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Multi-use development proposed in downtown Aurora

The historic Pocus building could soon host a coffeehouse, market, banquet room, community space, commercial kitchen and church. (Steve Lord / The Beacon-News)

Some Aurora aldermen recently got a first look at a downtown development that would include a coffeehouse, urban market, community room, banquet hall, co-working space and full commercial kitchen.

Known as Project Canvas, the development is planned for the Pocus building on the southeast corner of River and Benton streets, just east of the new Aurora Public Library.

The building most recently housed Triple Threat Mentoring on its first floor, and is part of the River Street Plaza that includes the condominiums along River Street and the Fox River. Members of the City Council Planning and Development Committee recommended a revision to the River Street Plaza plan that allows more permitted uses to accommodate the Project Canvas plan.

"I think it’s a great addition to our downtown," said Ald. Michael Saville, 6th, Planning and Development Committee chairman.

The project is connected to Orchard Community Church, which "has been more and more engaged in downtown Aurora," said Scott Hodge, lead pastor of the church. Last year, the church sold its campus at Barnes Road and Galena Boulevard on Aurora’s far West Side, and decided "we had an opportunity to do something different and unique — an investment in downtown Aurora," Hodge said.

Canvas has a contract to buy the property, and is ready to start developing it into a seven-day-a-week "social space" as soon as possible, Hodge said. He said church officials did not want to "just plop a church into downtown."

"It’s a place where people can connect," he said. "The space is perfect for us."

According to the plan, the church would only use a large remodeled gathering room on the second floor on weekends. Itwould become a banquet room and common space for activities such as weddings, corporate events and even black-tie galas throughout the week, Hodge said. The second floor also would include studios for meetings, yoga classes, film screenings and the like, he said.

The first step of the development would be to build a large urban coffeehouse on the first floor that Hodge said would feature "fresh-brewed coffee, baked goods and fast Internet." Eventually, the first floor also would include an urban market with locally sourced handmade goods. Hodge said it would be a "low-cost, low-risk" space.

He said Project Canvas also would include a full commercial kitchen rentable by the hour or the day. Hodge said he sees the kitchen as an incubator for restaurants and pop-ups.

"The idea is this would become a hub of all kinds of activity throughout the week," he said.

Hodge said Project Canvas has retained the designer of the restaurant Buttermilk in downtown Geneva.

Officials are still deciding on a name for the project, but Hodge said because the building is considered historic, they likely would look at a name rooted in the city’s history, perhaps connected to when Aurora became one city in 1857. The Pocus building was home to Pocus Motors, which for many years was a Mercedes-Benz dealer.

Ald. Bill Donnell, 4th, said "the project looks beautiful," but was concerned about parking. He pointed out that the city recently made another church jump through hoops on the issue to locate just outside the downtown core.

"I just want to make sure we’re being consistent here," he said.

Ed Sieben, the city’s zoning administrator, said the development could utilize the large public parking lot shared by the city and library and is within 400 feet of the Pocus building. He said city officials always contemplated that the lot would be used for development in the River Street Plaza area.

slord@tribpub.com