AURORA | As the massive claw dug into the red-tiled roof at Regatta Plaza on Tuesday, May 31, Craig Scherer raised a camcorder to take in the dilapidated shopping center’s demise.
“I came down to film this because I wanted to make sure it’s real,” Scherer said later.
Like many in the crowd of onlookers, Scherer — a 13-year Dam East resident — was happy to see the walls finally crumble at the longtime eyesore at Parker Road and South Peoria Street.
The 22-acre chunk of land — filled with empty storefronts, massive potholes and busted windows — had bedeviled city officials and community leaders for most of the past decade. Despite what would seem like an ideal location — just across the street from the Nine Mile light rail stop and adjacent to Interstate 225 — Regatta has languished. City officials said it also had become a magnet for the homeless.
Earlier this month the Aurora Urban Renewal Authority took ownership of the land, and Koelbel and Company and Mile High Development announced plans to raze the site as part of the redevelopment effort.
Carl Koelbel said the hope is for the first new businesses at the redeveloped Regatta to open in early 2018.
When it’s complete, the new site will have more than 500 residential units, 100,000 square feet of retail space and as much as 250,000 square feet of commercial space, according to the city.
Aurora Ward IV City Councilman Charlie Richardson said fixing Regatta was the biggest issue he heard on the campaign trail last year. He said Tuesday’s demolition was a “huge” moment for the community and credited former Ward IV Councilwoman Molly Markert with doggedly pushing for the redevelopment.
For longtime residents of Dam East and Dam West, a new development at the busy intersection is welcome news. Other than the King Soopers grocery store, a Key Bank and a Firestone tire shop, the rest of the businesses that once called Regatta home are long gone.
Gloria and Alan Davis, who have lived in Dam West for 39 years, said they can remember better days at Regatta when they shopped at a soccer shop there and were regulars at a tailor shop that moved away long ago.
“There is a sadness to it,” Gloria Davis said as demolition crews knocked down the building that once housed that soccer shop.
But, she said, she has high hopes for the new development.
“I think it will be better,” she said.
Alan Davis said he has some concerns about what the redevelopment could mean for traffic in the neighborhood, but he’s excited for the redevelopment no matter what.
Gloria Davis said while the neighbors around Regatta have been frustrated, they handled the decay of their neighborhood shopping center as well as they could.
“The people have been pretty patient,” she said.
Shirlee Robinson, who has lived in Dam West for 20 years, said the rundown shopping center was an embarrassment in recent years and reflected badly on what is otherwise a great place to live.
“This is too nice an area to have something like this persist,” she said.