Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin spent much of his annual State of the City address talking about the city’s present and promising future.
But first he focused on the recent past, specifically the Feb. 15 shootings that claimed five lives at Aurora’s Henry Pratt Co. and the quick reactions by first responders, including five police officers injured by gunfire.
“This address is unique because we are experiencing realities that our city has never seen before,” Irvin said. “Tonight we acknowledge our struggles and our successes.”
Irvin, now nearly two years into a four-year term, spoke to an Aurora University audience of city officials and business and education leaders while others watched online via a YouTube stream.
Irvin saluted the “fierce warriors that run toward danger and take on bullets meant for innocents,” during the March 5 address at Crimi Auditorium. He also singled out victims killed inside the plant.
“Today we (also) stand strong for the families of Russell Beyer, Vincente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner,” he said.
“The state of our city is strong,” Irvin said. “We are Aurora Strong. That phrase isn’t just a simple tagline we’ve begun to say in recent weeks. It’s a real feeling, a feeling of strength. It gives us renewed purpose, a feeling that we are together as one Aurora through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows.
“(It’s a feeling) that no matter what is thrown our way, there’s nothing that can hold us down.”
Irvin highlighted developments throughout the city, including restaurants and redevelopment coming to Aurora’s downtown. He said the past two years have featured the most collective growth “in decades.”
Irvin’s examples included:
- Opening of three restaurant and take-out facilities (a Lou Malnati’s pizzeria, Potbelly sandwich shop and Smallcakes) that suggest continued interest in Aurora’s west side Orchard Road corridor. An ATI physical therapy center and Jersey Mikes deli are in the works.
- A 173,000 square foot industrial office development nearby with space for three tenants.
- Filling empty retail space on West Galena Boulevard The west side stretch is experiencing glimmers of interest with opening of a Rush-Copley medical center, an Anytime Fitness facility and the redevelopment of a former dental complex into headquarters and education space for the West Aurora School District. A Mega Fun Park will take over the former Hobby Lobby while McDonald’s is moving from a hard-to-find location to a spot closer to Galena.
- The acquisition and pending demolition of eyesore hotels near the Premium Outlets at Interstate 88 and Farnsworth Road and the straightening of Corporate Boulevard. The land could be slated for development for warehouse and light industrial firms. There was also talk last year of creating a conference center.
- The continued cleanup of the 340,000-square-foot former Copley Hospital. After years of neglect the cleanup is now 60 percent complete. There’s interest in developing a health facility and a senior living center. Irvin said East Aurora School District 131 could move its headquarters into part of the facility.
- The Fox Valley Mall and the Route 59 retail corridor shared with Naperville continue to be among the state’s leading economic areas. But mindful of closures of major retailers like Sears and Carson’s and a continuing move to online shopping, Irvin said the city has been proactive in seeking new development in and around the mall.
- One such development is what he called “the largest Asian-themed shopping center in the United States” at the northwest corner of Route 59 and New York Street. The former Yorkshire Plaza will be renamed Pacific Square and include a grocery store, karaoke bar, restaurants and boutique shops. A residential building is also planned.
- Repurposing old downtown buildings for new uses, including housing and dining. “We’re revitalizing downtown by taking old buildings and giving them new life,” he said. Two announced tower rehabilitation projects are worth a combined $11 million.
- Latin-themed and Asian fusion restaurants are planned downtown, along with an unnamed dining facility near the Paramount Theatre.
- The Paramount Theatre is expanding entertainment options in 2019. Paramount’s redevelopment of the Copley Theatre across the street continues and the a third theater is planned in the Stolp Island parking facility. In the meantime, the Paramount School of the Performing Arts will open in June in the former Waubonsee College building.
- Continuing progress of a pedestrian bridge. When completed, it will link the west side of the Fox River with the east side at Riveredge Park.
- Irvin said he also looked forward to giving attention to development along the Lake Street (Illinois Route 31) corridor north of downtown.
“You’ve got to believe there’s something happening here,” Irvin said. “You can’t tell me there’s not. You can see it and you can feel it.”