We sat down and had a cup of coffee and some great conversation with the Aurora Mayor, Bob LeGare.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a cup of coffee with your local mayor? Well, the team at Our Community Now has started a new series called Our Community Council where we invite local members of city councils to sit down with us and talk community in their favorite coffee shops, breweries, or cafes!
Mayor Bob LeGare of Aurora was gracious enough to be our first interview! He was very warm and welcoming person to start off the series with. We invited him to a cup of coffee at one of his favorite places in Aurora, Jubilee Roasting Co.
Check out our full interview with the Mayor below:
Let’s start with the basics. Introduce yourself, your position, and long have you been doing it for.
I’m Bob Legare and I’m the mayor of Aurora, Colorado, and I’ve had this position since June 25. But that was preceded by 16 years as an at-large city council member for the city of Aurora with that spanning over a 23-year period. So I served for nine years, was off the city council for eight years, and came back seven years ago. And when the late Mayor Hogan passed away, I was appointed to fill his seat as Mayor.
Now onto the important questions: How does the Mayor like his coffee?
Actually, I like a cream and sugar with a little coffee in it. How’s that? You know, I like hazelnut coffee but I’m not real picky about that.
What are some exciting changes you see coming on the horizon for the City of Aurora?
Well, there are. We have the R Light Rail line running through the city with about nine new stations with development potential in them running right through the heart of the city. Another big area of change is the area south of Denver International Airport. A lot of people don’t realize that most of the land south of DIA is in the city of Aurora. Our city has a 375,000 population and only 65 percent of our land area is developed. So there is a lot of potential.
In terms of the light rail, how many new stations are coming and what is the plan to create a connected and mobile city?
So 9-Mile was existing already, but now it will connect with the Iliff Station, it’ll connect with the Medical Center station -- which is at Florida -- then it’ll come up to City Center Station which is right across from the Town Center Aurora Mall, and then from there it goes up to the 2nd Avenue Station, then from there it goes to the 13th Avenue Station. It stops on Fitzsimmons at the main campus. It stops at Fitzsimmons at the north end of the campus, and then it goes up to 30th & Peoria, so it’s around eight or nine. There are more than half of those that are on undeveloped land that hasn’t been touched before, so opportunities exist at all of those stations.
What is the impact so far the Gaylord of the Rockies is having on development in that area and how do you see that becoming a catalyst for economic and tourism growth in that area for years to come?
Gaylord is phenomenal just looking at their history everywhere they’ve gone in the country; they have four other Gaylords, and everywhere there's a Gaylord there is a massive amount of activity around it. So the Gaylord is not even open yet -- they’ll open in about a month and a half -- and they have already booked about 1.1million room nights and that goes out 10 years. So if you take all the nights available in the next 10 years, it's about 20 percent of all the rooms have already booked, and they're not even open. So the activity that's going to be generated by that Gaylord Hotel is parking, a lot of business, and investment interest in the area.
And for you, as the mayor of Aurora, what are some of your primary focuses for the city itself? Development, safety, would you say keeps you busy most of the time from a focus standpoint?
My biggest focus is in the area of economic development, creating jobs, and commercial tax breaks for our city. So residential development is important but it's really the commercial development that funds the key services in our city. Another area that I’ve focused on is transportation projects and transportation maintenance. And those are two areas that don’t get a lot of attention because it’s not like a recreation center, a swimming pool, library that are very “sexy,” so to speak. Asphalt and concrete rarely gets people excited, but gets me excited.
Is Aurora growing? Not only in terms of commercial development, but also from a population standpoint as much as, say, the city of Denver?
Yeah, we’re growing maybe even at a faster pace than the city of Denver. We have developments -- all you have to do is drive along E-470 -- and you can see developments happening all along that stretch. It’s mostly single-family homes and townhomes that are being built, but also apartment buildings. So yes, we are a very pro-growth city and we’ve got the water to be able to serve the growth. That’s one of the key issues in Colorado: ‘Do you have the water to serve the homes?’
That’s an issue that a lot of people don’t tend to talk about. How are you as Mayor handling the issue of water and sustainability?
Well, we as a city have been in the water business for over 50 years. That seems like a long time, but the city and county of Denver have been in the water business for over 100 years, so their water rights are more senior. But how Aurora is working on it is, we are continually in the market to buy water rights, but the other thing we’re doing is building reservoirs up in the mountains. The newest one is Wild Horse Reservoir and it could be upwards of one thousand acre-feet, and that is a reservoir that would hold snowmelt runoff and could supply us with multiple years-worth of water in a drought situation.
Are you excited about the growth of the city?
I am very excited about it, but one of the dilemmas we face that’s not unique to Aurora is the market, it’s the private market -- investors and developers that build things. They don’t want to build anything more than a four-story apartment building with elevators, and what I would like to see there is a 16-story for-sale condo, maybe. But we have certain issues with our legislation here in Colorado that restricts the development of condominiums because of lawsuits that might be created, so in the apartment market, no one is building anything more than four stories. So, it’s exciting to see new development, but if you build a four-story building, it might be fifty years before someone’s willing to tear that building down and build a 15- or 20-story building. But I do believe that the rail stations have a lot of potential.
Do you have any updates on the success or struggles at the VA Medical Center in Aurora?
You know, I took a tour of the VA Medical Center about two months ago and they’re open and operating. As with any new, big facility, they’ve learned some things after opening and thousands of people coming in, but from what I’ve heard it’s operating well, they’re doing well, they’re just tweaking a few things.
Aurora is a very diverse city within Colorado. Can you talk a bit about the international population and the growth of that population?
Yes, we are a very diverse city. The Aurora Public School District alone has 150 languages spoken among their students. 20 percent of our population is foreign-born, so that’s 75,000 people living in the City of Aurora that were born in another country. So, we’re very proud of the diversity we have. We sponsor Globalfest on our Great Lawn at City Hall every year, and it’s very exciting to have a rich and diverse culture in our city.
What do you think it is about Aurora that tends to draw this international population? Is it economic development? Is it affordable housing? Is it a sense of security?
I think it’s a combination of all the things you’ve mentioned. I know Aurora has been one of the most affordable communities in the Metro area for 30 or 40 years. Even though costs have run up on housing, we’re still some of the most affordable. So, the immigrant community has been coming here for the last 40 years. I’ve been involved in working with this original Aurora area since 1974, and back then we had Vietnamese refugees and immigrants here. What I think has drawn this immigrant community is the affordable housing, and then the fact that there’s a friendly immigrant community here already.
In terms of the legacy of Mayor Steve Hogan, are there any missions lingering from his legacy that are currently a priority to you and the City of Aurora?
Yeah, I told the City Council when they appointed me that I was going to work on Mayor Hogan’s priorities. One of his priorities was completing the Korean War Memorial, and that is in progress and will go over on the Fitzsimmons Campus at General Park. The other of his priorities were related to transportation and transportation maintenance, which were already aligned with what I was focused on. Then, the last one the Mayor wanted to work on was a performing arts center, so we are studying different opportunities for a possible performing arts center, maybe up near Gaylord or next to City Hall on the Rail Line.
Lastly, a couple of rapid-fire questions for you: Favorite coffee shop in Aurora?
You’re in it! Jubilee Roasting Co.
The Athenian, which is at Iliff and Chambers Road in Aurora -- It’s Greek food. It’s a Greek family that’s been in the restaurant business for thirty years and they’ve been in that location for 20 years.
What time do you wake up in the morning?
Way earlier than I’d like to.
Any special routine to start your day?
Usually, it’s coffee with my wife.
How long have you lived in Aurora?
44 years, and I plan on staying.
Favorite time of year?
I think my favorite time of year is fall -- if we actually get fall. We didn’t get much of it this year. I like four seasons.
Anything else you’d like to say to the people in Aurora about you and your plans for the city while you’re at the helm?
Well, I’m actually only going to be at the helm until December of next year, because when I took the appointment, it was with the understanding that I did not want to run. I’ve run about eight times in the last 24 years, and I’ve just reached the point where I want to volunteer in the community without having to knock on doors.
But I would say that Aurora is a very friendly, rich, and safe community. A lot of the people who live in the Metro area here have visions of Aurora from 40 years ago. I think if you look at the statistics, we’re actually about the eighth-safest city of our size in the nation. A lot of people don’t know that because 30 years ago there was more crime in the city and Aurora was out on the Eastern Plains with no trees, but we’re very different now.
Well, Mr. Mayor, thank you for your time, we really appreciate it.
What do you think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, and let us know if there are other influential figures in your city you'd like us to interview next!