Lawrenceville City Council approves performing arts center plans

The Lawrenceville City Council approved orientation plans for the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center project, shown here with the main entrance facing Clayton Street and the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse. 

Lawrenceville leaders saw a sea of red Monday night as they considered the final orientation and interior plans for the city’s $31.1 million downtown performing arts center.

That’s because officials at the Aurora Theatre, which will manage the center for the city, encouraged supporters to show up and wear red as a visible sign to the City Council that there is community backing for the facility.

An overflow crowd of red-clad supporters showed up.

They filled up just about every chair in the audience, lined the back and walls of the meeting chambers and sat on the floor when there was nowhere else left to sit or stand. Some supporters had to stand in the hallway outside the chambers because there was no space left in the room.

“In a world that can seem sometimes super bleak, the Aurora Theatre is something that really (sends) out happiness and joy into the community,” Aurora supporter Matt Perry told the council.

“Other than being an economic draw into the community, I can see them being among the things that draw people to Lawrenceville like the Fox Theatre does for Atlanta … I would urge you guys to support the Aurora in any way you can.”

The people who showed up to support construction of the performing arts center got their wish as the City Council approved final orientation plans for the facility, which will essentially serve as an expansion of the Aurora Theatre.

The performing arts center will back up to the existing Aurora facility on Pike Street.

It is not the last decision city officials will have to make regarding the facility, however, because planners will come back later for final decisions on exterior designs. This week’s action, however, lays out how the building will be oriented and what features it will have on the inside.

The plans call for a 59,500-square-foot facility whose entrance will face the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse and provides spaces for a 500-seat main theater, a cabaret stage, a two-story lobby and educational space that would be occupied by Georgia Gwinnett College. It will also have a plaza at the entrance facing the Lawrenceville Square.

The theater is expected to be finished by summer 2020.

“This exciting project continues the dynamic transformation of the Downtown area,” Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson said in a statement sent out by the city moments after the vote was taken. “Lawrenceville is the heart of Gwinnett and maintains a central area rich with activity for all generations.

“This facility will bring the Arts community together with educational opportunities and all the other amenities that our vibrant community has to offer to create a dynamic core for Gwinnett County.”

The Aurora Theatre will manage what is currently being called the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center, although city officials said Monday night that naming rights opportunities will be pursued.

The facility is expected to span much of the block of Clayton Street from Pike to Crogan streets. Plans call for some storefronts at the corner of Crogan and Clayton streets to be built to mask loading docks for the theater.

The financing plan calls for private partners to provide funding for about half of the cost. However, City Manager Chuck Warbington said the plan for financing is set up so that the city will front the money for construction and the Aurora Theatre and Georgia Gwinnett College are planned to reimburse Lawrenceville for half of the construction cost over time.

Georgia Gwinnett's part in the project is pending approval by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

The Aurora Theatre would do a capital campaign while GGC's portion would come from leasing payments.

That’s a point Councilman David Still also made before the vote.

“The city is ponying up, putting up $31 million, but we’ve got business partners,” he said. “We’ve got the Aurora, who is willing to put money into this deal. We’ve got GGC, who is willing to do a yearly lease and hopefully be there more than a year … We’ve all got to work together as a team.”

While the plans enjoyed unanimous support from the council, Councilman Tony Powell said he had some concerns about the way construction of the theater will be financed because he felt the city should be putting more money toward combating homelessness.

“I really think the financial part of this is a bad idea, but I trust a great God who can even things that are misses and make them great,” said Powell, who challenged Georgia Gwinnett College and Aurora Theatre officials to use their resources to help fight poverty in the city.

Councilman Keith Roche did not see how the city had to chose between the center or combating homelessness, however.

“This is not an either or,” Roche said. “This does not mean that we cannot continue to work to deal with the homeless situation, but the city of Lawrenceville doesn’t live in a vacuum.

That problem extends well beyond our borders and I am absolutely convinced after spending a lot of thought, and a lot of discussion with people that I have a great deal of respect for, that this needs to be a county-wide program.”

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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