Opening of Weston Bridges apartments a new beginning for old Copley Hospital building in Aurora – Chicago Tribune

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It took Parish LaRosa one word to sum up his new apartment: “Awesome.”

LaRosa is one of the first residents of Weston Bridges, an apartment development that eventually will feature 53 units for independent living adults with intellectual or cognitive disabilities, built into the former Copley Hospital building on Aurora’s near East Side.

Officials held a ribbon-cutting Tuesday at Weston Bridges, and it was a day of congratulations for the building’s developers, for VIPs, city officials and many Aurorans.

But the biggest VIPs were people like Parish and his parents, Sherry and Mark LaRosa, Aurora residents who said their dream has been to find independent living for Parish closer to them than Rockford, where he lived until he moved back with his parents in 2021.

Parish LaRosa, left, stands next to his parents, Sherry and Mark LaRosa, at the ceremony honoring the opening of Weston Bridges, part of Bloomhaven, the development at the one-time Copley Hospital campus on Aurora’s near East Side. Parish is one of Weston Bridges’ first residents. (Steve Lord / The Beacon-News)

“This has been wonderful, absolutely incredible,” said Mark LaRosa. “They have been angels for us.”

Sherry was beaming when she told a television reporter, simply, that her son “is happy.”

He not only has a new apartment, and is closer to home, but he can be part of the community, getting to know the grocery store and other amenities in town, she said.

“And we can see him any time we want,” chimed in Mark LaRosa.

Their joy was matched by that of both the developers of the former Copley campus, now known as Bloomhaven, and city officials, all of whom had skin in the development.

The three sets of brothers who formed the partners known as Fox Valley Developers, LLC – Paul and Jason Konrad, Michael and Stathis Poulakidas, and Russell and Ron Woerman, all of whom grew up in Aurora – came up with millions of dollars to put into the development. And the city of Aurora also approved millions in incentives to help bridge the funding gaps.

Mayor Richard Irvin said the redevelopment of the former Copley campus shows that “we’re actually making a difference.” He pointed to the increase in values in the surrounding Copley or Bardwell neighborhood, and increased interest in those longtime East Side houses.

“Folks who had written this neighborhood off want to be part of this community,” Irvin said. “This affects all of Aurora positively.”

Paul Konrad, the Emmy award-winning meteorologist on WGN-TV who spoke for his other partners, also thanked the neighbors, saying the partners were “grateful for their support during this.”

It was support that came hard, because neighbors had been promised redevelopments that fell through, while watching the building fall deeper and deeper into disrepair over the years.

“So many of them said, we’ll believe it when we see it,” Konrad said. “This place had been a dark spot in the community.”

Paul Konrad said when his brother Jason first brought him to see the former Copley buildings, and pitched the idea of investing in the site’s redevelopment, “I thought he had lost his mind – it was a mess.”

But he trusted his brother’s vision, and choked up a few times Tuesday while saying it was rewarded with the ribbon-cutting and official opening.

The development was done in several segments, the first being a clean-up that was necessary before any redevelopment could be done. That cost $12 million, with the city putting in $3 million of the cost. But the developers only got that money once the clean-up was finished, and certified.

The rest of the project involved a $128.5 million investment that included about $9 million in city incentives.

Right now, Weston Bridges has two floors of an eventual five floors open, with 14 residents living there and another two who just signed on. Eventually, there will be 53 residents.

Next door will be Bardwell Residences, a 99-unit senior living center. Developers are putting the finishing touches on that, with an opening expected soon.

Already open is the new East Aurora School District administration building, which was remodeled into the former Nurses’ Building on the far southern end of the campus. East Aurora School District Superintendent Jennifer Norrell was on hand Tuesday to call the place “a fine location.”

Norrell pointed out that not only does the school administration have a new home, but the closing of Seminary Street next to Bardwell School has given children a new place to play, as has a Fox Valley Park District park on the eastern edge of the development. That not only serves the school students, but the neighborhood as a whole.

Kids used to walk to school on the west side of Lincoln Avenue, afraid to walk next to the former Copley buildings. But Norrell said they now walk on the east side, and you can see a difference in their attitude “to walk by this beautiful campus.”

Eventually, there also will be a medical center, to be remodeled into one of the oldest part of the building, the original Aurora Hospital built before 1900.

But Tuesday was a day for Weston Bridges to shine, which it did during a media tour given by Lisa Fawver, Outreach and Networking director for the facility.

She showed off bright, wide sitting areas, as well as an eating area, where the residents, which right now range from 25 to 42 years old, not only get two meals during the day together, but take part in numerous activities planned by staff.

“We walk a fine line between independence and support,” Fawver said.

Russell Woerman, the partner who served as general contractor for much of the work, admitted there were days he walked a fine line between optimism and wondering if they would ever get the job done.

It was especially a challenge navigating the rules and regulations of the state and federal historic tax credits that were key to raising a lot of the private money for the project.

But they knew they had to keep moving ahead, Woerman said.

“It only works if we get it done,” he said.

And Tuesday showed that they got it done.

slord@tribpub.com

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September 13, 2022 at 07:57PM

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