Columbia County pins high hopes on new arts center
It’s not just a building.
When Columbia County officials broke ground Wednesday on the Columbia County Performing Arts Center, they shared a vision of a development that will contribute immensely to the county’s quality of life and help better shape the community’s identity.
“It’s huge. I don’t think the impact can even be measured,” said Columbia County District 2 Commissioner Trey Allen. “We’ve always heard Columbia County’s a great place to live, it’s a nice bedroom community. But now we are creating our own identity, our own culture, and I think that (center) is setting a standard for that.”
For Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Cross, the center literally is a dream come true.
“When you think about things and dream about things and see them in your mind for 15 or 20 years, and then one day it’s going to happen, it’s a great day,” Cross said.
The $31-million-plus center will stand at the heart of the Plaza at Evans Towne Center, a larger commercial development expected to add even more bustle to a growing community.
“The key part is it being right here in the center of Evans Towne Center,” said District 1 Commissioner Doug Duncan. “It just gives us a small downtown feel. Not to compete with Augusta – it never will. But this is, I guess, the anchor project for this whole development, and it’s just a really exciting time to be in Columbia County.”
Jane Marie Kinsey agreed. She’s vice president of McKnight Construction Co., the Augusta contractor overseeing the project, expected to be completed in 18 months.
The 84,000-square-foot arts center will seat about 2,100 people. Extra seating could be provided by lowering the center’s specially equipped orchestra pit below floor-level.
The center also will feature a main floor, two balcony areas with box seats and a concessions area.
“This is going to be a beautiful building. They’ve done a great job designing it,” Kinsey said. “It’s going to be very attractive in bringing people in from throughout the community, not just Columbia County but all around it, because it’s an entertainment center. I think they picked a good location, too, because there are so many other public buildings around this area. It’s going to be great.”
Greenville, S.C., architect David Dixon is the architect of record for the center. He’s seen what similar centers can do to add vibrancy to a community. His company, Craig Gaulden Davis, also designed the Peace Center in Greenville, which he called a “wonderful, incredible asset” for his hometown area.
He said Columbia Countians will enjoy the outcome of this new project.
“People wonder whether people will support it and wonder about the expenditure, but they always do,” Dixon said. “Celebrating the arts helps both tangibly and intangibly, building the culture of a growing community, and certainly your community is growing like few communities in the country right now. With the education level, the cultural qualities that the people have here, I think they will embrace it, and it will just be a boon to this economy.”
The project will be funded by a General Obligation Bond approved by voters in 2016, and with remaining money from completed projects funded by special-purpose local option sales tax money.
“It’s extremely important for quality of life,” Duncan said. “It adds to what the taxpayers said they want, which is quality-of-life issues. I can’t wait until it’s done.”
What is everyone looking forward to now?
“For me, concerts,” Duncan said. “We go to the Bell Auditorium all the time and the James Brown Arena (both in Augusta) all the time for concerts, and having this out in our neck of the woods is going to be exciting.”
“I was a musical theater major at Davidson (College), so I would love to see some nice traveling Broadway shows come through here,” Allen said.
“Getting it out of the ground,” Cross said. When completed, it will stand 80 feet tall on the Evans Towne Center skyline, “and that’s going to be very, very impressive around here,” he said.