The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded a $1 million matching grant Monday to the University of Houston-Victoria to renovate a portion of the former Town Plaza Mall.
UHV is in the process of acquiring a large portion of Town Plaza Mall to house university offices, labs, storage and space for community development initiatives. The sale from Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church is expected to be complete by the end of May.
The federal grant comes from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration and will be used to help bolster regional economic development and community development in the Coastal Bend. The center is estimated to create 1,080 jobs, retain another 1,080 jobs and generate $43.2 million in private investment during the next 10 years.
“A collaborative regional economic development approach is something we have been championing for quite a while,” UHV President Vic Morgan said. “But we lacked designated, visible space for it. This grant allows us to create a site at a location that is easy to access and has ample parking.”
The university will acquire 132,000 square feet of the former mall on 10 acres of land located in the 1500 block of Airline Road just east of Laurent Street about a mile from campus. UHV will use $1.9 million in capital construction bonds for the purchase.
After the building is purchased, the $1 million grant will go toward renovating the portion of the building that will house the community and business development activities. The grant will pay for about half of the overall cost to renovate this area, said Wayne Beran, UHV vice president for administration and finance. The other half will be paid for with campus construction bonds.
The former mall will be home to the UHV Regional Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship currently housed in University North on UHV’s main campus. The center provides a regional hub for small business resources and promotes community engagement and partnerships to support the educational, economic and cultural development throughout the area.
The center encompasses resources from the UHV Small Business Development Center, the UHV School of Business Administration and the Regional Community Development Center. It provides a neutral environment where communities and counties can come together and become involved in mutually beneficial regional partnerships, Beran said. The counties involved are Aransas, Bee, Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Jackson, Karnes, Lavaca, Refugio and Victoria.
“The whole idea is get communities from the 11 counties to work together,” Beran said. “The communities alone may not be big enough to attract major players, but as a team, they could.”
Joe Humphreys, director of the UHV SBDC and the Regional Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship, said a shared common vision will leverage the area’s resources for more positive economic outcomes through regional partnerships and collaboration.
“The mission of the center is to provide leadership as a regional facilitator and connector,” he said. “We want to create a trusted environment where people can develop and share ideas. Above all, this will be a resource center. It will provide resources for community development and business development.”
Early plans for the renovation include space for a conference room, large and small training rooms and offices for the SBDC and RCEDE staffs. There also will be space for regional community partners to meet with prospective or current clients. The renovation process is slated to take about 18 months.
“I foresee our regional partners coming in to talk with other communities and development organizations,” Humphreys said. “We are hoping to have more business meetings, regional meetings and larger trainings than we’ve had in the past.”
After UHV acquires the property, an architect will be hired to plan the repairs and renovations.
Also relocating to Town Plaza will be:
- A UHV classroom and lab space.
- Dalkey Archive Press, an internationally renowned nonprofit literary organization housed at UHV.
- Climate-controlled record storage.
- Book storage for Dalkey Archive Press and the new University Commons.
Our Lady of Victory is keeping the former J.C. Penney location and has started a renovation project to turn it into a conference and reception center. A driveway and green space will be created between the old J.C. Penney building and the rest of mall.
“This grant is a big piece of our plans to transform the mall into a permanent site for our regional community development efforts,” Beran said. “I think the new site will attract attention throughout the 11 counties.”