Symphony Orchestra Augusta, Augusta Landmarks unite to salvage Miller

Rather than competing for power and ownership, two nonprofits have started working together to see progress in the renovation of The Miller Theater.

Members of Symphony Orchestra Augusta and Augusta Landmarks have met on several occasions to work out the best possible solution.

"The symphony is a key player in the arts community," said Mike Deas, the founder of Augusta Landmarks. "Their focus and our focus is to do what's best for the Miller and what's best for Augusta. A really big project like that takes a whole community's involvement. And all arts groups will be needed to rent the building."

"Mike and his group have a real passion for the Miller," Jim Huff, the president of Augusta Symphony board of directors, said of Deas and Augusta Landmarks. "And the symphony is still committed to finishing the project. We're interested in working with anyone who's willing to help in renovating the Miller."

The person who most wants to see progress is probably owner Peter Knox. Knox bought the dilapidated theater on Broad Street in 2005 and offered it as a gift to the symphony.

He replaced the roof and removed moldy carpet and furniture. He had a ventilation system installed to keep the air dry inside the auditorium.

The symphony applied for and received approval to get special purpose local option sales tax funding to help with renovations and paid consultants to see whether the old theater's stage could be modified to accommodate the orchestra. It hired consultants to create a five-year business plan and project how much money would be needed to keep the theater running after renovation, and it hired fundraising consultants to figure out whether the community would open its purse for the cause; results of that study are scheduled to be completed in August or September.

"The symphony still is plugging away with their timeline; it just doesn't sync with mine," Knox said. "But they certainly have put the most thorough thoughts and efforts into coming up with a plan. Somebody else would have to start from scratch."

In July, Knox said he was tired of waiting for the symphony, and he threatened to put the theater on the market. Instead, he offered it to Augusta Landmarks. Deas said he immediately met with Augusta Commission members J.R. Hatney and Matt Aitken, in whose districts the theater is located, to inquire about Augusta Landmarks receiving the $5.1 million special purpose tax money.

"They're very much supportive of seeing the Miller restored," was all Deas would say about that conversation.

Tim Schroer, the assistant finance director for the city, previously said that if the symphony does not receive the building or raise the required amount of matching money, the tax money would be "redirected within the category of parks/recreation/culture/library/facilities" as decided by the commission.

Knox said he is "just trying to wash my hands of it."

The building is not listed with a real estate agent because Knox said he doesn't feel like putting any energy into it. He is willing, however, to sell to anyone who wants it. He said he's not interested in making a profit, just getting it out of his hands and back into good use.

Knox had the electricity turned off at the theater after receiving a bill for $500 from Georgia Power last month, so the ventilation fans no longer operate.

"I was astounded, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back," Knox said. "I have an insurance bill on it due in August again. Every time I pay those bills, it's just money I'm tired of spending."

A church, Revivify Church Inc., contacted The Augusta Chronicle and said it sent Knox a certified letter requesting he give the theater to them. Knox said Tuesday he was out of town and has not received the letter. He said he did not get his hopes up.

"They'd be in the same situation as everybody else," the owner said. "The building can't be occupied until it's brought up to code, and that would take millions of dollars. So, unless they've got millions and millions of dollars just sitting around, they can't do anything with it."

Restoration of Miller Theater still possible
Miller Theater to be sold