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RiverCenter for The Performing Arts Creates Community in Columbus, GA

The curtain continues to rise on a great future at RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.

By Livability on December 16, 2022

Exterior of the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, GA.

Magnificent. That’s the word guaranteed to take center stage in conversation when people describe RiverCenter for the Performing Arts and its impact on Columbus — and understandably so. 

A property of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, it is a wildly successful blend of both an economic catalyst and creative center serving as a cultural hub in the western part of the state for two decades. 

Located in the historic heart of Uptown Columbus, RiverCenter annually presents a wonderful bill of world-class artists and nationally touring Broadway productions usually only found in larger cities. 

It is home to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus and a grand theater organ called “The Wave.” Plus, the arts complex has a partnership with the Schwob School of Music of Columbus State University. 

Exterior of the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, GA.

A Public-Private Partnership

Now in his 80s, the retired chairman of Synovus Financial Company, Jimmy Yancey, has had his thumb in the area’s economic development pie for years and remembers when downtown was “desolate.” 

“We knew having a performing arts center downtown would be a big shot in the arm,” says Yancey, who was on the major gifts team of the Columbus Challenge group. Their hard work raised $100 million for the project, an unprecedented public-private fundraising effort which also helped revitalize other key local cultural venues. 

“A lot of people thought we had lost our minds,” he adds. “When I would take a new economic prospect on a tour of Columbus with limited time, we would always go to RiverCenter. It really captures the sense of commitment this city has made to be a better place to work, live and play.” 

State-of-the-Art Performance Hall

The magnificent 245,000-square-foot structure was designed by the multinational architectural firm Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates to artistically enrich the Chattahoochee Valley region. 

Visually stunning, it blends the past and present, mixing the brick and ironwork of the area’s historic buildings with a modern multilevel glass and steel façade. Its spacious entrance is graced by a tall, glass curtain-like wall and a soaring staircase. 

A packed house at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, GA.
Rob St. Clair

In addition to a calendar of hundreds of community events and concerts, RiverCenter presents its own series of 20 to 30 concert and theatrical events, including internationally acclaimed talent such as Gladys Knight, Jerry Seinfeld, Lyle Lovett and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell. Recent Broadway productions include “Anastasia,” “My Fair Lady” and “Hairspray,” and it has become known for its national tour launches, including the 50th-anniversary tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “RENT” and “Something Rotten,” each show generating an economic impact of up to $1.5 million. 

Guests can enjoy performances in three state-of-the-art settings. The largest, the Bill Heard Theatre, seats 2,000; Legacy Hall, an acoustic recital auditorium, holds 430; and 150 can be seated in the more intimate Studio Theater. 

“Live performance is absolutely critical to the growth and quality of life in our community,” says Norman Easterbrook, executive director of River Center. “We have built the building and proved it is workable. The fun part is how we reimagine the future of RiverCenter and remain flexible for the next 25 years to meet the diversity of the region.” 

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