Peter Knox didn’t merely stand in the way of the wrecking ball in saving the historic Miller Theater. He stood up to Mother Nature and Father Time.
Now, six years after the Augusta philanthropist stepped up to buy the vacant 1940 theater and vaudeville house – and preserve it in suspended animation with a new roof to halt deterioration from the elements – it looks like entertainment promoter Frank Miller’s baby is about to be reborn.
After some three years of due diligence involving five consultants and a study funded by board member Brian Marks, Symphony Orchestra Augusta’s board of directors voted unanimously Thursday night – one at a time, in dramatic fashion – to accept the gift of the Miller from Mr. Knox.
Already armed with just over $5 million in special purpose local option sales tax funds approved by the Augusta Commission and Richmond County voters in 2009, the symphony will now embark on finalizing renovation plans and obtaining the private monies that surely will be necessary to round out the as-yet undisclosed cost of the project – expected to be upward of $20 million.
But as board President Joseph Huff noted at an announcement Friday morning in the arcade of the old theater, this historic decision means the symphony will have a home for the first time in its 57-year history; the organization will be able to extend its mission and reach; and the local arts community will have another catalyst for growth and collaboration.
Huff announced the symphony intends on using the new home to create what they’re tentatively calling the Miller Music Institute for local music education.
Mr. Knox’s donation, it appears, will be the gift that keeps on giving.
The effects of a renovated Miller could go far beyond even all that, however. Mayor Deke Copenhaver, citing a white paper by the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, said a project such as the Miller is one that can create a “sense of place” in a city core. He said a reborn Miller can help re-create a theater district along Broad Street, along with the Imperial, and all the ancillary vibrancy that entails.
“This is a game-changer,” the mayor told the crowd assembled at the Miller.
That this is happening at a time when the country and even the world are nearly paralyzed with economic uncertainty is a testament to the symphony’s chutzpah in taking on the Miller renovation. It’s living proof of what Copenhaver called a new can-do attitude in Augusta.
A renovated Miller will feature approximately 1,300 seats (a size not now easily accommodated downtown) and will require a larger stage for live performances than the original Miller needed for movies and vaudeville.
The timeline for renovation has not been established. Regardless, the marquee out front has finally proven accurate:
It’s Miller time.