Without getting into the particular politics of Richard Irvin’s campaign for Illinois governor, it is worth noting the position from which he approaches his run: as mayor of Aurora, Illinois, the largest suburb in the Chicago region and the second largest city in Illinois. Some notes about Aurora and what leading that city might mean for leading Illinois:
-Aurora has unique history. With its location roughly 40 miles outside downtown Chicago, it has an industrial background with its location on the Fox River and its railroad connections. For Naperville residents at the turn of the 20th century, a trip to Aurora along the rail line was a big deal.
-The city experienced a renaissance in recent decades plus high population growth between 1980 and 2010 – going from over 81,000 residents to over 197,000 residents – before a slight downturn in the 2010s to a population of just over 180,000.
-That population growth means Aurora is now solidly the second largest city in Illinois.
-It is a racially diverse suburb with 2021 Census estimates putting the population at 42.7% Latino, 34.9% White alone, 10.5% Black, and 9.3% Asian.
-A relatively recent rebranding campaign took the city’s longtime motto of “The City of Lights” and updated it.
In advertisements, Irvin has highlighted his experience as a mayor of a decent sized city. A governor’s race between a politician identified with Chicago and another identified with the biggest suburb and second biggest city could present some interesting contrasts.
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said this week the city will continue its fight to get what it considers a more accurate census count…
[The 2020 Census] showed Aurora had lost about 17,000 residents during the past 10 years – about the equivalent of one of the city’s 10 wards – and officials have said they doubted that kind of population loss would have gone unnoticed among other city metrics, such as housing stock, water customers and traffic counts…
The big concern is that the city has estimated the new count could cost Aurora about $31 million a year in lost distributions of motor fuel tax, sales tax, income tax and money from federal programs for housing and education…
He has called for a review of the numbers by the government, and has even said the city could call for a special census down the line.
Another loss for the large suburb: no longer being able to highlight the growth of the community. Looking at the dicennial Census figures on Wikipedia, Aurora has never lost population over a decade until the 2020 count. And the growth has been particularly strong since 1990; the city had 99,581 residents then before growing to 142,990 in 2000 (43.6% increase) and then to 197,899 in 2010 (38.4% increase). In American communities, “growth is good” so a population loss is a sign of something wrong.
The vacant Sears store at the Fox Valley Mall could be razed early next year to make way for a three-building apartment development and kick off a new phase of life for the 45-year-old mall.
Aurora aldermen will vote next week on a request to rezone roughly 11 acres of the property along Route 59 side of the property to allow the buildings.
The buildings, each three stories tall, would have a total of 304 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments…
A 2020 report for the city said that, including the closed Sears and Carson Pirie Scott department stores, 40% of the mall’s store space was vacant.
Adding residential units to shopping malls is a fairly common suggestion. With retailers in trouble, apartments fill the space more permanently, can address housing issues in communities, and could provide a ready population of potential customers for the nearby mall and other proprietors.
With the proposal working its way through local government, three things are worth watching regarding these apartments:
How, if at all, will the apartments be connected to the mall? If they are completely separate buildings and are not marketed as being right next to the mall, then they could be like any new apartments. But, perhaps the mall is a draw for those who might want to be close to shopping, an indoor walking site, and food options.
What kind of apartments will these be? Given their location, these will probably not be cheap apartments. In addition to being close to the mall, the apartments are near lots of other shopping and dining as well as potential employers, the location is just west of Naperville, and a busy Metra station is just to the north.
How much of the mall will survive within five or ten years? The apartments could help revive the mall area or help hasten its demise.
Wayside Cross Ministries of Aurora officials said Monday that by accepting “Ripper Crew” murderer Thomas Kokoraleis as a resident, the organization is doing what God commands everyone to do: Show kindness and mercy to all, even enemies, the ungrateful and the wicked.
“We are mandated by our Lord Jesus Christ to love our neighbors. According to Luke 16, anyone in a genuine need is a neighbor,” Executive Director James Lukose said in a news release that Wayside Cross also posted on its website, waysidecross.org…
Kokoraleis, 58, was released from prison Friday after serving half his 70-year sentence. He is not on parole, and is free to live where he wants, as long as he informs police…
Kokoraleis was one of four men suspected of killing as many as 17 women in Chicago and the suburbs in the early 1980s. His younger brother, Andrew, was one of them and was executed in 1999.
A judge chose to sentence him to life in prison. But his conviction was struck down over legal errors, and the case was resolved with the defendant pleading guilty and being sentenced to 70 years. Thanks to the rules in effect back then, which allowed him to cut his time in half through good behavior, Kokoraleis was released Friday at age 58. He is expected to live at a Christian-oriented facility in the Wheaton area…
We won’t relitigate Thomas Kokoraleis’ case or his guilt. But we feel no hesitation in saying that life behind bars should have been the certain sentence for what he did. There is something profoundly exasperating about seeing someone who took part in such wanton slaughter being allowed to walk free among civilized people.
“In light of the unspeakable nature of the crimes committed by the Ripper Crew, I would hope that Wayside would reconsider the decision that brought Kokoraleis to Aurora — particularly given the Ministries’ close proximity to parks, churches and day care centers,” Irvin said in a statement Monday evening. “I absolutely disagree with Wayside Cross Ministries’ decision to allow Kokoraleis to reside at their facility in Aurora.”
Presumably, there are plenty of nearby residents with possible competing loyalties in this particular case: they would claim Christian faith and also be at least hesitant about living near such a murderer. There would be few suburban cases at this level that could push suburbanites to consider balancing justice and forgiveness – and both suburban and American history suggest they would almost always settle on the side of justice and keeping the issue as far away from their homes and community as possible.
I hope there will be a follow-up either way, whether Kokoraleis lives quietly or falls into trouble again.
That plan, unveiled last fall, called the Route 59 corridor “tired.” It noted that two of the four anchor spaces at the mall are vacant, with the departure of Sears and the closing of Carson Pirie Scott. People’s shopping habits have changed, it says, with people buying more of their items online instead of in person.
The plan suggests adding multifamily housing and “Main Street” mixed-use developments, with smaller stores in a pedestrian-friendly environment around the mall. That would beef up the mall’s potential customer base.
Market studies suggest adding more restaurants, particularly high-end ones. Entertainment venues, such as a theater and a public plaza several acres large, could be added.
Build it and they will come! Seriously, though, each of these proposed elements is intended to bring a different element to a flagging mall: more people, a different scale and harkening back to traditional shopping areas, and giving people more reasons to come to shopping areas through food and entertainment. Put these all together and it might create a new kind of synergy around the clock.
A store at Fox Valley Mall prefers to say they are “near Naperville” rather than the actual location in Aurora. How did this shopping center end up across the street from Naperville?
The Urban Investment and Development Corporation (UIDC) started purchasing property for a shopping center in 1966. At this point, Naperville was expanding to the south and southwest at a rapid rate but was nowhere near the size it is today. Similarly, Aurora had an established downtown but there was not a whole lot of development in this area. To help guide its growth, Naperville had developed regulations, particularly in residential subdivisions, to help ensure quality development.
In 1972, UIDC annexed the land they had purchased to Naperville. According to local officials in both communities, the developer chose Aurora in part because of fewer development regulations. Fallout from this choice ensued. Aurora and Naperville signed a boundary agreement to help limit such situations where a developer could play the two communities off of each other. The 1975 Naperville mayoral race included discussion of the loss of the mall. Additionally, the construction of the mall and the loss of status and sales tax money to Aurora helped spur Naperville leaders toward improving the community’s downtown. After the mall opened, Naperville was able to capture some status and money through the opening of stores on the east side of Route 59.
In sum, the developer of the Fox Valley Mall chose to locate in Aurora for some advantages in the early 1970s. Given the path of the two communities since then, I wonder if that developer would choose differently today. On one hand, a Naperville address would convey a certain status. On the other hand, locating just across the street might be the perfect solution: the developers could get benefits from Aurora while always claiming to be “near Naperville.”
I recently heard a radio ad for a store located at Fox Valley Mall which was said to be “near Naperville.” The mall is officially located in Aurora so why would a store there claim to be in the next suburb over? One word: status.
In this particular location, Aurora and Naperville are separated by Illinois Route 59. On the east side, containing a number of stores just across the street from the mall, is Naperville. On the west side, including the mall plus additional stores, is Aurora. Aurora is the bigger community – roughly 200,000 people – but Naperville is the wealthier, higher status community. Some of the figures: Naperville has a median household income of over $110,000 and 4.9% of residents are in poverty. In contrast, Aurora has a median household income of almost $64,000 and 14.0% of residents are in poverty. The communities also differ in race and ethnicity: Aurora is significantly less white (over 30%) and more Latino (35% more) and Black (5% more).
So, when a store says they are “near Naperville,” what are they trying to hint at? They want to associate their store and the shopping experience with a wealthier community rather than Aurora. They want people to think of an upscale and safe place, rather than the diversity of incomes and races/ethnicities of Aurora. Ultimately, they want shoppers to come and spend money like they have Naperville resources.
If it is the case that the store wants to associate with Naperville, why is it located in Aurora? The bigger question: why is the mall in Aurora? To be answered tomorrow.
Today, the city’s once-booming growth has slowed to a crawl, census estimates show. Officials say there is room for growth, but that growth will look different.
There’s little room for more subdivisions to sprout across the community as they did in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead, the focus will be on downtown and the city’s train line, building up, not out, said Stephane Phifer, a longtime Aurora city planner who now works with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning…
As growth slows, the city has an opportunity to focus on redevelopment of downtown and working with the city’s neighborhoods, Nelson said. Downtown is the “new frontier” for development, he said.
Interest is building in downtown Aurora, Nelson said. The area is developing its own identity, largely centered around the arts.
Three quick thoughts:
A shift from such explosive growth – the population doubling in two decades – to less growth can be quite drastic. A community gets used to the new subdivisions, the new city employees needed to provide local services, the changes to local school districts, and other social impacts.
Aurora is not the only Chicago area suburb facing this issue. For example, neighboring Naperville has been considering this shift in growth for at least a few years. Numerous suburbs closer to the city have had this issue for decades. Few Chicago suburbs have the potential to truly become huge suburbs – imagine Aurora at 300,000 residents with a really dense and interesting downtown along the Fox River. But, to do so will mean competing with other suburbs for residents, entertainment options, and amenities.
All together, this could be a significant turning point in the history of Aurora as a community. Will it pursue downtown and denser development in the same way it pursued suburban growth in the last few decades? Will it focus on quality rather than quantity?
“It’s starting in February and ending on July 4 with a headbanging session to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in an effort to get more people than ever before together to headbang to that song,” Spheeris said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly posted online Thursday. “I can’t believe it. Don’t they have pumpkins or strawberries to celebrate? Isn’t that crazy?”…
For its 25th anniversary, the film is set to return to some theaters Feb. 7-8. Meanwhile, the Aurora Downtown group, the city of Aurora and the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau are organizing a celebration of the movie scheduled to start Feb. 3 and wrap up July 4.
Planned events include a children’s air guitar competition, a trivia contest and a headbanging event to try to beat the Guinness record…
“She may not be aware that Aurora is a city of 200,000. She may think it’s a lot smaller based on the ideas of the movie,” Rauch said. “I think she might just be thinking that her movie may not be as important as pumpkins or strawberries.”
This all sounds fairly lighthearted but it does provide an opportunity to highlight the second largest city in Illinois. Indeed, the Downtown Aurora group has a page dedicated to this topic: “Aurora, Beyond Wayne’s World“:
You might be aware that Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois. With a population of 200,456 it is second only to Chicago. But did you know that Aurora got it’s nickname “The City of Lights” by being the first city in the country to have all electric street lights? Or that Aurora has been scouted for top-name films in recent years? Here is a list of fun facts that you might know about Aurora, IL.
In the film, Aurora doesn’t look so big. At the same time, the population doubled over this time period (1990-today) from just under 100,000 residents to 200,000 residents.
Can an Amazon facility be an economic boon for a suburb, particularly in a portion of the community that is underdeveloped? At the least, the 1,000+ workers will have to live somewhere. Could there be certain facilities that pop up to serve the workers – fast food places? Gas stations? Dry cleaners? Tattoo parlors (wait, Warrenville has enough of those)? Adding students to the school system?
I’m sure the city is either working on estimates of this and it would be worth sharing with the public. Connecting the dots between a warehouse/distribution facility and other community amenities is not obvious and what is Warrenville willing to do to capitalize on this opportunity?