By Brian E. Clark
When the Highland Mall in Austin, Texas, opened 46 years ago with 1.2 million square feet of interior shop- ping space, people flocked to what was the city’s first
large-scale, enclosed shopping center. For decades, it
But time, competition, neglect, changes in neighborhood demographics and buying habits took its toll.
By 2009, U.S. News & World Report had dubbed it
one of the country’s “most endangered malls.” A year
later, all but a few of its stores were vacant.
The 81-acre Highland Mall didn’t die, however.
Austin Community College (ACC), which had
its administration offices on the edge of the mall,
stepped in. Working with a developer who is building apartments and offices in former parking lots, it
is turning the shopping center into a new ACC campus — its eighth in the rapidly growing Austin area.
As malls of all kinds around the country are shuttered, the Highland repurposing story is a bright spot
on the national scene. But it’s not alone: In Nashville,
Tenn., the Vanderbilt Medical Center has taken over
much of the 100 Oaks Mall, while the Denver suburb of Englewood replaced the Cinderella City mall
with a mixed-use, transit-oriented development called
CityCenter Englewood that includes retail, residential, and office space and open-space elements with
a light-rail focal point.
Not all malls are suffering, however, and some of the
more upscale ones are doing quite well. But economists and other urban experts say the underlying
problem is that developers overbuilt malls in the
R E P U R P O S I N G Our Nation’s Malls
Photo by Jef Nickerson
Courtesy of Grow Smart Rhode Island; Photo by Ben Jacobsen
The Arcade mall In Providence, R.I. was repurposed into mixed-use
development which includes lofts, retail, restaurants and entertainment.