All aboard for restoration! City hears proposal to fully restore treasured train

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By Alison James
Associate Editor

Years have passed since the Rocky Brook Rocket first chugged into Opelika, and the passing of time has left its mark on the beloved train. But thanks to an initiative from Opelika’s Matthew Battles, the train might soon undergo a little TLC – actually, a full restoration for the whole nation to see.

Battles presented his plan for the Rocky Brook Rocket at the city council work session Tuesday: the train, which has “provided countless memories for thousands of riders for more than half a century,” Battles said, is a candidate to appear on the History Channel’s “American Restoration.”

The not-inexpensive project, which includes renovations to the depot in addition to the train restoration, will top out at about $100,000, by Battles’ estimates, but he maintained that “the benefits to the city will outweigh the costs that will be incurred,” and said he intends to solicit support from civic clubs and local businesses as well as the city.

“The good news is, we are working on budget right now,” said President Eddie Smith, who, along with all council members and Mayor Gary Fuller and city administrator Joey Motley, expressed his enthusiastic support for the project. “I strongly encourage the administration to find budgetary money, as opposed to discretionary money (to help fund the restoration).”

Another not-inexpensive project received approval for a tax abatement at Tuesday’s council meeting – Daewon will soon embark on an expansion involving $6.5 million in capital and adding six new employees to the company’s current 215 workers.

“It’s a benefit they receive that’s allowed by the state,” explained Opelika Economic Development Director Lori Huguley. “We’re glad to be able to do that for them. We only abate the non-educational portion of the tax. So what’s good for our city is, the educational portion of the tax will increase, so we’re always glad to do that. Then after ten years, the abatement expires, and then we’ll collect full tax.”

Fee abatement in a more general sense was addressed in another resolution, establishing more specific guidelines for building permit fees and plan review fee abatements for companies like Daewon, doing expansions.

“If we have somebody … doing a $10 million expansion and adding x-number of people, they ought to get the same abatements and breaks as a brand new company would,” said Smith. “So this establishes what credentials have to be met to qualify for a company that is expanding and wants tax abatements.”

The resolution dictates full abatement for project meeting the stipulations of creating at least 150 new full-time jobs and providing wages at an average of $12 or more per hour and partial abatement for companies creating at least 10 new full-time jobs and investing at least $10 million, among other stipulations.

Smith said the new guidelines were not prompted by and had no connection to the Daewon expansion; the resolution was one that has been a work-in-progress for some time.

“We didn’t expect (the Daewon abatement request) as quickly as it happened,” Smith said. “It worked out well for them … if we had passed this before that, (they would have had to comply with the new resolution).”

The council also:

– recognized author Nimrod Frazer and received autographed copies of his book “Send the Alabamians”

– heard proclamations for the Opelika Civitan Club and Immigration Heritage Month.

– approved a bid for new light poles.

– recognized the following city employees for “above and beyond” service: Jan Gunter, Ben White and Diane Heard.

– suspended the rules and approved two ordinances regarding Opelika Power Services rates.

– had first reading on an ordinance regarding parking regulations in Opelika

– approved expense reports and requests

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