Beneath the copper dome that adorns the top of the Macon City Auditorium are a host of issues that threaten the venerable city landmark.
Water is believed to be trapped between a concrete deck and a rubber roof just below the dome of the building that first opened in 1925. Meanwhile, the moisture has mildewed the ceilings.
Fixing the auditorium's roof -- which could cost between $3 million and $5 million -- is the largest expense on a list of an estimated $15 million worth of repairs needed to restore the building.
On Wednesday afternoon, Clay Murphey, who manages special sales tax projects for Macon-Bibb County, pointed a flashlight toward some of the stains that are noticeable inside the main concert hall. Those problems likely stem from a lack of airflow in a 3-foot concrete cavity above the ceiling, Murphey said.
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Completely replacing the roof would cost about $5 million, he said, but the county is looking to have an air flow study performed to see if venting can prevent some of the mildew.
"We hope to repair it instead of replace it," Murphey said. "The structure of the building is in great shape. It's solid as a rock. Inside is where the love needs to be shown."
Made of concrete and limestone, the auditorium features pillars and a Roman architectural style. It has hosted thousands of events ranging from concerts, proms and weddings to funerals, graduations and political events. Featuring one of the world's largest copper domes, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The auditorium's main floor provides about 14,000 square feet of space, and overall the auditorium is about the size of the Pantheon in Rome.
Entertainers such as the Allman Brothers Band and Bill Cosby have performed there, and notables such as Oprah Winfrey and "Roots" author Alex Haley have made appearances there. In 1967, it was the site of Otis Redding's funeral service.
But the building at the corner of First Street and Cherry Street Lane has seen better days.
"The auditorium is one of our major cultural centers and represents a milestone in our community's history having been built for the city's 100th anniversary," Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said in an email. "It most certainly needs repairs and upgrades, and needs to be kept in better condition over time. Without that, it becomes more and more difficult to attract larger performances and to provide our community and arts organizations the high-quality space in which to perform that they deserve."
The last major renovations on the City Auditorium were made in 1979. A full restoration this time around likely would take about two years to complete since it would have to scheduled around concerts and other events, Murphey said.
Lately, most of the expenses have been focused on solving a bevy of problems in the auditorium's lower level.
"What's happened is we've spent the last two and a half years making repairs in the basement level, taking care of the water that seeped in through the foundation," Murphey said. "We had a lot of mold and mildew problems and rotted carpet. We have torn all that out, repainted down there, and now we're working our way up."
Other costs in the $15 million price tag include replacing custom-made drapes to the tune of about $210,000 and improving the auditorium's handicap accessibility. A couple of years ago a rare organ was uncovered in the basement, and there has been interest in restoring it, which would likely cost about $1 million, officials said. Even smaller ticket items such as new tables and chairs that are set up for events need to be funded, Murphey said.
"We want to replace all the carpet, put new in new air conditioning and heating, (and) replace all the tables and chairs," he said.
Several Macon-Bibb officials have advocated for some of the money for repairs to be part of the next round of the special purpose local sales tax that likely will be decided by Macon-Bibb County voters in November. Some money from a current SPLOST has helped pay for repairs such as waterproofing the auditorium's basement. Commissioners are set to vote Tuesday on providing $150,000 for some additional immediate repairs, which would be added to about $350,000 already budgeted from the current SPLOST.
The county would work with the facility's management group and an architect to determine how that money would be used, officials said.
Some of the latest auditorium improvements have been made, including the removal of peeling wallpaper and repainting some interior walls. Also, several meeting rooms have been refurbished, along with other "general maintenance and upkeep," said Lloyd Lauland, vice president of operations for Interstate Hotels & Resorts. The company owns Noble Investment Group, which manages the City Auditorium, Macon Coliseum and Wilson Convention Center.
"(The recent work) has added to the building looking much better from a condition standpoint, but there still is a lot of work that obviously needs to be done," Lauland said.
Murphey said he'd like to see the restoration finished in time for the city's 200th birthday in 2023.
"I think it's important that this facility continues to shine," Murphey said. "There are not too many places you seat 2,700 people that's this intimate."
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter@stan_telegraph.