SPOTLIGHT ON NORTH AURORA: Commercial Success Comes To ‘Crossroads On The Fox’
- Editor’s Note: This summer and fall, Kane County Connects interns Annabel Sengstock and Lizzy Kramer put the spotlight on Kane County communities, from burgeoning Aurora to serene Sleepy Hollow, looking at each community through the eyes of a civic leader. This article, the 12th of the series, is written by Sengstock and profiles the village of North Aurora and Village President Dale Berman.
When someone from outside the area sees the name North Aurora, they may think the community is a mini version of its big neighbor to the south. But this village is so much more than a satellite: It’s got a personality of its own, with even more charm on the way.
Although North Aurora and Aurora are definitely not the same cities, they do have a few things in common. Communities close in proximity to each other have to share resources and communicate, which is exactly what these two have done for many years.
“We have a very good working relationship with (Aurora), especially when it comes to the police and fire departments,” says Village President Dale Berman. “We’re on the same radio frequency, and we have the most up-to-date equipment because of our association with them.”
Berman works closely with Aurora administrators in a variety of ways. He was one of the founding members of the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1987. He’s also worked on transition teams for past Aurora mayors, providing support and input on the area.
However, being situated close to Aurora isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Although every community has problems with crime, North Aurora deals with drug violations slightly more than usual.
“We have to come up with ways to counteract (the drug issue), to enrich people’s lives so there’s not a need for the drugs,” Berman said.
But there’s no doubt that the village of North Aurora is good at problem solving and taking responsibility. Its president frequently jumps in to work with the wider community on issues ranging from conservation to transportation.
Berman is involved in the Metro West Council of Government, which is made up of mayors from Kane, DuPage, Kendall, and Lake Counties. This group focuses on promoting excellence in local government, and also hopes to solve pressing problems in the Kane County area. For example, Metro West recently recognized that regional aquifers are being depleted, and they now are working on a plan to conserve water over the next 20 years.
This busy village president is also on the foundation board of Waubonsee Community College, which is a big part of the area.
“So many kids are coming out of college with more debt than anything else. You don’t want to be a slave to paying off your student loans. That’s one of the reasons why I push it so hard,” Berman said. “There are all kinds of programs, and a lot to be offered.”
According to Berman, participation in these committees is helpful in a variety of ways. It doesn’t just help his village: he also benefits from collaboration with fellow community leaders.
“The mayors of our community are just really good people. You don’t know how super they really are: so friendly and down-to-earth, even the mayors of Aurora and Elgin. It’s great to see people like that in the political world,” he says.
A Fresh Image
North Aurora has recently been making leaps and bounds in development. In the last year and a half, they’ve built almost two million square feet of commercial space, expanded their auto mall, and welcomed new businesses, hotels, and restaurants.
The village also has a new tagline: “The Crossroads on the Fox.” Updated entry signs are helping the community get a fresh image.
But the North Aurora officials aren’t stopping there. They’re trying to bring tourists to town by taking advantage of their position next to the Fox River.
“The Fox River is the thing that draws the most people to our area. We’ve got consultants working with us on several ideas for the river,” Berman said. “We have a dam but it creates a safety problem. We would like to see the dam be taken out to allow for canoeing and kayaking.”
North Aurora hopes to place a platform at the top of an old silo as a lookout point, and maybe even install a zip line that travels to North Aurora Island Park across the river.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for North Aurora’s five-year strategic plan. Each year, the village gets closer to its goal of becoming a destination. Besides renovating the riverfront, Berman hopes to improve the looks of Route 31, which is the narrow main street that runs through the older section of town.
The Village Board is also constantly focusing on bringing more business to the area. Berman is particularly excited about a new Starbucks soon opening in town, as well as an apartment complex called the Springs on the corner of Oak Street and Orchard Road.
“We just want to keep those things coming. I was on the planning commission 40 years ago, so it’s been fun to be a part of the planning along the way,” he said.
North Aurora 2017
- Population: 17,426
- Year Founded: 1905
- What makes your town unique?: Because I-88 runs right through North Aurora, it’s a prime location for industry. It’s also great for residents looking to commute to Chicago because it’s situated close to train stations in Geneva and Aurora.
- Most people don’t know: North Aurora isn’t just part of Aurora! Back in the 1960s, residents even considered changing the name of the community to escape the association with their southern neighbor. Even today, North Aurora is still trying to build its own identity. This is a difficult task, as the village doesn’t have a downtown area.
- Size: 7.49 square miles
A Lot of Experience, A Lot of Energy
Dale Berman may be 83 years old, but he’s never been more full of life.
“I’ve got a lot of experience, but I’ve still got a lot of energy,” he said. “Not everybody wakes up happy every morning like I do.”
After his first term in office in the late ‘80s, Berman decided to run for village president again eight years ago.
“I’ve always been interested in serving the community, whether it’s through my church, the Jaycees, or the Lions Club. I belong to a number of different boards and committees, so I thought I could do a good job as village president,” Berman said. “My hobby is community involvement. And my seven grandkids.”
Now that Berman’s retired from his job as an IT director, he has the time to juggle the village president gig with his other commitments.
“I don’t spend every day in the office. I spend a lot of time thinking about the community, and a lot of time discussing different problems with my staff, or with the village trustees. The job is more behind-the-scenes than you might think,” he says.
Berman explained that he’s grateful for his staff who run the village on a day-to-day basis.
“When I was mayor 30 years ago, we didn’t have the staff, and we had to do all of the work ourselves. It’s nice to have professionals to do the work,” he said. “We make the decisions, and we work together to set strategic plans for the community. We seem to be very successful: We’re growing, and we’re in very good financial shape.”
Berman is already looking forward to what the future of North Aurora will hold.
“We’re very excited — this is an exciting time. We had some slow times in 2008, but we now have a good board that’s anxious to see things grow, and a good staff to make it happen. I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said.
However, Berman knows as well as anyone that growth can be hard, and not everyone will approve of his decisions.
“You can’t please everyone. That makes it challenging in government: to try to appease all of your constituents, or at least appease the majority.”
But generally, this happy-go-lucky village president is just glad to be along for the ride.
“It’s been an exciting life,” Berman said.
About Village President Dale Berman
- Family members: Wife Mary (of 59 years!) and four daughters.
- Profession: Retired IT director
- How long have you been a resident: 55 years
- How long have you been Village President? 12 years (one term in the late ‘80s)
- Favorite memory of North Aurora: Simply watching the village transform over the years. “When we first moved here about 55 years ago, we were about 2,000 in population. Now we’re over 17,000, so I’ve generally seen a lot of growth,” Berman said.
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