Art school, Paramount renovations planned as 'hook' for downtown Aurora

 
 
Updated 1/26/2018 8:31 AM
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  • Tim Rater, president and CEO of the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, examines an old seat from the theater Thursday as supporters announce a $4.5 million capital campaign. About $1 million of the money the theater aims to raise will pay for replacement of all 1,888 seats in the 1931 theater, but the original decorative side panels will be preserved and reused.

      Tim Rater, president and CEO of the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, examines an old seat from the theater Thursday as supporters announce a $4.5 million capital campaign. About $1 million of the money the theater aims to raise will pay for replacement of all 1,888 seats in the 1931 theater, but the original decorative side panels will be preserved and reused. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin says Aurora's future is "materializing" through a capital campaign to build a performing arts school, replace seats at the Paramount Theatre and modernize the Copley Theatre. The $4.5 million Act 2 campaign launched Thursday.

      Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin says Aurora's future is "materializing" through a capital campaign to build a performing arts school, replace seats at the Paramount Theatre and modernize the Copley Theatre. The $4.5 million Act 2 campaign launched Thursday. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner thanks members of the Dunham Fund on Thursday for a $2.5 million donation to support the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, which will include a new performing arts school next to the Paramount Theatre.

      Former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner thanks members of the Dunham Fund on Thursday for a $2.5 million donation to support the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, which will include a new performing arts school next to the Paramount Theatre. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • The Paramount Theatre in Aurora, which opened in 1931, soon will get all new seats as part of a $4.5 million campaign, which also includes the opening of a performing arts school and renovations at the Copley Theatre.

      The Paramount Theatre in Aurora, which opened in 1931, soon will get all new seats as part of a $4.5 million campaign, which also includes the opening of a performing arts school and renovations at the Copley Theatre. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • A three-story building immediately west of the Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora will be renovated into the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center to include the Paramount School of Performing Arts, rehearsal spaces, apartments for artists and a restaurant.

    A three-story building immediately west of the Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora will be renovated into the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center to include the Paramount School of Performing Arts, rehearsal spaces, apartments for artists and a restaurant. Courtesy of Paramount Theatre

  • The Paramount School of Performing Arts, scheduled to open next January next to the Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora, will teach students of all ages skills in theater, dance, music, puppetry and design.

    The Paramount School of Performing Arts, scheduled to open next January next to the Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora, will teach students of all ages skills in theater, dance, music, puppetry and design. Courtesy of Vera Design

  • The Copley Theatre opened in 1981 in Aurora and hasn't seen many upgrades since. But it's scheduled to get a $1 million facelift as part of the Paramount Theatre's $4.5 million Act 2 capital campaign, which launched Thursday.

    The Copley Theatre opened in 1981 in Aurora and hasn't seen many upgrades since. But it's scheduled to get a $1 million facelift as part of the Paramount Theatre's $4.5 million Act 2 capital campaign, which launched Thursday. Courtesy of Paramount Theatre

A $4.5 million fundraising campaign launched Thursday has three goals to usher in a new era of artistry and activity in downtown Aurora: Build a performing arts school, modernize the Copley Theatre and replace all 1,888 seats in the historic Paramount Theatre.

The campaign starts with $2.5 million from the Dunham Fund and $150,000 from board members of the Aurora Civic Center Authority, which oversees the Paramount.

The 87-year-old theater, called the "cultural soul of Aurora," has drawn thousands to downtown with a Broadway subscription series launched in 2011. The theater has won several Jeff Awards, which are Chicago's version of the Tonys.

Now Paramount leaders say the theater wants to train the next generation of performers at its first school, give comfort to audiences with new seats and launch original musicals across the street at its sister stage, the Copley Theatre.

"There has to be a hook to bring people to the downtown," said former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, a civic center authority board member and one of the leaders of the Act 2 capital campaign. "And arts, we have discovered ... that's our hook."

The Paramount's success, since the hiring in 2010 of Tim Rater as president and CEO, has coincided with the growth of an artistic culture in downtown Aurora that includes monthly art walks and venues such as Riverfront Playhouse and RiverEdge Park.

"The Broadway series has propelled our area into a limelight not even thought of in the past," said Wendy Hirsch, chairwoman of the Dunham Fund, which has provided grants for the theater long before the $2.5 million announced Thursday. "What an impact the Paramount has had on Aurora's downtown."

The theater plans to grow its influence with the new Paramount School of Performing Arts to be built immediately west of the theater in a former department store vacated by Waubonsee Community College in 2011. The space at the corner of Galena Boulevard and Stolp Avenue will be used to teach students of all ages skills in theater, dance, music, costuming, puppetry and design.

Accompanying the school in the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center will be two rehearsal spaces, a restaurant and four apartments the theater can use for visiting professionals. Above the school in the three-story, 80,000-square-foot building would be 38 apartments for artists being built as part of a $35 million redevelopment by The Community Builders.

"We all see Aurora's future materializing right before our eyes," Mayor Richard Irvin said. "And it's a great thing."

The theater aims to open the school by next January and to begin replacement of the Paramount's seats this summer. Work also is expected to begin soon to renovate heating, air conditioning, seating, carpeting, bathrooms and technical equipment at the 173-seat Copley Theatre, which hasn't seen many renovations since it opened in 1981.

To donate to the campaign, visit https://paramountaurora.com/support/.

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