Construction has begun on retail and restaurant development on the north side of campus that has been more than a decade in planning.
Set in motion by ACU endowment funds, the 5-acre development, Allen Ridge, will undergo construction at the corner between Ambler Avenue and Judge Ely Boulevard, near a natural pond. Encircling the perimeter of the pond, developers plan to add a trail for running, hiking and biking. The trail will eventually expand around other areas of development and connect with the Lunsford Trail around campus.
Restaurants expected to open at Allen Ridge include The Biscuit Bar, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Blue Jean Cafe and Phoenix Pho Vietnamese Restaurant. Kelly Young, vice president of investment management, said in addition to the restaurants, which anchor the place, they hope to attract other services and have added Nails One, a nail salon and Hotworx Yoga, a yoga studio, into the development.
“Our first goal for this is to really improve the neighborhood around campus for students and the ACU community,” Young said. “We don’t think there’s really anything else like it in West Texas.”
Young said the idea for the development project near campus first occurred to him about 15 years ago when he returned to ACU, his alma-mater, from a job at Pepperdine University in Southern California and noticed that the university itself had improved significantly but the surrounding area had yet to follow in development.
After taking an outline of his idea to Dr. Phil Schubert, president of the university, they discussed it off and on at annual reviews for over a ten-year-period. However, Young’s job at the time did not allow him the flexibility to make any significant advancement on the project.
In 2013, Young was ready to make a job change and met with Schubert and Jack Rich, president of ACIMCO and chief investment officer who manages the endowment, to begin taking action on the idea. Surprisingly, Jack had done some initial planning on development around campus 20 years prior.
“I think this development provides significant benefits for students, ACU employees and citizens of Abilene as a whole,” Rich said. “We are providing a space that will be unique in Abilene, that will enhance the user experience as a place to dine and visit.”
Although the project only began official planning about six years ago, plans were found revealing a similarly designed idea for on-campus development dating back to the 1980s.
“So someone since at least the ’80s has been thinking about it, but it was just kind of the right time and the right place as the three of us got together and started talking about what we might be able to do,” Young said.
ACU owns a total of 80-acres, given to the university in the 1940s, that the team ultimately plans to develop. Young said they would like to eventually add a hotel and upscale apartment living.
“We’re really in no hurry,” Young said. “We can take our time, try to do what we want to do, try to find the right partners, see when the market’s ready and then we can kick off other phases.”
In May 2015, ACU initially announced plans for the development and the project received zoning approval from the city of Abilene in September of 2016. In February 2018, the ACIMCO Board of Trustees approved plans to commence the first phase of the development, which included a hotel and apartment complex.
The project is being implemented under the university’s permanent endowment funds, not student dollars or tuition. Rich said the investment in the project is driven by both financial and community enhancements.
“This project is an investment in the community,” Rich said. “Financially, we expect this project to meet long term investment objectives.”
First tenants are expected to begin operating late spring of 2020.