Rodriguez and Ann-Carol Pence founded the Aurora Theatre in 1996. The company relocated from Duluth to Lawrenceville in 2007 and now attracts about 80,000 visitors annually to downtown. The theater hires about 200 performers, artists, musicians and technicians for each season.
The new building’s soundproof rehearsal hall with sprung floor will allow actors and dancers to be thrown into the air while practicing. “This is the room we’ve been waiting 25 years for,” said Pence while entering the rehearsal hall.
Aurora Theatre’s new home, once the site of a gas station and credit union, is located next to the Bobby Sikes Fine Arts Center currently used by the company. The arts center is about three times the size of the company’s current building.
Rodriguez recalled sitting at his office desk more than a decade ago, overlooking where the arts center now sits and thinking “we could really do something amazing here.” The Bobby Sikes Fine Arts Center will be used for plays and small productions, Pence said.
Lawrenceville paid the $35 million bill for the new facility, partly funded by 2017 SPLOST dollars. Aurora Theatre will lease the facility from the city and repay about $5 million of the expansion cost over the next five years.
The city and its partners put “blood, sweat and tears” into the creation of the new arts center, said City Manager Chuck Warbington. He expects the arts center to attract new businesses and economic development opportunities within the square and surrounding areas.
The arts center will be in close proximity to The Lawrence Hotel, expected to open in 2023 with 170 beds. An art alley leading up to the courtyard from East Crogan Street will allow hotel guests to make their way to see a performance.
The company hopes to one day take a show to New York City rather than bringing a show from New York City to Lawrenceville, Pence said. The new facility will help the theater reach that goal, she said.
“We have the capacity now to create the things that somebody would want to see or producers would want to invest in, to see if it’s good enough to take it to the next step,” Rodriguez said.