Editor’s note: In the first of a two-part series, we take you behind the curtain of the Bell Auditorium renovations. The reno project includes upgrades, but also preserving the Bell’s history. Tomorrow, ABD will look at the voting process to fund the project.
The Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority invited members of the media to take a tour of the work being done to upgrade the Bell Auditorium.
Part of the project is renovating the existing lobby area. The new lobby will be more than 5,000 square feet, 30 feet tall with high ceilings. Joe Kinsey of McKnight Construction said it will shape the theme the design team created, “Behind the Curtain.”
“We’re going to have this custom brick pattern, that’s going to end up looking like a stage, and then on the inside of the lobby, we’ll have 40-foot tall, red velvet curtains that are going to look very similar to stage curtains,” he explained.
The additional lobby space on the 7th Street side of the existing building will also form part of the connector that will link the Bell with the new James Brown Arena.
A major change will be to the restrooms. Currently, the women’s restroom is on one side of the lobby with the men’s restroom on the opposite side. In all, the Bell will go from the current total of 26 toilets to 44, between the women’s and men’s rooms.
Other changes will include the expansion of the VIP club along with the addition of a second, smaller club designed to resemble a speakeasy, a nod to the Bell’s opening in 1940.
Brad Usry, chairman of the authority’s New JBA Subcommittee, said that’s just one of many ways they work to preserve the venue’s history.
“At the beginning of the tour, the first thing Joe Kinsey said was when they uncovered the flooring, they found the old terrazzo floors. And we think we can salvage those. McKnight is polishing up a section so we can see it and hopefully, it will be able to use the old floors,” he said, adding it will eliminate the need to install carpeting.
Authority Chairman, Cedric Johnson said all the exterior changes are deliberately being made to the side and back to preserve the current, historic look of the front of the building.
Areas the public won’t see are also undergoing major changes. Dressing rooms on all three levels are being expanded along with the green room. The biggest upgrade is the installation of an elevator that will connect all the dressing rooms to the stage, eliminating the need for performers to use flights of stairs.
Usry said performers are taking notice of the renovations.
“People heard about the Bell being renovated and we’re getting requests from artists to come to Augusta. They’re ready to come and we’re ready to have them,” he said.
The project remains on budget and still has a target to re-open in Spring 2024. Renovations to the Bell are just the first phase of a three-phase project. Work on the connector is part of the second phase.
The $17.5 million project is being paid for with money from Richmond County’s special local option sales tax 8 (SPLOST) that voters approved in 2021.
Still ahead is the third phase, construction of a new James Brown Arena. But first, Richmond County voters will have to decide whether to approve a construction SPLOST (C-SPLOST) that will add half a penny sales tax for the next 20 years to pay for the $250 million project.
Ryan Mahoney of Parlay Marketing Partners is working with the coliseum authority to educate voters on the importance of the project.
“This week, speaking to multiple, multiple, multiple groups, which we’ve been doing all summer,” he said. “Obviously, we have mail that is out, billboards that are up, radio, TV ads, digital ads. We’re just trying to drive as many people to vote whether or not they vote for or against it. We just want them to be educated.”
Advance voting begins on October 16. The election will be on November 7.