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