Aurora’s State of the City on Thursday was filled with optimism, but no matter what was said, it was hard to ignore the absence of the man who many credited with shaping the city into its current state.
The city received sad news just a day earlier: Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said he had entered home hospice care, less than two months after announcing he had cancer. His absence on Thursday was felt from the very beginning, when emcee and local broadcaster Rick Crandall pointed out Hogan wouldn’t be attending.
In his place were Gov. John Hickenlooper and Aurora Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha Berzins, who painted a glowing picture of a city that’s developing at a pace they believe can rival any other city in the state. The event at times turned into a celebration of Hogan’s accomplishments since he was elected mayor in November 2011.
While Hickenlooper said Hogan is persuasive and knows what is required for economic growth, he also shared stories of Hogan as a friend he called an “optimist.” He said the two often teased one another about who was more liberal or conservative, despite being from opposite parties.
“The beauty of it was that he was a partner to anyone that wanted to give him the chance,” Hickenlooper said. He added, “He believes in Aurora in a way that compels others to believe as well.”
Berzins said she knew everyone wanted Hogan to be there. Thursday’s event was an opportunity to share the things she said Hogan has done for the city.
“I know everyone in this room knows Steve’s genuine commitment to Aurora and his love for the city,” Berzins said. “We’re all keeping him and his family in our hearts and prayers.”
Hickenlooper said Hogan believed his job was to represent everyone in the city.
Though the two came from separate political parties, Hickenlooper said Hogan didn’t tie his actions to his party, but to what was best for Aurora.
“As he said in last year’s State of the City, ‘No matter where you come from, no matter your background, in Aurora you’ll find a community dedicated to embracing its diversity,” Hickenlooper said. He said it would be hard to imagine work continuing without him.
“He also said, ‘Someday, we’re going to be bigger than Denver,’” Hickenlooper said, illiciting some laughter and a few claps.
Hogan may not have been exaggerating. Aurora has grown extensively over the past few years. Hickenlooper pointed out the highlights: It’s helped revitalize Colfax, improved its schools, expanded the Anschutz Medical Campus and established new shopping districts. Between 2010 and 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau said, Aurora’s population grew by 11.4 percent; it’s comparable to Denver’s 15.5 percent growth over the same span and equal to the growth in Colorado Springs.
Aurora has seen extensive growth in its transit and business sector, with RTD’s light rail expanding to the city and the opening of Amazon’s 1 million-square-foot facility in Aurora. It also boasts the upcoming Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, which is slated to open this year and is helping employ some 1,500 workers at its site.
The city’s 3,700 city employees continue to deliver the “highest quality of service” to its more than 365,000 residents, Berzins said.
“The city’s support of business continues to thrive in Aurora,” Berzins said. “Together, we are stepping up to the plate, working hard, and we’re focusing on doing great things for our city, just as Mayor Hogan and all other council members expect.”
It’s also embraced its spot as one of the ethnically diverse cities in the West. Hickenlooper said one in five Aurora residents is from outside the country, and students at Aurora schools speak more than 160 languages.
“I think Aurora is as vital today as any city in Colorado,” he said.
Though Hogan couldn’t attend, his wife, Becky, sent a note.
The letter was read out loud by Crandall.
“On behalf of the Mayor and the Hogan family, we want to thank you for your thoughts, your prayers, your words of kindness and heartfelt stories. The State of the City is one of the mayor’s favorite events, but he always knew he was just a spokesman. The star of this day is the City of Aurora.
“Circumstances do not allow us to be with you today. However, we encourage you to celebrate the many accomplishments that the city brings, for the most part, because of you.”
At the conclusion of a video highlighting Aurora’s growth, a recording of one of Hogan’s previous speeches was played.
“I would dare say, based upon my conversations with my fellow mayors across the United States, that most of them are envious of what we have, most of them would like to have the opportunity to have just 10 percent of what we have,” Hogan said in the video. “So that they, in turn, will make their cities and their communities into what Aurora is and what Aurora will be.”