Originally created 10/14/02

'Ready to rock 'n' roll'



AIKEN - The inaugural performance at the new Aiken Community Playhouse on Friday night will mark the culmination of nearly three years of work on an ambitious project.

"That will be the big, big night," said Angie Fitzgerald, former president of the playhouse board of directors.

In 1999, when playhouse members approached the city of Aiken, the plan was to build a theater downtown and move the playhouse from Two Notch Road. Land was bought on Newberry Street, and now the city has a $6 million, state-of-the-art theater with about 20,000 square feet of space.

The play set for performance Friday is Footloose. At times, that word described the construction process.

A year after the theater idea was in motion, it was expanded. The Aiken Corp., an independent economic wing of the city, borrowed money from the city to add office and leisure space to the theater.

The Washington Group moved into the space in 2001 and has a 10-year lease. It brought 40 jobs to town and an estimated $60,000 in annual tax revenue.

In February, however, $700,000 worth of unpaid architectural and land fees surfaced. The fees were associated with the addition of leisure space that accompanied the new office space. But it was uncertain which group owed what.

Eventually, a management audit found that a communication breakdown was responsible for the oversight.

In the spring, the city appointed Public Works Director Larry Morris to oversee the completion of the project.

The playhouse has six performances planned through August.

The theater and leisure space, which together make up the Washington Center for the Performing Arts, will be available to the Washington Group, the city and the community "for a major portion of the calendar year," according to a city memo released in July.

"They're ready to rock 'n' roll," Mr. Morris said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.