DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – An iconic South Dallas landmark will soon be restored to its former glory in the hopes of transforming the surrounding community.

The Forest Theater hosted legendary performers in its heyday but has sat abandoned for years.

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Credit: CBS 11 News

“It was glamorous,” said 74-year-old Donald Patton, who remembers coming to the Forest Theater to see movies and musical acts. “It had lights, cameras, and action.”

R.C. Hickman The Briscoe Center for American History UT Austin

The theater was built in 1949, and it ultimately became an entertainment haven for the black community.

R.C. Hickman The Briscoe Center for American History UT Austin

“We had this up and coming couple called Ike and Tina Turner, and man it was so nice to come here,” Patton said. “It was nice and air conditioned and had cushioned seats. It was, as they say, ‘the bomb.’”

The historic venue has sat empty and abandoned for years – until now.

A new nonprofit, Forest Forward, publicly unveiled its plans to restore and reimagine the Forest Theater for the first time on Friday. The boarded up walls of the theater now show renderings of what it’s hopefully going to look like a few years from now.

The Forest will have a 500-seat concert hall, rooftop deck, and a café.

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“In five years, we hope to see vibrancy,” said Elizabeth Wattley, president and CEO of Forest Forward. “We want to see the doors open. We want kids learning, adults being able to drop in and record music videos, use their talents.”

The restored theater will be an anchor to a $75 million revitalization project that includes a mixed income housing development and new educational opportunities for South Dallas students.

See more from reporter Caroline Vandergriff here.

The theater will serve as a performance space and community classroom for Dallas ISD’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Arts Academy.

“I can’t wait to hold classes here and for us to actually enjoy the entire facility,” said Harmetra Gilbert, a teacher at the academy.

Her students are already dreaming of the day they can take to the stage at the Forest Theater.

So far, Forest Forward has raised $25 million for the project.

The timeline depends on continued fundraising and investment, but crews expect to start construction in the next few months. It’s possible the building could be completed by 2024.

“We’re going to create a neighborhood where everyone is welcome, and where everyone who’s here now can stay if they want to,” said Larry James, chairman of the board for Forest Forward.

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They hope the reimagined Tower Theater will breathe new life into the community and bring many more decades of art, entertainment and growth.

Caroline Vandergriff