This artist’s rendering shows a possible live music venue proposed by the Fox Valley Music Foundation in a currently empty, city-owned building in downtown Aurora. (Fox Valley Music Foundation)
The Fox Valley Music Foundation wants to put a live music and education center in downtown Aurora that its leader described as a kind of "Old Town School of Folk Music meets the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
Steve Warrenfeltz, president of the foundation, said the facility would make sense since one of the most important songs in the world of blues music was recorded in downtown Aurora.
"People in Aurora need to know that," Warrenfeltz said, referring to "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" by Sonny Boy Williamson. "It’s ironic that people in Europe know more about our music here in Aurora than Aurorans do."
One of the missions of the foundation is to educate Aurorans and the world on the origins and history of music, particularly the roughly 320 recordings made throughout 1937 and 1938 in the former Sky Club on the 19th floor of the Leland Hotel downtown.
Warrenfeltz made his comments to the Aurora City Council’s Finance Committee Tuesday as the foundation and aldermen discussed a redevelopment agreement and lease for a vacant, city-owned building at 19 to 21 S. Broadway.
The foundation wants to put a live music and education center in the former Woolworth building there.
"For more than two years, we have been looking to do something here that meets our mission," he said.
While aldermen seemed supportive of the idea, they said there needs to be more detail in the proposed lease agreement about who would maintain the building.
Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large, Finance Committee chairman, said not only does the proposed use seem to be a good fit for downtown Aurora, it would take place in a building the city bought several years ago "with an unclear direction" as to how it would be used. There was even discussion of tearing the building down.
"Now we have an organization that wants to bring attention and energy toward using the building," he said. "If we can work out some of these details, I’m looking forward to this as a great opportunity."
The committee held off voting on a recommendation of the lease and redevelopment agreement. It will further discuss and possibly vote on them at a Finance Committee meeting at 3 p.m., Nov. 7, in the Fifth Floor conference room at City Hall, 44 E. Downer Place.
What the foundation wants to do is host as many as 200 events a year in the building, many of them live music performances, but also educational programs, some tied to the performances.
Kevin Drummond, a foundation board member, said when the facility is up and running at full speed, the foundation could also hold outdoor events, either in the park next door to the building, or the Water Street Mall.
"The goal is to have a flow of events, a continual schedule of events," he said.
There also would be a retail element involving the sale of music and things like clothing and related items. Warrenfeltz said it would similar but smaller than the store he co-owns and runs in Batavia, Kiss the Sky.
While details of building maintenance are still up in the air, both city officials and the foundation appear to agree on the idea that although the foundation is a not-for-profit organization, it would pay taxes to the downtown special service area and to the East Aurora School District. It also would pay into the downtown tax increment financing district.
Warrenfeltz pointed out that the retail part of the operation would pay sales taxes to the city, and eventually, the foundation would seek a liquor license for the live music venue there.
The foundation has estimated that when up and running at 100 percent, it would earn about $300,000 a year with expenses of about $180,000.
As part of the development agreement, the city would pay the foundation upfront some tax increment financing money toward the building redevelopment.
The Fox Valley Music Foundation was developed out of the group that once ran Blues on the Fox. When the city gave the Paramount Theatre that responsibility, the group was "without a purpose," Warrenfeltz said.
Since the foundation was formed in November 2014, it has continued to advise the Paramount on Blues on the Fox, but also has released several CDs and vinyl records of area music. It also runs live music events at Kiss the Sky.
"So we here we are; we have all this energy and experience and knowledge," Warrenfeltz said.
Drummond said the group is committed to building on the "traction" Aurora has gotten from the blues recordings made here, and Blues on the Fox.
"Aurora’s on the radar because of Blues on the Fox," he said. "It’s a bright light for the city."