The first floor of the Florence Square building on East Colfax Avenue is a crucial space for the burgeoning Aurora Cultural Arts District.
The Aurora Fox Theatre is just across Colfax, the Vintage Theater a block away, and within a short walk, several art studios and other creative spaces dot the neighborhood. The Collection art gallery, an insurance agency and a tobacco store are the only retailers who so far call the space home.
Tim Gonerka, a retail specialist for the city of Aurora and one of the people tasked with attracting businesses to the district, likens the almost-decade old Florence Square to the primo seats at a football game.
“This is kind of the 50-yard line,” he said.
That vital location — combined with a long-standing lack of food and drink options for theater goers and art enthusiasts who venture to the district — is why Gonerka and others in the district are so excited about two projects coming to the first floor of Florence Square.
Two restaurants — a second location for longtime Aurora eatery Cafe Paprika, and Granny Annie Peachy Pie — are set to open later this year on the west side of Florence Square’s first floor.
If things go as planned, Gonerka said the two restaurants could be open around Thanksgiving.
The project is a bit different than many restaurants, Gonerka said. For one, the two businesses will share bathroom space as well as some equipment — including venting systems and grease traps. That will save money, he said, and help the projects get off the ground.
Each site will have some outdoor seating, one on the west side of the building in the plaza, and another in a an open space in the center of the building adjacent to Colfax.
“We are very optimistic about what is going to be happening in that whole area,” he said.
One complaint that has long dogged the arts district is a relative lack of variety when it comes to food and dining options near the theaters and art galleries. La Cueva Mexican restaurant has long been a popular stop for theater goers and other visitors, but withing the arts district’s boundaries, it was one of the few options.
Gonerka said he hopes when the two restaurants get up and running — along with Mu Brewery a few doors to the west — it will act as a magnet for more businesses coming to the area.
“We think you get that started and redevelopment in that neighborhood starts to happen,” he said.
Tracy Weil, CEO of the district, said he could definitely see that happening because it has happened already among the artistic businesses that now call the district home. The Fox helped attract the Vintage Theatre and Ignite Theater, and art studios have attracted art brethren, too.
Weil said that with about 75,000 people visiting events in the district every year, it is important that there are businesses there that encourage people to stay, have dinner, or grab a bite before a show or gallery opening.
“It’s great to have opportunity for them to stick around,” he said.
Plus, Weil said, there is an undeniable connection between the arts and dining.
“Food and art and wine and beer, they kind of all go together,” he said.
The arrival of Grannie Annie and Cafe Paprika comes on the heels of Mu Brewery opening its doors in June. The brewery near Colfax and Dayton Street is set for a grand opening celebration July 12.
While those three new storefronts mark some important successes for the district, there was a hiccup earlier this year. A panini shop was planned on Emporia Street just south of Colfax, but Gonerka said that project flamed out.
City officials have shown the property to a handful of other possible businesses, and Gonerka said he is hopeful a deal will be worked out by the end of the year.