Aurora's Havana Street is bustling with new construction, restaurants, new life for Fan Fair?

The planned revitalization of Havana Street in Aurora may just be another reason to visit Denver's upstart neighbor to the east. As explained in our cover story, "Wish You Were Here!," the suburb is looking to draw tourists with a unique plan that targets athletes, hospital patients and folks with obscure hobbies looking for convention space. And thanks to planned construction along Havana, they'll have more places to shop while in town.

The Havana Business Improvement District, a stretch that runs 4.3 miles along Havana from Sixth Avenue to Dartmouth Avenue, has announced several new projects. Among them: an assisted living facility at 1470 South Havana Street, an eight-story office building at 1450 South Havana Street and a new residential development at The Gardens on Havana, an outdoor retail center on the site of the former Buckingham Square Mall. The development will include 217 apartments and ten townhouses.

Created in 2007 when local commercial property and business owners voted to tax themselves 4.5 mills to fund a business improvement district, the strip known as "On Havana Street" is home to hundreds of businesses and restaurants. And more keep coming. According to Gayle Jetchick, the executive director and only employee of the Havana Business Improvement District, 24 new businesses opened in 2011 alone, bringing 271 new jobs and $6.5 million worth of construction. The March "Life on Havana Street" newsletter, announces several more newcomers, including the Havana Street Station Restaurant and Sae Jong Korean Restaurant. And more shops are on their way: Jetchick reports that The Gardens on Havana will soon include a Lane Bryant, an Office Depot, a standalone Starbucks and a Toys "R" Us/Babies "R" Us.

Some of the most exciting news, however, appears to involve one of Aurora's biggest eyesores. Fan Fair (or Fan Fare, depending on who you ask) opened in 1962 as a warehouse-type retail operation similar to today's Costco. But the venture wasn't very long-lasting, and the bulbous building has sat vacant since the 1980s. (Read more about Fan Fair's history in this 2009 Aurora Sentinel article.) Several plans to revitalize it have come and gone in recent years, with at least one thwarted by the recession.

But Jetchick says more promising ideas are on the horizon. In Feburary, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan attended the Mayors' Institute on City Design, a national symposium on urban design. (Denver Mayor Michael Hancock attended, too.) Each mayor was asked to present about a particularly troubling project, and Hogan chose northern Havana Street and Fan Fair.

Out of all of the projects, Jetchick says the folks at the Mayors' Institute on City Design chose Fan Fair to receive extra attention. According to her, a team of architects, designers and planners have made several trips to Aurora, including a trip this week, to survey the site and come up with ideas for its future. Thus far, the powers-that-be are mum about their progress; Jetchick says they've told her she has to wait another sixty to ninety days before they reveal their genius. "I've just been saying, 'I would love a place to pull a farmer's market up there, to do an art festival or a Greek festival, but also have some residential and nice restaurants'," Jetchick says. The possibilities, she adds, are "really exciting." Plus, she says of the dilapidated, bubble-like building, "I'm tired of looking at it."

The Mayors' Institute on City Design told Westword that it can't talk about individual projects; apparently, they're top-secret. Westword has also contacted the City of Aurora spokeswoman, and we'll update this blog post if and when we hear back.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Aurora: Top five tourist destinations."

Like Melanie Asmar/Westword on Facebook.

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