By Steve Lord at Aurora Beacon-News
The building, built in 1932 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2010, was all but left for dead a little more than a year ago. That’s when Evergreen Real Estate Group, of Chicago, and the city of Aurora spearheaded a complicated public and private partnership to rehab the building into a senior apartment complex.
The building now glistens at 400 E. New York St., even more so inside, where bright new interiors highlight the light that comes in from the high windows, a feature of the Art Deco period architecture of the building.
It is a reclamation project for a building that also is a reclamation project for the neighborhood and the city.
Ald. Juany Garza, 2nd, whose ward covers the area, said neighbors were “very sad” in 2010, when the building, then known as Fox Pavilion apartments, closed. She said David Block, who spearheaded the project for Evergreen, came to their neighborhood meetings to explain what the company had planned for the property.
“Everybody was so, so happy,” she said. “This is a gem. It’s so beautiful, and it’s in our neighborhood.”
Garza and Block were among a number of speakers at Tuesday’s dedication and ribbon-cutting for the new building in its community room — 363 days since some of the same people stood in the same community room, although then it was much darker and in disrepair.
Block remembered how many wondered if the vision he had for renovating the building really was clear.
“Maybe its because I’m an architect, but I like walking through creepy old buildings,” he said. “There were puddles of water on the floors, and you could hear the dripping of water leaking in from the roof. There were creaking noises, because windows were open and the wind was blowing pieces around.
“There was a hallway that had an abandoned wheelchair in it, turned in just that horror movie kind of way … outside, there was a doll’s head, just sitting there.”
It was a contrast to the well-lit, bright hallways and high-ceilinged rooms that are now in the building.
Former Mayor Tom Weisner called the work done in the building “transformative.” Weisner said he always called the building, which was for years the St. Charles Hospital, a “Sleeping Beauty,” and he noted the fairy tale-type of ending it received.
“My wish is that all of these seniors in this beautiful, beautiful building will live happily ever after,” he said.
The $24 million project was a combination of private and public funding, put together with the work of a number of partners, with the support of many more people beyond that.
Evergreen Real Estate Group collaborated with Invest Aurora, Northern Lights Development Corporation, the city of Aurora, Illinois Housing Development Authority and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, all from the public sector, to cobble together a mixture of tax credits — three flavors, as Block pointed out — from a federal housing program, a federal historic program and the state credits as part of the River Edge Redevelopment Zone program.
To that end, in addition to the agencies involved, the project needed the support of state Reps. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, and Stefanie Kifowit, D-Oswego; state Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, and federal legislators such as U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois.
The private money came together from such entities as the National Equity Fund, BMO Harris Bank and Chase Bank. From all accounts, the private investors are happy with the result.
“I was here a year ago for the groundbreaking, and all I can say is, wow,” said Allison Porter-Bell, of BMO Harris Bank.
The project was shepherded through the city ranks by Rick Guzman, assistant chief of staff in the mayor’s office. Block praised Guzman, saying he “has been a testament to the way this project has worked from the very beginning.”
The day was full of honors — Evergreen announced it would name the community room after Weisner, and Guzman presented Block with a framed postcard from the 1930s of the original St. Charles Hospital building, a postcard that had guided them in the original steps to begin building renovation.
State Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva, also came by to give the city a certificate of recognition from the Illinois Preservation Caucus, which includes both parties and both houses of the General Assembly, and for which Andersson serves as one of four co-chairs.
He praised the project as providing good senior housing, helping business and the community, providing jobs and preserving a building and the area’s history.
“We’re in an uncertain time right now, and we need to remember the past, that we weren’t invented yesterday,” he said.
Aurora Mayor Robert O’Connor said the building is a crown on top of all the infrastructure work that has been done in the city in the past several years. He said he was impressed with the way everything fit, and that he was “not so sure this isn’t truly a unique bringing of so many together.”
O’Connor said this is the wave of the future, that public and private partnerships are going to be needed to do future projects, something Block re-emphasized.
“In the last year, really, we have heard a lot of rhetoric about how bleak American cities are, and how things would be so much better if government would just step out of the way and let the private sector work its magic,” Block said. “This project, to me, anyway, is a really wonderful example of how … there just isn’t any truth in that.
“Aurora is a very wonderful, vibrant inner city community, and the people here are committed to the future of the residents, of the seniors, of revitalizing architecture and its history, and yes, public and private sectors need to work together in order to make great things happen,” he said.