Augusta Kroc Center will open today

John Curry/Staff
Exterior of The Kroc Center July 13, 2011.The Salvation Army's Kroc Community contains over 100,000 square feet of programming space including a 77,000 sq ft complex located on a 17 acre site in the historic mill community of Harrisburg. Nestled along the Augusta Canal, the center campus is comprised of one main building designed to complement the nearby Sibley Mill and King Mill and a 10,000 square foot building that will house the First Stop Family Service Center. In addition, there will be expansive park space and several historic homes and even a historic church renovated for programming on the campus.

The best party in town is happening today at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center grand opening.

A full day of free entertainment will conclude with a performance by New Orleans rock band Cowboy Mouth and a fireworks display.

Leading up to that will be sports, aquatics and arts performances, including a celebrity dodgeball tournament, a motivational speech by Olympic silver medalist swimmer Kristy Kowel, and the feats of Harris III, an illusionist.

"We have a wonderful roster, and we think people will enjoy the day," said the Kroc Center's public relations coordinator, Anthony Esposito.

The Kroc Center is a 100,000-square-foot fitness, recreation, aquatics and arts center in Harrisburg community.

Salvation Army Kroc centers nationwide are funded through private donations and a $1.7 billion bequest from the late Joan Kroc.

Operations are paid for by membership fees and an endowment, which allows the Salvation Army to offer discounted rates to low-income applicants.

The Augusta Kroc Center's opening concludes seven years of planning and fundraising. The day will be a chance to celebrate, but also a time to show off all there is to do at the Kroc Center. In between the hoopla of special events, Kroc Center staffers will demonstrate aquatics, fitness and gymnasium programs offered.

The center has been open on a limited basis for three weeks to those purchasing its first 500 memberships.

The "soft" opening gave staffers a chance to run programs before the center became fully operational. Esposito said the public response so far has exceeded expectations.

"Literally thousands of people have come through for tours. We sold out of our first 500 memberships by Friday of the first week," he said.

Schedule of events

10 A.M.: Salvation Army of Augusta Band, Worship and Performing Arts Center

10 A.M. TO 2 P.M.: Augusta GreenJackets play catch with guests, sign autographs, Kroc Center lawn

11 A.M.: Celebrity dodgeball tournament led by Augusta Commission member Matt Aitken, Austin Rhodes and Helen Blocker-Adams, gymnasium; Salvation Army Capt. Todd Mason and others take fully clothed inaugural ride down Aquatics Center Slide.

NOON TO 1 P.M.: Jazz artist Karen Gordon, Kroc Center lawn

NOON: Pickleball demonstration, gymnasium. Pickleball combines elements of badminton, tennis, table tennis.

1:30 P.M.: Choral music ensemble Creative Impressions, Worship and Performing Arts Center

1 P.M.: Motivational speech by Olympic silver medal swimmer Kristina Kowal, Worship and Performing Arts Center; from 2-4 p.m. and 5-6 p.m., signs autographs, Aquatics Center; 4 p.m., teaches water safety lesson and swims in relay race with local swim team participants

2 P.M.: Futsal demonstration, gymnasium. Futsal is a variation of indoor soccer .

2:30 P.M.: Eryn Eubanks and the Family Fold perform bluegrass, gospel, country and other music, Worship and Performing Arts Center

2:30 TO 4:30 P.M.: Miss South Carolina USA 2011 Courtney Turner signs autographs, party rooms

4:30 P.M.: Master illusionist Harris III, Worship and Performing Arts Center

5 P.M.: Wheelchair basketball game played by Champions Made from Adversity, gymnasium

6 P.M.: Children's musician Tara Scheyer and the Mud Puppy Band, Kroc Center Park

7:30 P.M.: New Orleans rock 'n' roll band Cowboy Mouth, Kroc Center Park

9 P.M.: Fireworks display, Kroc Center Park.