The city of Aurora plans to buy the Crowne Plaza Hotel and turn it into a “regional navigation center” that provides temporary housing and services for people who are homeless.
Aurora City Council members approved the purchase Monday night 7-3 for the 255-room hotel and convention center at 15500 E. 40th Ave. near the airport at a cost of $26.5 million or less.
The city would close on the property in May, and the earliest the facility could open is early 2025, according to city staff. The facility would be used for transitional housing, employment services, workforce development, mental and behavioral health services, case management, emergency and day shelter space and meals.
Funding would come from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and federal COVID relief dollars to Aurora, Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties.
“We are excited about the possibility of this navigation campus coming to fruition sooner than we all expected,” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said in a statement. “The resources slated for the campus represent Aurora’s unique approach to addressing homelessness in a constructive, rehabilitative way using the work-first model we adopted.”
The city had previously planned to build a new facility for a navigation center on city-owned land at East 32nd Avenue and Chambers Road, but officials said this would be a lower cost and become available more quickly.
Coffman said this center and its service offerings will be modeled partly after the “work-first” model of the Colorado Springs’ Rescue Mission and the San Antonio Ready to Work program. That’s different than the housing-first model that Houston successfully implemented to reduce its homeless population and what Mayor Mike Johnston’s administration is doing in Denver to house people who are homeless, an approach previously supported by progressives on Aurora’s council.
Councilman Dustin Zvonek said he believes this is a better solution. It will allow the city to more aggressively enforce its camping ban, he said, as well as reduce the amount of resources the city spends on homeless services with the nonprofit partners operating the facility and fundraising.
“We’re going to have programs that will help (people who were homeless) towards self-sufficiency,” he said, adding that he would bring a proposal forward with more specifics in the coming meetings.
Not all council members were convinced, though — Curtis Gardner, Alison Coombs and Ruben Medina voted against the purchase Monday night. Gardner said he didn’t believe this was the best use of taxpayer dollars.
“We obviously needs to figure out a way to find housing for folks when we abate camps in our community … I feel like there are less expensive ways that we can accomplish the same goal,” Gardner said. “I think we can look to our neighbors to the west, what’s happened over the last several months and years, if you build it, they will come.”
Coombs pointed out that the facility is not intended to serve families and redirects current funding that does support them toward this project. Plus, she said, neither Colorado Springs nor San Antonio have seen a decrease in street homelessness since they’ve had these kinds of programs in place.
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