Staff Photo: John Bohn The brand-new Buford Community Center is nearing an official opening. The multi-function facility will host weddings, business events as well as entertainment events in the Community Center theater.
BUFORD -- Decorators entered the building before the reception commenced. The aroma of fresh paint and the chemical scent of new carpet escaped for a brief moment as the doors opened and shut.
In the ballroom, staff spread out immaculate, white tablecloths and folded black napkins. Florists placed arrangements of yellow and white flowers at each table. Hurricane globes and mirrored trays glowed, reflecting candle light.
In a matter of hours, more than 300 guests would file into the new community center and theatre to celebrate the union of Guntersville, Ala., native Kevin Larson and Lauren Bradford, the daughter of a family with Buford roots seven generations deep.
The wedding reception served as an historic occasion on July 21, not just for the Bradfords, but for the town's citizenry. It was the first-ever event inside the Buford Community Center and Theatre, a sprawling $15 million structure near the city's historic downtown area that's been many years in the making.
Carla Bradford was impressed.
"The beauty and grandeur will overwhelm you," said Bradford, the mother of the bride. A Buford resident since birth, she is a descendent of the Beard Family, whose involvement in the area predates the town's 1873 founding.
Bradford said the new community center is something that would have wowed founding Buford residents.
"We're all so proud of this community center," Bradford said. "When I was growing up, none of us would ever have imagined that we'd have anything like this. It's a blessing."
Bradford's cousin and the city's commission chairman, Phillip Beard, said residents deserve nothing less.
"Buford is doing well, and we're going to give our citizens the best we can," Beard said. "This community center is an example. The commissioners voted to build a quality facility that they can be proud of and use for many, many years to come."
The building, which features a theater, ballroom, meeting rooms and museum, is surrounded by green space as well as an amphitheater and town park interactive fountain.
The Sylvia Beard Theatre includes 290 seats and eight private VIP boxes, four dressing rooms for performers and cast, full box office and ticketing capabilities as well as concessions stands. City staff is working with the Gainesville Theatre Alliance to create a resident troupe for performances.
The Phillip Beard Ballroom features a 4,400 square foot banquet seating area with a reception capacity of 400. The room has access to outdoor seating on the veranda, which overlooks the town park and Buford Village.
During the Bradford-Larson wedding, the veranda was used as a cocktail area while dinner arrived at tables in the ballroom. Catering staff unveiled platters of lemon rosemary chicken and Italian pot roast with grilled vegetables and eggplant Parmesan.
After that, wedding guests stepped out onto the dance floor as a mirrored ball descended from the ceiling that reminded Bradford of "the disco era."
"Everything was absolutely gorgeous," Bradford said. "The ballroom actually is so nice that even if you didn't have any table arrangements or decorations, it would still be beautiful."
With endorsements like that, city of Buford officials said they've had little trouble generating interest in renting out rooms inside the building.
"We've actually booked more than 50 events already, and we just opened last week," said Todd Cleveland, community center director.
Cleveland said one of the perks of his job is taking people on tours through the new structure and "seeing the reactions of first-time visitors as they walk in the door." The beauty of the lobby area, he said, "really takes them by surprise. It's a magnificent, open space."
Added Cleveland: "Mr. Beard has had the vision for a grand building like this in the community for quite some time."
Paid for through the city's general fund and a government general obligation bond passed in 2009, construction began two years ago. Beard said the city had been in dire need of a new community center.
"We had a civic center, but it was just outdated," Beard said. "The upkeep was getting to where it was costing too much to repair. Eventually, we got to a point where we were financially able to build a better place."
City Commissioner Chris Burge said the old civic center "was just a small, outdated building with leaks in the roof."
The new building, Burge said, started as "a smaller idea, but it's grown into something we're proud of."
Added Burge: "We hope everybody in Buford will be proud of it too and puts it to good use."
Buford resident Wanda Thompson, for one, plans to visit the first chance she gets.
"I've only seen it from the outside, but from what I've seen on the website, it looks really impressive," Thompson said. "Looks like it would be a good place to have like a meeting or a wedding reception...it would probably be perfect for that."
The Bradfords thought so.
Guests at the July 21 reception passed around plates of cherry amaretto wedding cake, while others ventured over to congratulate the new bride and groom.
"It was the perfect location for the reception," Bradford said. "We feel so blessed that we live in Buford, and we're so close to this facility. I think Buford had a huge need for a venue like this, and it's something all of the citizens will be able to really enjoy."