EDITOR'S DESK: Bringing back the 500 block
What makes a town what it is? A lot of times it's the people who build it. In the case of the 500 block of West Colorado Avenue, it's those who are rebuilding it. The
unique mother-son team of Lucille and Mark Cunningham could very well be changing the course of the Near Westside with their extension of the “Five West” effort
they started seven years ago on the north side of the block when they redeveloped the former grocery store at 520 W. Colorado.
The thing about renovations, as I've heard from most every developer or contractor I've talked to, is that they're tough. Most builders would far rather start new, in fresh ground, with all-new materials and everything in front of them. Building new means not having to deal with settling foundations, out-of-code utilities and the potential for uneasy surprises behind every old wall. At the same time, there are rewards in renovation, such as marveling at the still-sturdy roof beams and the brick walls and the roughly 15-foot-high ceiling in the 508 building which was built in 1921 yet may soon house a comedy club whose sharp wits will probably pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of modern times.
The beauty of the Cunningham effort is that they didn't just go in with a wrecking ball and throw up the kind of cookie-cutter that's all over Powers Boulevard. Their idea was to keep as much of the history as they could and mix it in with design touches that would open the block up to Colorado Avenue and take advantage of overlooked amenities nearby, such as the new Colorado Avenue bridge, America the Beautiful Park and the Midland Trail. The restored Pedestrian Alley underlines their desire to bring back the kind of foot traffic that must have been commonplace when those buildings were new.
Sure, some skeptics might say, the Cunninghams thought of all this and did all this, and they'll probably make a nice profit off it. Well, yeah. That's how free enterprise works. But if their profit helps turn around an area (the Near Westside, which has been more or less forgotten since its Gateway District formed 20 years ago), then I'd say the rest of us got something as well. Even better than money.