With a new park and outdoor music venue soon to open, plans to remove parking meters downtown and expected development of new restaurants and an arts venue, Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner says the state's second-largest city is "ready for prime time."
Weisner told an audience of 400 people Thursday the reasons he thinks the city is headed for a bright future during his annual State of the City address.
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He said Aurora is coming out of a long winter of crime, drugs and gangs into a vibrant phase of prosperity.
"Good ideas and good things are starting to blossom in Aurora," said Weisner, who is running unopposed in the April 9 election for a third term as mayor of the city of 197,899. "We've made Aurora one of the safest communities of its size in the nation. We are ready for prime time."
Alternating between discussing past achievements and announcing new initiatives, Weisner said Aurora will work to make more people aware of positive changes that include less violent crime, more business expansion and a downtown driven by arts and entertainment.
At the advice of the mayor's business round-table, the city plans to launch a marketing and branding campaign to spread the word about its improving image, Weisner said. The city council has committed $100,000 a year over the next four years toward the effort, which will be led by new director of communications Clayton Muhammad.
"Aurora is evolving and changing for the better," Weisner said. "Today it is safe, sustainable and a business-friendly city. But if we don't go out and tell anyone, how will they ever know? That's why the business round-table prioritized a multiyear comprehensive branding effort focused on business attraction."
The city will begin a nationwide search for a new economic development director to aid in business attraction efforts, Weisner said. Sherman Jenkins, who formerly led the city's economic development commission, retired last year.
Weisner said Thursday he would like the new economic development director and staff to be private employees, hired through the nonprofit group Seize the Future under a contract with the city that could be reviewed annually. Partnering with Seize the Future will help the city be aggressive, flexible and accountable in its economic development efforts, he said.
"We know that changing perceptions won't happen overnight," Weisner said. "But we will start here at home and build a strong image reflecting our new reality -- locally, nationally and then globally -- so that businesses worldwide will know that Aurora, Illinois, is indeed, ready for prime time."
As the year progresses, Aurora will remove all parking meters and offer free parking downtown in color-coded areas for 90 minutes or two, three, six or 10 hours. Weisner said artistic and cultural institutions, such as the Paramount Theatre, the RiverEdge Park Music Garden, which is set to open June 14, and the new Culture Stock bookstore that opened last year, will anchor the city's historic business district.
The former Elks building on Stolp Avenue may be the next location to offer an arts and entertainment use, as Weisner said negotiations will begin soon with a private developer aiming to "reinvigorate" the property.
The city also aims to build a veterans center that will be part coffee house and part counseling center, and amp up its Fourth of July celebrations this year.
"Aurora today stands resilient, proud and ready to face the future," Weisner said.
Aurora: City to launch nationwide search for economic expert