Editorial: Aurora's arts 'hook' a lesson for other towns
Downtown revitalizations come in many forms -- shopping, restaurants, housing. A key factor, though, is buy-in from different sectors of the community, all of whom must see a need and an opportunity.
That's what looks to be happening in Aurora and as such, the future for the downtown looks bright.
This week, city leaders previewed the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, which is part of Aurora's revitalization that has its leaders excited about lies ahead.
"The arts center captures and showcases what Aurora is all about," said Will Woodley, Chicago development director for The Community Builders, a nonprofit mixed-income housing developer that is leading the project.
And how the project got funded should be of interest to other cities and suburbs as well. According to an article by staff writer Marie Wilson in Tuesday's Daily Herald, The Community Builders assembled funding from a variety of sources and support from a long list of Aurora governmental and civic organizations. Indeed, the two men who battled it out last year in the general election for the Aurora mayoral seat are both involved in making the project a reality.
Mayor Richard Irvin said the new center will be a "domino" that spurs downtown revival. "We're about to be successful (to) start making downtown Aurora look good."
Rick Guzman, who lost to Irvin but still works for the city as manager of neighborhood redevelopment, said private funding and tax credits allowed the city's contribution to come in at $650,000. The arts center price tag is $35 million.
Meanwhile, The Paramount Theater launched in January a $4.5 million fundraising campaign to couple the arts center with replacement of all 1,888 seats in the historic Paramount and modernization of the 37-year-old Copley Theater across the street.
The arts center will include a restaurant, rehearsal space for the Paramount and a school to teach performing arts to students of all ages. And it will feature 38 apartments for artists.
The city took a theme that already was working downtown -- entertainment at the Paramount, which has drawn thousands with a Broadway subscription series launched in 2011 -- and doubled down on it. Now they have the start of something they hope will be an even bigger boon.
"There has to be a hook to bring people to the downtown," former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, one of the leaders of the fundraising campaign, said in January. "And arts, we have discovered ... that's our hook."
For leaders in other cities, figuring out their hook will be the key to success.