After eight years of mostly behind-the-scenes toiling, backers of the historic Miller Theater renovation project are about to raise the curtain in a major way.
The $22 million effort to reopen the long-empty theater at 708 Broad St. has officially begun as contractors later this month transition from mostly internal demolition work to actual construction, laying the groundwork for what will be the future home of Symphony Orchestra Augusta and the Knox Music Institute.
The primarily privately funded project – buoyed by gifts from a organizations and a core group of individuals – is now asking the general public for help.
“We have funds sufficient to proceed with construction, but our fundraising is far from over,” said Levi Hill, the chairman of Symphony Orchestra Augusta and the Miller Theater project committee.
The campaign’s “public phase” includes the “Take a Seat” initiative, in which individuals can “buy” one of the 1,300 seats remaining in the Art Moderne-style theater once renovations are completed next year by The Christman Co., a Michigan-based contractor, and Augusta’s 2KM Architects.
Hill said the seat sale – starting at $2,500 per seat – also will help fund an endowment that will help maintain the property in perpetuity. He noted that naming a seat does not mean the donor actually gets to occupy it whenever they want.
“But it does mean that whoever sits behind it knows you gave it,” he said.
The renovation includes the adjoining building at 710 Broad St. Formerly known as Cullum’s department store, it will house the music institute on the second floor and the theater’s restrooms and performer dressing rooms at ground level.
Altogether, the project totals 60,000 square feet, a massive undertaking belied by the Miller’s narrow Broad Street facade.
The theater is one of more than a dozen that comprised downtown’s historic “entertainment district,” and was the largest of five owned by businessman Frank J. Miller, who, along with his partners, also owned The Imperial and The Modjeska.
Miller’s namesake theater opened in 1940, four years before his death. His Rialto Theater was in the 700 block in an area now occupied by the Casella Eye Center.
“This lower end of Broad Street is where the theaters were concentrated,” Hill said. “So it will be good to revive that. We look forward to seeing the lower end of Broad come back to life along with the rest of downtown.”