AURORA | There was a crowd at Fan Fare early Tuesday morning.
For a building that has sat empty, unused and unwanted since Ronald Reagan’s first term, that qualifies as a major development.
Unfortunately for Aurora’s least-favorite architectural oddity, the crowd wasn’t there to celebrate Fan Fare, or even to gawk at its weird bulbous roof or it’s quirky mural. They were there to see it razed.
“It’s not celebrating something going up, it’s celebrating something going down so we can have something new going up,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told the crowd of roughly 50 people shortly before demolition started.
As has been the case with the controversial behemoth shopping center, the end will come slowly for Fan Fare. Gayle Jetchick, executive director of the Havana Business Improvement District, said crews will need about 30 working days to fully demolish the 118,000-square-foot building.
The building has been a conundrum for city leaders for decades as the strange looking hulk of structure sat unused since 1983. Before that, it was a discount shopping center for a few years in the early 1960s.
Last year, after several other plans were scrapped, the city agreed to buy the property for $4 million once the building is demolished. The city’s plan is to sell the property to a developer who will put something more useful on the site.
Jetchick said that those offers will likely start co’ming in next fall once all of the demolition is complete.
“There could be something really, really special there,” she said. “It’s just a matter of looking for the right project and the right developer.”
There have been plenty of ideas for what to do with Fan Fare over the years, but the building has always been prone to failure.
The site started in 1961 as “Fan Fair Discount City,” one of the first indoor shopping malls in the area. The building was a bit of an architectural marvel at the time because rather than using interior support beams to hold up its bulbous roof, it used exterior supports jutting from the sides of the building. That design meant lots of space inside the 118,000-square-foot building unencumbered by support columns.
But even with all that space, the indoor mall didn’t last.
In 1965, Fan Fair Discount City closed. Western Electric used the building until 1983, but the site has been empty and hasn’t seen any private investment since.
A group of developers bought it in 1982 and renamed it “Fanfare.” City documents have since called the building “Fan Fare,” though the name remains a point of contention for many longtime residents.
Recent years have seen plans calling for turning the building into a storage facility or a museum, but those were scrapped because the cost of asbestos abatement made them financially unfeasible.
Another plan in 2006 to raze the building and replace it with high-rise condominium towers fell flat, too.
After the city bought the building last year, crews went to work clearing the asbestos and getting it ready for the demolition project that started Tuesday morning.
While Fan Fare has been one headache after another in recent years, the news along the rest of Havana has largely been good. The Gardens on Havana project a few miles south at East Mississippi Avenue is thriving and Jetchick said interest in the Havana corridor is high.
Just 2.8 percent of the street’s retail properties were vacant over the past year, she said. That’s down from 6.7 percent in 2012 and 8.6 percent in 2010.
The street added 35 new businesses last year, and 160 new jobs.
But new investment has skirted the stretch just south of East Sixth Avenue. Jetchick said Fan Fare’s looming presence had a lot to do with that.
“When that building was there you just knew nothing was going to happen,” she said.
Developers didn’t want to touch properties close to the building because they couldn’t be sure what — if anything — was going to happen to Fan Fare.
Now that Fan Fare is about to be a memory, Jetchick said she is hopeful that the entire stretch of Havana is more attractive to businesses who at the very least know that Fan Fare won’t be there to drag down property values.
City Councilwoman Marsha Berzins, whose ward includes Fan Fare and the surrounding neighborhood, said the lack of development means tax dollars that would have gone to local schools never materialized.
Now that Fan Fare is on the way out, Berzins said she is looking forward to a day when the stretch of Havana can thrive the way the area along Gardens on Havana has since replacing Buckingham Square Mall.
“It’s time that the north end of Havana experience the same kind of success as the south end of Havana,” she said.