Mayor Richard Irvin sees an arts education center under construction in Aurora as a domino that will start a chain of events toward downtown revival.
"We're about to be successful," he said during a preview event Monday for what will be the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center at 5 E. Galena Blvd. "Start making downtown Aurora look good."
The $35 million project includes a restaurant, rehearsal space for the Paramount Theatre and a school to teach performing arts to students of all ages -- all part of a complex that also will feature 38 apartments for artists.
Basically, it involves "anything you can think of that would help foster the arts in Aurora," said Kirk Albinson, project manager for The Community Builders, a nonprofit mixed-income housing developer that is leading the project.
During the past three years, The Community Builders has assembled funding from a variety of sources and support from a long list of Aurora governmental and civic organizations.
Among them is the Paramount, which in January launched a $4.5 million fundraising campaign to couple the arts center with replacement of all 1,888 seats in the historic theater and modernization of the 37-year-old Copley Theatre across the street.
"The city really put their heart into being creative and making this project real," said Tim Rater, the Paramount's president and CEO.
In the arts center, the Paramount will store costumes and props, offer living spaces for visiting actors and host rehearsals for its Broadway series musicals, which have a subscriber base of 36,000.
The 8,000-square-foot rehearsal space will allow the theater to host an "adventurous secondary series" at the Copley, Rater said.
Refurbishing a 1928 building that used to be a Block and Kuhl department store, a Carson Pirie Scott and an extension center for Waubonsee Community College is expected to take until late fall, Albinson said. Then leasing of apartments can begin in 2019, with build out of the Paramount rehearsal space, the restaurant and the arts education center to follow.
Some of the funding comes from affordable-housing tax credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, said Christine Moran, the agency's managing director of multifamily finance.
To keep the credits, the developer will need to rent 40 percent of the apartments to people making at or below 60 percent of the area median income, or rent 20 percent of the units to people at or below 50 percent of the area median income. For Kane County, the area median income is $76,900, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Rick Guzman, a mayoral candidate last year who works as manager of neighborhood redevelopment for the city, said private funding and tax credits allowed the city's contribution to be only $650,000.
Irvin lobbied in Springfield on his second day as mayor last spring to ensure a state River Edge Redevelopment Zone Historic Tax Credit program could be extended. It is now available for another 3½ years, making the developer eligible for a credit worth 25 percent of the building's refurbishment cost.
"You guys have no idea how many times this almost fell apart," Irvin said.
Yet it's now under way, with officials anticipating the day when people will be able to learn dance inside the arts center or stop for a bite before a show at a new restaurant, yet to be named.
"The arts center," said Will Woodley, Chicago development director for The Community Builders, "captures and showcases what Aurora is all about."