Now match the energy

Better facilities are needed to complement downtown's increased bustle

You needed to be a rabbit Thursday night in downtown Augusta, because it was hopping – and you likely had to park a ways from your destination.

Two events in particular filled the area with the energy of a huge enthusiastic crowd: The Winter Jam Tour Spectacular multi-act Christian concert at James Brown Arena, and the Symphony Orchestra Augusta concert featuring music legend Ronnie Milsap.

Approaching James Brown Arena on foot, there were dozens of disappointed fans walking the other way who were turned away from the huge sellout.

In other words, there were more people than places available for them. The vibrancy downtown Thursday night was absolutely exhilarating. In
national rankings of cities that routinely put Augusta near the top for quality of life, it’s difficult to measure the kind of energy and vigor that was in the air.

Here’s hoping the facilities and infrastructure can someday soon be upgraded to match the vim.

This is decidedly true with regard to the Bell Auditorium. Its chairs, restrooms and other accoutrements are hopelessly outdated and unsuited to the cachet of most of the acts and audiences it hosts. It does not come close to doing justice to the Augusta area’s appetite and appreciation for the arts, or the size and increasingly cosmopolitan flavor of the CSRA.

Nor does it reflect this community’s aspirations of excellence.

And when the Bell and Brown have simultaneous events, good luck finding a parking place. While that’s a nice problem to have, it’s still a problem. We do a great disservice to attendees – particularly those from out of town – when they are needlessly required to walk for blocks, without guidance, to park in poorly marked street spaces in order to attend an event here.

That walk can be somewhat treacherous, too: The state of sidewalks in the area is abysmal, and of significant danger especially to women in high heels.

Meanwhile, Augusta continues to miss out on a mammoth opportunity to bring more people closer to the downtown riverfront. We have acres and acres of unused and under-utilized riverfront property in the heart of downtown that most American cities would give anything to develop and put to use.

The symphony has designs on renovating the grand old Miller Theater on Broad Street – and it should be an elegant venue. But there can be no doubt, particularly after Thursday night, that this city desperately needs a state-of-the-art performing arts center – and it needs to have its own footprint, away from the arena, in order to provide parking and reasonable ingress and egress.

The riverfront would be a logical, beautiful place for it.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver recently mentioned ongoing discussions about a new performing arts center in his State of the City address. We hope discussions move along as briskly as Thursday’s excited pedestrians.

Downtown Augusta was brimming with eager arts lovers last week. What will it be like when we go all out?

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