Small steps leading to big, belated debut for Aurora’s Afrikmall

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AURORA | Last July, organizers of the massive new Afrikmall development at 10180 E. Colfax Ave. hosted a grand opening celebration for the new mall at a location a few blocks to the north.

But the opening has been anything but “grand” for the $1.5-million project in the months since July.

As of this week, some of the tenants have their signs up and the almost-8,000-square-foot ballroom on the second floor is open, but the project doesn’t yet have an opening date when the public can shop there.

Emmanuel Eliason, chief business development officer of Afrikmall, said he hopes to announce a public opening date within a couple weeks.

Eliason said there were “some technical requirements” handed down by the city that organizers had to tackle before they could open, and that required the grand opening be held elsewhere.

“We could not allow the public to come in here at that time,” he said.

John Lichtner, building inspections manager for the city, said the electrical system and the fire alarm system didn’t match original plans filed with the city when inspectors looked at it last summer. From there, inspectors worked with organizers on their building plan and, by late October, issued the certificate of occupancy.

The 56,000-square-foot mall has long been an important project for city officials, who hope it not only becomes a major cultural draw, but also sees a sprawling and high-profile building on bustling East Colfax Avenue converted back into something useful.

The three-story building at Colfax and Galena Street was a Broyhill furniture warehouse and before that a JC Penney Department store, said Tim Gonerka, a retail specialist for the city of Aurora.

“To convert that, to repair the roof and start some vitality on that block, we saw it as an important anchor to invest in,” he said.

The city has worked with the building’s owners on a $165,000 tax-incentive deal to help fund the project, Gonerka said, and city council is expected to formally sign off on that deal later this month. The money will be paid back to the city via sales tax, he said.

The new mall is situated in the Aurora Cultural Arts District, which for years has been trying to rehabilitate the once-gritty stretch of Colfax into a hub of arts and entertainment.

The efforts have seen the revitalization of the Aurora Fox Theatre and several arts-focused businesses move to the area.

Those improvements are part of the reason Afrikmall chose the location, organizers have said.

And already, Eliasson said, there are more than 20 different businesses — restaurants, clothing boutiques, a coffee shop  and a FedEx store among them — that will be part of the project.

One of those business owners, Omar Ndiaya, is opening a Senegalese restaurant called Sene and a clothing store called Sene Boutique.

Last week he pushed a broom near his future restaurant as he and Kevin Lartson, Afrikmall’s CEO, put finishing touches on some of the restaurant spaces.

The second floor includes a ballroom and conference center space that can be rented out, and Eliason said the third floor will include space for small offices, such as insurance agencies.

Lichtner said the mall’s set up — several dozen smaller, independently-owned business inside a larger space — means each individual business inside needs its own permits, which can make the project more complicated than buildings with a single owner.

Gonerka said a grand opening followed by several months when a project isn’t open to the public is hardly common, but he said he has high hopes that Afrikmall will tap into some of the energy coming into that corner of the city via the Stanley Marketplace a few blocks away.

“We think it ultimately will offer a great place not only for Aurora, but for the the metro area to call their own and be proud of,” he said.

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davebarnes
davebarnes
6 years ago

$165K!
These people need to learn how to get $millions in tax incentives.

gofastgo
gofastgo
6 years ago
Reply to  davebarnes

And it’s all free too!!! It’s manna from heaven… Just ask a liberal.

Ryan Clapp
Ryan Clapp
6 years ago
Reply to  gofastgo

Tax breaks for small and medium sized business is actually a fairly fiscally conservative position, although it does have traction across the board. The idea is that the $165,000 would be offset by the extra sales tax generated by revenue from the building. Any smart city council will offer incentives to attract local businesses. Considering some of your other comments on this site, I’m surprised you would on one hand knock Aurora for being “dirty,” neglected, etc, and now rail against business development. Seems like a double standard

Squid
Squid
6 years ago
Reply to  Ryan Clapp

An African leadership group has been working for years to get this going. They are hard workers and many of them are naturalized citizens who appreciate the US. I wish them well. The prospect of future revenue is a better option than letting an unused building fall into blight.

gofastgo
gofastgo
6 years ago

And here I thought ‘city sale taxes’ were how the city paid for services, fireman, police, streets, etc.? Who’d I thunk it. And if it fails……

Joe Hardhat
Joe Hardhat
6 years ago

$165K is very generous considering this new shopping experience probably won’t reap anywhere near that amount in tax revenue before it eventually closes due to financial mismanagement and malfeasance.

Pontifex Rex
Pontifex Rex
6 years ago

It doesn’t take a genius to foretell that this endeavor will ultimately fail, if it even gets off the ground in the first place. Factually, one of the predominant reasons malls lose their anchor stores and eventually become urban blight is due to the vibrant and overwhelming presence of African Americans, or “youths” as the media loves to portray them when they “wild out” or form a “flash mob”. Therefore, no non-African in his right mind would ever shop here (SJW’s obviously excluded). And we know the purchasing power that is ultimately necessary to sustain this kind of project will be found utterly lacking in Afro community.
Now when do people of European descent get an overtly ethnocentric mall that tacitly excludes everyone else with the help of taxpayer handouts?

RUDARIUS
RUDARIUS
6 years ago
Reply to  Pontifex Rex

but, but… I thought “diversity equals strength”… right?

Moloch
Moloch
6 years ago

Another name to the deadmall list. Pandering to blacks is the same as setting all that money on fire.