A major component in the emergence of Meridian, MS as a cultural destination is the restoration of the c1891 Grand Opera House and the conversion of the interlocking c1890’s Marks, Rothenberg Department Store and Newberry Building into The Riley Center. The buildings had been out of use for many years and the vision of this complex was developed by a variety of interested parties until finally, Mississippi State University wished to provide a center for education and the performing arts. The project received federal funding and as such was subject to Federal and State Preservation review.
Opportunity The primary charge was to transform the Grand Opera House into a modern facility and to plan an educational center around it. Martinez+Johnson addressed the operational complexities of diverse, overlapping activities in a Master Planning phase that engaged all the identifiable stakeholders. The theatre was updated for its new time and purpose, M+J assigned appropriate new uses to existing spaces, and the team created new areas as required. The entire structure needed new building systems; the theatre, event, and educational rooms required additional performance systems, structural stabilization of the existing exterior walls with acoustical isolation took place, and M+J developed egress capacity and fire separations in an old building that never had them.
Creation The venue was fully modernized, including front-of-house and patron support spaces. Back-of-house areas were rebuilt and expanded due to their capacity and condition. The new stagehouse became a concrete box suspended within the brick and wood outer envelope and the theatre now sits above a new lobby, kitchen, and rehearsal area. M+J restored or recreated dozens of late 19th century materials, and a complicated life safety strategy was developed to all the buildings to work together as a synergetic whole. The project owes much of its success to a rich continuing dialogue with the National Park Service and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.