Trust to help rebuild theater

ATHENS, Ga. - The Georgia Theatre is working with a nonprofit group to raise money for rebuilding.


The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation now is accepting donations to help rebuild the historic theater, which was gutted in a June 19 fire.

The Atlanta-based nonprofit got involved because, if the club closed and the 120-year-old building's Art Deco facade was razed, it would leave a cultural and architectural hole in Athens, Georgia Trust President Mark McDonald said.

"Downtown Athens is one of the great success stories in our state," said McDonald, a University of Georgia law school graduate.

Donations will be used only to rehabilitate the building, McDonald said. The trust will pay contractors directly for construction, architectural and engineering costs, he said.

Theater owner Wilmot Greene asked supporters a month ago to stop raising money until he could work out a deal with a nonprofit to handle the donations so they would be transparent and tax-deductible. He said insurance will cover the debt he took on to buy and renovate the building, but not pay to rebuild it, and he might eventually need to solicit donations or take on a partner.

"They have insurance funds, but it's not going to be sufficient to rehabilitate the building," McDonald said.

Greene said in an e-mail Friday that architects and engineers are working on plans to stabilize, clean up and rebuild the theater but that he cannot say yet exactly how much the project will cost.

"Satisfying modern building codes will certainly create significant budgetary and design hurdles," Greene said. "We really want people to feel at home when they walk into the building, but we are going to have to modernize a lot of things (most of which are infrastructure things that people will never see). For these reasons, the total cost of the rebuilding project is still unknown, but it is important for us to put a number together as soon as possible so we can move forward.

"Our opening plans will be based on the construction schedule and obtaining the funding needed to complete the project in the right way," he said. "Once those two issues have been resolved, we hope to rebuild as quickly as possible. So far, the designs are looking great, but we have a ton of work to do."

The Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, a local preservation group, also wanted to help but decided that the Georgia Trust is better suited because it's bigger, Executive Director Amy Kissane said.

"It may raise $20,000 (or) it may raise $1 million," Kissane said. "Depending on the scope of the fundraising, it might be more than I, as a single staff person, can handle."

The Georgia Theatre building dates back to the 1880s and served as a YMCA, hotel and movie theater before it was converted into a music venue in the 1970s.

Donations may be sent to The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, Georgia Theatre Rehabilitation Fund, Attn: Kate Ryan, 1516 Peachtree St. N.W., Atlanta, GA 30309.



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