A historic day. A momentous occasion. A new chapter. The beginning of a second act.

Those were some of the ways Lawrenceville and Aurora Theatre officials described the groundbreaking for the city’s new city performing arts center Thursday. The $31 million, 56,000-square-foot center will be built across North Clayton Street from the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse and serve as the epicenter of Lawrenceville’s arts community as well as an expansion of the Aurora Theatre.

“With this groundbreaking today, we as the city of Lawrenceville with our partners, the Aurora Theatre and all of you as community members and elected leaders, are coming together for a new arts sense of place,” said Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson, who also called the gathering a “momentous occasion” as she thanked city staff. “And we’re very excited about this new chapter we’re now beginning.”

A large crowd of city and county officials, state legislators, community leaders and Aurora Theatre supporters gathered for the groundbreaking in a city-owned parking lot next to the existing theater. The parking lot and the former Peach State Federal Credit Union location — which has already been demolished —on North Clayton Street will be the site of the performing arts center.

The center will have a 500-seat main theater, a cabaret theater with flexible seating arrangements ranging from 50 to 300 people, classroom space for educational programs that can be done in partnership with Georgia Gwinnett College and Central Gwinnett High School; costume space, an orchestra pit, a rehearsal room, and an art gallery.

Aurora Theatre Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez called the facility an “epic palette” with which artists can bring various types of works to life.

“Simply put, the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center will be a place where possibility surrounds us, a home to house a million dreams of our community,” he said.

City Manager Chuck Warbington said years of work laid the foundation, going as far back as when the Aurora moved from Duluth to Lawrenceville 13 years ago, and served as a buildup to Thursday’s groundbreaking.

“This is historic,” he said. “As much as it was historic for the SouthLawn (groundbreaking), this is a culmination of 10 to 15 years of dreams and visions that are coming to life.”

The performing arts center is one of several projects underway which together form a spine going through the heart of the city on Clayton Street. The college corridor project is underway to the north, while the mixed-use SouthLawn project is under construction to the south.

Warbington said the projects, combined, will have a positive impact on the city. An example he used was that residential spaces that are being developed in SouthLawn provide a crowd of people living in downtown Lawrenceville who can attend shows at the Aurora or eat at restaurants on the Lawrenceville Square.

“It really makes it a walkable, vibrant center of the second largest county in state of Georgia,” he said. “We envision this (performing arts center) to become the heart of the arts community in Gwinnett County.”

But as officials celebrated the beginning of construction on the performing arts center, Johnson looked back to a sentiment that was expressed in a watercolor painting that was shown to officials when the Aurora Theatre moved to Lawrenceville in 2006.

The painting referred to that occasion as beginning of “Act 1” of the theater’s life in the city.

“I say to you on this groundbreaking (day) that we had a great Act 1, and now we’re on to Act 2,” Johnson said. “Let the show begin.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta. I eventually wandered away from home and attended the University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg, Miss., where I first tried my hand at majoring in film for a couple of years. And then political sc