Editorial: Backstage pass: How the Miller got done

People such as Levi Hill IV gave their all, for a decade

Some time ago, Levi Hill IV noticed a turtle patiently, determinedly trying to ascend the curb outside his house.

 

He carried that image of deliberateness and perseverance with him during the decade-long effort to first study the feasibility of restoring the Miller Theater downtown – and then to raise the money and do it.

Among the many heroes of the restoration, Hill stands out for praise and gratitude – though he’d be the last to say so.

The modest third-generation owner of Richmond Supply Co. – a seller and servicer of industrial components and supplies started by his grandfather in 1942, just two years after the Miller had opened – Hill has long been a Symphony Orchestra Augusta supporter and board member.

In 2008, when Peter Knox IV offered the neglected but protected building to the symphony, Hill was asked to lead a feasibility study – and ultimately the nearly $25 million fundraising effort to get it done.

Just a few weeks ago, the community came out in droves to celebrate the restored Miller’s return to the stage.

In-between there were some 10 years of study, discussion, excursions to other cities with restored theaters, fundraising visits – and lots of time away from friends and family.

There were challenges big and small all along the way, but Hill swears every challenge was seemingly met with a deus ex machina – a heaven-sent solution.

One example: When they needed to expand the stage for today’s ample, opulent productions, it appeared they’d have to take out some seats on the first floor and perhaps block the sight lines for others in the balcony. Suddenly, the needed space appeared, instead, at the back of the stage as an unexpected bonus from having purchased a property next door.

“It happened time and time again,” Hill said of the providential developments.

All the work was more than worth it. The black-tie gala opening Jan. 6 was followed the next day by a public open house that saw as many as 3,000 of the curious lined up on a frigid sidewalk to get a closer look at a theater that, since its closing in 1984, had hardly caught a passerby’s glance.

That’s what a difference a historic, grand theater can make in a community – something the feasibility committee learned on a trip to the restored 1880s Newberry Opera House in Newberry, S.C., whose website beams that it has become a “catalyst for an artistic and economic rebirth in Newberry.”

The Miller may do no less for Augusta.

“It was all we could imagine, plus so much more,” Hill said of the opening weekend. “The acoustics are everything we hoped for.

“It was just magic.”

That’s the result, though. The process was hard work and dedication of dozens – no one more so than Hill, though he points to his wife Elsie.

Absolutely. Mr. Knox donated the building, sure enough. But Mrs. Hill chipped in her husband.

This is how big things are done in big-thinking communities – through big sacrifices.

 

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