Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith headlined a ribbon-cutting Thursday at what’s billed as an innovation center.
Smith bought and renovated the formerly dilapidated office building on South Lancaster Road across from the Dallas VA hospital.
Initial tenants are outposts of Dallas College and the University of North Texas at Dallas.
It’s part of what community leaders hope will be an awakening of the struggling area.
“Out of this place, we expect the birth of a nation out of here. The right kind of birth. And we expect people to come in and go into the community and transform the community in a different way,” Smith said.
Technology job training will be a focus.
The renovated building is in a neighborhood where some businesses struggle. Wages and jobs are not plentiful.
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As recently as 2015, Smith’s building was a run-down mess contributing to blight.
Neighborhood City Council Member Carolyn King Arnold said city officials had trouble even figuring out who owned the building.
“Mr. Emmitt Smith made a commitment and said to me, I am committed to this community. And that was a plus for me,” Arnold said. "You have brought it here and now it is our job to take advantage of it."
Beside Smith’s building is a newer apartment community.
Arnold said there are plans for vacant land down the street.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said she has been familiar with the locations for decades.
She was a nurse at the VA Dallas Hospital before she ran for office 50 years ago.
“It made me very, very happy to see this facility turning to what we call the gold mine training,” Johnson said. “Let me express my strong appreciation for Emmitt Smith.”
Congresswoman Johnson said she first envisioned a university in Southern Dallas when she served in the Texas Senate.
The main campus of the University of Texas at Dallas came to pass during the years Texas Senator Royce West followed her in that seat.
West said UNT-Dallas could one day host 40,000 university students on the southern side of the city.
“That’s my dream. You think about that. You have 35 to 40,000 students in this area. You no longer have a conversation about the north and south,” West said.
A university of that size would also be a major employer with good jobs, West said.
It is a higher education dream Emmitt Smith supports for that underserved community.
“Much has been given to me and I have an opportunity to take this platform which God has blessed me with and share with others. And I’m trying to share it in the best way that I can, by inspiring others to be on a level of greatness. And this center has a lot of potential for that. And as we continue to grow as a community and as people and we look beyond the barriers of limitations and knock these walls down, we can become a better society,” Smith said.
He also said he expects students to benefit from the innovation center to give back to the community and help improve it in return.