The Leader, May 20, 2020
It is a dream that was a long time coming, but Avenue Center will open in July, according to Avenue CDC Executive Director Mary Lawler.
With $10 million of a $12 million goal raised for the 30,510-square foot, three-story multiuse facility designed by Page and located at 3527 Irvington Blvd., Avenue is asking the public to help get it to the finish line.
For the past 10 years, Avenue staff has envisioned a comprehensive space. While helping Houstonians find affordable housing is Avenue’s priority, Lawler said there are other key services that provide a lifeline to families that are struggling financially.
“There is a synergy in bringing them together under one roof,” she said.
Lawler said Avenue bought the property on Irvington in 2015. For the past five years, the nonprofit has been planning for the building that would serve as its headquarters and as an all-in-one community hub – with services such as a health clinic and early childhood education center. Hurricane Harvey forced Avenue to rework its timeline, but Lawler said construction has continued through the past six weeks and the project is now in the home stretch.
“We are thrilled to be in there this summer,” Lawler said, noting that the new center will allow Avenue to consolidate staff from its four other locations, including one on Washington Avenue.
The City of Houston provided $3.4 million in project funding for the Avenue Center, while the BBVA Compass Foundation, Houston Endowment and the Complete Communities Improvement Fund from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) gave more than $1 million each. The Marek Family Foundation is one of many other organizations that contributed additional funds to a capital campaign launched a few years ago. A public campaign followed.
While the COVID-19 pandemic did not slow construction, Lawler said it threw a wrench into fundraising efforts.
“(The past two months) would have been a big push,” Lawler said. “If we need to we will borrow funds. The building will be complete in July.”
The center will offer classroom space for Avenue’s homebuyer education and financial capability counseling classes. While staff used to have to do both the English and Spanish versions in the same class, now Avenue employees will have the space to break out the sessions.
“We can serve a lot more people,” Lawler said.
Another group that will use the space is Project GRAD, a nonprofit that provides a host of college readiness programs to those who are new to the process.
Ramiro Fonseca, the community engagement manager for Project GRAD, said the organization is “like a one-stop shop” that helps high school students and their families explore careers, seek out scholarships and navigate the college application process.
“For the majority (of the students), they are the first in the family to go to college,” Fonseca said.
That was the case for Heights High School student Adrian Herrera, who will attend Trinity University in San Antonio in the fall, majoring in engineering science. He participated in a variety of workshops in his GRAD club.
“I didn’t think I would get in (to Trinity),” Herrera said. “(Project GRAD) truly has been a key part of the process. They never pushed me but they motivated me. It’s been a blessing to me and my family.”
Last year, Project GRAD served 5,200 students from all over Houston, borrowing space in libraries and local colleges to offer classes. Now, it can add the Avenue Center to the list.
Even though the center is located in the Northside, Lawler said its services will be available to anyone throughout the Greater Houston area. The genesis of Avenue was a neighborhood group founded by individuals from the old Fifth Ward.
“It has organically grown over time,” Lawler said. “Washington (Avenue), then the Near Northside, then Northline.”
Those interested in helping Avenue to meet its financial goal are encouraged to visit https://www.avenuecdc.org/capital-campaign/.