After weeks of rumors suggesting a deal was in the works, Georgia Theatre owner Wilmot Greene tells Flagpole he has sold the iconic downtown music venue for an undisclosed sum to a group of anonymous regional investors operating under the name Agon LLC.
UPDATE: As the Banner-Herald reports, this Agon is the same group of investors who purchased the Augusta Greenjackets, a minor league baseball team, in 2012. The group’s LinkedIn profile says it specializes in “team management, aquisition [sic], franchise sales and operation consulting.”
Greene is also stepping down from his role as the Theatre’s general manager, and the venue’s new owners have chosen Drew Beskin to fill the position. Greene will stay on as GM for “at least six months” to assist in the transition.
Beskin, who recently moved back to Athens from Atlanta, where he had been working as an account executive at a marketing firm, is no stranger to the local music scene, having fronted the Athens-based band The District Attorneys for several years.
“This is a dream opportunity for me, to be involved in something I’d want to be involved in 24/7 whether it was my job or not,” Beskin says. “I’m back in Athens, and I’ll probably be here a very long time.”
Greene purchased the Theatre with partner Randy Smith in 2004 and spent the next five years renovating the aging building at 215 N. Lumpkin St., which at various points since its construction in 1889 has functioned as a movie house, place of worship, YMCA and Masonic temple. It has been a music venue since 1978, with the exception of a several-year period in the ’80s when it served as a movie theater.
In 2009, the building was gutted by a massive fire. With financial support from the community, including a partnership with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as from his banker, Greene was able to rebuild. The venue reopened in 2011, complete with a rooftop bar and restaurant, though renovations, totaling nearly $5 million, have continued through this year.
Greene says the money and energy he has put into the building over the 10 years he has owned it have left him exhausted. “The first five years of my tenure [were spent doing] renovations,” he says. “And then it burned. And then we had to do another complete renovation after that.
“I’m pretty beat,” he adds. “It’s a younger man’s game… I would literally close the Theatre down [some nights] just so I could sleep. And that’s not fair to our employees, or the ticket buyers.”
Though Greene says he was not actively attempting to sell the venue, he admits he has been entertaining offers for some time.
“These guys intrigued me, and they seemed like nice people,” he says. “Once I found out Drew was on board, I really started getting comfortable with it.”
Both Greene and Beskin stress that Agon’s mysterious group of “silent” investors don’t intend to make any drastic changes.
“They’re all huge fans of the Theatre and how it’s grown, the changes that have been made,” Greene says. “I would be shocked if [anyone] notices any difference. It’s going to be a seamless transition. We’ve worked very hard to make sure that’s the case.”
“The idea is to not change what makes the Georgia Theatre the Georgia Theatre,” adds Beskin, adding that all of the venue’s 60-plus staff members will remain on board. “We have a great team already in place.”
That team includes talent buyer Scott Orvold, who has worked at the Theatre for much of Greene’s tenure as owner and who has been chiefly responsible for expanding and diversifying its concert calendar over the years, introducing a popular series of rooftop concerts that have served to fill gaps in the slow summer months.
Beskin and Orvold say they plan to continue on that path, adding even more shows to the approximately 200 that populated the venue’s calendar in 2013.
Greene, who has had little to do with booking of late (he refers to himself as “the building superintendent”), says he is simply ready to move on.
“My job is over, in a lot of ways,” he says. “The building is awesome. The management team we’ve put together, with Scott and Drew at the lead, should be ready to go for years and years.
Where he’ll go, and what he’ll do when he gets there, is still up in the air. “I’ve got a couple of rollover vacation weeks,” he jokes. “That’s for sure.”
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.