UHV to ease space crunch by purchasing Town Plaza Mall

UHV will purchase a large portion of Town Plaza Mall from Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church. The UHV Small Business Development Center, Dalkey Archive Press and two labs will relocate to the mall in 2017.

The University of Houston-Victoria is closing in on acquiring a large portion of Town Plaza Mall to house university offices, labs and storage.

UHV will purchase the mall, located in the 1500 block of Airline Road just east of Laurent Street, from Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church. The university will acquire 132,000 square feet on 10 acres of land located about a mile from campus.

Vic Morgan

On Thursday, the UH System Board of Regents gave authority to UH System Chancellor Renu Khator to purchase the property. UHV will use $1.9 million in capital construction bonds for the purchase.

“Town Plaza Mall offers UHV access to a substantial amount of space at an attractive acquisition price,” UHV President Vic Morgan said. “In addition to fixing our immediate space shortages, this property offers excellent possibilities for future growth and development.”

The purchase should be completed within three months. After UHV acquires the property, an architect will be hired, and repairs and renovations will take place, said Brenda Svetlik, UHV capital projects director. The building should be ready in 2017.

While UHV has plans to add a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics building; a Student Center/Learning Commons; and a new residence hall on campus in the next two to three years, Morgan said the university needs additional space sooner.

“We will not have any more classroom space until the STEM building opens in three years,” he said. “This was an opportunity to add classroom space, office areas, labs, storage and parking at a place that is convenient for the public to reach.”

Wayne Beran

Town Plaza Mall was built in 1969. J.C. Penney Co., Walgreens and Luby’s Cafeteria were once among the tenants. Our Lady of Victory bought the mall in 2011. The seven remaining tenants had left by 2012.

The UHV Facilities Space Planning Committee, made up of faculty, staff, administrators and a Student Government Association representative, evaluated the property and recommended to Morgan that UHV purchase it.

“Our overall finding was that the property is in good condition, and it offers a good value,” said Wayne Beran, UHV vice president for administration and finance. “It’s the only property of its size located about a mile from campus, and the price is more than fair for property in the city limits.”

The church will keep the former J.C. Penney location and has started a renovation project to turn it into a conference and reception center. A driveway will be created between the old J.C. Penney building and the rest of mall. There will be covered entrances next to the driveway for both the UHV and Our Lady of Victory portions.

Relocating to Town Plaza will be:

  • The UHV Small Business Development Center. The SBDC also plans to start a business incubator there.
  • Regional Center for Economic Development. The center partners with 11 counties in the Crossroads to create rural economic development opportunities.
  • Dalkey Archive Press, an internationally renowned nonprofit literary organization housed at UHV.
  • A classroom, kinesiology lab and physics lab. The labs will move to the STEM building when it opens.
  • Climate-controlled record storage.
  • Book storage for Dalkey Archive Press and the Victoria College/UHV Library.

Because the university is landlocked, UHV already has started using different sites in Victoria, Morgan said. The most notable example is the UHV Downtown Center for the Arts, which houses UHV’s art and design courses, a bookstore and a small event space. In addition, UHV Facilities and Dalkey Archive Press both use off-campus storage spaces. Those spaces will be eliminated when Town Plaza is ready.

“We also will see considerable savings by storing library books at Town Plaza,” Beran said. “By storing books off campus, we can cut about $5 million in construction costs on the new Student Center/Learning Commons.”

Since a shuttle bus will run between the UHV campus and Town Plaza, the former mall also eventually could be used for additional parking for UHV students, a less expensive option than building a parking garage, Morgan said.

Town Plaza also will be a more convenient place for visitors attending business meetings. The UHV SBDC will have a front entrance facing Airline Road and plenty of parking for its clients.

“Without additional space, UHV will not be able to continue to grow in Victoria,” Morgan said. “Our priority remains becoming a comprehensive regional university. That, of course, takes room, and this property will help our expansion plans greatly.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro