Intimate music venue planned for downtown Aurora
The downtown Aurora music scene is growing with a new venue in the works by the Fox Valley Music Foundation.
In a 1920s-era city-owned building on Broadway, the downtown's main drag, the foundation plans to open a yet-to-be-named performance space, store, museum and office to host concerts and music education events.
The group hopes to move quickly on renovations and open the space by next summer, in time for the annual Blues on the Fox music festival.
"It's going to be pretty interesting, pretty different and a long time coming," Steve Warrenfeltz, an Aurora resident and Fox Valley Music Foundation leader, said about the new space, which will host "eclectic" concerts from local, regional and national artists who play styles of bluegrass, folk, blues, rock and ethnic tunes.
City officials and downtown leaders are praising the concert hall as a practical way to fill a building that otherwise was slated for demolition with something that will complement the area's burgeoning arts scene, which already includes the Paramount Theatre, RiverEdge Park, Riverfront Playhouse, Culture Stock book store, a series of art walks called First Fridays and other sites and activities.
"We want to complement all the events that are going on in Aurora," said Dave Glynn, a Fox Valley Music Foundation leader. "We expect that things will continue to get more vibrant down there, especially with the focus on the arts."
The venue's small size separates it from larger performance halls like Two Brothers Roundhouse, making it a useful destination in the arts-centric downtown, said Marissa Amoni, who handles events and community outreach for Aurora Downtown.
"We don't really have a smaller, intimate venue. So we're very excited that this will fill the niche," Amoni said. "This is what we've wanted for a long time."
The project this week got kick-started with a $125,000 redevelopment grant and a five-year lease from the city.
Mayor Richard Irvin said he expects the new space will be a "grand venue" and a "prudent" reuse of the former Woodman's building, which stands east of city hall, separated by a plaza and a small grassy space.
"Instead of knocking it down and leaving a blighted or open spot, we're going to repurpose it to attract hundreds of people downtown," Irvin said about the old building at 19-21 S. Broadway. "With the growth of the Paramount and the attraction of more and more people downtown to participate in the arts, we're trying to reinvigorate and recreate the renaissance that Aurora experienced years and years ago."
The city even worked to benefit local schools in its deal with the music foundation. While the building will remain city-owned, the foundation will pay an amount to East Aurora District 131 equal to what it would have owed in property taxes if the space was on the tax rolls.
The city plans to begin interior demolition to bring the building down to the studs and walls next month, Irvin said. The $125,000 grant it is providing the music foundation is less than the $350,000 it would have cost to demolish the building entirely to prepare the site for future potential development.
In January, Warrenfeltz said the Fox Valley Music Foundation plans to begin its build out of the new venue, which will be the organization's first official home since it was established in late 2014. He said the museum element of the space will offer educational opportunities about the history of performing arts in Aurora, specifically the blues.
"We have the opportunity to really draw a lot of attention to the rich history here in Aurora and build upon what the Fox Valley Blues Society started 20-something years ago with the formation of the Blues on the Fox festival," Warrenfeltz said. "We're hoping to take that to a whole other level and really create and embed that pride within the city and keep it going."