Major transformation happening at Highland Mall


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER

Posted on September 24, 2013 at 6:25 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 24 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- The face of Highland Mall is undergoing a major transformation.

Austin Community College began buying the property in 2010 and they're turning it into their newest and largest campus.

The mall first opened its doors in 1971 and the changes taking place there now are hard to miss.

“What's going on right now is what we refer to as phase one of our Highland renovation,” said Neil Vickers, ACC’s VP of Finance and Budget.  “The transformation is becoming pretty obvious.”

Part of the mall that once housed JC Penny is a shell of its former self after construction crews gutted the building and ripped off the roof.

Project managers say the concrete pillars and ceilings won't be covered up in the final phase of construction. 

“The second floor will be dedicated to kind of traditional classroom, science lab computer lab spaces,” Vickers said. 

The first floor of the new building will be something ACC has never had before.

“It'll be focused on something that we call a math emporium, which is a 600 plus computer station math lab. As far as we know it will be the largest such computer lab in the nation,” Vickers said.

Even the parking lot will undergo a transformation. There are plans to eventually turn it into a parking garage. It could also have residential and retail space.

“There are two other department stores still to go, Macys and Dillards. It's not only going to have the physical new life to it -- but we think it's going to bring a lot of benefits to the community, a lot of energy back in,” Vickers said.

The entire project is about 1.2 million square feet and ACC says it's going to take some time to make over the entire mall.

In the meantime, there are still a few stores and a food court inside Highland. ACC says they can stay until work begins on that part of the building, and it could take years for that to happen.

“Right now we're in the process of hiring a master planner to basically help us answer that question for the remainder of the mall,” Vickers said.

Phase one of the Highland Campus will cost $70 million. It will open to students in fall of next year.