Byers Theatre will be the name of the new 1,100-seat theater in City Springs, an acknowledgement for a $2.5 million donation that also will fund a new musical theater company.
The huge donation is thanks to Ken Byers putting his money where his mouth is as head of the Sandy Springs Foundation, a nonprofit that is raising funds for supplement programs at the $222 million civic center the city aims to open next year. He and spouse Tricia made the landmark gift.
The City Springs Theatre Company will receive $500,000 of that gift. Previously shrouded in secrecy, the company was revealed by the donation as a professional musical outfit that will be run by Brandt Blocker, the former director of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre in Marietta Square, according to Mayor Rusty Paul. Byers previously said it will produce “Broadway-style” shows, and its executive director, Natalie Barrow, is a trustee for the Foundation.
Paul said Blocker will “set up a true, professional community theater here” that will operate as an “affiliate” of the Performing Arts Center.
Blocker resigned from the Marietta theater last year to move with his wife to Hong Kong, according to media reports. He could not be reached for comment earlier this year as rumors circulated about his involvement in City Springs.
The theater naming, which lasts 20 years, was approved Dec. 5 by the city’s Public Facilities Authority, which is the mayor and City Council wearing different legal hats. The name applies only to the main theater, not the many other City Springs facilities or the Performing Arts Center, the overall term for arts venues within it. All of those naming opportunities are still available.
Under the system established by the city and the foundation, naming rights cannot be directly acquired. Instead, people or organizations can make donations, and the Public Facilities Authority then may consider granting a naming at its discretion. In the Byers’ case, the size of the donation and their status in the community were considerations. The naming was recommended by the foundation’s executive committee, with Byers recusing himself, according to City Manager John McDonough, who is a voting member of that committee.
Paul said that the Byers’ “commitment to creating an arts community through this facility is amazing” and he hopes it will kick off many similar donations. He implied that he was technically the first donor to City Springs, but in an amount that at best would get his naming on a “doorknob.”
According to an internal city memo, the $2.5 million will be paid in installments, starting now with the $500,000 earmarked for the theater company, followed by $400,000 a year in 2018 through 2021, and an additional $400,000 to be paid in 2026 or upon Ken Byers’ death, whichever comes first. McDonough said legal details of the theater company agreement are still being worked out.
Besides arts venues, City Springs will include a new City Hall, a park, housing and retail and restaurant space. It is under construction on a large parcel bounded by Mount Vernon Highway, Sandy Springs Circle and Roswell and Johnson Ferry Roads. It is set to open in phases next year, with the Byers Theatre scheduled to open in September 2018.
Corrections: This story has been updated to correct John McDonough’s voting status on the Sandy Springs Foundation and to clarify that further work is being done on the City Springs Theatre Company creation, not on the donation agreement.