by Blake Aued - Athens Banner-Harold
The Georgia Theatre cleared its first hurdle to reopening Wednesday when an Athens-Clarke County board approved plans to rebuild the burned nightclub.
The county Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved owner Wilmot Greene's proposal to rebuild the famed music venue.
"You said you wanted to make it a cornerstone of downtown," HPC member Jeff Weinberg told Greene. "I think this is going to do it. It's a nice design."
Any construction, demolition or renovations in an Athens historic district, including downtown, must go through the HPC. Its ruling on the Georgia Theatre is final.
With the exception of stained-glass windows and a new rooftop bar and restaurant, plans for the theater call for its exterior to be restored to almost exactly the way it was before a June fire gutted the venue.
"It's in my best interests to keep it beautiful and historic, so I wasn't worried about (getting approval)," Greene said.
Inside, Greene said he and his design team salvaged charred 250-year-old heart pine roof beams and will turn them into bar tops. The rebuilt club also will feature an art gallery and museum on its mezzanine level. The rooftop restaurant will serve barbecue at lunch and provide a refuge during concerts.
Next, Greene said he will apply to the county for permits to begin construction. Work is scheduled to start early next year, and he said he still hopes to reopen the theater by the end of 2010.
Greene still does not know how much rebuilding will cost. He has met with bankers who seem enthusiastic about the project, but he has not closed a deal on financing, he said.
"They liked the idea," he said. "They just need to see the numbers."
A fundraising campaign to help rebuild the club will kick off with a benefit concert Oct. 30 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Greene said. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation - an Atlanta nonprofit that protects and restores historic buildings - is accepting contributions so Georgia Theatre fans can donate to the rebuilding effort tax-free. Such donations only can be spent on the exterior of the building.