Restoration of Miller Theater still possible

Availability of tax funds key to new option

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Recent news about the historic Miller Theater on Broad Street brings back precious memories and hope for Maxine Whisnant. She remembers singing on the Miller stage in her early teens, almost 60 years ago.

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Peter Knox, the owner of the Miller Theater on Broad Street, said he was planning on selling the building last week. Now, he is considering giving it to the nonprofit Augusta Landmarks.  Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Peter Knox, the owner of the Miller Theater on Broad Street, said he was planning on selling the building last week. Now, he is considering giving it to the nonprofit Augusta Landmarks.

Since then, Whisnant has been a member of several Southern Gospel groups, with whom she traveled and recorded.

"I believe that little ol' stage at the Miller started me out and gave me a good foundation to do the things God wanted me to do," she said.

Now in her 70s, Whisnant still belongs to the CSRA Southern Gospel Music Association. Her first "stage experience" outside of church was at the Miller on Satur­day mornings for Youth Re­view. Sponsored by Sanckens Dairy, the weekly contest gave young people the chance to sing for cash prizes.

"It was real nice for the youth in the area," Whisnant said. "That theater has a lot of memories. I think it holds a lot of value for the area. I'd like it to be used in a healthy way, not for something ungodly, but something that's good for the community."

That was Peter Knox's goal in 2005 when he purchased the dilapidated ornate theater, repaired the roof, removed moldy carpet and took steps to prevent water damage.

Knox offered the theater as a gift to Symphony Orchestra Au­gusta at that time, but the symphony never officially took it. In e-mails, SOA said it is working on studies to see whether restoring the building is feasible .

Miller renovations 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 .

Last week, Knox announced he was tired of pumping money into the building while waiting for the symphony to respond and was putting the theater on the market.

Instead, Knox has gone with what he called "option two," offering to give the building to Augusta Land­marks.

"Currently, they are determining if the SPLOST money is available to them for the theater, and I think it should be. And I think that certainly a good many voters would agree," Knox said.
Augusta Landmark's Mike Deas said he has taken probably 10,000 people through the Miller on tours, and everyone always says it needs to be restored. Land­mark's hope is to restore the theater as it was in 1940 and use it for ballets, plays, concerts and comedies.

"You have to put quality entertainment on the stage, do more than just make it look pretty again," Deas said.

He said he is trying to meet with Augusta Commission members to find out about the tax funding and "make sure we are on the same game plan."

"Although Augusta Landmarks is a very small, non profit organization, we have the grass roots, people and passion to see the Miller restored," he said, and he wants to give Knox an answer "as soon as we can."

In a previous interview, Tim Schroer, the city's assistant finance director , said that if the symphony does not take over the building and meet the conditions, the tax money would be "redirected within the category of parks/recreation/culture/library/facilities."

Reach Lynn Davidson at (706) 823-3332 or lynn.davidson@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (11)

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Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 07/09/11 - 06:23 am
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GREAT!!! Mr. Deas is one of

GREAT!!! Mr. Deas is one of the people that really cares about the Miller.

Great idea. Give it to him along with the SPOLST monies and see what they do with it.

Brad

Austin Rhodes
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Austin Rhodes 07/09/11 - 09:56 am
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Not sure if Brad's suggestion

Not sure if Brad's suggestion is legally possible, but I am exploring it.

Emerydan
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Emerydan 07/09/11 - 10:04 am
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Well this is a case where the

Well this is a case where the voters actually did get to have their say and they approved SPLOST and the $5.1 million for restoration of a The Milller.. and I think it was quite clear that people intended that money to go to The Miller and not just The Symphony. It would be a travesty if city officials tried to divert this money to a new stadium or anything else without voter approval (and all indications are that it would fail miserably if put before the voters). I agree with Brad, it sounds like this man could really make the Miller into a great attraction for downtown and all of Augusta (anyone been to The Georgia Theater in Athens?).

Emerydan
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Emerydan 07/09/11 - 10:13 am
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well certainly this qualifies

well certainly this qualifies under the category of "culture".. I cannot foigure out why this would not be legal..

Riverman1
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Riverman1 07/09/11 - 10:26 am
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My other home is Charleston

My other home is Charleston and they have battled through the years to maintain historic structures. It wasn't always easy, but everyone sees the city they have now with tourists coming from everywhere to appreciate the historic atmosphere.

They made mistakes though. Sears was allowed to tear down a historic house in the downtown area many years ago to build a store in spite of protests from many. Well, that store closed eventually just like the one by GHSU in Augusta.

County Council members once voted to build a modern library that used pink marble sitting right on historic Marion Square. That library was torn down later because it spoiled the historic square. Sound familiar with our library design concerns?

So restore the Miller somehow. You won't regret it.

PghSteelersFan
140
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PghSteelersFan 07/09/11 - 10:59 am
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Restoring the Miller Theater

Restoring the Miller Theater is something that some one or some group should undertake. That Theater holds memories for almost anyone who grew up in Augusta. I remember going down to the Miller just after my 12th birthday. The cost of admission was so much for kids up to 12, and then adult prices after that. I was all ready to pay the 'adult' price (25 or 35 cents - too long ago to remember) at the box. The Lady in the box printed out a 'child' ticket and pushed it through the window before I could ask for my 'adult' ticket. I told her I had just turned 12. She said "congratulations, call it your birthday present". That is just one of the memories I have of the Miller. We stopped going to the Miller as often when the Daniel Village theater opened. It was easier to walk up there than to pay to ride the bus downtown. 'Allowance' money only went so far in those days and you always had to make sure you had enough for the candy and Cokes. :)

Lori Davis
510
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Lori Davis 07/09/11 - 04:20 pm
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I agree with Brad. Let Mike

I agree with Brad. Let Mike Deas use the money. With his passion, it will get done.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 07/10/11 - 02:33 pm
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I have been doing research on

I have been doing research on the use of SPLOST funds, and I was under the impression is if its a Tier 1 project, funds had to be used for property tax relief if the project became unfeasable. Not seeing what tier the Miller was...

502.5
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502.5 07/11/11 - 11:48 am
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Please let Deas and his group

Please let Deas and his group restore it. How about showing movies there, too? I saw Coal Miner's Daughter there as a girl. Would love to take my kids there to see movies, too.

JCMSr
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JCMSr 07/11/11 - 06:58 pm
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Although I have not lived in

Although I have not lived in Augusta since 1970 I continue to follow the ups and downs surrounding the Miller Theater project. In addition I continue to remain in contact with Michael Deas who has worked harder than anyone I know to bring this dream to fruition. As the grandson of Frank J. Miller I obviously have many memories of this wonderful building and would love to see it come to life again for all of Augusta to enjoy. As Mike would say,"It Is Time".

TK3
562
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TK3 07/12/11 - 08:35 am
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Bait and switch still alive I

Bait and switch still alive I see.

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