Plan could help shape 'theater district,' Augusta

Leaders from both Augusta and North Augusta will be unveiling a joint new 20-year master plan Feb. 4.

It can't come soon enough.

In recent years, we've flirted with building a race track in south Augusta or a canal through downtown, looked into a baseball stadium, studied a cable-car system for Broad Street, wondered what to do with the old Golf and Gardens (if we can get the land from the state) and discussed a number of other ideas big and small.

In short, we've been all over the map.

Now the Augusta Commission is putting together a list of projects that could be funded with the next round of the special purpose local option sales tax. One of the items on the list is the restoration of the Miller Theater on Broad Street.

The grand dame is in great disrepair since being closed in the 1980s after being opened to great fanfare in 1940 and, among other things, hosting the world premiere of The Three Faces of Eve .

Local entrepreneur and civic benefactor Peter S. Knox IV bought the surprisingly spacious old girl in 2005 and repaired the roof to prevent further weather damage -- and now, amazingly, has agreed to actually give it to the Augusta Symphony.

What an incredible gift from an exceedingly generous soul. And no one who tours the Miller today comes out of it with anything but a desire to save and restore it.

There's some confusion as to whether the $6 million allocated for Miller restoration should be shared with the Augusta Mini-Theater. That needs to be worked out by the two parties or, if need be, by commissioners.

Regardless, some have suggested the Miller could be part of larger theater district that includes the already restored and operating Imperial Theater -- and even a new and larger state-of-the-art performing arts center on the river.

Could the "theater district" be big enough and strong enough to support all that? That argument is being made. It will be more than a little interesting to find out what the master plan concludes when it's unveiled Feb. 4.

Our feeling is that it would be terrific if they're right -- and the theater district could have room for the old and the new. It would be a terrible shame to lose the Miller now.

Still, it would be a greater sin if, by restoring the Miller, we lose either momentum or public support for a new state-of-the-art performing arts center. If we have to choose, a newer, larger, modern performance hall is the way to go.

But perhaps we won't have to choose after all.

We look forward to the master plan shedding some light on this -- and guiding the Augusta Commission in its assignment of SPLOST money.

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