At last week’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the University of Houston-Victoria’s Northwest Campus, university and city officials laid the foundation for expanded education and business opportunities in the college neighborhood.
Just a few years ago, the shell of the former mall was standing empty and looked as if it would stay that way for a long time – the faded crown jewel of the city’s empty retail spaces. UHV’s decision to put the vacant side of the building to use is at once a smart financial decision and a sign of what a thriving university can do for a city.
The move is part of an ongoing effort to keep the university centralized during a period of expansion and growing pains. Rather than filling any available space and risking problems with transportation – the kind of problems that last year prompted the university to move its Center for the Arts out of downtown and closer to home – UHV is choosing to expand its footprint at its current location. The nearby Town Plaza Mall building is a brilliant fit for that strategy.
So, how close is close? The building is a little over a mile from the campus proper, meaning it’s a quick drive or shuttle ride away and well within walking distance. The sidewalks along Ben Jordan Street and down the south side of Airline Road should be a big help here.
With the prospect of increased foot traffic on Airline, the city now has the unique responsibility/opportunity to ensure that future development not only promotes pedestrian safety but encourages walkers to explore the neighborhood. This stretch of Airline is home to the Town and Country Shopping Center, which certainly stands to benefit from being more visible and accessible to students.
And speaking of marathon improvement projects, this is a good time to remember that the City Council recently took the next step toward a revamped Ben Wilson Street corridor. Improvements will include sidewalks and medians to help students get around on foot, which will be all the more necessary with the University Commons building coming online this month and more projects underway.
With the expansion from Ben Wilson to Airline, it’s tempting to imagine a bustling education/business district with student-friendly shops, eateries and entertainment that will be frequented by young adults on their way to and from classes. However, this vision will only become a reality if the university and the city recognize the importance of continued growth in the area. The Town Plaza Mall project and others like it are good for the university and good for Victoria.