Population: 197,899 (2010 Census)
Round 2: Category-based (Population 100,000-249,999) Municipal Runner-Up Prize of $10,000
For: the annual Festival of Lights holiday spectacular
Nothing generates excitement in Aurora like the annual Festival of Lights. From the Friday after Thanksgiving through December 26, downtown Phillips Park is transformed into a winter wonderland, with a mile of lighted holiday displays and tunnels. More than 40,000 people come every year to the free spectacular, run by the Rotary Club of Aurora in conjunction with the city. According to Kevin Stahr, the town’s Public Information Coordinator, “it’s a real community oriented program, well received by all.”
In 2011, funds from the Reader’s Digest We Hear You America campaign allowed the Festival’s managers to replace and expand many light installations. The initial $1,000 check collected from Reader’s Digest as part of the 100 City100 Days RV road tour encouraged local residents to vote for their hometown. The city continued promotion for the campaign through news releases, links from the city website, mentions in email blasts and word of mouth. The efforts paid off: Aurora won a $10,000 prize.
The second-largest city in Illinois, Aurura will celebrate its 150th anniversary next year. “It is a comfortable and safe suburban setting, with a great mix of recreation, economic, commercial and tourist attractions,” explained Stahr. By bringing thousands of people to the town – known since the 1830s as the “City of Lights – the Festival is an economic boon to the area, and the We Hear You America funds will help it continue on that path.