The Austin Community College District (ACC) announces the purchase of approximately 18 acres of Dillard’s, Inc. property at Highland Mall for future expansion of college programs and facilities.
“The purchase is part of a long-range strategy to increase classroom space and consolidate administrative services under one roof,” says Dr. Stephen B. Kinslow, ACC president/CEO. “Investing in the property now is good for the college’s future. It will help us expand operations, student services, and learning opportunities to meet high demand throughout the service area, and it has the potential to revitalize a local landmark.”
The Highland Mall property, located at 5901 Airport Blvd., includes the four-story Dillard’s building and surrounding 18 acres. ACC plans to renovate 194,000 square feet of former retail space, adding classrooms and office space. The space would also reunite ACC’s business and administrative services, currently headquartered in separate locations.
“ACC has great growth in its future, with community colleges enrolling the majority of higher education students,” says Nan McRaven, chair of the ACC Board of Trustees. “In the last two years alone, the college has grown by more than 8,600 students district-wide. As the college continues to expand, we will face infrastructure needs that can be resolved in part by consolidating support operations and preparing for modest growth in administrative services.”
Tentative plans also call for future expansion of the college’s Continuing Education Division and the possible inclusion of a conference center and additional offices for other non-profit organizations.
“ACC’s vision includes creating more opportunities for synergy with community-based partnerships to close the education gaps in Central Texas,” says Kinslow.
The central location has many advantages, including ample parking, expansive floor space, and proximity to both a new Capital MetroRail stop at Airport Boulevard and ACC administrative offices at Highland Business Center. Information about the selling price is not available at this time in order to preserve bargaining position in other land purchases currently under negotiation. ACC will release the purchase price at a later date.
“This is good news for the city,” says Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “ACC is a valued community partner and will bring many benefits to this area. This is the type of dense infill development Austin needs.”
ACC has long considered the possibilities of the Highland location and completed the transaction in partnership with Matt Whelan, principal of RedLeaf Properties, LLC. Whelan, who was most recently involved in transforming the former Mueller Airport into a mixed-use development, will continue to work with the college on redevelopment of this economically challenged part of north Central Austin. While there are no immediate plans for the area surrounding ACC’s land purchase at Highland Mall, a larger revitalization is expected.
“Beyond renovations to the building itself, there is potential for the surrounding acreage to be transformed, over time, into a successful mixed-use project that is reflective of the community’s goals,” says Whelan. “There are, of course, a number of hurdles to overcome regarding the current state of Highland Mall, but regardless of how and when the area evolves, having ACC expand its presence in this part of town is a positive step in the area’s future.”
No timeline has been set, but the college expects to begin renovation in the next two to three years. In addition to the Dillard’s site, ACC is acquiring other properties within its 7,000-square mile, eight-county service area. ACC recently announced land acquisitions in Elgin and Leander, and the college is pursuing acquisitions in Bastrop and the Kyle/Buda area. The purchases are in accordance with the college’s Master Plan, a long-term strategy to expand programs and services and meet dramatic increases in enrollment mandated by the state’s Closing the Gaps initiative.
ACC projects enrollment will reach 54,000 by 2020. In spring 2010, the college enrolled more than 41,000 credit students; it was the fourth consecutive semester with record enrollment college-wide. The Master Plan calls for the college to accommodate the enrollment increase through new campus construction and existing campus expansions. In the meantime, ACC has grown Weekend College and Distance Learning programs in order to maximize current facility usage and access for students.
“Our planning team is working with local business and community leaders who serve on Campus Advisory Committees to determine how best to expand programs and services at all campuses,” says Kinslow. “This innovative campus-specific master planning will enable us to meet the educational and workforce training needs of a growing economy well into the future.”
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