The 630 | Act Two

April 2018 View more

Eighty-thousand square feet of historic downtown Aurora real estate is being transformed into a mixed-use development in support of the arts, a project that was years in the making. When completed, the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, just west of Paramount Theatre, will include 38 affordable artist apartments, the Paramount School of Performing Arts, rehearsal space and a ground-level, fine-dining restaurant.

A cast of players spoke at a preview event last month. The city of Aurora, Paramount Theatre, the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) and The Community Builders (TCB)—a Chicago-based nonprofit developer—all played significant roles in getting the development off the ground. But it was city leadership that really drove the project.

The continuity of support through three mayors of Illinois’ most diverse city—Tom Weisner, Robert O’Connor and Richard Irvin—is credited as a major driver for the project. In fact, Irvin spent his second day in office fighting for tax credits in Springfield.

Financing for the project has been labeled “complicated,” involving state, federal and historic tax credits, along with construction and investment loans by two banks.

“You have no idea how many times this project almost fell apart,” says Irvin.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case; the development—which TCB calls an “economic engine for downtown Aurora”—is expected to be complete by the end of the year. IHDA managing director Christine Moran describes the arts center as “a valuable opportunity to transform a historic building into affordable housing, create jobs and generate tax revenue.”

Tim Rater is president and chief executive officer of the Aurora Civic Center Authority, which owns and operates Paramount Theatre, Copley Theatre and RiverEdge Park. When he assumed leadership of the organization over seven-and-a-half years ago, developing a performing arts school was a mandate. “We started dreaming,” says Rater, “and then we got creative on how to finance this thing.” He believes thousands will benefit from the arts center, which will serve to enhance and promote the city’s flourishing arts culture: “We’re just getting started.”