COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The RiverCenter for the Performing Arts opened in downtown Columbus more than 20 years ago. 

One of Hecht Burdeshaw architects who was heavily involved in that project was back in town this week. And John Rivers took a walk down memory lane in an exclusive WRBL interview.

For Rivers it’s one of the highlights of a lengthy and successful career. 

It has been years since Rivers was inside the Bill Heard Theater. And Tuesday afternoon, he paused and reflected as he walked into the space.

“Wow. This is special,” he said. “This is very special, you know.” 

Special indeed. 

Rivers was back in Columbus where he was honored by the city council for his architectural contributions to the community. 

At 80, he’s pretty much retired and living in Ecuador. He has become an artist in retirement.

But for an hour this week, he relived the accomplishments of nearly four years that spanned the turn of the century. 

“I am very proud to have been involved in this, for sure,” he said. “You know, everybody had a role. I was not the design architect. I was not the production architect, meaning do the construction documents for the permitting. But I was the architect to make sure that it got built properly in accordance with the documents.” 

The building opened in 2002, built with a combination of state and private funding. It took more than three years for it to come out of the ground in 900 block of Broadway. 

“It is a unique product to have in anyone’s community,” he said. “And I think that the people in the leadership in this city made a decision that was probably not very smooth in the beginning where everybody could appreciate what this thing would be. But in the end, it’s a treasure for a city of this size for sure. And the quality of the shows that have been coming here, I can see that is still going on since I see was still going on since I was here.” 

And when you ask Rivers what worked in the design and execution of the building, you get a one-word answer. 

“Acoustics,” he said.

The building is known for its acoustic excellence, but there was also another piece of the signature Bill Heard Theater that worked really well. 

“The goal was to make it big but make it small,” he said. “You know? This is one of the biggest small theaters. There’s 2,500 seats in here. It was designed as a roadhouse. It was . It was differentiated for me back then because I was learning too. They wanted multipurpose space that could do any kind of shows. Anything from plays to opera.” 

And Rivers fully expects this building to stand the test of time. 

“A building like this should last north of 70 years, 75, 100 years,” he said. “I mean between 75 and 100 years.” 
So, this could last an easy four or five generations? 

“Absolutely. No question,” he said. “And it was built for that purpose. In terms of quality, the materials we used, it will be around for a while. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know if it will be around as long as the Coliseum in Rome. But it will be here for a while.”