Enter the West End of downtown Dallas, and you enter a world of the old meeting the new, of high-tech companies and entrepreneurs finding an inspirational home among 100-year-old bricks-and-timber buildings updated with the most modern amenities.
One of the West End’s oldest residents is El Centro College, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. One of its newer ones is, Universal Mind — which will formally launch its office on Market Street in September. Contrasting the two makes it clear that the West End is a versatile, and accommodating neighborhood.
“We’ve obviously been here for 50 years, so we’ve seen the ups and downs of downtown and the West End,” said David Browning, vice president of business services at El Centro. “We’re here and we’re committed to being a part of the West End.”
That sentiment is echoed by Andrew Sevin, vice president for client services at Universal Mind, a 13-year old company that helps businesses formulate and execute their digital strategies. It has offices in Denver, Colorado, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Dallas.
“The West End is not only a vibrant energy source, but it’s a space that puts us in close proximity to the innovative partners that embody the very reason we’re here,” Sevin said.
“The DFW market is both and excellent proving ground for our core offering, but the West End is the hub that keeps us connected to the key spheres of influence — the heartbeat and pulse of the city — Dallas Regional Chamber, the DEC, The Texas Research Alliance, the Dallas Innovation Alliance — and so many more,” he said.
The area has become home to the Smart Cities initiative, the DIA’s living lab, and the conversion to an Innovation District.
Browning said that El Centro has been at the heart of the West End and that the college is changing along with neighborhood.
“Our role is shifting somewhat with the shifting of the downtown,” Browning said.
In the past, El Centro had been focused heavily on the health-care industry, he said. In recent years, the college has increased its focus on corporate training, “providing a resource for the local corporations to come and use us.”
The college has opened two new classrooms specially designed for that purpose.
“We’re looking to be a big corporate partner.”
“We’re looking to be a big corporate partner,” Browning said.
Increased residential units in the West End has prompted the college to offer more continuing education classes, and the college recently opened an athletic facility where people can enroll as members.”
And, the college has rented two floors at One Main for expansion of other programs in internal design, architecture, and fashion design.
“That’s going to be a very unique addition for us,” Browning said.”It’s going to be a real professional studio that will give our students a real feel for what it’s like to go into the workplace.”
El Centro is bouncing back from the July sniper incident on its campus that resulted in the deaths of four Dallas police officers and an officer with Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The shooting, which came at the end of a peaceful protest march, left nine other people wounded and saw the Dallas Police Department use a robot-borne bomb to kill the sniper inside El Centro’s building.
But that horrible event, hopefully, has brought only brief notoriety to the campus.
El Centro will have an enrollment of 12,000- 13,000 students this fall, and Browning said its goal is 20,000 students by 2020.
“So, we will have to have the space for it,” Browning told me.
RISING PROPERTY VALUES IN THE WEST END
But in the West End, rising property prices make the neighborhood an expensive place to expand.
The college had hoped to buy the West End Marketplace, but that property — which was vacant for 16 years — recently was bought by Granite Properties, which has major renovation plans for the structure.
“We tried to buy the West End Marketplace — could have had it for $8 million — but got priced out at $17 million,” said Browning, who noted that state budget cuts at the time limited the college’s ability to acquire anything.
“At that time, we received a 30 percent cut in our budget from the state,” Browning said. He said at that time, the college didn’t have the money to take a building, even if it had been given to it.
Browning said that the West End transitioned from an entertainment district to an office district.
It’s “becoming a hot market again,” he said, one that is still evolving and causing the college to adapt along with it.
“You’re going to see us morph quite a bit as downtown Dallas continues to morph and change.”
“You’re going to see us morph quite a bit as downtown Dallas continues to morph and change,” Browning said.
That changing nature of the West End is what attracted Universal Mind.
“This mix of reclamation and reinvention helped make the West End attractive to Universal Mind,” Sevin said. “Founded in 2003, Universal Mind is neither old, nor new.”
“In fact, we’re enjoying all that comes with carving a successful brand and leveraging those successes to pivot and change. To reinvent ourselves,” Sevin said. “This aligns completely with what’s occurring in the West End.”
It’s a home that fits Universal MInd’s own mindset, he said.
“Our offices are not only a physical manifestation of our presence here in Dallas, but also serve as a reminder of how we started, and continuously inspires us,” Sevin said.
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