Aurora mayor: Downtown art scene is 'only getting better'
In his first year in office, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin has become an ambassador of the growing downtown performing arts scene that he says is raising the city's profile in the region.
So it was fitting that Irvin would take the stage of the Paramount Theatre on Tuesday night to deliver his first State of the City address, a largely campaign-style event that promoted long-standing venues and new performance spaces that are opening downtown.
"For downtown Aurora, the arts have provided a foundation for us to rebuild," Irvin said.
Elected mayor of the state's second-largest city a year ago, Irvin highlighted redevelopment projects across Aurora, but a central theme emerged as he touted the core business district.
"Downtown Aurora is truly an entertainment destination, and it's only getting better," Irvin said to applause.
Adding to that identity is the $35 million Aurora Arts Center that will occupy a 1920s-era building that used to house a Block and Kuhl department store, a Carson Pirie Scott and an extension center for Waubonsee Community College.
The complex will feature an arts education center, rehearsal space for the Paramount Theatre, a restaurant and apartments for artists and visiting performers. The Paramount also is one of the organizations lending its financial support to the project.
In January, Paramount launched a $4.5 million campaign to raise funds for the arts center, replacement of the 1,888 seats in the historic theater and renovations of the more intimate 173-seat Copley Theatre across the street.
"Paramount continues to be a powerhouse for arts entertainment in our downtown," said Irvin, noting the 36,000-member subscription base to its acclaimed Broadway series includes patrons from 24 different states.
Elsewhere downtown, the Water Street Mall will soon undergo a "much-needed facelift, creating a bright, welcoming space for visitors that will also attract new opportunities for the surrounding buildings," Irvin said.
The Fox Valley Music Foundation also is establishing its headquarters in a nearby building at 21 S. Broadway. The space will provide a venue for music events and lectures.
"This will be a welcome addition to adding another unique art space venue in our growing downtown arts environment," Irvin said.
In keeping with his 2017 campaign, Irvin, the city's first black mayor in Aurora's 180-year-old history, sought to convey a unifying message in his address hosted by three business groups: the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Aurora Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce.
"As the mayor likes to say, and it's permeated through our staff this last year, we are one Aurora," said Alex Alexandrou, the city's chief management officer.
Irvin took stock of his public appearances around the city of 200,000 -- he says he's visited some 50 schools and dozens of businesses -- as part of an effort to better engage the community in municipal business. He also acknowledged the controversy around plans for the city's first gay pride parade -- an event he has supported.
"I'll always do what I believe is right, and I'll strive toward the greatest good for all of our citizens of Aurora," he said.