Ten Things About Aurora That People Need to Know | Westword

Ten Things About Aurora That People Need to Know

There's a lot people don't know (or have forgotten) about Colorado's third largest city.
The Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center in Aurora is becoming one of the most notable landmarks of Colorado's "World in a City."
The Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center in Aurora is becoming one of the most notable landmarks of Colorado's "World in a City." Westword
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Aurora recently rebranded itself...again.

The city has cycled through a few slogans and taglines, both official and unofficial, over the years — "The World in a City" (the current official marketing slogan for the City of Aurora), "Worth Discovering" (a recently retired slogan), "The Bright Way" (a line on a sign) and "Gateway to the Rockies" (introduced by the Chamber of Commerce in 1958). And now comes a new tagline for a marketing campaign from Visit Aurora: "Our Story, Our Way."

Known for its cultural richness and diversity, Aurora has been a major landing spot for immigrants and Colorado newcomers who share their life stories through food, art, local passions and work.

Since it's already considered by many to be the state's most interesting city, Westword decided to share ten things about Aurora that many people might not know — or simply need to be reminded about.

How much Aurora pours into its branding campaigns

The city's latest rebranding effort is led by Visit Aurora, the local tourism bureau and an independently run nonprofit that is funding everything through "a combination of Lodger’s Tax, Destination Marketing Improvement Fee revenues, partner program dues, advertising revenue," according to spokesperson Randi Morritt.

Visit Aurora declined to reveal just how much money is going into the campaign — worrying that sharing the dollar amount "detracts any support away from promoting our diverse small businesses," Morritt says. However, the group did share that the idea "was driven and shaped by the survey results of our nearly 2,500 online respondents and 100 in-person stakeholder interviews."

The "Our Story, Our Way" campaign will ultimately use "multimedia content...videos, engaging social media campaigns, and interactive experiences, with ads in languages like Spanish and Korean," per Morritt.

"In addition to our social, digital and print advertising strategy that launched [on October 31], you can also expect to see television spots on local stations in the next year," Morritt says.

How Aurora got its name

Colorado's third-largest municipality originated as a subdivision of the town of Fletcher, an area built up by real estate developer Donald Fletcher with help from the state's silver boom, explains Keith Outcelt, education curator for the Aurora History Museum. 

The subdivision of Aurora was incorporated into Fletcher in 1891, but who, exactly, suggested the name Aurora — which is Latin for "dawn" and the name of the Roman goddess of dawn — is unknown. Outcelt does note that settlers from Fletcher's native Illinois likely suggested it in reference to the Aurora in that state.

When the price for Colorado silver began to crash in 1893, Fletcher fled the town and left it in heavy debt to Denver Water as he searched for wealth in the Colorado Rockies and then California, where he would live out the rest of his days.

Devastated by the departure of their founder, Fletcher decided to wipe his name from its history books and rename it Aurora in 1907. When the town's population grew past 2,000 people in 1928, the Colorado Secretary of State bestowed city status on it, rechristening it as the City of Aurora.
click to enlarge Minsoo Song holds up a South Korean flag in the Aurora Municipal center.
Minsoo Song, who works for the Aurora Office of International and Immigrant Affairs, is leading the effort for a South Korean consulate in Aurora.
Bennito L. Kelty

Aurora also has a few nicknames

"A-Town" is an older and more established nickname, one that can be found in headlines of the Aurora Sentinel — the city's paper of record — as well as restaurant names (like the now-closed A-Town Oizza), and in reference to Downtown A-Town, the original downtown area on East Colfax near Fletcher Plaza.

Then there's "ACO," which can get confusing because Aurora is in both Arapahoe and Adams (and Douglas!) counties, plus the nickname "Jeffco" is often used by Jefferson County. ACO is popular with local rappers; it even has an entry in the Urban Dictionary, but it is used more by businesses and organizations, like the ACO House.

Denverites and irreverent Aurorans have also been known to call the city "Saudi Aurora."

While some people interpret this as a racist way of noting the city's relatively large Arab-speaking population, Aurorans have clarified online that it actually has to do with the landscape and how the area can feel desert-like due to a lack of trees and the "300 days of sunshine" that everyone talks about.

Aurora's restaurant scene is well-respected but underrepresented

When the famed Michelin Guide — a gold standard in international cuisine — announced it would expand to Colorado earlier this year but wasn't awarding any stars to restaurants in Aurora, many fans of the dining scene were surprised, as Aurora had established itself over the years as having some of the best ethnic eats in the entire state.

Aurora has published several dining guides to help navigate what the city serves up best, with its latest culinary road map including more than 200 eateries offering food from as far away as Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

With so many places to eat, including highly praised restaurants like Annette, Aurora chefs and owners initially scratched their heads over their ineligibility for a star.

Turns out the Aurora snub stemmed from booster group Visit Aurora choosing not to contribute toward Michelin marketing funds, as Visit Denver and the Colorado Tourism Office did. Visit Aurora chose not to support any single restaurant's bid for the Michelin guide because "we chose to focus on the Aurora restaurant community as a whole," Bruce Dalton, president of Visit Aurora, said on September 13.

"Making an investment in the guide is each city’s decision," Dalton said. "It is a risk because you do not know if stars will be awarded."

The Aurora City Council is divided

Colorado's biggest municipality, Denver, has a city council that is decisively liberal. The state's second-biggest city, Colorado Springs, has a conservative city council. The Aurora City Council is a bit of a messier situation.

Although it's nonpartisan, the ten-person council and mayor — who also has a vote — are usually split as though it included four Democrats and seven Republicans, including Mayor Mike Coffman, a former U.S. Representative.

Voting doesn't always happen along party lines, however: Republican councilmembers often cross the aisle to oppose measures, such as Coffman's bid to convert Aurora into a "strong mayor" form of government.

The Aurora City Council has also had lengthy and contentious votes on policies, including camping bans, a minimum wage increase and allowing marijuana consumption in cafes, restaurants, yoga studios and other hospitality businesses.

Typically, Aurora's Democratic minority has been able to put up a fight on most issues, at least delaying the vote with long, heated arguments in the council chambers. But in the end, the Republican majority usually gets its way.
click to enlarge Interim Aurora Police Chief Art Acevedo talks to the public.
Interim Aurora Police Chief Art Acevedo talks to the public on Tuesday about reforms after Elijah McClain's death.

Aurora: Colorado's capital of calamity and controversy

Raunchy and rowdy school teachers, a "homeless" mayor and an often-embattled police force have turned Aurora into a real-life South Park setting.

Overland High School alone has generated a long list of national headlines: It was the center of multiple free-speech battles over the past few decades, first when a student recorded a rant by social studies teacher Jay Bennish — who compared Bush to Hitler in 2006 and then went on the Today show to defend himself — and again in early 2011, when its principal tried to shut down the school newspaper for reporting about the death of a student-athlete.

In 2013, students discovered that one of their math teachers, Carly McKinney, had a Twitter account named CarlyCrunkBear with photos of her twerking. A year later, three girls skipped class to join ISIS. 

The Aurora Police Department, meanwhile, is recovering from the fallout of Elijah McClain's death, which recently led to the criminal conviction of one of its officers. Two police officers who stood trial for McClain's death were acquitted — including one whose verdict came down on November 6 — but one was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide. 

Almost two years after McClain's death, APD pulled Brittney Gilliam and her children (ages six to seventeen) from their car and handcuffed them face down in a parking lot, thinking the vehicle was stolen — and resulting in a lawsuit.

Many Aurorans are still recovering from the trauma of the 2012 movie theater massacre that left twelve dead and injured seventy, making it one of the country's most notorious mass shootings. Nearly two decades before, the 1993 Chuck E Cheese shooting saw four employees killed in one of the country's earliest high-profile mass shootings.

In 2009, Aurora resident Najibullah Zazi was arrested for conspiring to bomb the New York subway in one of the most high-profile terrorist arrests at the time.

Aurora celebrity and movie connections

Fun fact: Lizzo once worked at a King Soopers in Aurora.

Bowen Yang — the first Chinese-American cast member of Saturday Night Live — moved to the city when he was nine and went to Smoky Hill High School. Comedian Dan Soder, who was on the show Billions, was raised in Aurora and also went to Smoky Hill just a few years before Yang.

Fans of the Oscar-winning movie Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, may know that Aurora was the original setting of the fictitious film that the movie follows. The phony flick was based on a script for an actual movie that was set to be filmed in Aurora and would have brought a science-fiction theme park to the city if it hadn't been scrapped.

Film geeks may also know that Aurora was the setting for the 1979 cult classic Over the Edge. The movie, about youth violence, marked Matt Dillon's film debut.

Aurora won't stop growing, and aims to rival Denver

Aurora — now a city of almost 400,000 — had a population of 200 people in 1900. It's seen consistent growth every decade since then and is now projected to be as big as Denver is now by 2070.

Aurora is still missing a true downtown — but that could soon change if some of the new mayoral candidates get into office.

Democratic candidate Juan Marcano envisions a "twin city" scenario in which Aurora would have a St. Paul-Minneapolis dynamic with the better-known and bigger Denver. He's also discussed ideas such as creating multiple downtowns or downtown districts, the way that Houston does. 

With Denver's population in decline, the idea of Aurora eclipsing the Mile High City looks more possible than ever, especially as Aurora eyes ambitious projects like hosting Elitch Gardens.

Mayor Coffman is very much aware of his city's potential, and aims to leverage the fact that Aurora has more land than Denver. The Aurora mayor has talked about ideas such as bringing in Top Golf or sports stadiums to accompany the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center, which sits nearly isolated in the eastern part of the city.
click to enlarge De'Mykal Johnson and Joseph Whitecalf play video games after school with Aurora's new esports program.
De'Mykal Johnson and Joseph Whitecalf play Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo Switch at the Aurora esports program.
Bennito L. Kelty

Aurora has one of the best schools in Colorado

On November 2, Governor Jared Polis paid a visit to Aurora Quest, where he promise a $564 million increase in statewide funding for schools. Polis chose the school as the location for his announcement because it was among the schools that were top achievers in science.

Quest, which comprises kindergarten through eighth grade and is part of the Aurora Public Schools district, was the only one from Aurora to get that honor. It is often ranked as one of Colorado's best elementary and middle schools, with U.S. News dubbing it the state's No. 1-rated middle school and No. 2-rated elementary school.

Quest is considered a magnet school for "gifted and high-potential learners," according to its website, with students needing to test into "the 84th percentile or above on a gold-standard IQ test" to get in.

Aurora is in three counties

When Donald Fletcher was developing the town that would later bear his name, he chose a prime piece of real estate on Colfax Avenue as its center.

"Colfax is how most people would have come into Denver at the time," explains the Aurora History Museum's Outcelt. "That was just the main way for people to come in at the time. It's right there on this thoroughfare."

However, Colfax was already the dividing line for two counties: Adams and Arapahoe. As a result, the town of Fletcher  — and later the City of Aurora — straddled the border of these two counties. It continued to develop to the south and east, eventually growing into Douglas County as well.

Now, Aurora is one of just two Colorado municipalities that stretches across three counties; the other is Littleton, which is located in Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties.

Mayoral candidate Jeff Sanford had promised that if he was elected, Aurora would "become the City and County of Aurora." He lost.

Denver may one day look at Aurora as the one that got away, as the two cities were almost joined in 1897, when Fletcher landholding residents voted to allow annexation, according to Outcelt.

Aurora sought to be incorporated into Denver, "but Denver never jumped at it," he says.

"I have not seen any record of this being denied by Denver, or even taken up by their city council," Outcelt adds. "In any case, it didn’t happen."
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