The historic Miller Theater on Broad Street will be restored as a viable theater in downtown Augusta.
In a news conference Friday morning, Joe Huff, the president of the board of directors for Symphony Orchestra Augusta, announced the board unanimously approved to move forward with the renovation project in a special called meeting Thursday evening.
Huff said the project will “revitalize the downtown city center.” It will also give Symphony Orchestra Augusta its first home in its 57-year history. Symphony Orchestra Augusta will take possession of the building, but a timeline for construction and the grand opening are still being determined, Huff said.
Originally built by Frank Miller in 1940, Miller Theater was once a movie theater and vaudeville house, Huff said.
“This building has the chance to come alive once again as a truly special place, this time as a performing arts center that can accommodate the symphony and many varieties of arts groups and entertainers,” Huff said. “This is a viable project that can not only be successful, but it can truly be transformative for Augusta, downtown, the symphony and all of the arts groups here in Augusta.”
The 1,300-plus seat performing arts hall will have high, acoustical quality, suitable for music, dance, film and drama. In addition to Symphony Orchestra Augusta’s concerts, the facility will house a music institute, tentatively called Miller Music Institute. To broaden the appeal of the building, the theater will also present different forms of arts and entertainment and be available for rental by promoters and arts groups, Huff said.
Along with the Imperial Theater, the building will help revive the downtown theater district. It also gives Symphony Orchestra Augusta “the opportunity to become a much more relevant organization in Augusta” and will serve as a centerpiece for greater collaboration among local arts groups, he said.
At the news conference, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said, “This is a game changer. It’s a transformational project that will serve Augusta. To return this area of town to the theater district for this generation and future generations, I’m extraordinarily excited.”
Six years ago, Peter Knox purchased the historic Miller Theater and put a new roof on the building to prevent further deterioration. He offered to give the theater as a gift to Symphony Orchestra Augusta in 2008, Huff said.
Soon afterward, Symphony Orchestra Augusta applied for special purpose local option sales tax funds, which were approved by voters in June 2009.
The symphony was to receive $5.2 million on the condition that it raised an additional $1.3 million. Since then, the symphony has conducted a multi-phase, multi-year study involving
five consultants to determine if the restoration was a viable project.
A group of symphony board members and local residents formed a committee, chaired by Levi Hill IV, to evaluate the findings.
“This building is really a treasure,” Huff said. “It has great bones. This building has soul. You can’t build that into a new building. ”