As the 16th Street Plaza District prepares to honor resident rock star Wayne Coyne and artist wife Michelle Coyne with its annual “Pioneer Award,” two questions emerge: What took so long, and which came first, the Coynes or the Plaza District?
The first question was answered early on when a then-fledgling Plaza District launched the awards in 2004. The ceremonies, organized by the neighborhood association, sought to recognize the kind of community leaders who were helping to revive once-blighted areas such as NW 16 throughout the city.
That, in turn, explains why Meg Salyer, who led in revitalizing Automobile Alley, and Steve Mason, who turned a forgotten stretch of NW 9 into a hip pocket district, were honored.
One can argue that back in 2004, the Plaza District and the Coynes were still doing a lot of heavy lifting. The district was already a vast improvement in 2004 but was not anywhere near boasting a complete turnaround.
Which brings us to our other question: Which came first?
My first reporting on NW 16 (between Pennsylvania Avenue and Classen Boulevard) was as a crime reporter covering a murder in a junk shop next to the then-boarded-up Plaza Theater.
Several years ago, I wrote extensively on efforts by then-Ward 6 Councilwoman Ann Simank and nearby resident Susan Hogan to pump life back into the faded corridor with a city streetscape and gentle nudging of area property owners.
All along, Wayne and Michelle Coyne were quietly stabilizing their own corner of the adjoining Classen-10-Penn neighborhood — an area they have continued to call home since 1992 and long after others had fled.
With a completed streetscape, the move by Lyric Theater into a renovated Plaza Theater building, and some cleaned up storefronts, all that awaited NW 16 was fuel and a lighter.
Such sparks, however, are not easy to create. Some districts, such as MidTown and Automobile Alley, waited a decade or longer for the sparks of life to fully emerge. Other areas, like Capitol Hill, are still waiting.
A collection of odd shops and ethnic restaurants proved to be the fuel needed to create something special on NW 16. And the argument can be made that the Coynes, both artists and influential pop culture icons, were the sparks that lit that fuel and caused the street to explode into the trendy, lively district it is today.
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The Urban Pioneer Awards will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. For more information, call Kristen Vails at 367-9403 or email kristen@plaza