Needs listed in Miller Theater restoration project

Symphony Orchestra Augusta introduced a trio of Miller Theater restoration consultants to members of the Augusta arts community Wednesday.

 

The informal, informational meeting dealt not only with issues the consultants said would need to be addressed, but also the concerns of various arts groups.

Robert Long and Kyle Smith of Theatre Consultants Collaborative, LLC, and Mark Holden, an acoustician with JaffeHolden Acoustics, will present a report and estimated cost to the SOA board in about three months. They have already started compiling a list of likely issues.

"Right now this is just a study," Long said. "Its purpose is to determine the practicality of getting the Miller up and running."

On the experts' list of issues is seating, which they think will reduce the auditorium's original 1,800 to about 1,200 for comfort and acoustics. Other concerns are meeting Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, acoustics and the stage. Long said the stage, which is approximately 20 feet deep, is inadequate.

"It's just not enough to stage a symphony," he said. "It's not enough for dance. It's not enough for musical theater or opera. It just isn't enough."

Because the Miller was built as a movie theater, it was designed acoustically contrary to the needs of a symphony, Holden said. The remnants of acoustic baffling that still cling to the theater walls testify to that.

"A movie house is just a very different acoustic environment," he said. "A movie house is designed to dampen and deaden sound. A symphony hall should reverberate."

Holden said the process of altering the acoustics would probably involve a portable symphony shell designed for the Miller stage and integrated amplification.

Members of the Augusta arts community were given an opportunity to voice concerns. Among the concerns were cost of restoration in comparison to the construction of a new performing arts center. Long said that in his experience, restoring an existing venue will usually be a quarter to a third the cost of a new facility.

"That other thing is, no matter how hard we try, you just can't build soul," he said.

Other concerns raised were the impact of a restored Miller on the Imperial Theatre, located across the street, aesthetic integrity and the theater's carbon footprint.

It remains unclear what the project might entail or cost. Levi Hill, the head of Symphony Orchestra Augusta's Miller Theater committee, said he envisions a variety of possibilities in terms of physical and fiscal practicality. Although budget for the project is $6.3 million of special purpose local option sales tax money, Levi said the committee has not put a ceiling on the cost.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Consultants will present a study detailing their proposal and budget to the SOA Board in approximately three months.