Richard Patton envisions the buildings along North Railroad Avenue as downtown Opelika’s haven for creativity and artistry, a place where virtuosos could live and work.
Patton, the former owner of Eighth & Rail, is in the planning stages of converting the street’s old cotton warehouses into a music venue and studio space for artists. Playing on the location’s historical use, the development will be called the Cotton District.
“In the whole district, there will be living spaces, artist studios, restaurant/bar space,” Patton said. “We’re trying to work on a possible rehearsal music studio area for musicians and some things like that, too.”
To gauge community interest and drum up support for the development, an arts and music event dubbed the Railyard will be held Saturday on North Railroad Avenue.
The Railyard will feature work by local artists Conan Scanlan, Jonathan Simon and Iain Stewart. Musical entertainment planned for the event includes local band My Two Wings as well as Southern acts Megan Jean and the KFB and Harrison Hudson.
“This is really Richard’s brainchild,” said Stewart, an Opelika resident. “But we’re just hoping for a real mix of people from the area. We’re looking forward to seeing what the result is, I suppose.”
Stewart, a watercolor artist, said about 150 pieces of art will be on display at the Railyard.
Patton sees the development of the Cotton District as a yearlong process, but that timeline could be extended because of the many moving parts in the planning phase.
While Eighth & Rail was a popular nightspot for locals before it closed, Patton doesn’t see the Cotton District’s proposed music venue fitting the same mold.
“It will be more of a concert-venue style than just an open-every-night bar-type venue,” Patton said. “It will be more focused on the music side, and we’ll be able to do some bigger shows, some bigger names. Plus, of course, we also want to keep in touch with the community and … kind of show off local talent also.”
The warehouse being used for Saturday’s Railyard event is one of three being considered for the permanent music venue, Patton said.
Pam Powers-Smith, director of Opelika Main Street, said the Railyard has generated substantial interest, including from people traveling to Opelika from out of town.
She said Patton’s plans for the Cotton District also represent how the city’s historic buildings can be used in unique ways.
“It’s super important to reuse these buildings in general,” Powers-Smith said. “Unfortunately, other towns in the Southeast would demolish them. But we’re lucky that we’ve had people hang on to these warehouses and not do that.”