"I'm trying to figure out who the weightlifter is here," he says. Fenstermacher, who's hardly a cowboy, points to Gaudreau, who's dressed in work boots, a T-shirt and jeans, a cell phone and tape measure strapped to his belt. "I think I got the one."

"No, I'm a figure skater!" Gaudreau jokes.

Wheat, wearing a tie and cuff links, gently launches into his pitch. The 2012 World Masters Bench Press Championships are scheduled for three days starting April 20 at the Red Lion Hotel, he says, and it's expected to draw 250 powerlifters from thirty countries, plus their families. "What we're looking for is a place for them to unwind," he says. "We wanted to see if you'd be interested in having them roll in."

Visit Aurora is putting Denver's eastern neighbor on the map, thanks to president Gary Wheat.
Anthony Camera
Visit Aurora is putting Denver's eastern neighbor on the map, thanks to president Gary Wheat.

"We'd love to have them," Fenstermacher says, agreeing to waive the cover charge and hang a banner welcoming the foreigners to Aurora, Colorado.

That's exactly what Gaudreau hoped to hear. "When somebody from Russia thinks of Colorado, this is what they're going to think of," he says. "Their eyes are going to open wide when they see them going around the dance floor."

At the end of twenty minutes, everyone shakes hands. "We're going to throw one hell of a party," Fenstermacher says. For Wheat, however, it's about more than just a single night of fun. The meeting gives him an opportunity to meet Fenstermacher face to face, which his how Wheat likes to do business, and assure him that Visit Aurora has big plans. "We'll be coming back to you with the fruits of our sales," he promises.

In 2011, those fruits equated to 12,055 new "room nights," which is how visitors' bureaus nationwide measure their success. A room night is a one-night stay at a hotel, and it's counted by the year in which the event is booked. For example, Visit Denver's new-room-night total for 2011 was a whopping 640,995, though that includes nights connected with events booked as far in advance as 2031, says spokesman Rich Grant.

Aurora's 12,055 new room nights can be attributed to several new events attracted by the three-person team at Visit Aurora — Wheat, marketing director Peters and sales director Kate Bleakley — mostly through shmoozing meeting planners and event coordinators nationwide. The new events include: the Senior Softball U.S.A. Western National Championships, a tournament for men over 50 and women over 45, which will take place in early August at the Aurora Sports Park; and the USSSA Baseball West Coast Global World Series, a youth baseball tournament slated for late July. (It should be noted that USSSA Baseball's website lists the tournament's location as Denver.)

And while they're not yet booking events twenty years out like Visit Denver, Visit Aurora has started on 2013 with the annual convention for the American Cichlid Association. This confab of freshwater-fish-lovers will draw upwards of 500 people — and their cichlids, some shipped in boxes labeled "Live Tropical Fish," others driven (carefully!) in tanks — from around the country. Similar to the genesis of the powerlifting tournaments, the convention's path to Aurora started with a fanatic.

Bob Grauer lives with his wife, their cat and thousands of fish (he doesn't know exactly how many) in a well-appointed house in southeast Denver, three miles from the Aurora border. But don't make the mistake of assuming he lives in the suburb. "This isn't technically Denver," he says when asked about where he lives. "It is Denver."

His testiness is somewhat understandable. Aurora, he says, doesn't have the best reputation, a phenomenon he attributes to "the gangs" and the Denver newspapers, which he says write about Aurora only when someone gets murdered. Though civic boosters are quick to point out that crime doesn't happen as often in Aurora as it does in, ahem, Denver, there's a perception that the city is dangerous; after all, all three of Colorado's death-row inmates committed their crimes in Aurora, and the city is also home to more accused terrorists — Najibullah Zazi, Jamshid Muhtorov — than you'd expect from a ho-hum suburb in a square state in the middle of the country.

"I've been here a lot of years," Grauer says. "When people think of Aurora anymore, they don't think good things."

So when Grauer and a fellow fish enthusiast set about finding a hotel to host the 2013 convention (this year's gathering is in Indianapolis in July), they mostly looked in Denver. It wasn't easy, he says. "Some hotels didn't even bother to get back to us." Then, someone — he can't remember who — recommended he give Visit Aurora a call. Soon, Wheat's staff had generated a list of hotels that fit Grauer's criteria: cheap rooms and enough space to set up hundreds of freshwater fish tanks. "It was almost like they were our eyes," he says of Visit Aurora. "They made our lives easier."

Now Grauer can concentrate on what he does best: breeding cichlids, a family of fish made up of more than 1,300 species, the most famous of which are angelfish. He first got into fish about forty years ago, after admiring a friend's tank. By the time he got divorced from his first wife, he had seven or eight tanks of his own, which he gave away to schools when he was forced to downsize. Grauer rekindled his love for cichlids when he married his current wife, who suggested that "a fish tank would be nice." Soon, Grauer had tanks in every room of the house, a menagerie he eventually moved to the basement. "This is the best hobby I could have," he says. And how does he justify it to his wife? "I say, 'I could gamble. I could drink. I could chase women. But if you wake up in the middle of the night and I'm not there, you know I'm downstairs in my fish room.'"

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8 comments
Payton_vege
Payton_vege

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Cécile Elliott
Cécile Elliott

Instead of trying to make Aurora a tourist destination they should think about making it bearable for its residents to live there. I live a mile from the City Center and I wouldn't recommend a tourist let alone residents to walk around the Aurora City Center at night. Aurora is Denver's ghetto. Their economic development board is WAY off if they think bringing powerlifting tournaments and tropical fish conventions to Aurora is the best way to help.

calhounp
calhounp

i'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's full name and town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

lunkwill
lunkwill

You know, Aurora may not be exotic, but at least our street names are ... here's lookin' at you, Monaco, Quebec, Havana, Jamaica, Lima and Paris St...

Sabrina D'Agosta
Sabrina D'Agosta

I grew up in Aurora and about the only reason I'd even consider visiting nowadays is for the Fox Theater or if my kid needed emergency treatment at the new Children's Hospital. Good luck with that marketing campaign.

Krlkwil
Krlkwil

I also am a lifelong resident of Aurora Colorado it is an okay place to live but if I want entertainment of any kind generally I go to Denver. The city is definitely not a place to make as a destination for recreation. What a waste of tax dollars. Sad but true, If you do come to visit bring your bullet proof vest and pack a 9mm or better because the cops are completely worthless and run from the gangs not to them.

lunkwill
lunkwill

I'm an Aurora native, have spent decades living in every corner of the city, and have love and best wishes for this city as such... but I just made the mistake of trying to swallow my coffee at the same time I got to the part about Aurora "making sense" as a "destination city". Perhaps 'Visit Aurora' has yet to 'visit Aurora'.

If I ever get on Wheel of Fortune and win an exotic vacation to Aurora, I'll be pissed.

 
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