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Hardin Foundation praised for support of Opera House

By Staff
GRANT MONEY Malcolm Portera, sitting left, Mississippi State University president, accepts a $2.5 million check from Robert Ward, Phil Hardin Foundation president. The money will fund an endowment for the operation of the Riley Education and Performing Arts Center. Standing behind Portera and Ward are Edwin Downer, left, Joe Covington, Sissie Wile, Lynne Taleff, Archie McDonnell and Charles Lee. All are members of the Phil Hardin Foundation board except Lee, who will become interim president of MSU. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Dec. 19, 2001
The planned Riley Education and Performing Arts Center will receive the largest grant ever awarded by the Phil Hardin Foundation: $2.5 million.
The grant is five times larger than the foundation's previous record, which helped initiate the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at the University of Mississippi. Local leaders praised the gift.
The center will be in the Grand Opera House and the Marks Rothenberg Building. The project will require renovation of the Opera House, seen by many as key to revitalizing downtown Meridian.
The Hardin Foundation grant will help fulfill the project's $5 million local commitment. The $2.5 million grant will fund an endowment to operate the Riley Center; it was announced Tuesday at a news conference at the MSU-Meridian Campus.
Among those attending the news conference were Portera, state College Board president Bill Crawford, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering and by way of videotape actress Sela Ward.
Ward, an longtime advocate of renovating the opera house, said the project has taken a long time. She said the Hardin grant "will be a lasting testament to the Riley Center and Marks-Rothenberg Building."
Portera, who is leaving MSU to become head of the University of Alabama System after the start of the year, said he first toured the Grand Opera House in February 1999.
Crawford thanked the Hardin Foundation on behalf of the College Board, saying "this is a state initiative now" and calling the grant "a dream come true."
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at sgillespie@themeridianstar.com.

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