AUSTIN -- Students, faculty and staff checked out the newest Austin Community College campus, housed in the old Highland Mall, Wednesday morning.
"I can't even recognize it. If you were to tell me I was standing in Highland Mall, I wouldn't be able to tell," said native Austinite and ACC student Stephen Hernandez.
The mall opened in the early 1970s and was a popular destination, but as Austin grew and changed, so did the mall.
"The administration building is right next door and so over the years, the people that were in that building began to see the mall going down. And it had always been such a vibrant part of the community," said Molly Beth Malcolm, Ed.D, special assistant to the president and CEO of ACC.
In 2010 ACC purchased the mall property and has used student fees to fund its $70 million renovation.
The central walking area through the mall stayed but stores both up and downstairs have been turned into classrooms, labs and student centers, complete with an elaborate staircase in the center of the building that will double as a hangout area. The old JCPenny store is now the largest learning emporium in the world with more than 600 spaces. And this is just the beginning.
"People can imagine this to be another, smaller Domain or a Mueller area. And so you are going to see a very different look with the idea of work, play, live here and learn here with the brain part or the central part of this area being the Austin Community College Highland Campus," said Malcom.
Tech company Rackspace is set to take over the old Dillard's. And ACC has a $386 million bond proposition on the November ballot that would partly pay to renovate the center area of the mall, where stores are still located. Outside, development company RedLeaf is planning to turn the parking lot into a residential and business area. That construction is set to start in 2015.
The City of Austin is also looking at redeveloping the area by changing the use of the land and is also studying mobility in the area.