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MSU: Opera House means more than just nostalgia to city

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
April 4, 2001
Mississippi State University officials see more than artistic and educational gains for Meridian in the restoration of The Grand Opera House.
On the horizon, they also see economic development opportunities.
When complete, the site will house The Riley Education and Performing Arts Center, named for the Riley Foundation. The foundation's $10 million contribution helped complete fund-raising for the $26 million project. The center will house a conference center, a working theater and educational classrooms.
Norment said once the facility is running at full speed he expects to see both regional and national conferences scheduled at the historic site drawing guests to downtown Meridian and causing an economic explosion in the heart of the city.
According to Norment, 400 to 500 people a week could visit the conference center. Officials hope to have conferences scheduled at the site at least 40 weeks during the year.
Although all the funding for the project has been committed from local and federal sources Norment says written confirmation of the funding must be obtained before MSU officially takes ownership of the property. Once all the details have been worked out the property will transfer from the Board of Trustees of the Grand Opera House of Mississippi Inc. to the Riley Foundation and then to MSU.
Once completed Norment says the center will play a key role in the growth of the university over the next several years.
As part of the expansion into the downtown campus Norment says either some or all of MSU-Meridian's Arts and Sciences classes would be moved to the center, which would include Interdisciplinary Studies and Liberal Arts classes.
With new resources available at the center MSU-Meridian will have the chance to offer degrees that have never been available in Meridian before, according to Norment.
Norment said the two new degrees will give MCC students the opportunity to take the first two years of the course-work at the community college before moving to MSU to complete their work.
The downtown campus will also host workforce training programs and several new Continuing Education courses.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.