Aurora, Colo., launched a massive campaign less than two years ago to brand itself as one of Colorado's premier four-season destinations. Located in Colorado's Front Range just outside of Denver, the town couples big-city access with an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. However, what would otherwise seem to be an easy town to market will now likely go down in history as the site of one of the United States' worst mass shootings.
Before Friday, Aurora was known for having over 180 holes on challenging golf courses with scenic prairie views set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It was known for its 300 days of sunshine, bustling arts district, history museum, microbreweries and nature trails. Now, it will likely be known as the site of a tragedy.
In the wee hours of the morning on July 20, local resident James Holmes stepped into the Century 16 movie theater about 30 minutes into the wildly-anticipated premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises," released some sort of smoke bomb and opened fire. When all was said and done, at least 12 people were dead and some 50 others injured.
Before Friday, Aurora was known for having over 180 holes on challenging golf courses with scenic prairie views set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It was known for its 300 days of sunshine, bustling arts district, history museum, microbreweries and nature trails.
"It's pretty much a suburb in every sense of the word," said Gary Wheat, president and chief executive of Visit Aurora, a nonprofit marketing agency formed in December 2010. "It has a unique community feel to it."
But with some 330,000 residents, Aurora is Colorado's third-largest city and boasts over 3,500 hotel rooms and a strong presence in the life sciences, health care, and aerospace industries. Visit Aurora promotes the town as a destination for business travel; meetings and conferences; sports tournaments; and leisure visitors.
The organization launched a new interactive website this past January and landed a handful of lucrative attractions for the city this year, like the Powerlifting Federation's 2012 World Masters Bench Press Championship, which was expected to generate some $3 million in restaurant and hotel revenue. The 5,435-foot-high city also lured some smaller sporting events, like the United States Specialty Sports Association West Coast Global World Series and the USA Senior Softball Western National Championships.
"A lot of big people are coming to Aurora starting this year," Wheat told the Denver Post earlier this year.
He was right, but he couldn't have anticipated why. Hundreds will arrive in Aurora on Friday as media outlets from around the world converge on the city to cover events as they unfold in one of the United States' worst mass shootings in recent memory. Another, as people have been quick to discover, happened just 20 miles away at Columbine High School, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher in 1999.
Clement Park, adjacent to the school, became somewhat of a tourist attraction the entire summer after the shootings occurred. Today, the $2.2 million Columbine Memorial, located in the park, has become a pilgrimage site.
A movie theater and a high school are completely different venues and, like Columbine High, the movie theater may reopen. Things will move on, but the name will always carry an association. Like Columbine, Aurora, too, will likely lose its innocence as a scenic, mile-high Rocky Mountain town and become known instead for its legacy as the scene of a tragedy.
Wheat wouldn't comment on what the shooting spree meant for the city but said right now, Aurora is trying only to be one thing: "a city of support."
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