‘No one is coming to Aurora to have fun’: The city lacks an entertainment anchor, and no consensus on attaining one

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AURORA | A panel of Aurora city council members last week shot down a citizen-submitted proposal calling for the city to opt out of a regional cultural district and venture into its own entertainment jurisdiction. 

Aurora resident Jeff Brown briefed the city’s Federal, State and Intergovernmental Relations committee April 14, asking members to forward to the full council a proposal to cut the city out of the 30-year-old Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and enact an identical tax district at the city level. 

Brown has said the idea would buoy the city’s coffers, keep revenues produced in the city within municipal limits and pave the way for the construction of a performing arts complex in Aurora, possibly akin to facilities in Lone Tree and Parker. 

“No one is coming to Aurora to have fun, and we all too often leave Aurora to see a show in Denver, in Parker, in Lone Tree, in Centennial and what have you,” he told council members. “ … I’m further proposing Aurora make a 180-degree turn into performing arts and entertainment in order to revitalize the city’s dining and retail sector.”

Brown is advocating to send a ballot question to local voters this November, asking residents to opt out of the seven-county SCFD and enact a special tax district at the municipal level. 

He has contended the city could unilaterally leave the district via a county-referred ballot question, though SCFD officials have countered that the state legislature would have to pass a measure removing Aurora from the current district before referring a ballot question. 

The trio of council members on the city’s governmental relations committee, Angela Lawson, Nicole Johnston and Curtis Gardner, said that referring a ballot measure to voters this fall would be premature. They instead suggested pursuing a market study to assess the feasibility of crafting a new district or erecting a new arts hub. 

“We need to make sure that we have data to back up what it is that we’re bringing to the voters,” Gardner said. 

City staffers suggested the market study could be funded in upcoming budget negotiations. If a study is funded, officials would also likely congregate a citizen task force that could lead to a ballot question referred to voters in 2022, according to city staff.

Whispers of constructing a performing arts complex in Aurora have permeated the city for decades, though no proposals have come to fruition. Former Mayor Steve Hogan in 2017 alluded to a public-private partnership that could bring such a facility to Aurora, though talks eventually fizzled. Hogan died following a cancer diagnosis in 2018.

Aurora voters have twice voted down ballot measures seeking to fund a performing arts structure in Aurora, once in 1979 and again in 2002. 

Alice Lee Main, former cultural services division director for the city, told the Sentinel in 2016 that the 2002 project was proposed to be combined with a branch of the Aurora Public Library, and that the 1979 question had asked for a three-pronged facility intended to house a theater, a museum and a library — all of which would have been connected by a central atrium with communal gallery space. 

The failed proposals have left the city without a singular artistic anchor, though a smattering of theaters and dance companies have called the Aurora Cultural Arts District along East Colfax Avenue home for years.  

Still, Gardner lamented the lack of cultural space in Aurora, particularly in the city’s southern and eastern peripheries. 

“We need more things to do here in Aurora,” he told his fellow council members. “Yeah it’s great that we have a great cultural arts scene in the metro area, but when my wife and I on a Friday night want to do something, there aren’t a lot of options in Aurora — there really aren’t any in fact. We live in pretty far southeast Aurora, and while The Fox theater is great, that’s a significant commitment. And after the show, there are not a lot of places for me to go eat or have a drink or something like that. While I understand that we do have some amenities here, I don’t think we have the amenities on par with a city of our size.”

However, Gardner and others expressed concern that Brown’s proposal could divert funding from the region’s most magnetic cultural sites, such as the Denver Arts Museum and the Denver Botanic Gardens, depleting the collective cultural offerings available to Aurora residents. 

The so-called “big five” cultural hubs in Denver receive the bulk of SCFD funding each year, though a tweak to the formula several years ago ensures more of the funds go to smaller groups if an annual revenue cap is met. 

SCFD officials told council members that the group’s 11-member board and five-person staff is open to working with Aurora staffers on soliciting potential bids to erect a new venue in the city. 

Still, the Arapahoe County appointee to the SCFD board, Jake Zambrano, condemned Brown’s recent proposal. 

“Mr. Brown’s endeavor to build a cultural venue in Aurora is a noble one … but … cannibalizing SCFD dollars for operations at some of our wonderful tier IIs and tier IIIs to build a building to service debt is short-sighted and detrimental to our community,” he said. 

 First passed by ballot measure in 1988, SCFD charges a penny per $10 to fund nearly 400 arts groups in the region. Voters have re-approved the tax four times over the decades, most recently in 2016.

A bevy of Aurora arts groups receive money from the district, including The Vintage Theatre, Kim Robards Dance and the Aurora Singers, among several others. The city’s cultural services division receives the largest local share of the SCFD pie, nabbing $350,000 in 2019, according to county documents. 

Under Brown’s proposal, the city would have to backfill that funding from the general fund, according to city staff. 

Brown said he was frustrated with council members’ recent decision and is continuing  to explore how to get his proposal to this November’s ballot.

“It’s disappointing to see our city leaders neglect the revenue opportunity by kicking this initiative down the road another two years,” he wrote in an email. “By not pursuing entertainment and the arts, Council is leaving over $28 million/year in sales tax on the table together with the over $6 million in cultural funds that should be invested in the city’s venues and cultural organizations.”

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Michael
Michael
20 days ago

Aurora is such a lovely city but, we always have to go downtown for entertainment, sports and nice restaurants and bars. Southlands Mall is nice but, the City Council needs to step up and build something like that in another part of Aurora or, just expand Stanley Marketplace and make that the hub.

Emi
Emi
19 days ago

All most important is votes . And what is done recently last 3-4 years ? I live in Aurora 25 years. We have very bad roads, crime and growing homeless camps near Cherry Creek park. Also very successful marijuana businesses and they bring money.But what we are using them for? I made about six call to Aurora city this year about roads and homeless camps and nobody contacted me back. Should I and my friends not to vote for people who are in Aurora city hall now?

FeelingsAreNotFacts
FeelingsAreNotFacts
18 days ago
Reply to  Emi

The short answer is “yes.” The longer one is, the majority of the council is actively damaging the city with its “progressive” pro-criminal, pro-illegal, business-unfriendly agenda. Unfortunately, we are stuck with two of the biggest offenders (Marcano and Coombs) for three more years. But Murillo, Hiltz, and Johnston can be replaced in the coming election.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
19 days ago

I’ve lived in Aurora since 1964 and honestly have never thought about needing to have fun here, but then maybe that’s the point.

None
None
18 days ago

So the Gaylord hotel didn’t get built?

Jalmer
Jalmer
18 days ago

Focus on a pedestrian oriented array, with a theme park atmosphere, drawing from the many diverse cultural histories of the area.

Jim F
Jim F
18 days ago

“No one is coming to Aurora to have fun”.

What a sad and profound understatement! While our Aurora City Council members focus on thwarting ICE or employing “social equity” to allocate marijuana delivery licenses, our residents – especially the middle class – are being ignored. And they are leaving. They certainly are not spending their money here.

We do go to the Aurora Fox several times a year (pre-pandemic), but it is a limited venue and does not compare favorably with the community theaters/centers that we regularly support in Lone Tree, Parker, Arvada, Denver, and Lakewood. Our entertainment dollars, including activities before and after the shows, our spent in those locales.

Soon, the lament will be, “Too many are moving out of Aurora – how can we make it a desirable place to live and raise a family?”

Making a community an attractive place to live for a wide variety of constituencies is a complex equation, and whether they like it or not, the Aurora City Council must compete with other locales to attract and retain residents – especially those who can pay taxes.

I am not sure about the wisdom of attempting to withdraw from the SCFD, but I am certain about the need – and desirability – for an Aurora community arts and entertainment center. I hope that the Aurora City Council recognizes the need as well and does something about it.

Sharon
Sharon
18 days ago

The city of aurora has a performing arts gem right at the center of the city in the Aurora Fox Theater. Not only is it a landmark, it is home to some of the best theater in the state. And yet, it has been ignored.
It anchors the “arts district” of east colfax established several years ago and is a major boon for that part of the city. If only it werent left behind…constantly.

Last edited 18 days ago by Sharon
Anthony
Anthony
17 days ago

I’ve lived in Aurora my entire life. This notion is not wrong. It’s far too often my family and I find ourselves heading to other cities for entertainment and food, beyond the basic needs of both. There are no doubt good food and entertainment here, but they are moving so far out from North and West Aurora. They are literally leaving middle-class citizens who don’t live southeast or northeast out, which is still where a majority of the population is. Southlands Mall, Gaylord, are all out and away from the core of the city. Plenty of rundown and half-abandoned shopping centers. The city I love is one I’m considering leaving because City Council is afraid to make a move to help its own city. It doesn’t take but a quick drive through other towns and cities to see we are way behind and funding the wrong things to invite many other to visit or move.

Jim F
Jim F
16 days ago

“No one is coming to Aurora to have fun”.

What a sad and profound understatement! While our Aurora City Council members focus on thwarting ICE or employing “social equity” to allocate marijuana delivery licenses, our residents – especially the middle class – are being ignored. And they are leaving. They certainly are not spending their money here.

We do go to the Aurora Fox several times a year (pre-pandemic), but it is a limited venue and does not compare favorably with the community theaters/centers that we regularly support in Lone Tree, Parker, Arvada, Denver, and Lakewood. Our entertainment dollars, including activities before and after the shows, our spent in those locales.

Soon, the lament will be, “Too many are moving out of Aurora – how can we make it a desirable place to live and raise a family?”

Making a community an attractive place to live for a wide variety of constituencies is a complex equation, and whether they like it or not, the Aurora City Council must compete with other cities to attract and retain residents – especially those who can pay taxes.

I am not sure about the wisdom of attempting to withdraw from the SCFD, but I am certain about the need – and desirability – for an Aurora community arts and entertainment center. I hope that the Aurora City Council recognizes the need as well and does something about it.