Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner says it took courage, determination and vision to transform Aurora from a small mill town 175 years ago to Illinois' second-largest city.
In his State of the City address Thursday, Weisner said it will take those same attributes to continue transforming Aurora from the City of Lights to the "city of light-speed."
"Let us, like our forebears, assume that there's no challenge we cannot meet and overcome if we seek out the best ideas and work together to implement them," Weisner said.
Three ideas Weisner announced Thursday for use of technology and educational collaboration should help the city overcome economic challenges by better positioning its students for success and enticing employers with a well-qualified workforce, he said.
Weisner said a nonprofit group called OnLight Aurora is in the works to allow Aurora's public and private schools access to the city's fiber network.
"The city's fiber network gives educational institutions the opportunity to collaborate and gain high-speed access to a wealth of Internet resources and technology solutions, which are not limited by the available bandwidth and cost," Weisner said. "It's our intent that in the near future all Aurora schools -- both public and private -- will be able to tap into the city's fiber resources."
He also mentioned possible plans to sell the Fred Rodgers Community Center to East Aurora District 131 and buy the former Waubonsee Community College building downtown to use as a technology-based workforce development center.
District 131 could use the Fred Rodgers center to consolidate and expand its magnet school program, which currently occupies some of the building, Weisner said. Other tenants including the Aurora YWCA and Communities in Schools also lease space in the building from the city.
If the city council approves the sale of the Fred Rodgers Community Center, proceeds could be used to buy the former Waubonsee Community College building in downtown Aurora.
By collaborating with school districts 131, 129, 204 and 308, the city could create a workforce development center to ensure high school graduates who don't attend college "have the skills and technical know-how they will need to seize these technical and industrial job opportunities," Weisner said.
Agreements to make these ideas reality could begin coming to the city council for consideration as soon as next month.
During his speech to about 400 people at a luncheon sponsored by the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce, Weisner honored many in the crowd for their contributions to local businesses, education, public service, the nonprofit sector or religious institutions.
He painted the city, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary, as a place that's made progress on previous problems with crime and has persevered through the recession and necessary budget cuts.
He told the crowd to mark their calendars for summer 2013, when RiverEdge Park will be complete, connecting the east and west sides of the community, hosting concerts and driving mixed-use economic development.
"I'd like to describe Aurora today as safe, as strong -- physically and financially -- as successful in the area of economic development and technology," Weisner said, "and as ever more sustainable when it comes to our riverfront, our environment and our quality of life."