Spotlight on Aurora: New Mayor Hopes to Bring Innovation to 'City of Lights'

Spotlight on Aurora: New Mayor Hopes to Bring Innovation to ‘City of Lights’

  • Editor’s Note: This summer, Kane County Connects interns Annabel Sengstock and Lizzy Kramer are putting the spotlight on 26 Kane County communities, from burgeoning Aurora to serene Sleepy Hollow, looking at each community through the eyes of a civic leader. This article, the third of the series, is written by Sengstock and profiles the city of Aurora and Mayor Richard Irvin.

Aurora is developing an ambitious Downtown Redevelopment Plan. (CREDIT: CMAP)

Although Richard Irvin has only been mayor for a little more than a month, he’s an Aurora resident, born and raised.

“I grew up in Aurora,” he said. “My mom was a single mother, and she raised my brother and me. We lived in low-income housing, on the East Side.”

As a boy, Irvin spent time riding his bike with the neighborhood kids and playing at the local community center. These carefree days remain some of his favorite memories in his hometown.

“My friends and I would go on adventures … which would usually amount to just going around the block. But it felt like we were gone forever. All the kids in the area used to hang out at the Grand Boulevard Center, and that was where I’d go,” Irvin recounted.

Having lived in Aurora his whole life, the mayor remembers when his town had a “country feel” with some streets so underdeveloped that they didn’t even have curbs.

Today, Aurora is home to more than 200,000 people — the second-most-populous city in Illinois, an urban and cultural center second only to Chicago.

Big-City Challenges

Aurora, as highlighted on the map, is in the southeast corner of Kane County.

As any densely populated urban area, the city faces challenges — from poverty to educational resources to infrastructure and public safety.

To combat this, Irvin said one of his administration’s focuses is to give young people the opportunity to get a good education. He plans to increase support for public schools, and possibly even partner with private colleges.

Irvin hopes that in the future, graduates of Aurora schools will return to the city to work, creating a strong bond between education and the labor force.

In fact, Aurora will soon have new jobs to fill, as two new Amazon centers coming to town will create more than 1,000 vacant positions.

Overall, the mayor wants to emphasize economic development: bringing more jobs and opportunities to the city.

The city is also working with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning on an ambitious Downtown Master Plan update, and held an open house Thursday (June 22, 2017) to showcase the plan.

“I think Aurora’s on a tipping point. If we do everything right and positive over the next couple of years, we’re going to tip in the right direction. We’re going to take Aurora to the next level,” Irvin said.

Aurora on the Move

Aurora has plenty of assets to build upon. According to Irvin, Aurora’s greatest strength lies in its people. The mayor also said that the Fox River and a direct train line between Aurora and Chicago are among the city’s selling points.

Another attraction important to Aurora (and important to the mayor, as seen by the many musical posters hanging in his office) is the historic Paramount Theater, which Irvin hopes to upgrade in the coming months. An expansion of the Paramount Arts Center would include a performing arts school, and it would allow the theater to extend some of its shows.

Since Irvin took office in May, he has been developing a grand vision for Aurora’s future that he hopes to work toward during the rest of his term.

“Ten years from now, I see a vibrant community with a strong foundation in our downtown. I see a city where you can not only work and live, but play. A destination. I want Aurora to be a place where people will want to be a part of our culture.”

Aurora 2017

  • Population: 200,456
  • Tourist Attractions: Paramount Theater, Phillips Park Zoo, SciTech Museum
  • Top Employer: Caterpillar
  • Famous Residents: Violinist Maud Powell, meteorologist Tom Skilling, Illinois Supreme Court justice Rita Garman
  • Events/Festivals: Downtown Alive, Blues on the Fox, Aurora Art Walk

About Mayor Richard Irvin

  • Family members: Father of a 23-year-old daughter and a high-school-aged son. 
  • Profession: Private Practice attorney and businessperson
  • How Long Have You Been a Resident? Whole life
  • How Long Have You Been Mayor? Since May 2017
  • Favorite Memory in Aurora: As a kid, going on adventures and riding his bike around the neighborhood with friends.

Read the Spotlight Series