarket that bursts into surreal worlds and unexpected landscapes." 

The Denver space, known as Convergence Station, promises to take guests on a psychedelic, mind-bending journey through a science fiction epic. Denver's exhibit includes about 65K SF of exhibit space, and Houston's will be 33K SF.

The Houston location will offer a new concept, Batagower said, though he was tight-lipped about what is in store.

"It's pretty amazing. Just cool, amazing, voluminous things," he said of the plan. "We do some pretty superlative things in Houston. We get Final Fours, we get Super Bowls, we get conventions, we get all kinds of cool things, but this, it really is a game-changer."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said that Meow Wolf should spark investments in the surrounding area, Community Impact reported. The company expects to create 127 full-time equivalent jobs and collaborate with organizations to hire at-risk youths and interns.

Ori Batagower, new development and acquisitions director at The Deal Co., stands where there will eventually be a courtyard at 2103 Lyons Ave.

Batagower said he hopes the development will create a community commodity in multiple ways. There won't be any parking or ride-share drop-off in the front of the buildings on Lyons Avenue, as the current parking lot will be transformed into a courtyard.

Traffic approaching Meow Wolf at the Moncrief-Lenoir site will flow onto Semmes Street and into the development, where 427 parking spaces are planned. The Deal Co. is exploring other structured parking options as well, Batagower said.

Batagower envisions the courtyard as a place where people can come and “take a load off.”

“If you want to come here, have a seat, enjoy the scenery, you absolutely can,” he said.

The remodel requires intensive work, as 2103 Lyons Ave. will be recognized at the state and federal levels as a historically significant place. The Deal Co. is working with Ryan Cos. on historic preservation

Since different parts of the buildings were built at different times, they have varying requirements when it comes to remodeling. The project is expected to cost about $42M.

The challenge is what Jon Deal, founder and CEO of The Deal Co., said he is attracted to.

“It's pretty easy to build something off of paper,” Deal said. “It’s extremely challenging to repurpose an existing structure, to turn it into something that it was never intended to be. We enjoy these old structures and the history behind them. And certainly, we're proud of saving them.”

The second level of a building at 2103 Lyons Ave., which its developer envisions could be used for an event venue or offices. The flooring is more than 100 years old.

Other projects by The Deal Co. include Winter Street Studios, Spring Street Studios and Silos at Sawyer Yards. Numerous art studios are in the company’s portfolio, but Meow Wolf at the Moncrief-Lenoir development is also a testament to the development and investment company’s commitment to the arts, Batagower said. 

“Meow Wolf, who knows zero about Houston, just comes here and lets us really be ambassadors for the city,” he said. “And they made a very, very wise choice to come here.”

A broker told The Deal Co. not to put any money into a marketing campaign to bring Meow Wolf to Houston since Houston wasn’t even on its radar, Deal said.

“Ori convinced me to spend a lot of money, and he did a very good job of spending it,” Deal said. “He put together an incredible marketing package not only for our site but for the city of Houston as a whole.”

The Deal Co. presented its marketing package on a Friday, and less than two weeks later, Meow Wolf’s executive team was visiting Houston, Deal said. After a tour of the city and dinner at Hugo’s, the only issue the team could find with Houston was that it hadn’t been marketed well enough to them in the past, Deal said.

“They want to be in a mixed-use development. The historic factor of it is a bonus,” he said.

Batagower said that Saint Arnold Brewing Co. founder Brock Wagner is owed much credit for kicking off the transformation of the immediate area. With new development coming in across the street due to the brewery, Batagower said the neighborhood, referred to as North Side, has great potential.

“The neighborhood is changing. … It’s really going places,” he said.

Multiple buildings at 2103 Lyons Ave. still have the original freight elevators from when they were part of a sheet metal manufacturing plant. The developers plan to retain the original shaft for use with a replacement elevator.

At a Bisnow event last week, Micheal Pittman II, director of brokerage services at Cushman & Wakefield, said consumers “crave a nostalgic experience” and would rather shop in an old manufacturing plant than a newly constructed building.

That can be unnerving to developers in Houston, who have historically knocked buildings down and rebuilt, Pittmann said. But remodeling and conversion are very common along the East Coast, he said.

“If you go talk to a national retailer and they're saying, ‘OK, I'm looking at Philadelphia, I’m looking at Chicago, I'm looking at New York City, I'm looking at Boston,’ [they have] 200-year-old buildings at some point,” he said. “They occupy these buildings all day long.”

Large historic buildings are harder to find in Houston, Batagower said, but The Deal Co. is keeping an eye out in Houston, in other Texas markets and beyond.

“There are very few other buildings like this in Houston that are left,” he said. “We have our eye on all of them.”

CORRECTION, APRIL 7, 8:42 A.M. CT: A previous version of this article stated an incorrect year that Meow Wolf is anticipated to open. The article has been updated.