In her 2023 State of the City address, Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said the city government is focused on preserving and enhancing historic buildings and improving public spaces, including a long-debated recreation center.
She announced the city had just agreed to buy two properties in the previous week, adding to two others recently purchased.
“One is next to the Memorial Library and the beautiful historic building owned by the Hanes family on the southwest corner of state Route 82 and 306,” Womer Benjamin said at the Feb. 15 event, attended by hundreds at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center and hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.
“The property just east of the Memorial Library will be held for potential future expansion of that facility. The Hanes Building is an iconic property that is at the entrance to Aurora’s Historic District, a structure we plan to preserve as an important part of Aurora’s history and eventually lease to an appropriate tenant in the future.”
These purchases add to more than 200 acres of land bought by the city under her time as mayor, she said, adding: “We continue to watch for new opportunities that align with our plans for our parks, connectivity, and the city.”
“All of these purchases are consistent with master plan recommendations to enhance the town center, promote historic preservation, and plan for anticipated future needs,” she said. “To help finance such purchases, we have sold off lots to create a fund restricted for the purpose of acquiring properties that hold strategic value for the community.”
Womer Benjamin added she is still keen to see the city build its own recreation center and is pursuing this goal.
Voters rejected levies to finance the project by over 60% of the vote in 1996 and 2002, she said. Another effort to build a rec center through a ballot initiative failed in 2011.
“Undaunted, shortly after I became mayor, I created an Ad Hoc Rec Committee which made recreation recommendations to the city, all of which have been implemented except for a rec center,” Womer Benjamin said.
“A rec center demand study was conducted in 2021, and late last year I established an Ad Hoc Rec Center Committee. Council recently approved a contract for a feasibility study for a rec center, which the committee will oversee and evaluate, while reviewing options and alternatives and soliciting public comment.”
A new hike and bike trail is also being developed along parts of a former railroad that crosses the city. After working with First Energy — which has installed electricity transmission lines along the route — the city gained recreational easements along the entire stretch.
“Having done a feasibility study last year, we are now proceeding with the design of a trail on the first 2.8 miles of the corridor, from Chamberlain Road in Mantua to state Route 82,” she said. “Based on data from other communities hosting trails, such a trail could bring new opportunities to the city and invigorate the historic Depot District at 82. I know many are anxious to see this trail developed.”
New sidewalks have been built on Aurora-Hudson from Our Lady of Perpetual Help to the schools, with 2.5 miles added last year and more on the way. She said they’re considering extending the sidewalk further down Aurora-Hudson, and there are plans to install a sidewalk from McDonald’s to Aurora Commons and possibly also on New Hudson Road from the East Pioneer Trail sidewalk to state Route 82.
In attendance at the speech were two former mayors and high school students, with whom she has been meeting to gain their view on improving Aurora.
She thanked former fire chief Dave Barnes, who retired last summer after 20 years of service, and welcomed the city’s new fire chief, Matthew McBirney, who had been serving as the assistant chief and was chosen after an extensive search process.
The fire department will be gaining an extra firefighter this year, and the police department two additional officers, and both departments will be buying new vehicles this year.
Other matters Womer Benjamin reported on included redevelopment at the former Sea World site and extending land available for development at the city industrial park.
She said the nine-year project to replace the city’s century-old water lines is nearly complete, with four of the remaining five now done and the last — on Maple Lane — due to be upgraded this year.
“Better still, though, is the fact that despite the early admonitions I received, we have installed these water lines without the necessity of borrowing money, and I am proud of that achievement,” Womer Benjamin said.
On the subject of water, the mayor said work is being done to mitigate heavier stormwater problems and the city has won $2.3 million of federal money to buy the most flood prone homes in the Geauga Lake area.