By Morgan Bryce
In his 23 years of working with the City of Opelika Planning Commission, recently retired Chairman Keith Pridgen had the opportunity to coordinate and witness the construction of some of Opelika’s most significant developments, like Tiger Town and the Robert Trent Jones Grand National Golf Course.
Pridgen announced his retirement on Nov. 22, citing the need for a new direction and fresh leadership. He said once he retires, being aware of the newest and latest developments in Opelika is what he will miss most.
“I’m going to miss seeing the new projects that are coming into town, and being able to see them from a plan all the way to actual implementation … and knowing that I had some little piece in guiding the development, not necessarily bringing it in, but helping to make sure it’s a quality product for the citizens of Opelika,” Pridgen said.
Pridgen’s involvement with the planning commission began through his time working in his family business and later as a citizen chairman for Opelika’s comprehensive plan in the 90s.
In 1995, he was named a member of the board, and immersed himself into this role by reading and observing other members.
Pridgen currently works for Wilson Investment Group (WIG) in Auburn and has been involved with organizations like Envision Opelika and the Community Foundation of East Alabama.
In January 2015, following the passage of Opelika’s newest comprehensive plan, Pridgen underwent an operation to install a heart catheter.
Following the procedure, he was told by doctors that his main artery was 100-percent clogged, and two others were severely clogged.
“They told me that it was a miracle for me to be alive and walking around,” Pridgen said.
He decided to step away from Envision and the CFEA shortly after, and knew that eventually, he would have to step away from the planning commission too. Leaving in November was not an easy decision, but Pridgen said he knew that it was the right decision to make.
“I went to the mayor in September and just told him, with a new director coming in in January, that maybe it’d be good for some new blood.
Pridgen said his plans are to continue working for WIG, and spend more time with his wife of 30 years, Carol, and their two sons Trace and Cade.
After seeing so much positive growth and development in his time of working for the city, Pridgen said his future outlook is bright, but believes that in order for growth to continue, Opelika’s housing will be a vital factor.
“I think the biggest shortfall in Opelika is the housing inventory. If we can have a solid group of developers to come in and build middle to upper-middle housing, and build quality neighborhoods, then I think the growth of Opelika can be unprecedented,” Pridgen said. “I think we’re in positions with a lot of the new industries the economic development group has brought in, and they’re high quality companies with high quality salaries. But, if they don’t have a place to put their families in a nice, high quality neighborhood, that forces them to move out of town. If we can have some more growth in the housing area, I think Opelika will be able to go forward with a great plan for the future.”