'There is nothing that can hold us down': Aurora mayor delivers state of the city

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin's second annual state-of-the-city address reminded the crowd that Aurora has been sorely tested in the last three weeks, since a gunman killed five of his co-workers at the Henry Pratt Co. factory.

But in a speech to business and civic leaders Tuesday, Irvin noted the phrase and hashtag #AuroraStrong has taken on deeper meaning than a mere slogan.

"We are Aurora. We are strong. We are Aurora Strong. It's not just a tagline. It's a real feeling," he said. "It gives us renewed purpose. Through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. A feeling that no matter what is thrown our way, there is nothing that can hold us down."

Shouting "Aurora! Aurora!" as he took the stage, receiving a standing ovation, Irvin launched in to an hour-plus speech bragging about the city. The speech was organized by the Aurora Area Chamber of Commerce, the Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The first thing he addressed was the Pratt murders.

Irvin announced that more than $205,000 has been donated so far to a fund for the families of the five workers. The city will continue to collect money through March 18.

Connecting to Aurora's official nickname, "City of Lights," Irvin referred to a "dark cloud" overcoming the city that day. But then, he said, light broke through, in the form of the police officers, firefighters and paramedics to the scene.

Irvin was stationed in the city's Emergency Operations Center, listening to emergency-radio discussion of what was happening.

"I sat there, thinking to myself, 'I can't believe I get to be the mayor of a police department and a fire department so ready to take on any challenges. I get to be mayor of fierce warriors that run toward danger and take on bullets meant for innocents,'" Irvin said.

He invited Fire Chief Gary Krienitz and Police Chief Kristen Ziman to join him onstage, as their departments received a third standing ovation.

Traditional topics

Irvin then focused largely on economic development.

He spoke of projects under way, such as the Pacifica Square Asian-themed shopping center on Route 59 and the Palace Street Park on the north side, just west of Lake Street.

In the downtown, he noted developers have proposed remodeling three buildings - including the former West Aurora District 129 headquarters - to have combinations of apartments, stores and restaurants. The Paramount Theater plans to open a new, "immersive" theater on Stolp Island, he said.

Remediation of environmental hazards at the long-vacant former Copley Hospital is about 60 percent finished, Irvin said. He mentioned how East Aurora District 131 is considering moving its headquarters in to the development.

Irvin announced that Altiro Latin Fusion restaurant group plans to open in downtown Aurora; it will be the group's fifth outpost. Mora Asian Fusion also plans to open its fourth location there.

And Kluber Architects, which is designing one of the downtown apartment proposals, plans to move its office from Batavia to Aurora, he said.

The evening ended on a joyful note, literally, with the debut of a new song dedicated to Aurora. Professional guitarist Steve Grissette, who grew up in Aurora, wrote a poem after meeting the mayor (his former childhood neighbor) at an event last summer. The mayor asked him several months ago to set it to music.

The song the mayor and the audience danced to? "Shine the Light."

John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comA combined Honor Guard presents the city and national flags to start the Aurora annual State of the City address at Aurora University Tuesday.
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