Work underway to revive River Street Plaza in downtown Aurora
By Marissa Amoni For the Beacon-News March 20, 2013 7:10PM
Customers walk into the Jimmy Johns sandwich shop at River Street Plaza during the lunch rush on Wednesday, March 20, 2013. Despite the residential portion of the mixed-use complex being nearly full, only two businesses currently occupy the nearly 40,000 square feet of commercial space available. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 12:02PM
If one person can change River Street Plaza in downtown Aurora into a thriving residential and retail center, it might be David Dibo.
Dibo is a senior commercial relationship manager at Centrue Bank in Yorkville. Centrue Bank officially took over the two mixed-use buildings about six months ago after they went into foreclosure, not long after developer Joe Vantreese died of leukemia in March 2011.
After breaking ground in 2006 on the 100 block of South River Street, the first building at River Street Plaza quickly filled up. The second building in the development opened in 2008, but then the economy took a dive and most of the ground floor retail space has been empty.
Dibo, of Wilmette, sees the buildings as an asset for the bank, and he is working on selling the vacant spaces, from the condos to the retail spaces below.
During the last several months, Dibo has talked to residents and conducted a focus group to learn more about the condos. Dibo learned that people are happy living at River Street Plaza.
“People love it. Joe (Vantreese) built a beautiful project. This is really well built,” said Dibo about the two buildings.
He added that typically when banks take over properties, they are interested in unloading them quickly, but that Centrue Bank is taking a more critical look at River Street Plaza.
“We really think that there is value in the property that is unrealized,” he said.
Dibo, who grew up in New York City, said he appreciates Aurora’s urban roots, and called downtown an “interesting place.” He thinks that River Street Plaza can be a gateway into downtown Aurora.
“[River Street] can be a dynamic street with retail and commercial space,” he said.
Centrue Bank has been working with the city of Aurora to get things moving at River Street Plaza. First it was getting the Tax Increment Financing in order, and most recently, the bank and city got together on plans to finish the riverwalk behind the condos.
Dibo said the riverwalk should be finished by summer. It is a scaled-down version of the original design that Vantreese envisioned, but they are getting it done, Dibo said. He said a grand opening of the riverwalk should be held at the end of May or beginning of June.
Bill Wiet, chief development officer with the city of Aurora, said the city has had a great relationship with Dibo as well as Jason Penman, commercial relationship manager at Centrue Bank.
“We have worked with them on the completion of the upper riverwalk and plaza, as well as landscaping improvements on the Fox River side of the development,” Wiet said.
He added that Dibo and Penman have established a well-qualified team of real estate professionals to help in the marketing of both the commercial and residential spaces in the development.
“Centrue has likewise involved themselves in the overall marketing efforts of the city, and recognize that telling Aurora’s many success stories has benefits well beyond their development. They have proven to be team players who lend their time and talents to making Aurora a better place to live and work,” Wiet said.
Dibo, 60, has experience working with others to bring new life to forgotten landmarks. Dibo and his wife, Carole, took over the Wilmette Theatre in 2006 and succeeded in not only renovating the historic theater, but they also started a professional training school for actors there.
“I like helping make things happen,” said Dibo, who now spends much of his time in downtown Aurora.
Dibo added that he would like to see everyone work together to get the plaza going again.
“We need to take a village approach and all work together,” he said.
Condos and retail
River Street Plaza has 25 residential units left to sell, Dibo said. There is a total of 95 condos in the two buildings.
Almost all of the ground floor commercial spaces are available with the exception of two units owned by a separate entity that leases them to China Hut and Jimmy John’s. There is 40,000 square feet of commercial space.
Dibo said he is actively showing both the residential and commercial spaces in the buildings. He added that Centrue Bank can assist with financing.
“I hope the units get sold and that downstairs gets developed with a mix of retail and business,” he said.