The air inside that room is hot and thick, and PVC pipes run along the ceiling, pumping oxygen into 85 tanks balanced on shelves made out of cinderblocks and planks of wood. Pink Floyd blasts from an iPod set next to a contraption that's boiling brine shrimp to hatch them so they can be fed to baby fish. Grauer is obviously an expert, especially in regard to breeding. "I can tell when they're ready to have babies, because, as I say, they put on their colors," he says, pointing to a tank. "See that one? He's dressed up for Saturday night." And he takes his hobby seriously: He never names his fish, and if a fish is deformed or sick, he kills it so it doesn't spoil the gene pool.

That's not to say he doesn't love them. Standing in front of a tank full of shiny blue-and-orange fish, he coos, "I could sit in front of this tank and space out all day."


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.

Aside from counting room nights, it can be tough to quantify Visit Aurora's success. One way would be in enthusiasm, which has grown over Visit Aurora's short life span. At first, city officials, businesspeople and even hotel managers admit, they were skeptical.

"We're not known as a tourist destination," says Dick Hinson, the senior vice president of the Aurora Economic Development Council. When the city announced it was launching Visit Aurora, he says, "a lot of people's first reaction was, 'Really?'"

Kevin DeLange, who owns Dry Dock Brewing, thought the same thing. When Wheat asked him, the city's only independent brewer, to sit on Visit Aurora's board, DeLange admits he was hesitant. "I honestly didn't think of Aurora as a destination location," he says. "I figure since we're so far away from the the metro area, we're on the far side to the east.... I needed education, I guess. And after sitting in on a couple of board meetings and seeing what the focus was, then it made a lot of sense, and I was surprised that they hadn't had an organization like this longer."

Hinson has come around, too. "These guys know what they're doing," he says.

Most agree that the big difference is the level of professional expertise. If Aurora's goal is to bring in dollars through the city's lodgers' tax, then Wheat and the other staff members are the carnival barkers touting — and shouting — the city's strengths in order to draw tourists and, as city officials sometimes say, "put heads in beds."

"There are literally dozens upon dozens upon dozens of medical conferences every year that go on someplace else. We need to bring them to Aurora," says Mayor Steve Hogan, who served on the city council on and off for thirty years before he was elected mayor last year. "We have an active military base — Buckley Air Force Base — in Aurora. There are Defense-Department-related conferences that occur. They need to be in Aurora.

"You need somebody with expertise and knowledge who can put those things together," Hogan adds, "and those things are now happening."

The hotels have been especially pleased with Visit Aurora's efforts. Sales director Bleakley, who used to work for the Red Lion Hotel, works to get leads on meetings and conferences interested in coming to Aurora and then sends those leads to the hotels, which put together bids for the business. And lodgers'-tax numbers show that business is up. Wheat reports that the city collected 8 percent more money in 2011 than in 2010.

"They've done a wonderful job drumming up business for Aurora, just like Visit Denver does for Denver," says Marcelo Birckenstaedt, general manager at a brand-new Hampton Inn & Suites by the Denver International Airport. The airport sits on a chunk of land east of Denver that was annexed by the city but is actually closer to most of Aurora. Several Aurora hotels, including Birckenstaedt's, cater to fliers.

"When Gary and company came on board, we could feel it immediately," he says. "In the past, it was scattershot. Now we get the phone calls."

Another of Visit Aurora's accomplishments is its website, which took a year to get up and running. Cheery and interactive, its design is better than that of Visit Denver, even if its featured events aren't as world-class. The website lists 560 Aurora restaurants, highlighting those that are independently owned and ethnic — which are a lot, due to Aurora's diversity and sizable refugee community. It's possible to book hotel rooms directly from the site, and Visit Aurora has drawn up ready-made itineraries for sight-seers: Bike to find Aurora's fifty pieces of public art! Ponder the art of construction at DeLaney Farm's Round Barn! Enjoy the daily air show that is Buckley Air Force Base, an activity Wheat has coined "bird watching, Aurora-style."

The website has a special section for so-called health-care visitors, a population on which Visit Aurora is banking. They've contracted with a California-based company called Market Staging Inc. that analyzes data to help hospitals figure out what they're best at — e.g., saving heart-attack victims or replacing hips — and then communicate that to the public. Usually, the idea is to keep people from going to big-name hospitals when their local health-care facility has outcomes that are just as good. But with Visit Aurora, the idea is more like traditional marketing: to attract people from outside the city to the impressive medical facilities built on the site of the former Army hospital, the University of Colorado Hospital and Children's Hospital, as well as the Medical Center of Aurora.

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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.


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


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.


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.


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.