Meridian is a small city in eastern Mississippi with population of 40,000. At the heart of downtown on 5th Street between 22nd and 23rd Avenues sits the newly renovated MSU Riley Center. The original 1889 structures that occupied the block were the Victorian-style opera house (i.e., the Grand Opera House) and Marks Rothenberg department store. The opera house was shut down in 1927 and the department store continued to operate through the Great Depression.
Leveraging the momentum of the Union Station Multi-Modal Transportation Center located a few blocks east, former Mayor Smith presented the Grand Opera House case study at the Mayors’ Institute in 1999, seeking design guidelines and development strategies for the abandoned site. Since 2000, several rounds of grants from various organizations and nonprofits totaling $25 million brought the historic structures back to life. Fully restored and now operated by the Mississippi State University, the new facility includes a 950-seat opera house and provides state-of-the-art conference space. The MSU Riley Center also serves as an anchor institution that catalyzed other revitalization projects in the surrounding neighborhoods.