Spotlight on Business | MSU Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts

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MSU Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts

The Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts, in Meridian, Mississippi, is a vibrant hub for education, the arts, and conferences. The center merges the best of the old and new by delivering historic charm and character dating back to the turn of the century combined with the latest in technological advances found in modern-day theaters and conference facilities. At the core of the center is a 1889 fully restored Grand Opera House theater that presents over 25 nationally touring performing arts events a year, while also serving as a unique site for conference groups to enjoy keynote speakers, awards ceremonies, or private entertainment.

The MSU Riley Center is comprised of two adjoining historical buildings in downtown Meridian; the Grand Opera House, which serves as a performing arts venue, and the old Marks Rothenberg department store, which provides state-of-the-art conference space. The Grand Opera House of Mississippi, nicknamed by Meridianites as “The Lady” for its composite portrait of a flowered lady above the center stage, was built by brothers I. Marks and Levi Rothenberg. It was originally conceived as a swanky hotel to adjoin their new top-dollar mercantile store when construction began in 1889. The structure took up almost an entire city block; in the midst of construction, the brothers decided to revamp the project as a performance theatre and cultural attraction for the booming railroad city. Marks and Rothenberg brought in the finest of theatre designers, J.B. McElfatrick, to complete the construction design and masterfully craft the hotel’s structure into a first-class opera house. The Opera House stayed in operation from 1890 to 1927 bringing to the community popular touring performances, including vaudeville shows, minstrels, and eventually film.

The Opera House and department store were bustling attractions and changed with the times through a series of renovations. The first change to the Opera House came in 1902, when the gallery was redesigned to accommodate more space for social luxuries previously overlooked in the original plans. The second renovation in 1920 brought the silver screen to the Opera House, which hosted some of the South’s first silent films; the original screen can still be seen in the backstage. It was not until the 1960s that the department store underwent renovations, when the outside was modernized by adding glass and metal siding to the exterior, which was an architectural trend for the time. The metal siding covered the intricate windows and elaborate mortar and brick work until the 1980s when it was removed; it was then that a movement began for a major restoration of the nearly century-old Opera House, department store, and the entire downtown district.

In 2006, the new MSU Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts opened the doors of a completely renovated historic theater with a capacity of approximately 900; over 30,000 square feet of meeting and convention space which accommodates educational functions, multiday conventions, and social events for crowds of 20 to 1000.

The MSU Riley Center is part of Mississippi State - Meridian and draws some 60,000 patrons, conference attendees, educators and students to the center for performances, educational workshops, meetings and conventions.

The Center has not only brought in big numbers but also big names including B.B. King, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Tricia Yearwood, along with theatrical performances, To Kill A Mockingbird and Little Mermaid. The MSU Riley Center is also a member of the John F. Kennedy Partners in Education Program, has hosted the Smithsonian Institute’s Traveling Exhibit on American Roots Music, presented Wynton Marsalis & Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and secured funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Building on the success of the Riley Center, MSU proudly announced on September 1, that a $4.5 million commitment by The Riley Foundation, a development trust which was formed in 1998 with proceeds from the sale of Riley Memorial Hospital in Meridian, was made to expand MSU’s presence in downtown Meridian. Plans are being made to renovate the Newberry Building, adjacent to the old Opera House, to make space for classrooms and faculty offices for the MSU-Meridian Division of Business. This project is expected to be complete in approximately two to three years. This will allow space for an additional 250-500 students and 15-20 faculty at the MSU-Meridian campus. For more information on the MSU Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts please visit: