Message from the Mayor
From the Mayor's State of the City address on January 26, 2018
Dear Friends –
This is another great day in the life of our community! And 2017 was yet another great year! It's a good time to be the mayor or member of the City Council. Thank you for re-hiring me in August 2016. I had a lot of fun and made some money in the radio business but being your mayor is the best job I’ve ever had! Today as I present the “State of the City”I’d like to cover three things…#1. where we used to be, #2. where we are now and #3. and most exciting, where we’re going.
Where we used to be. Let's start downtown. There were a lot of above ground electrical wire, canopies, a lot of vacant buildings and almost no retail customers. A high school facility that required buckets in class rooms when it rained. Few new subdivisions and no population growth. Not many paved streets on the south side of town and even fewer sidewalks. Our main retail was at Midway Plaza but JC Penny and Belk’s eventually moved to the mall and then we lost our walk-in picture show. Things didn’t look too prosperous in this old railroad town. But things began to change. A group of citizens -- Jane Walker, Bill Roberts, David Canon, Anna Asbury and Fred Fox -- got a Main Street organization started and hired Lynn Hammond. That was in 1985 and downtown Opelika has never been the same. The first streetscape project was Courthouse Square and now all the central business district has underground utilities, sidewalks and landscaping. Our last streetscape project was North Railroad Avenue from 10th Street to 6th Street.
Regarding existing industry…I’m afraid we rested on our laurels thinking Uniroyal, Diversified Products, West Point Pepperell, Ampex and Leshner Mills would be here forever. They are all gone and are not coming back! But in the late 90’s the City through the OIDA purchased 2,100 acres off I-85 for the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park. Our first tenant was the Walmart Distribution Center and we haven’t looked back!
I want to thank Mayor Thompson, Mayor Freeman and Mayor Patton along with their City Councils for everything they did to move us forward. We should never forget those that came before us.
We are in a better place today! So, let’s celebrate those that are making our success possible today. First, my colleagues on the City Council -- President Eddie Smith from Ward 4, President Pro-tem Patsy Jones from Ward 1, Council members Tiffany Gibson-Pitts, Ward 2, Dozier Smith T, Ward 3 and David Canon, Ward 5. City Administrator Joey Motley, City Clerk Bob Shuman and City Attorney Guy Gunter. Absolutely awesome department heads -- Human Resource Director Lisa McLeod, IT Director Stephen Dawe, Revenue Officer and Purchasing Agent Lillie Finley, Economic Development Director Lori Huguley, Controller Cindy Boyd, Public Works Director/ESG Team Leader Mike Hilyer, City Engineer Scott Parker, Fire Chief Byron Prather, Chief Building Inspector Jeff Kappelman, Cooper Memorial Library Director Rosanna McGinnis, Municipal Court Clerk Anita Comer, Sr. Probation Officer Denise Rogers, Environmental Services Director Terry White, Opelika Power Services Director Derek Lee, Parks &Rec Director Sam Bailey, Police Chief John McEachern, Planning Director Matt Mosley, Community Relations Officer Leigh Krehling and my executive assistant, Barbara Arrington. There are many others that deserve credit for where we are today vs. yesterday. Opelika City Schools led by Superintendent Dr. Mark Neighbors and he couldn’t do his job without the School Board…Patsy Parker, Chair, and members Katy Leonard, Dr. Kevin Royal, Antione Harvis, Chuck Beams and soon-to-be-member Tipi Miller. Volunteers, like the School Board, are at the very heart of what makes Opelika a great community. Planning Commission, Housing Authority, Park Board, Library Board and Chamber Board. Shey Knight, Chairman of the Chamber Board and President Pam Powers-Smith are leading an organization that represents the best interest of our business community.
Where are we today? Our population is an all-time high of about 30,000 people. We’ve built over 2,500 new single-family homes in the past 12 years including over 200 in 2017. Since 2005 our construction value is $1.7 billion. For FY 18 or the first three months of the new fiscal year we’ve permitted the construction of 41 new single-family homes at a construction cost of over $10 million. Here’s an interesting comparison for you. In 2012, 285 residential properties sold in Opelika for an average price of $151,300 and were on the market for 202 days. In 2017, 456 homes were sold at an average price of $218,800 and were on the market for 68 days.
Everything starts with good paying jobs and our team works on this every single day. In the past five years we’ve had over $821 million of capital investment and created 1,432 new jobs. We announced 194 new jobs in 2017 that came from existing industries like West Fraser, Hanwha, Pharmavite, Cumberland Plastics and Red Clay Brewing. We celebrated the completion of Baxter International’s $252 million expansion and they are in process of adding the additional 200 employees needed. We announced a new company, Aerocosta, a distribution and logistics company serving the automotive industry and located near Car Tech which is a new manufacturing company that should begin production in a few months. Retail and commercial building continues in Opelika both downtown and the surrounding areas. A new hotel, Homes 2 Suites is open with another, La Quinta, still under construction. Tiger Square opened and is still adding retailers. New stores are coming to Tiger Town while Saugahatchee Square continues to grow along with USA Town Center and Pepperell Corners. Stores do three things for us and they’re all good…the real estate increases our tax base, they provide jobs and they collect sales tax for the city, county and state. During fiscal year 2017 which ended last September, we collected $30.5 million of sales tax. In 2005 our sales tax revenue was slightly less than $15 million. Business is good in Opelika!!
Finally, let’s talk about few minutes about the future and where we’re going: OPS ONE, our state-of-the-art telecommunications project is doing very well but we will not reach our goal of “breaking even” by this October. As you know we made a substantial investment when we built our system and it could take us another couple of years to become profitable. We are still and will always be Alabama’s first GIG city. If you and your home and business are not yet OPS ONE customers I encourage you to talk with us right away. Recently the City Council approved new, lower priced packages with more options. Since you’re one of the owners you’ll be doing business with yourself. World class customer service,too!
In a few weeks our new Headquarters Fire House, #1, will be complete directly behind City Hall and facing Avenue B. In my opinion we were about 25 years past due replacing the old #1. We’ve got the greatest group of professional firefighters and paramedics in country and they certainly deserve this facility. We should begin construction later this year on a new facility for the Opelika Police Department and Municipal Court. Again, we were past due on giving our excellent police officers, support personnel and Municipal Court a new building.
Several construction projects are going on -- the new round-a-bout on MLK and Auburn Street should be complete in a few weeks and that will really improve the connectivity between downtown and Tiger Town. We’ve awarded the bid for the new Sportsplex road that will connect with exit 64 on I-85 which will open several hundred acres up for new residential development. We’ve almost completed a new sidewalk on Jeter Street from the Opelika Learning Center to South Railroad Avenue. We have started and will continue our efforts to repair existing sidewalks and make sure they are ADA compliant.
Parks and Rec has three important building projects -- at Bandy Park, a new walking trail, new surface for the basketball court with new goals, a new covered pavilion near the playground and will resurface the parking lot. This year we will build several covered pickleball courts at the Sportsplex and should begin construction with the City of Auburn on a joint skate park.
If I were “King” for the day I would instill in every Opelika citizen enough civic pride to stop littering. Five or six days a week Mike Hilyer has crews picking up litter and they do it week after week, month after month and year after year. Please don’t litter. We have a beautiful community but people who litter make it much harder for the rest of us. We don’t like structures that are falling down and don’t meet our property maintenance code. In 2017 we demolished six structures and over the past five years we’ve torn down 56. Currently we have 27 structures in process of being demolished or repaired. We’re making progress slowly but surely. Here’s a number I love that should also be coming down -- in 2017 we had 248 vehicles removed or repaired. We cited 157 weed violations and issued 30 full weed abatements. Last year we had 850 curbside recycle customers and recycled 725 tons. Great job by Terry White and Environmental Services! I’m very proud of Rosanna McGinnis and the Cooper Library. I was pleasantly surprised to learn we checked out 144,290 books and 21,023 ebooks while adding 1,551 new patrons or library users. I’ve challenged Rosanna to tell us what our library will need in the next 5 to 10 years.
Before I close, please make a note on your calendar to vote “yes” on February 13th for the education tax renewal. This was first approved in 1965 and is not a new tax, simply a renewal of an existing tax for Opelika City Schools.
Our best days are ahead of us. We have a lot of smart young people in our community…many have participated in 20 under 40 and they are becoming more engaged in the affairs of the city. School Board, Planning Commission, Park Board and Chamber. Our future is brighter than ever.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve you as mayor of this great community.