BY KENDYL HOLLINGSWORTH
More than 200 representatives from communities across Alabama flocked to Opelika in August for Main Street Alabama’s annual LAB conference. After three days of workshops and six Awards of Excellence, Opelika Main Street Executive Director Ken Ward said he is ready to keep Opelika moving forward.
“I’ve been here [with Opelika Main Street] since 2019,” he said. “I think our downtown’s continuing to grow and to mature. We’re continuing to get a lot more diversity in the types of businesses and the types of developments we’re seeing here in our downtown, which is a good thing, and that’s showing that downtown’s continuously growing and enhancing.
“That’s what it’s all about, is trying to make sure you’re preserving your past but also accommodating for new, innovative growth as well.”
Ward said this year is the first time Opelika has hosted the statewide conference. And it was a success: Opelika earned the most awards of any Main Street community and received plenty of positive feedback from visitors.
“We were really honored to be able to receive the most awards of any of the Main Street communities this year, and it’s just another testament to the great success downtown’s experiencing — not only through our businesses and the developers, but also through the strength of our local Main Street program,” Ward said. “We have been able to accomplish a lot, and that is a testament to the leadership of our committees, our board, our staff and then also our various community partners as well.”
Ward credited the city of Opelika for its continuous support, a common theme he has noticed in the community. Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller also proclaimed the week of the conference “Main Street Alabama Week.”
Some of the topics covered at the conference included placemaking, historic preservation, working with developers and more, with insight from several guest speakers.
Ward said he enjoyed hearing what other communities are doing, but also showcasing what Opelika is doing. Long lunch breaks each day gave visitors extra time to explore all downtown has to offer.
“It’s a great opportunity to not only really show the state how great downtown Opelika is and how much we’ve moved forward over the past several years, but it’s also a good opportunity for us to be able to share some of our success stories so that other communities can emulate it,” Ward said. “… It’s one of the benefits of one of these conferences because it’s a great way to network with people from around the state and share ideas and share success stories, and share what works and what doesn’t work so that we can kind of all continuously work to improve our respective communities.”
In the near future, Ward is looking forward to implementing a giant chess and checkers set — thanks to an AARP grant — and hosting On the Tracks Oct. 21. This fall, the new downtown resource center will also open on South 8th Street.
The center will provide an incubator space for businesses in need, an office meeting space and public restrooms.
“The front incubator portion will host Southern Crossing as they continue to rebuild at their existing spot, so this is another example of a way that Main Street will continue to foster entrepreneurial growth in our downtown and help businesses that might have experienced an unexpected hardship or things of that nature,” Ward explained.
“We’re really blessed in this community to have such great supporters of downtown, and we’re looking forward to seeing these businesses continue to grow and build back stronger in the year ahead.”