280 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI PHOTOS COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY RILEY CENTER RILEY CENTER The Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts, located in downtown Meridian, provides a rich source of learning, community, and entertainment to the people of Mississippi and surrounding areas. The plan to combine adjoining historic buildings was implemented by Mississippi State University, The Riley Foundation, and the people of Meridian and underwent a $25 million restoration during the early 2000s with the Center opening in September of 2006. The facility dates back to the late 1800s, when half-brothers I. Marks and Levi Rothenberg decided to invest in the city of Meridian by building the Grand Opera House and the Marks Rothenberg Department Store. The Grand Opera House held much more than operas. During its prime years of operation in the early twentieth century, the opera house also attracted widely-renowned traveling shows and presented silent films. But following a decline in business due to the advent and growing popularity of movie theaters in the 1920s, the Grand Opera House closed in 1927. The building remained largely in its original condition for decades. The Marks Rothenberg Department Store underwent significant changes over the years including remodeling and new ownership. Beginning in the 1980s, community leaders and historic preservationists made various attempts at restoring both buildings, setting the stage for renewed use of the historic space. Today this space, now the Riley Center, serves as a home for performing arts, conferences, and educational opportunities. More than 60,000 people visit Meridian every year for events at the Riley Center. The newly restored Grand Opera House remains inside the Riley Center with seating for nearly 1,000 people. In addition to the theater, the Riley Center contains a 30,000 square foot meeting room and boardrooms.