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Highland Mall Land Could Soon Be 100 Percent Owned by ACC

Highland Mall is filled with vacant retail space like this former Dillard's location. By August, Austin Community College could own 100 percent of the land beneath the mall.
Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News
Highland Mall is filled with vacant retail space like this former Dillard's location. By August, Austin Community College could own 100 percent of the land beneath the mall.

Land underneath the beleaguered Highland Mall could soon be under complete ownership of Austin Community College. ACC signed a $16 million deal for the former JC Penney and the surrounding parking lot.

It’s important to distinguish land ownership from building ownership.  ACC would possess all the property beneath the mall, but it would only own three of the four former department stores: the Dillard’s women’s store, Macy’s and JC Penney buildings.

Nevertheless, when the deal closes in August, ACC will own more than 642,000 square feet of space at the Highland Mall site.

“The first priority for the space is actually to build additional instructional space,” ACC associate VP Neil Vickers told KUT News. He said ACC’s long-term master plan includes renovations at its existing buildings. “And basically, we’re going to need space to relocate some of those classrooms and programs while we go back in and do renovations.”

The Highland Mall opened in 1971 amid much excitement in Austin, as it was the city’s first enclosed shopping mall. In recent years, however, the mall has slowly withered. Major anchors like Dillard’s and Macy’s jumped ship, and you only need to read consumer reviews on for a taste of Highland Mall’s current reputation.

no longer worth going to, no longer worth driving by, no longer worth thinking about.  run down, bad shops, bad service, is it even still open?  does it deserve to be?  doesn't matter anymore.

Austin Community College, on the other hand, is experiencing rapid growth. This year, it set a new record for enrollment, with more than 45,000 students signing up to attend classes.

ACC has also hired a new president to replace the outgoing Stephen Kinslow. El Paso Community College president Richard Rhodes is expected to take over from Kinslow in late August or early September.

ACC provided us with this acquisition history of Highland Mall:

May 2010: Closed on Dillard’s women’s store property; 18.5 acres and 194,000 square-foot building. $4.71 million, including costs and fees. December 2010:  Closed on Macy’s property; 12.8 acres and 223,000 square-foot building. $5.7 million, including costs and fees. May 2011:Closed on land under the core of the mall; 32.2 acres. Buildings on this land are subject to a ground lease through 2070 with the company operating the mall. It is anticipated existing mall businesses will continue operations according to the terms of their subleases with the ground tenant. $14.8 million, including costs and fees. August 2011: Expected to close on the J.C. Penney property; 17.3 acres and two buildings totaling more than 225,000 square feet. The second building in the J.C. Penney transaction is a strip center, and the businesses will continue to operate per their lease terms (leases run approximately five more years). Estimated $15.9 million, including costs and fees (will be finalized at closing).

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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