A local contractor will build Columbia County’s new performing arts center.
The Columbia County Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to award the contract to build the nearly $32 million facility to McKnight Construction.
McKnight was the lone bidder for the 84,000 square foot performance center that is expected to bring Broadway-type productions to Columbia County, and will be at the center of what is designed to be a “downtown” area for the county.
The company’s bid was $31,862,453 and will be largely funded by a voter-approved General Obligation Bond along with remnants of previous completed projects funded by special purpose local option sales tax dollars, according to Commission chair Ron Cross.
“I think it will be great for the county for years and years to come to have a central point for those kinds of things,” Cross said. “I think we will get people for performances here that would not go to downtown Augusta. I think they will come from further west areas and I think some Richmond County people, particularly West Richmond will come out here for that.
Cross said the center includes seating for 2,100 people, an orchestra pit that can be lowered below the floor to accommodate extra seating and a concessions area. The performance area will include a main floor and two balcony areas with box seats.
The county is planning to hire a director in the coming months to oversee scheduling of performances, similar to the process for bringing acts to the Lady Antebellum Amphitheater and the Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center. Cross said in-house services will be used to maintain the facility. No rental rates have been set yet, but Cross did state the performance area can be reduced to accommodate smaller audiences for community performances as needed.
Cross estimated it would take about a month before the contract could be approved with McKnight Construction and work should soon begin after that.
The contract states the project must be completed within two years, but Cross said they are hoping to complete it in 18-20 months.
When asked about the project having only one bidder, Cross said the bid was within the $32 million to $35 million cost estimate of architects and consultants. Cross added McKnight Construction has worked with the county in the past, is a third-generation owned business and built the Columbia County Library’s Evans branch more than 10 years ago.
And while some have been critical of the center, Cross said most residents are supportive of the changes coming to the county.
“If you get a bond issue and 65 percent of the people voted to add a penny tax and that shows a lot of support,” Cross said. “And always people vote with their feet. If they don’t like things they’re going to move.”