Pop Rocks: Miller Theater possibilities are now more real than ever

The Miller Theater, where Augustans used to go to watch movies, is being renovated for use as a performing arts venue. Projected to cost more than $20 million, the facelift would be complete in 2017.

Augusta has no shortage of performance venues.

 

Be it large civic facilities such as the James Brown Arena and the Lady Antebellum Pavilion or small stages such as Le Chat Noir or the newly-minted Westobou Gallery, there are a variety of spaces perfectly suited to a variety of performances.

But there is, it seems, a hole in our collection – a medium-size hole.

While the Imperial Theatre has a capacity of about 800 and Bell Auditorium, in a concert configuration, will hold about 2,500, there is, in terms of indoor facilities, nothing in between.

But that might soon change.

On Friday, Oct. 23, the Miller, LLC, in conjunction with Symphony Orchestra Augusta, will launch its public fundraising campaign with an early evening event at the theater. The goal is not just to raise the dollars required to bring this architectural wonder back to life, but also to raise awareness of what another fully functional theater on Broad Street can mean to the community.

When talking about the Miller, the term theater district is thrown around a lot.

For many, this might seem like shorthand for too many venues in too small an area. An while it is true that the Imperial is right across the street and several more venues are located within a mile of the Miller’s distinctive box office, what supporters are looking to build is a balanced collection, not a glut.

With a proposed capacity of 1,300, the Miller would serve several very specific purposes.

Much has been made of the partnership between the theater and Symphony Orchestra Augusta – an organization in dire need of a home. While First Baptist Church has been generous with its sanctuary space, it was not built to be a symphony hall. An orchestra needs and deserves a place to play. In Augusta, the Miller is the natural choice.

Expanding beyond SOA, the Miller also becomes a natural destination for musical theater, opera, dance and touring comedy, country and rock shows.

It was built as a movie theater, so go ahead and add that to the list as well.

It’s the perfect size to serve as a backup venue for performances at the Augusta Common or Jessye Norman Amphitheater that run into weather issues.

It happens. Just ask the folks at Westobou or, better yet, ask Friends with Benefits, the promoter behind this weekend’s Drive-By Truckers show, how much time is being spent eyeballing the forecast.

What I find most interesting, and encouraging, about the Miller Theater project is how ambitious its plans are and how far down the path those behind the effort have quietly come.

The project, which requires purchasing the building next door and knocking several holes in big, brick walls, will include building meeting space, a music school and administrative facilities. It will cost more than $20 million.

That’s a lot.

That said, before the first public pitch is made, 80 percent of those funds will have been secured.

In the past, ambitious timelines have been rolled out in regard to the Miller. In 2009, soon after SOA took possession of the venue and before the Miller LLC, there were hopes that the venue would be ready in 2012. That clearly did not happen.

Today, sights are set on beginning construction early next year with a 2017 opening night in mind.

What’s interesting is, for the first time, that seems like a real possibility.

 IF YOU GO

WHAT: Launch of the public phase of The Miller, LLC and Symphony Orchestra Augusta fundraising campaign to restore the Miller Theater

WHEN: 5-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23

WHERE: Half of the 700 block of Broad Street (will be closed to eastbound traffic)

DETAILS: Music, kid’s activities, raffle, merchandise sales, concessions, more

 Symphony season opens this Friday

Symphony Orchestra Augusta presents three concert series for 2015-16. For tickets, (706) 826-4705 or soaugusta.org.

The Symphony Series opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth at First Baptist Church of Augusta, 3500 Walton Way; $10-$45
Nov. 13: Organ Spectacular
Jan. 16: All Brahms with Stewart Goodyear
Feb. 20: Mozart’s Jupiter
March 12: Fauré Requiem
April 23: Beethoven’s Fifth!

University Health Care System Pops! at the Bell concerts are at 7:30 p.m. at Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.; $15-$40
Oct. 15: Steve Lippia’s Centennial Celebration – A Frank Sinatra Tribute
Nov. 19: A Salute to Elvis
Feb. 13: The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds Turns 50
April 28: Arrival – The Music of ABBA

The Bank of America Columbia County Music Series is presented at J.S. Hardin Performing Arts Center, 7022 Evans Town Center Blvd., Evans; $20
Dec. 6: Tim Zimmerman & The King’s Brass, 4 p.m.
Jan. 23: Turtle Island Quartet, 7:30 p.m.
March 5: Prism Saxophone Quartet, 7:30 p.m.

 

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