Let Aurora be Aurora.
Not just a suburb. Not just a neighborhood. Not just the second largest city in the state.
Not “just” anything.
Aurora, Illinois is a city of rich opportunity and cultural diversity unlike anywhere else. More than ever, we have the ability to be a place where everyone is valued, where everyone contributes – and where everyone wants to invest, to work and to live.
What does it take to fully realize that potential? Throughout the late Spring and Summer of 2016, Rick Guzman met with residents at small gatherings and large events across the city to talk – and to listen – about just that. The expanded "Platform 2.0" linked below is a collaborative, living document that gives voice to the hundreds who contributed their thoughts or concerns - or their own vision and hopes for the future of Aurora. This is how we can do More Together.
Some of the city’s most significant and remarkable architecture remains vacant or underutilized, especially downtown. The focus should be on doubling the amount of downtown housing in the next 8 years, particularly in close proximity to mass transit, while continuing to encourage the arts, entertainment and recreation in downtown Aurora. We must continue to increase the number of activities and gathering spaces along the Fox River, and we must continue to lead the area in our focus on green and sustainable development.
Development incentives should be deliberately planned and marketed to encourage the kinds of development downtown residents most want to see, while not-for-profit and social-service agencies should be encouraged to relocate outside of downtown or to the downtown fringe. A City Permit Ombudsman’s Office could give special attention to local, home-grown entrepreneurs and would make it easier for small and first-time developers to navigate the city’s requirements without getting lost or frustrated.
In 2013 - 2014, Rick Guzman took a $500,000 grant to the City of Aurora from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development – and worked closely with a private developer to jointly leverage a tax credit package to generate private equity to help deal with the effects of the national foreclosure crisis in Aurora. The result was more than $12,000,000 in private investment to acquire and gut-rehab 40 of some of the city’s most dilapidated, vacant and foreclosed single-family homes scattered across the city.
In 2015, Rick partnered with a different developer to do it again, only this time the result was more than $20,000,000 in private investment to save and repurpose the historic St. Charles Hospital on the city’s near east side.
Leveraged approaches like these are the way government works best – not doing the work of private investors, but incentivizing and helping them to do that work themselves.
Aurora’s greatest asset is its people. Yet there are too many who, through no fault of their own, aren’t able to contribute at their full potential. While much of Aurora’s short-term growth will come from rental development, efforts like homebuyer incentives and employer-assisted housing could also increase the number of homeowners who will stabilize neighborhoods, grow our tax base and build the wealth of our community in the long term.
The establishment or strengthening of Mayor’s Advisory Boards for business owners, non-profit leaders and faith-based communities would facilitate strong relationships with more community stakeholders. Continued investments in economic and ethnic bridge-building through efforts like ROOTS Aurora, the establishment of a non-partisan citizen’s committee and a dedication from Rick Guzman to appoint representatives to city boards and commissions from both genders and from a spectrum of this city’s age groups, neighborhoods and many cultural and ethnic groups would all further ensure that every Auroran can truly contribute.
Crime can often breed in poorly maintained neighborhoods. Enforcement of the City’s Housing Code and recently established Vacant Property Ordinance will help ensure a good quality of life for residents in rental housing and reduce the number of vacant or idle buildings that can decrease neighborhood property values or necessitate expensive taxpayer-funded demolitions.
While the City has no direct control over primary, secondary or higher educational systems, the Mayor can be a compelling voice to bring disparate educational systems together. Aurora must build on the early successes from of the Early Childhood S.P.A.R.K. (Strong Prepared and Ready for Kindergarten) initiative, the Pathways to Prosperity Initiative and the Aurora University STEM school. The city should act as a convener of Early Childhood Education providers, leveraging the successes of the city’s many school districts and higher education to allow for greater success and stronger collaboration.
City government should collaborate with organizations like Aurora Downtown, the Aurora Area Chamber of Commerce and Invest Aurora to subsidize an artisan incubator space targeting those involved in efforts like First Fridays and the Aurora Farmers Markets. We should also work to develop a new Community Center on the city’s Near East Side and explore options for more senior-friendly services or a dedicated Senior Center in Aurora.
Government too often lags too far behind business and private efforts in the practices of modern efficiency and money-saving professional practice. The city’s forthcoming integration of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and modernized customer-service tools will yield new efficiencies in the day-to-day operation of the City of Aurora and save taxpayers time and money. We want more.
While Aurora is now one of the safest mid-sized cities in America, our work’s not finished. Public safety must remain a top priority. We must continue emphasis on successful policies like the “crime free housing” ordinance. We must maintain and strengthen the key partnerships with county, state and federal law enforcement – along with local non-profits that work with the city’s at-risk populations.