Meridian Star

Local News

September 25, 2013

Phil Hardin Foundation pledges $3 million for arts center

MERIDIAN —   The Phil Hardin Foundation has pledged to donate $3 million as the lead donor for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center.

    Robert Ward, Phil Hardin Foundation Board president, made the announcement on Tuesday during a press conference which also drew supporters of the long-planned project. City, county and state officials, along with other proponents of the $44 million project gathered near the construction site of the center, at the corner of 22nd Avenue and Front Street.

    News of the $3 million infusion into the project brought the crowd to its feet.

    "It was the result of a proposal made by the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center and we thought that was an appropriate amount," Ward said. "We are totally convinced and we volunteered to be the lead donor. We wanted to be a part of the beginning of the process."

    Plans for the center have been in the works for more than 10 years. Meridian was chosen several years ago to be the home of the state's arts and entertainment museum. As Meridian is the location for the center, Marty Gamblin, executive director of the MAEC, said it was important for Meridian to show its support.

    "When we say 'our lead donor' that means they are the very first ones to come to the table," Gamblin said. "Our fundraising team is going full speed ahead with other people in the greater Meridian area. We will launch it statewide after the first of the year. We have to make a statement here because this is where it's going to benefit the most."

    There will be a major fundraising kickoff in November, Gamblin said. The planned 58,500-square-foot venue will support a wide range of programs and activities. Design plans for the center are on schedule and moving forward.

    "The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center will be a showcase for the arts and will be the first institution of its kind that will serve as a catalyst for driving our creative economy," Ward said.

    Children and adults will learn about the state's literary, performing, visual, and culinary arts past, and will have the opportunity to be a part of developing future arts creators, according to Ward.

    "Mississippi's sense of place, its historic past, its small towns, its churches fuel a diverse pool of noted authors, singers, song-writers, actors and chefs, along with those behind the scenes to bring these talents to the forefront of our nation," Ward said. "Our community is proud to host this extraordinary venture that will bring people from all over the world and provide a place for young people to discover their own gifts that they can begin to share with the whole world."

    Tommy Dulaney, MAEC president; said Meridian has been given the opportunity to present the state's rich artistic history.

    "This world class entertainment center will tell the whole story of Mississippi — a story that has not been told," Dulaney said. "This center will not only draw visitors from across the state but from across the country and around the world to learn about Mississippi's diverse history."

    It will also serve as a co-anchor to the MSU Riley Performing Arts Center in downtown Meridian, Dulaney said.

    Greg Snowden, speaker Pro Tempore of the Mississippi House of Representatives, and District 83 representative, said it was a show of unity among lawmakers several years ago that brought the state's entertainment center to Meridian.

    "When we got this project on our minds and wanted to bring it to east Mississippi, one of the things we did was make sure our entire legislative delegation was together," Showden said. "It is a great day. I've been proud to be a part of it — just a little bit — along with my legislative colleagues and we look forward to seeing this bear fruit and really be something that the entire state of Mississippi can be proud of from here on."

    When introducing Mayor Percy Bland, emcee Paul Ott, MAEC vice-president said he had worked with three or four mayors of Meridian since the project has gotten under way.

    "It is so good that it is going to happen under your tenure," Ott said.

    Bland said the progress of the center shows the investment that many are willing to make in Meridian.

    "It takes us as a community making these types of investments; first believing in ourselves that these things can happen in Meridian, Mississippi," Bland said. "FIrst we have to believe that those things can happen and trust and make those investments in ourselves. The light will be shone on ourselves and on the state of Mississippi."

    Hank Florey, president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, said the entertainment center is among the most significant projects in Meridian's history.

    "This project will put our city, our area, our state on the international map," Florey said.

    Dr. George Thomas, Ward One Councilman and president of the Meridian City Council, said the city council is behind the project, but he reminded those attending that a prepared food and beverage tax is needed to help fund it.

    "We're going to need your support in order to make this thing go," Thomas said.

    The center is set to open in 2017—the year Mississippi will celebrate its bicentennial.

    “There will be no other venue like it in the country,” Gamblin said. “This premier, world-class center, representing all of the arts that have emanated from Mississippi, will reach into international corridors. This state-supported facility will be an integral part in driving the “creative economy” in Mississippi.”

     For more information about the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, visit msarts.org/media.

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