By Steve Lord at Aurora Beacon-News
The developers of the proposed $35 million arts center in Aurora’s downtown said they believe the project is a natural fit for the city.
Will Woodley, director of development for the Chicago office of The Community Builders, Inc., told members of the City Council Finance and Planning and Development committees that “synergy” is an over-used word, but he used it anyway to describe how he thinks the arts center can fit into what is already downtown.
“There are a lot of partnership opportunities here,” he said. “We were impressed by Aurora, and we hope to be a really good partner. But we were also impressed by the communities around Aurora.”
The Finance Committee approved two developer agreements, one between Community Builders and the city, and another between Community Builders, the city and the Aurora Civic Center Authority.
The two agreements would encompass the entire project, which is to turn the former Waubonsee Community College building at Stolp Avenue and Galena Boulevard into an arts center. It also adds in renovations of an existing Joseph Corporation building at 32 S. Broadway.
The center would include a school for performing arts using the first floor and lower level, and 36 one-bedroom and two, two-bedroom apartments rented with a preference for practicing artists on the upper floor.
The school part of the center also would have new rehearsal space for the Paramount Theater and its locally produced Broadway series, and about a 5,000-square-foot space for a restaurant.
The artist apartments floor would include a sound-attenuated room for rehearsals, and other common space. The apartments themselves would be a variety of sizes with different amenities that cater to the arts – higher ceilings, utility sinks, reinforced walls to hold heavier art pieces and two bedrooms that can turn into a one-bedroom with a studio.
Woodley said the development would be similar to a development Community Buildings did in Washington Park in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. It, too, is an artist preference rental building.
The recent meeting on the project had an interesting twist, because it included three of the five Aurora mayoral candidates. Rick Guzman, assistant chief of staff at the city, is shepherding the development through the planning process.
Aldermen Michael Saville, 6th Ward, and Richard Irvin, at large, were in the meeting as members of the Planning and Development Committee. Saville chairs that committee.
Saville has indicated support for the project, but Irvin has indicated serious concerns about it. Both had plenty of questions of Woodley, particularly when it came to how the artist preference works.
Woodley said the rents for the one-bedrooms would be between $750 and $800 a month, and for the two-bedrooms likely $850 to $900 a month. The most money a year a person renting there could make is $32,000.
Woodley said once a person signs a lease, that person could make more money. But at the time of rental, the maximum is $32,000.
Irvin has been concerned more about what the lower limit would be. Woodley stressed that no matter who rents the apartments, they have to prove they can afford to pay the rent.
That would include providing tax returns, proof of employment and other proof of income, Woodley said.
He pointed out that the development is not subsidized. The subsidy developers get is in the tax credits, which are sold up front. But the rent is not subsidized, so they must stay firm on that.
“This is not the type where your rent is on a sliding scale,” he said.
He said the situation works more like rent control, which guarantees the rents would not go up as the value of the property goes up around it. Art concentrations typically improve neighborhoods, then price the artists out, Woodley said.
He also answered concerns from both Irvin and Saville about how they define artists. Woodley said that is defined in tax code through the Fair Housing Act, and can include artists in visual areas, theater, multi-media, dance, writing, music and crafting – a woodworker, for instance, could be considered.
“There is an application process,” Woodley said. “We do not require that your income come from your art.”