They called it a preview for the Aurora Arts Center downtown, but the guest of honor was hardly dressed for the event.
The building itself is a grand old lady at Stolp Avenue and Galena Boulevard that held two department stores before most of those attending Monday’s event could even remember. In 1985, she was remodeled to become the downtown campus for Waubonsee Community College, which she was for about 25 years.
Soon, the 80,000-square-foot building will include a 25,000-square-foot school for performing arts, 8,000 square feet of rehearsal space for the Paramount Theatre, a 4,000-square-foot restaurant, practice rooms, recital rooms and 38 apartments designed to support working artists and guest apartments for some Paramount Theatre performers.
But for Monday’s preview, the building was still stripped down to her bare shell — even in some places down to the bare brick that still have painted signs and ads on them, revealing they were once outside walls.
No, Monday was not so much to show off the lady’s new look yet, but to thank the many people and organizations involved in getting the project off the ground and on its way to completion.
“It’s a way to say thank you to the community and the stakeholders involved,” said Kirk Albinson, president of The Community Builders, the non-profit redevelopment group that is presiding over the project. “This is an amazing journey we’ve all been on.”
Amazing because the peculiarities of this project are such that there are not many other developments quite like it, anywhere, city officials said. Funding for the about $35 million project was cobbled together from a mixture of grants, loans, several different kinds of tax credits and private investment.
The Community Builders are one of the main private investors, but others helping them include US Bank and BMO Harris Bank.
The many public or non-profit groups involved include the Paramount, the city of Aurora, Invest Aurora, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, Aurora Township, the Chicago Community Loan Fund and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It has another rarity in that it is a project that lasted through three mayors, getting support from former mayors Tom Weisner and Robert O’Connor, and continuing through Mayor Richard Irvin.
“We couldn’t have done without so many people,” Irvin said. He called this one of the first dominoes in a row that will fall to start further redevelopment and interest downtown.
“You guys have no idea how many times this project almost fell apart,” he told the gathering.
He praised Rick Guzman, one of Irvin’s opponents during last year’s mayoral race, for having “been there since the beginning” of the project and keeping the financing together.
Guzman recalled a meeting Irvin called within two weeks of getting elected in which he called in the entire development team and “made it clear to everybody that this project needed to happen.”
Albinson and Will Woodley, Community Builders development head, said the building should be finished before this year is out, but the school and apartments will likely not open until early 2019.
Albinson told the gathering that the next big announcement might be the restaurant tenant in the building.
“We hope to soon have a restaurant tenant identified,” Albinson said.
For the full details of the article, click here.