The city of Opelika has been growing over the last decade, and that shows no signs of slowing down.
The city’s downtown district has welcomed a number of restaurants, shops and businesses that are giving new life to old storefronts.
That’s happening, in part, because City Engineer Matt Mosley and his department have worked with Opelika Main Street to get people into those downtown properties.
Ken Ward, executive director of Opelika Main Street, said businesses looking for several things when considering downtown Opelika as a potential location.
“The design of a business, both inside and out, helps separate them from other similar ones — helping to drive more foot traffic and return visitors,” he said.
Location, Ward added, is also important, and owners should make sure the location of their business will give them “the most bang for their buck.”
Each downtown business, regardless of industry, maintains somewhat of a uniform aesthetic to preserve the historic elements of the area.
Opelika Main Street helps business owners to maintain and preserve their storefronts.
Community block grant funds are a common tool.
“People can apply for a matching facade grant for the downtown building so that, if they need to have some work done on the store front of the building, the city will match the funds (up to $7,000) to kind of help them repair the building, put up new awnings,” Mosley said.
Branching out from downtown, there are still a number of abandoned buildings in the area that the city wants to address.
Mosley explained that old buildings and homes simply being unoccupied doesn’t give the city the right or cause to demolish it or have the land cleared. If there are concerns over the safety of a building and complaints are raised, then it will be inspected to see if it is up to code.
If it isn’t in code compliance, the city begins the process of finding and alerting the owner that the building must be brought up to code. Titles have to be found to identify the owner, and sometimes they find that the property has changed hands during the search. If the owner fails to make the necessary improvements, the city steps in to have the property demolished and the costs are charged to the owner.
Mosley said the city has averaged about 225 to 250 single-family homes being built per year over the past five years. Some subdivision developments are finishing out new phases, commonly with 50 to 100 lots.
“Hidden Lakes (near the Sportsplex) and Wyndham (near Gateway Drive) are both large master-plan communities, so that means there will be multiple phases probably spread over five to10 years,” Mosley said.
Closer to downtown, the Southside Opelika development along South Eighth Street will have cottage-style homes to maintain the architectural aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood. \A number of new homes have been built in and around downtown Opelika in the Jeter area as well.
In addition to economic and residential development, the city has also taken great strides in tackling infrastructure. There have been numerous road projects including repaving, along with repairing and building sidewalks in different areas around the city.
The City Council also approved a proposal this week from an engineering firm to develop a master plan of pedestrian and cycling paths that spread through the city.
Thanks to a grant from the state Department of Transportation, the city will only be responsible for 20 percent of the project’s $150,000 cost.
The city has also taken great care in making sure it’s accessible for everyone.
Last February, the city welcomed Kevin Rice as its ADA coordinator and has since then adopted a five-year plan to be completely ADA compliant.
The city’s hopes to be able to meet compliance requirements in three years, Mosley said.
Mayor Gary Fuller also unveiled even more development news this week. He announced a new innovative technology business development located between Veterans and Waverly Parkway along Highway 280.
The area being classified as an opportunity zone, accompanied by incentives from the local, state and even federal government levels, would make it so that both the businesses that move there and the city of Opelika benefit economically.
“The (Opelika Innovation and Technology Park) will be a catalyst to help generate, attract and retain companies focused on the creation of new and innovative technologies,” Fuller said in a news release for the announcement. “OITP will not only be a place for the creation of great jobs, but will be a place that will provide connectivity to drive growth in our city and throughout the region.”