Administrators with the Austin Community College administration’s indoor ground breaking ceremony was certainly unique. It matched an equally bold promise. The new classes to be offered will lift 10,000 people out of property by providing stable middle class jobs.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler praised the initiative.
"We are going to have 65,000 new middle skilled jobs created in this community in the next 5 years, and if we haven't trained the people that live here to take those jobs we are going to continue to import people to take jobs we have here in our community, that could take those jobs,” said Mayor Adler.
Phase two of the ACC Highland Campus project is part of a vision to revitalize the area.
Architectural renderings show this center for education will include a new residential and business community. The opening of the new classrooms is planned for late 2019 or early 2020.
A lot of work is already underway. "Without the support of the voters in 2014, when we went to the voters for a GO Bond election, this would not have happened,” said ACC President Richard Rhodes.
ACC purchased the Highland Mall after the major anchor stores left.
Main hallways, once filled with crowds, were empty. The mall was a shadow of what it was in 1971, when it opened as Austin’s first regional shopping center.
Before the Mall was built, before the shops, sales and fancy fountains, there was something else here. During the ceremony it was described as a dream and a refuge.
Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion called it, “Hallowed Ground.” "It’s important to recognized what brought us here, It’s important to recognize the mission and where we are going,” said Travillion.
Looking forward by looking back. The site was once the St. Johns Industrial Institute and Home for Orphans. It was built by an association of black churches in the early 1900's; offering shelter and an education.
Annual pilgrimages, known as encampments, were held on the property.
But the orphanage fell into disrepair, closed in the '40's and the land sold under questionable circumstances. That history was noted during Thursday’s ceremony. "And I believe without a doubt, that’s what’s happening here, is nothing but good,” said Rev. G.V. Clark with the St John Regular Baptist District Association.
Rev Clark spoke later to FOX 7 about how he felt after learning that ACC's new promise would fulfill an old one. "It was one of those moments that was unbelievable, because we had seen the purpose - the original purpose of the land do a full circle. when the mall was here, we thought that was it. and this dream of this place to help people, educate people went away. And now it’s just exciting,” said Rev. Clark.
As part of the redevelopment project a park will be built and named for the orphanage and the encampments that took place. Fulfilling a dream --- and possibly a new promise.