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Funding in place for Riley Center, title soon to follow

By By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Sept. 10, 2001
With all of its funding accounted for, Mississippi State University expects to gain title to the Marks-Rothenberg Building and Grand Opera House in downtown Meridian within the next two weeks.
Dr. Bev. R. Norment said he is focusing exclusively on the $26 million project to develop the planned Riley Education and Performing Arts Center. Norment, the former dean of MSU Meridian Campus, has been named special assistant to MSU President Malcolm Portera and will oversee the project.
His comments came in an interview with The Meridian Star's editorial board.
The project
The property will be transferred from the board of trustees of the Grand Opera House of Mississippi to The Riley Foundation and then to MSU, Norment said.
When MSU holds title to the properties, the next step will be to publish a request for proposals to be received from architects within 30 days.
The Marks-Rothenberg Building will be designed specifically as a conference center and the Grand Opera House will be restored with connecting hallways between the two. Norment would also like to see space used for a museum of artifacts associated with the opera house.
The funding
The Meridian City Council's adoption last month of a resolution to issue $7 million in bonds for a 500-car parking garage marked the last element needed for funding for the project.
A total of $19 million is dedicated to the restoration and renovation of the Marks-Rothenberg Building and the Grand Opera House.
In addition to the city of Meridian five other funding entities are involved, including The Riley Foundation, $10 million; Lauderdale County, $3 million in bonds; The Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, $3 million; The Department of the Interior Save Americas Treasures program, $400,000; and VA/HUD, $2.6 million.
There is also a $5 million goal of an endowment to be used for future repairs, maintenance and some operation of the center.
Norment said that permanent funding from the state has not been requested, but he said some operating funds would be sought from the state once the education and performing arts center is open.
The vision
Norment said the conference center could be utilized 45 to 50 weeks out of the year, bringing in 300-500 people for each event. He said additional restaurants and lodging will be vital for the people attending conferences.
Academic programs are also being planned for the new MSU Downtown Campus and Meridian Community College, including a "two plus two" program leading to a bachelor of arts degree in communications, with concentrations in broadcasting and theater. Under the program, students would take their first two years of study in communications at MCC and complete their junior and senior years at MSU.
Norment said 150-200 students could be utilizing the educational center when it is at its full potential.
He said touring groups, small ensembles and theatrical performances would be scheduled that would be privately funded.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at