New owner has divine vision for massive Aurora space on Colfax

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AURORA | For the third time in about 18 months, the sprawling old Broyhill Furniture Building has a new tenant aiming to make the hulking structure a hub of dining, retail and culture.

This time, under the moniker Aurora Hope Complex, officials are hoping the site can be home to restaurants, retailers and event space.

Under the legal name Saints Management LLC, Pastor Richard Lewis took over as the de facto head of the 56,000-square-foot space this spring after the building’s previous occupant, The Soul Center, flopped and accusations swirled around its founder, Tony “Leon” Burroughs.

The Soul Center, an entertainment venture that operated out of the East Colfax space from last fall through this spring, closed up shop after Burroughs was arrested and nearly extradited to Michigan in March for unpaid child support.

Vikki Migoya, a spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County district attorney’s office, said Burroughs fought his extradition in an Arapahoe County courtroom. Eventually, court records said Burroughs settled the Michigan matter and the extradition order was dismissed.

But Soul Center’s woes extended beyond Burroughs’ out-of-state legal flap.

Burroughs consistently failed to pay rent to the building’s owner, the Denver-based property management firm Northstar Commercial Partners, according to Brian Watson, Northstar’s chairman and CEO.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Burroughs finally needed to be evicted after regular/continued nonpayment,” Watson said in an emailed statement.

Northstar invested about $1.65 million in the development of the space between early 2014 — when the firm purchased the property — and late 2015, according to city documents.

In November 2015, city officials signed off on an agreement that afforded the Afrikmall project about $165,000 in tax incentives. The plan was for Afrikmall to be a hub for the region’s African community, offering dining, shopping and cultural events organized by and for African immigrants.

But the project was marked with lengthy delays, construction woes and other problems from the outset. Last year, the Afrikmall idea was scrapped and the organizers abandoned the project.

Burroughs stepped in with the Soul Center idea and city officials said they hoped that project, too, could breathe some life into the massive old department store at Colfax and Galena Street.

Now Lewis is taking the reins.

He comes to the project with some familiarity with the space having already been a tenant and renting the ballroom for church services.

When Soul Center started to flounder, he said he and a small group of people formed Saints Management with an eye toward helping Burroughs manage the struggling site.

When Burroughs was evicted, he said he opted to step in and manage the project with a new focus.

While Afrikmall was focused on African immigrants and Soul Center was marketed largely to the local black population, Lewis said he is aiming for something more diverse. He wants people from all cultures to feel like they are welcome at Hope, he said. Already he said he is in talks with a Latino market to open up shop there.

Still, Lewis said, the biggest hurdle he faces going forward is ridding the site of the stigma left there by the previous tenants who boasted of big plans but failed to deliver.

“There is a stigma, and we have to overcome that,” he said.

City Councilwoman Sally Mounier, whose northwestern Ward I encompasses the former Broyhill pad, is lobbying to convert the space into a hub for a homeless service provider that has been vying to set up shop in the city.

At a recent city council committee meeting, Mounier voted against a proposal that would preclude a work facilitation program for homeless people from opening in the Afrikmall space. She said she would like to see the program open in Ward I, specifically in the former Broyhill building, as she believes residents in the surrounding neighborhood would not object to the program.

The Ready to Work program, operated by the Boulder-based nonprofit organization Bridge House, has been trying to move forward with plans to open an outpost in a former bingo hall on far East Colfax Avenue for months. Residents near the proposed location have consistently railed against the project, saying it would place potentially undesirable residents near school children at the nearby Laredo Elementary School.

Watson said he’s open to operating a homeless services program in the Afrikmall space.

“We are always open to creative ideas like the homeless service provider idea – love it,” he wrote in a statement. “We want to use this property as a way to help strengthen the community in an area that could use new opportunity and empowerment. We’ll continue to dialogue with our friends who are local leaders, neighbors, and influencers in Aurora on good continued steps and solutions to do just that.”

Lewis said Mounier’s idea to house a homeless facility at the site had some people wondering whether the Aurora Hope Complex was still going to happen. He said he assured them the project is still going forward and he is working to attract some retailers and other businesses to the handful of storefronts that line the first floor.