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: www.msurileycenter.com