Miller Theater to be sold

Owner Peter Knox says the historic Miller Theater on Broad Street will be up for sale beginning Friday. The building, which dates to 1939, is in need of millions of dollars in repairs to bring it up to code, function and aesthetic appeal.

Peter Knox, the owner of the historic Miller Theater on Broad Street, said he plans to put the theater on the market on Friday.

 

Knox purchased the dilapidated theater several years ago and offered it as a gift to Symphony Orchestra Augusta in 2005. The symphony has yet to accept it.

"It's just a gift, I wasn't receiving anything for it," Knox said. "It does need millions of dollars' worth of repair. So, it's not really free for them, but I did the dirty work of stopping the bloody leaks in the roof."

During Historic Augusta's Loft Tour in May, tour guide Michael Deas of Augusta Amusements, said Knox spent $500,000 to buy the building and repair the roof -- the same amount Frank Miller spent to build it in 1939.

Knox said he has paid monthly electric bills of several hundred dollars and insurance and property taxes on the building since 2005 while the symphony's board of directors hired professionals to conduct fact-finding research and analysis.

"The professional analysis I paid for wasn't good enough for them, I guess," Knox said. "Basically, I'm just tired of fooling with it."

Knox said he was hoping the project would go more like the Jessye Norman School of the Arts at Eighth and Greene streets, which "didn't dither" when offered the piece of property, but "simply realized the chance they had been given and ... committed themselves to make it happen."

In a statement, Symphony Orchestra Augusta said because the theater project is so massive, it has taken time to study whether restoration and conversion into a performing arts hall is possible and could be sustained. Through a donation from a symphony board member, four primary consultants have been hired the past two years. The symphony estimates up front cost of the project is roughly $20 million.

The symphony will continue its studies, even if the property goes on the market.

"The SOA Board is committed to this process and will be in a position to vote on the project this fall," the symphony said in an e-mailed statement. "Peter Knox's patience with the SOA has been extraordinary and continues to be appreciated ... We will continue to keep Mr. Knox apprised of the status of the project."

But Knox said time is up.

He said a buyer made an offer in 2008, but his mother pleaded with him to give the symphony one more chance. Because the theater has been off the market so long, he hasn't heard of any interested buyers recently. He did, however, say he would consider "option two," which is to make Deas an offer similar to the one he made the symphony.

"Deas has been one of the most enthusiastic volunteers since this started," Knox said. "He even created another nonprofit group online through which the Miller could be donated to instead of the symphony."

Deas said the group, Augusta Landmarks, is not able to receive donations through the Web site, but it is there to create interest in the building's restoration.

"I refer to Peter Knox as Augusta's hero because he single-handedly saved the Miller Theater from being destroyed," Deas said. "I hope this whole community will get together and make an effort to get it restored."

Renovations on the Miller by the symphony were included in a special purpose local option sales tax package approved by voters in June 2009. The symphony was to receive $5.1 million on the condition that it raised an additional $1.2 million.

Tim Schroer, the assistant finance director for city, said if the symphony does not receive the building and meet the conditions, the $5.1 million will be "redirected within the category of parks-recreation-culture-library-facilities."