The Austin Community College District has acquired the final element of Highland Mall – the ground lease for the core building that houses retail tenants, the former Dillard’s men’s store, and common spaces such as the food court, as well as the former cinema building. Through acquisition of the ground lease, the college takes immediate ownership of the space, permitting ACC to move forward more quickly with its plans for revitalization of the site.
“This is exciting news for the college and the community. With this acquisition, we can accelerate plans for the mall and go to work on our first Highland project – renovating the former J.C. Penney property,” says Dr. Richard Rhodes, ACC president/CEO. “That vacant building has been dormant for some time. Now it will become a center for innovative learning and bring renewed energy to a very important part of Austin.”
The college previously purchased the Dillard’s women’s, Macy’s, and J.C. Penney properties as well as the surface parking areas. ACC now has acquired the ground lease for the core mall building from LNR Property LLC at a cost of approximately $1.5 million; before the current acquisition, the core mall building was subject to a ground lease through 2070 with the company operating the mall.
Mall business is expected to continue as usual for the immediate future, and the college has retained Jones Lang LaSalle to manage mall operations. ACC will work with tenants and the community and provide updates as plans develop.
“ACC recognizes the important role Highland Mall has played as one of the area’s first suburban shopping malls,” says Dr. Barbara Mink, chair of the ACC Board of Trustees. “We will continue to partner with neighborhood groups, the city, and other stakeholders as Highland Mall’s next chapter takes shape. The college is proud to help bring new life to the area and increase educational opportunities.”
ACC’s long-term plan calls for transforming the Highland Mall site into a modern educational space and center for community and business partnerships. The first renovation at Highland Mall is the former J.C. Penney store, which will be used for instruction, with space dedicated to innovative learning concepts that create momentum for students to persist and complete. In particular, the Penney space will house the college’s math emporium, an open-lab model that allows students to move through developmental math curriculum at an individualized pace. The former Penney space is expected to open for the fall 2014 semester.
“The new vision for Highland Mall is a win-win – creating benefits for the college, local businesses, the city, and our residents,” says Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “This project showcases the best of public-private partnerships and will no doubt serve as a model for future development.”
The Highland Mall site has many advantages, such as its central location, existing buildings, access from major roadways, proximity to public transportation (including a Capital MetroRail stop on Airport Boulevard), and extensive parking.
The college is working with RedLeaf Properties and the City of Austin’s Airport Boulevard initiative to further explore the opportunities presented by the Highland site. RedLeaf Properties retained the right to redevelop portions of the Highland Mall site not used by ACC – opening the door to future mixed-use development.
The college has launched a new webpage designed to keep the community informed on the latest developments at Highland Mall. Subscribe to updates and view the latest news at austincc.edu/highland.
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