Last week was a very significant time in Augusta’s history.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of people attended the opening night gala at the beautifully restored Miller Theater on Broad Street.
The black-tie event featuring Tony award winner and television star Sutton Foster along with Symphony Orchestra Augusta was a huge success, and the public finally got to see for themselves how the $23 million capital campaign truly transformed the historic theater.
People still remember when local businessman and philanthropist Peter Knox IV purchased the historic Miller Theater back in 2005 to try to save the historic structure.
Augustans remember how the abandoned theater’s roof was literally about to cave in on itself and how most people viewed it as a complete money pit with no hope.
But Knox couldn’t walk away from it.
Instead, he repaired the roof, removed the moldy carpet and seats and installed a proper ventilation system in the building.
However, even after pumping money into the building, Knox couldn’t find anyone
willing to step up to the plate and purchase the Miller.
So, by 2008, Knox generously offered the historic theater to Symphony Orchestra Augusta.
While the symphony was honored by the offer, it wasn’t until the fall of 2011 that the Board of Directors for Symphony Orchestra Augusta unanimously voted to accept the gifted building.
The symphony’s board took a major risk, but it has definitely paid off.
In 2011, a capital campaign was launched to save the 1,300-seat theater, and by June 2016, through generous donations from community and local foundations, coupled with more than $5 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds and federal and state historic preservation tax credits, enough money was raised to break ground.
The biggest driving force behind the restoration of the historic theater came from the dedication of the Board of Directors for the Miller, particularly the project chair, Levi Hill IV.
Hill and the board did not give up.
They took on the project and put it in the right hands: the Christman Company, to renovate and restore the building, and SMG, the management company, to run the theater.
And the shows that have already been booked for 2018 look incredible.
Just two days after the opening gala, Henry Rollins’ spoken-word performance came to the Miller, which will soon be followed by the band St. Paul and the Broken Bones on Friday, Jan. 12, and soul singer Lyfe Jennings on Saturday, Jan. 13.
There are tickets available for shows throughout the year such as the D.L. Hughley Family and Friends Tour on Feb. 10; a concert by jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall on Feb. 16; a concert by legendary singer Ronnie Milsap on Feb. 17; and a show by “Weird Al” Yankovic on April 14.
And, of course, locals are looking forward to an entire season of Symphony Orchestra Augusta at the Miller.
All of this happened because Knox cared about the historic theater, generously saved it and donated the building to the symphony.
Not everyone would do such a thing if they had the means.
There are many Augustans that would simply save their money and let someone else deal with it.
But Knox didn’t do that, and Augusta is better because of his actions.
Last week, Knox took another step that will help boost this community.
He generously donated $1 million to the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University to help address critical areas identified by the cancer center’s future director.
“Cancer is a great equalizer that can and has touched everyone’s lives,” Knox reportedly announced last week. “It is my hope that this gift will help the center’s future director continue putting the focus on finding new treatments and cures for this horrible disease right here in this community.”
Knox said it is vital that this community helps make Augusta a destination for patient care and cancer research, not just for this area, but the entire Southeast.
Augusta University President Dr. Brooks Keel expressed his deep gratitude for Knox’s gift.
“The faculty and staff at the GCC are making a difference every day for people in Augusta, in Georgia and around the world,” Keel told Jagwire News. “If we are to achieve our ultimate goal — finding new cures and treatments for this disease — we need the support of our community.”
Now, not everyone can donate $1 million to the cancer center. And not everyone can purchase a historic building and help save it from total disrepair.
But everyone in Augusta can do something.
Something to help improve our community and make it a much better place to live.
Whether it is by donating your time and your talents, volunteering with local nonprofits or giving what you can to reputable local charities, everyone can do something.
Knox did something when he didn’t have to do anything.
And now, we are all much better off because he cared.
Let’s all think about that as we begin 2018.
Augusta can be even better, but it’s up to all of us.