By Alison James
Opelika is in good shape overall – according to the State of the City address last Friday by Mayor Gary Fuller.
In a special luncheon at the Saugahatchee Country Club, hosted by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, Fuller quickly detailed where the city has been, giving note to the industries that used to define Opelika that have since closed: Diversified Products, Ampex, Uniroyal and the Pepperell mill, among others. But he spent the majority of his address focusing on where the city is and where it is going.
Fuller shared a “20-year snapshot” of the city’s development, painting a picture of growth and success in Opelika by comparing a number of details and figures comprising the state of the city from 1995-2004 with their counterparts in 2005-2014.
Building permits, for example topped at out $1.1 billion in the past 10 years as compared to $543.5 million in the previous 10 years. The budget last year was $104.5 million as compared to $54.5 million the previous 10 years. The sales tax in 2004 was $11.7 million, less than half of last year’s $25.5 million – which came in part, Fuller said, as a result of the 1 percent increase in June 2011 to fund the Opelika High School renovation along with bridge and road projects.
“All of us knew if we didn’t step up, we would not improve the conditions of that high school; and y’all, it was an embarrassment – to go out there when it’s raining, and you see buckets, and you see teachers with mops,” Fuller said. “That’s not Opelika. We can do better than that, and we have done better than that, thanks to that extra 1 cent sales tax.”
In addition to facts and figures, Fuller pointed to the growth of business and industry in Opelika as a mark of success. In the last 10 years, Fuller said 371 new commercial buildings were constructed in Opelika at a cost of $440.7 million. Expansion of existing industry, like Mando, was also highlighted, including Baxter International’s (formerly Gambro) recent $300 million capital investment.
“What a nice compliment to Opelika – our people, our community … that made me swell up with pride,” said Fuller, who nevertheless emphasized that Opelika “can never quit recruiting business and industry.”
Also of notice was the downtown area.
“Old timers tell me downtown Opelika has never looked as good as it looks today, and I think they’re right,” Fuller said, giving credit to earlier administrations and early Opelika Main Street leadership and commending Pam Powers-Smith for her part in making downtown Opelika attractive to residents and visitors alike. Fuller also thanked innovators and entrepreneurs for bringing new life to the city.
Fuller called Tiger Town a “game changer.”
“There is no question Tiger Town has far exceeded our expectations. Today there are about a million square feet of retail out there,” Fuller said.
Calling a number of department heads and city officials by name, Fuller thanked dozens of people for their part in making the city what it is today – from the police department for keeping citizens safe, to the school board for augmenting technical education to promote workforce development, to public works for improvement to roads and resurfacing, to the city council and to local volunteer boards, for their tireless dedication to Opelika.
Of particular significance was the institution of the 1-gig fiber network as part of Opelika Power Services, the only city in Alabama to have such a system.
“If you’re not an OPS customer, you ought to be, especially some of you that called me my first few years in office complaining about Charter,” said Fuller, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd. “Every one of you ought to be on OPS.”
Ultimately, Fuller thanked those in attendance for electing him to “the best job I’ve ever had.”
The Chamber aims to make the State of the City luncheon an annual event in Opelika.