Avenue’s 500 block takes on new life
Comedy club could be Cunninghams’ 1st tenant
Pending a city liquor board hearing Dec. 21, the first tenant in Lucille and Mark Cunningham's extension of their “Five West” development could be a comedy club.
In addition to the 4,300-square-foot space at 508 W. Colorado Ave. - tentatively earmarked for the Denver-area Wits End club - 5,900 square feet of Cunningham-owned space at 506 and 516 W. Colorado Ave. is also now available for lease, the Westside mother/son development duo said this week.
The major renovation project, which took more than a year and cost close to $1 million, gutted the three buildings - which are actually much older than they look - and gave them modern services and new facades, the Cunninghams explained.
“Everyone says they're glad to have us on the Westside because we change it for the better,” Lucille summed up.
One of the key elements in upgrading the properties was “reconnecting with the street,” Mark said. For example, the space previously had housed three internally joined nightclubs, with people chiefly entering them from the rear parking lot.
The most prominent sign of the new street orientation is a reopened 12-foot-wide pedestrian walkway from the lot to the avenue (reminiscent of the “horse alleys” in Old Colorado City) between the 508 and 516 buildings. In the former nightclub arrangement, the walkway - which the Cunninghams have named “Pedestrian Alley” - had been fenced off on either end for privacy reasons.
Restoring the access also invites use of the avenue's wide, landscaped, brick-paver sidewalks that were built when Near Westside property owners formed the Gateway Improvement District about 20 years ago, Cunningham believes.
“We're taking advantage of the infrastructure that was put in,” he said. “It was set up for pedestrian orientation. Now it's really becoming a gateway. People can see and be seen.”
Another lot-to-avenue connection is a one-way access (not yet finished) just east of the 508 building that will let motorists turn off Colorado and drive to the rear lot. This will add convenience and cut down on people circling the block to get to the back, he explained.
According to Mark Cunningham, the Wits End, which has been located in Westminster for several years, was looking for a Colorado Springs location and liked the size, style and interstate accessibility for the 508 building. “They're really looking to be part of the Near West End, and we had a unique space that could work for them,” he said.
Part of the club's plan is to have an everyday coffee shop in front that could also be used to serve people attending shows. The club area itself would seat 100 to 150 people. There would be two comedy shows a night, with closing time around midnight, he said.
The city liquor board decision is not a certainty, however. Although three nightclubs were there before, that use is not “grandfathered,” and the board could have concerns about the number of liquor establishments in the block now (two clubs and a liquor store) and the relative proximity of residential uses and a church, Cunningham noted.
Whatever happens with the comedy club proposal, Mark and Lucille believe their overall redevelopment is in the right place at the right time. Barely five years ago, the nearby area had just a bare-bones Colorado Avenue bridge over Monument Creek (not beautified like the new one), no America the Beautiful Park, no Midland Trail and no COSMIX project adding aesthetics to the avenue under the newly widened I-25 bridge.
These upgrades have helped make the block more walkable and inviting for the neighborhood as well as the downtown, the Cunninghams said.
They noted that the three buildings became available in 2005 after the former owner had financial issues.
The dates for 506, 508 and 516 are 1904, 1921 and 1933, respectively, according to the El Paso County Assessor's Office. However, a full historical renovation was out of the question because of age or past alterations. For example, many years ago there was a southern realignment of the avenue, which led property owners to add on to their original front facades, Mark said.
The Cunninghams found a number of expensive surprises in their renovation effort, including walls without footers, past structural changes that had clearly been done without permits and undersized utilities that criss-crossed over one another. But in clearing out old mistakes, they were able to build in their own concepts. For example, there is a common tan-yellow color and Southwestern touch now to every facade on the block now (except for the separately owned Lee's Liquor at the corner of Walnut Street). Another example: The 3,300-square-foot 516 building is narrow and long, which could have made the rear space less desirable. So what the Cunninghams did was to “side-load” (as Mark phrased it), entrance doors along the Pedestrian Alley to create the possibility of three easily accessible units. And, opening up the space in the 508 building made it possible to design a whole new kitchen and bathroom set-up for the anticipated comedy club.
Where possible, original configurations have been used. Window or door openings, old posts and brick walls are still in use here and there, though often concealed or camouflaged by the use of modern hardware, sheetrock or paint. The old brick wall remains exposed in the 506 building, but will only stay if the tenant wants it, Cunningham said.
For parking, the rear lot has 35 spaces, and another 80 will be available at night in the lot west of the 520 Colorado Ave. building that the Cunninghams renovated about seven years ago. Also, there is an undeveloped lot between those two parking areas that could someday add another 20 or so spaces, Mark said.
On the project, the Cunninghams worked with Murphy Constructors of Colorado Springs, a Westside-based firm which has handled numerous redevelopment projects on the Westside and Manitou Springs since the 1960s.
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