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South Hall theater group plans permanent home
Fifth Row Center eyes city-owned buildings for its expansion
Donna Chalmers, artistic director of Fifth Row Center, hold up the group’s new sign Tuesday as husband Scot looks. Chalmers is hoping to call one of two vacant, city-owned Flowery Branch buildings on Main Street home for the theater group. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

FLOWERY BRANCH — Fifth Row Center has performed on several stages through its two-year history, but the South Hall community theater wants to conduct business and hold classes in one location.

The group now operates largely out of The Springs Church at 6553 Spout Springs Road, but growth in its program has Fifth Row bumping into the growing congregation.

“It’s been 10 productions and we just can’t, in good conscience, keep asking the church to accommodate us,” said Donna Chalmers, artistic director of the group and Flowery Branch resident. “... We’re there three and four nights a week.”

Fifth Row is looking toward a bigger future, one that includes a playhouse, as it is talking up growth plans with community leaders.
Chalmers spoke last week to the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau, and her husband, Scot, talked to the Flowery Branch City Council on May 6.

“Our vision is to see a nurturing environment in Flowery Branch, where the arts can be participated in, celebrated and encouraged,” Scot Chalmers told the council.

The group has set its sights on one of two vacant, city-owned buildings on Main Street between City Hall and the town’s historic depot.

The city recently completed renovating the century-old buildings and has put them up for lease. City Manager Bill Andrew said last week that he has gotten several inquiries about the buildings.

“We see it as a space that can be used for many different things,” Donna Chalmers said. “We could use it for classes. We have many requests for drama classes. And we could also use it for rehearsal space. We could use it for offices, which are very needed right now, and storage space.”

The location is ideal too, she said.

“We could bring a lot of people (to downtown),” Chalmers said.

Her husband added: “We could step out the front door and do performances whenever there’s a festival here.”

Fifth Row’s performances, which have drawn audiences in the hundreds, would be held elsewhere. They have performed at Sterling on the Lake, a residential community with a large commons area in Flowery Branch, and Lake Lanier Islands.

Donna Chalmers said she would like to present a proposal for the space to city officials by this week.

The city’s asking price, $800 per month plus utilities, “is way out of our price range,” she said. Getting the space for free would “be the ideal thing.”

“The way (the city) would make up for it is they’d have traffic here,” Scot Chalmers said. “We’d bring people to this area all the time.”

The downtown area has a few businesses, with most of the city’s commercial traffic on the east side of town, on the other side of Interstate 985 and off Spout Springs Road.

One of the theater group’s biggest supporters is Mayor Diane Hirling, a frequent patron who served as a charter member and was on Fifth Row’ advisory board its first year.

She said she would like to see a proposal from the group.

“We (would) not ask them to pay the full amount (in a lease),” Hirling said. “We would want to be able to give some money back to the community.

“We need to be involved in the arts. I wish we had more money to be able to even build a building for them. But, with this recession and just how tight our budget is, we just don’t have it.”

Further into the future is a playhouse.

Scot Chalmers showed Flowery Branch City Council the design of the 9,000-square-foot 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, Calif., calling it the kind of space that would be ideal for Fifth Row.

“It would seat 186 people and have a backstage and scenery shop,” he told the council. “...We’d love to see that right here in downtown Flowery Branch.

“We have a lot of people who come to our shows; we have a lot of people participate. What we need is the building. Downtown Flowery Branch has buildings, and they need people,” Chalmers said.