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Making its premiere: Visitors get first look at Columbia County Performing Arts Center



AIGUSTA, Ga. – The very first show at the new Columbia County Performing Arts Center on Saturday won’t be a rock concert or a Broadway show.

But the premiere means something.

On a stage that never has borne the weight of performers, overlooking seats that never have been occupied by an audience, grade-school students from Stephanie’s Dancers in Evans are scheduled to perform their spring recital.

That, Columbia County Manager Scott Johnson said, is kind of the point.

“This is the community center as well, and it’s really appropriate that we have it opening up with some of our youth from Columbia County,” he said.

Officials cut the ribbon Friday to ceremonially open the arts center, which took more than three years to build at a cost of just under $40 million. Voters approved a general obligation bond in 2016 to pay for the project, combined with available special purpose local option sales tax revenue.

About 2,100 seats fill the theater on orchestra, mezzanine and balcony levels, including box seats. They face a stage built to specifications designed to accommodate fully-staged Broadway performances.

The venue’s dimensions match New York’s Gershwin Theatre, Johnson said, which currently plays host to the Tony Award-winning musical “Wicked.”

The center originally was conceived as a cultural arts center, without a dominant performing space, he said.

“But as time went by, we figured out what our people needed, what they wanted, and it grew into a performing arts center,” Johnson said. “But when it was a cultural arts center, there was a museum component in here. Columbia County does not have its own museum.”

As plans evolved, the museum space stayed on the drawing board. Now, one of the center’s event facilities, meant to accommodate smaller gatherings, will include small exhibits highlighting the county’s history. The room’s ample wall space is expected to be used as a rotating art display for local artists, Johnson said.

The center will serve as a focal point connecting other aspects of surrounding development that, when completed, will comprise Evans Towne Center – a mix of residential, commercial and public buildings intended to serve as a “downtown” for the unincorporated surrounding community.

Another of the public buildings, planned near the arts center, will be a large roofed shelter that will give the county’s Community Services Department a place to stage, among other events, its popular Evans Farmers Market, said Deputy County Manager Matt Schlachter.

Contracting bids are expected to go out this month, for construction to start this summer, he said.

“So by next spring we’ll have the outdoor, open-air accompaniment to this building,” Schlachter said.