Aurora poised to buy key real estate, solve downtown parking

In a real-life game of Monopoly, Aurora officials believe the city is about to buy Boardwalk.

And they can't wait to sell it to someone who will put a hotel on it.

In the closing minutes of his annual State of the City address Thursday, Mayor Tom Weisner announced the city is about to complete a $6 million purchase of the YWCA-Aurora building at 201 River St.

After demolishing the building, Weisner said he expects the city will clean the site and pave it to make way for as many as 700 temporary downtown parking spaces.

"This acquisition would allow us to provide parking over a temporary term until we can see the further development in the downtown and see precisely when we would need to invest in a parking deck, which are frequently $20,000 a space. Secondly we will control a very important and valuable piece of real estate along the Fox River," Weisner said.

"As we emerge from this recession and as we see the lay of the land in the downtown, then we can sell the riverfront property to a private developer of our liking and, at the same time, build a permanent structure in our downtown to handle parking."

Weisner said it is too early to predict what might eventually be built on the site, but he envisions a hotel or mixed-use condo development going up when the market improves.

A written statement released by the YWCA-Aurora states the facility has been on the market for several months due to the board's desire to refocus the YWCA-Aurora services at a location that "enhances the delivery of neighborhood-based programing."

The YWCA will continue to provide after-school, on-site programming and recently has joined with Communities in Schools to provide youth summer camp programs at locations across the city.

The deal was made possible, in a time when the city has filled a $10 million budget hole with layoffs and budget cutbacks, by the cancellation of a long-term deal the city had with Hollywood Casino.

For several years, the city has provided three officers inside the casino around the clock. But the casino has offered to buy its way out of the agreement to the tune of $7 million.

"The truth of the matter is there is not very much of the type of activity in that casino that requires the constant presence of police," he said. "They have offered to buy their way out of that arrangement and the dollars from the proceeds of that will be utilized to make this purchase so we will not be asking the taxpayers to pay for that."

The police who work at the casino will be put back on the street.

Collaborations and partnerships like the ones put into play to purchase the Y and help the downtown parking situation are things Weisner pointed to during his 27-minute address that have been and will be key to Aurora pulling out of the current recession and striding forward.

"We believe in partnerships and we believe that by forming and encouraging partnerships we can radically leverage the value we bring to our community," he said. "In good times, partnerships are a smart thing to do. In tough times, in times like now when financial resources are limited, partnerships are indispensable, for they leverage those resources, creating a whole that is much greater than some of its parts."

Aurora officials are expected to vote in coming days to purchase the YWCA-Aurora property for $6 million and turn it into a temporary parking lot. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer