Highland Mall, Airport Boulevard to get makeovers with upcoming ACC campus

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

The partially abandoned Highland Mall property will now be converted into grounds for a new Austin Community College campus starting later this month, as part of a larger city initiative to transform Airport Boulevard into a more pedestrian-friendly corridor.

A resolution by the Austin City Council directs the City Manager’s office to find possible financial solutions for funding the renovation of Airport Boulevard, which could include adding sidewalks, improving roads and adding more residential and commercial properties in the area. One of the possible financial solutions that the city will be exploring is tax increment financing, or a TIF. 

The Highland Mall property, which was purchased in August 2012 by ACC, will start converting the space March 27. The first phase will renovate the area previously used as a J.C. Penney on the north side of the mall. The rest of the mall will remain in business during this first phase, which is projected to be completed in spring 2014.

Jorge Rousselin, urban design project manager for the city, said the city is looking over various options for both what it plans to do on Airport Boulevard and how to fund these options. Various plans will be presented to the council in May. 

“The direction was to explore financing options or potentially a TIF in the area,” Rousselin said. “We’re working with stakeholders in the area to kind of get the sense of what would be the transformative projects that would be under various financial structures.”

ACC spokeswoman Alexis Patterson said the first phase of the new campus will include classrooms, a library, a student union and a top-notch “math emporium.” This emporium will be an open lab to help students who need a refresher in developmental math skills and will be the largest in the nation of its kind, Patterson said.

“The whole idea is to become the premier community college in the nation,” Patterson said. “It’s going to be an innovative facility, and we believe it will be a pride point for the city and the area.”

David Hagan, history and liberal arts honors senior, said he fully supported the conversion of Highland Mall into a higher education space. Hagan said while the addition of walkable sidewalks and the improvement of roads would be positive, he still enjoys Airport Boulevard as it is.

“I like Airport Boulevard,” he said. “As long as they don’t touch the Popeyes, I’m okay. I feel like Austin is sort of progressively moving toward pedestrian-orientated city, which I am definitely in favor of.”

Published on March 8, 2013 as "ACC ready to transform old mall into new campus".