While Austinites today are familiar with doing their weekend shopping at The Domain or Barton Creek Square, Austinites from yesteryear will remember spending their Saturday afternoons at one of the original shopping meccas of Austin: Highland Mall.
Although the mall is closed today, a new mecca of sorts is rising in its place. Austin Community College (ACC), in partnership with Redleaf Properties, is redeveloping the old Highland shopping mall into a new mixed-use project in North Austin. The project will include a new college campus, significant office, residential and retail components along with new parks and trails.
This self-contained ecosystem will significantly change the makeup of the Highland neighborhood and is already sparking new development throughout the surrounding area.
This article will dive into the history of the development and what the makeup of the area will look like once it is complete. We cover:
- The key qualities of the Highland neighborhood
- The history of Highland Mall, and how ACC acquired the site
- An overview of the current redevelopment plans
The Highland Neighborhood’s Prime Austin Location
The Highland neighborhood refers to the area immediately surrounding the old Highland Mall, located on Airport Boulevard, just west of IH-35 and north of US-290/FM 2222.
The redevelopment is located at the heart of Austin, with access to many of the city’s major thoroughfares, including IH-35, US-290/FM 2222 and Airport Boulevard. Additionally, it is proximate to US -183, Lamar Boulevard and CapMetro’s Highland Station where the MetroRail Red Line stops.
The district is just three miles from the University of Texas campus, less than five miles from the Central Business District and ten miles from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Additionally, it is immediately surrounded by favorite Austin neighborhoods, Hyde Park and North Loop, and is just minutes from popular retail centers including Mueller, The Triangle and The Linc.
Demographics of the Highland Neighborhood
To gain a better understanding of the Highland Mall area, it helps to look at the location’s demographic characteristics. For comparison, we have presented the data alongside the Domain’s demographics.
The population in a three-mile radius of Highland Mall is 165,851 with a projected five-year growth of 7.9%. In comparison, the Domain’s three-mile population is 121,506.
Highland’s current median age, household income and education in comparison to the Domain are demonstrated in the table below.
|Median Household Income||$60,242||$74,948|
|Percent with Bachelor’s Degree||31.3%||34%|
As you can see, the biggest takeaway from this data is how similar the demographics of the Highland area are to the Domain. Although slightly behind the Domain in terms of household income, the Highland area offers a comparably young, educated workforce.
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The History of Highland
Highland Mall opened in 1971 as Central Texas’s first enclosed shopping mall. Notable anchor tenants like JCPenney and Dillard’s called the mall home, along with Austin-based Scarbrough’s and San Antonio-based Joske’s. However, it was quickly eclipsed a short 10 years later in 1981 by the opening of Barton Creek Square in southwest Austin. By 2006, anchor tenant JCPenney closed its doors, and the Domain opened a year later in 2007.
As the mall continued to decline, Austin Community College (ACC) began purchasing the buildings and surrounding land. Starting in 2010 with the acquisition of 18 acres and the Dillard’s building, ACC continued with its purchase of the Macy’s property and acquisition of Highland Mall’s ground lease in 2011 and 2012. By the end of 2012, ACC had purchased all of the buildings and approximately 80 acres at Highland Mall. When the mall officially closed its doors in 2015, ACC moved in and began renovating space to turn it into a college campus.
Redevelopment Plans for Highland
With the mall now closed and the acquisitions complete, extensive development is quickly taking off at Highland. ACC, with Redleaf handling the masterplan design, has released plans for a new college campus, office space, residential units and more.
The 81-acre development will include:
New Developments Near ACC Highland
In addition to the ACC Highland redevelopment, several projects have already popped up in the surrounding area as well.
AQUILA will be developing a 165,000-sf office at the old Highlander hotel site.
The City of Austin Planning and Development Office
Directly across the street from Midtown Point, the city recently delivered a 264,000-sf development, known as Highland 3, that now houses the Planning and Development office. RedLeaf Properties, LLC and Ryan Co. are co-developed the project.
Highland Tech Center
Just to the north of ACC Highland, AQUILA redeveloped an office building into 86,000 sf of prime office space. In addition, Slate is developing the surrounding four acres to the north and west into 300 apartment units and 3,500 sf of retail on the adjacent site.
Formerly Lincoln Center, The Linc is a retail center just east of ACC Highland that recently underwent renovations and re-tenanting. Popular Austin restaurant Easy Tiger recently opened a new location on the north end of the center. Other tenants include Vivo, Pluckers and the Austin Film Society. Lincoln Properties is the developer.
So what does this mean? At the root, people.
Austin’s continued population growth justifies the seemingly endless development of new, more efficient communities. The Highland development is designed to be both walkable and transit-friendly – a true “Live, Work, Play” environment – similar to the atmospheres of the Domain and upcoming Broadmoor redevelopment.
With a million square feet of office contained within this walkable landscape and the rejuvenation of a once-popular hub of activity, the Highland Development will surely leave a lasting, positive impact on the area.
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Originally published May 2019, updated September 2021.
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