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Opelika, Alabama
City
Downtown Opelika
Downtown Opelika
Motto: "Rich in Heritage With a Vision for the Future"
Location in Lee County in the state of Alabama
Location in Lee County in the state of Alabama
Country United States
State Alabama
County Lee
Area
 • City 59 sq mi (152.8 km2)
 • Land 58.3 sq mi (151 km2)
 • Water 0.7 sq mi (1.8 km2)
Elevation 807 ft (246 m)
Population (2013)
 • City 28,635
 • Density 448.8/sq mi (173.2/km2)
 • Metro 150,933
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 36801-36804
Area code(s) 334
FIPS code 01-57048
GNIS feature ID 0152814

Opelika (pronounced |ˌoʊ pəˈlaɪ kə|) is a city in and the county seat of Lee County in the east central part of the State of Alabama. It is a principal city of the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Area. According to the 2013 Census Estimate, the population of Opelika was 28,635. The Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA with a population of 150,933 which, along with the Columbus, Georgia metropolitan area and Macon County, Alabama, comprises the greater Greater Columbus, Georgia, a region home to 501,649 residents.

History

The first white settlers in the area now known as Opelika arrived in the late 1830s and established a community called Lebanon. After the removal of the native Creek (Muscogee) peoples by federal troops in 1836-37, the area became known as "Opelika." This word taken from the Muskogee language means "large swamp". Settlement was sporadic until the late 1840s, when the railroad reached the town. This stimulated development of Opelika as a commercial center.

In 1848, the Montgomery & West Point Railroad Company extended a rail line from Montgomery, Alabama to Opelika, and in 1851 completed a connection to West Point, Georgia, thus connecting Opelika with Atlanta, Georgia. This line was the only direct rail route between New Orleans and the Eastern Seaboard. It rapidly became one of the primary trade lines for shipments of raw cotton from Southern plantations to the North. The Montgomery & West Point was soon joined by a rail connection to Columbus, Georgia in 1855, and a connection to Birmingham, Alabama in 1869. Almost overnight, Opelika became a regional hub for commerce.

To manage this rapid growth, Opelika was incorporated as a town on February 9, 1854, then within Russell County. As a result of Opelika's transportation infrastructure, many warehouses for storing cotton and other goods were built. With the onset of the Civil War these warehouses were converted to Confederate supply depots. In 1864 and 1865, Union raids commanded by Lovell Rousseau and James H. Wilson attacked Opelika, tearing up the railroads and destroying all government property, including Opelika's warehouses.

Soon after the end of the war, the Alabama state legislature created a new county out of parts of Macon, Russell, Chambers, and Tallapoosa counties to be named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee. In 1866, citizens of the new "Lee County" voted Opelika as the county seat. The town was technically unincorporated after having its charter revoked for abetting the rebellion against the United States.

After Opelika received a new charter in 1870, rapid growth resumed. The town nearly doubled in size between 1870 and 1900. During this time, Opelika began to gain a reputation as a wild, lawless town..

Opelika's downtown was packed with saloons catering to railroad workers and other men. Frequent gunfire in the street by intoxicated patrons resulted in railroads directing their passengers to duck beneath the windows when their trains passed through the town.

In 1882, two factions claimed to rule the city government, one known as the "Bar room" headed by Mayor Dunbar, a saloon keeper, and another known as the "Citizens". There was a riot in late November-December of that year, in which a dozen men were wounded. In the end a couple were killed. The Citizens had claimed control of the city via the elections, but Dunbar refused to give up. After continued violence, the state legislature revoked the city's charter and the governor sent in the militia to restore order. The legislature appointed five commissioners to manage the city,a situation that continued until 1899. That year the legislature restored the city's charter.

1900 to present

In 1900, local investors founded the Opelika Cotton Mill as the first textile plant in the city, employing 125. The city was located on the Fall Line of the Piedmont, where factories were established to take advantage of water power. Attempts to expand the textile industry in Opelika continued for the next three decades. In 1925 city officials used a $62,500 bribe to induce executives of the Pepperell Manufacturing Co. (now WestPoint Home) to construct a large mill just outside the city limits. From 1930 to 1970, Opelika continued industrialization, becoming a regional economic powerhouse.

In the 1950s, Opelika attracted the nation's first and largest magnetic tape manufacturing plant. In 1963, tire manufacturer Uniroyal constructed a massive plant in Opelika. Around the same time Diversified Products revolutionized the physical fitness equipment industry with products produced in their Opelika plant. By the early 1970s, Opelika's industries employed nearly 10,000 people.

Between the late 1970s and 2005, non-agricultural employment in the Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA grew at a slow and steady pace. Of the goods-producing industries, the metropolitan area has experienced the most change in manufacturing, which peaked in employment in the late 1980s. As many jobs moved offshore, employment declined. But this trend appears to be changing, as the number of manufacturing jobs has risen steadily since 2002.

In the late 1990s, Opelika purchased and developed the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park to increase its base. The 2,200-acre (8.9 km2) park site was purchased with funds from two bond issues, commonly called the 1998A and 1998B issues, totaling $10,280,000. Additional expenditures involved in constructing the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park included $4.3 million transferred from the City's general fund to the Opelika Industrial Development Authority (OIDA) between 1997 and 2000, a $1.9 million federal industrial park access road grant, $2.5 million from Opelika Water Works Board and the City of Opelika to sewer and water the park, $12.1 million from the Alabama Department of Transportation to construct an interchange. Additional expenditures were made by Tallapoosa Electric Cooperative for an electrical substation and by the OIDA for building construction for park tenants. Final expenditures for the land and development of the park totaled approximately $32 million. Since 1999, two major distribution centers, four tier-1 automotive suppliers and most recently Pharmavite, the global leader in the manufacturing and distribution of dietary supplements, have located within the park. The site has also attracted serious interest from automakers Audi, Nissan, and Hyundai. In the summer of 2003, the park was recognized as one of the "South's Best Automotive Assembly Plant Sites" by Southern Business & Development, an industry trade publication.

Opelika has had a related boom in retail development. TigerTown, a 130-acre (0.53 km2) mixed-use development, is east Alabama's largest retail center with more than 1,000,000 sq ft (93,000 m2) of retail space. Located at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Highway 280 (Exit 58) in Opelika and home to more than 70 businesses, TigerTown's tenants include The Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, Starbucks, Olive Garden, Kroger, PETCO, Office Depot, Dick's Sporting Goods, World Market, Hobby Lobby, Kohl's, Bed Bath & Beyond, T.J. Maxx, Kroger, Old Navy,and more.

Opelika's largest employer is the East Alabama Medical Center, which paid approximately $119 million in salaries and benefits to more than 2,700 employees in 2009.

Historic Downtown Opelika has had an urban design revitalization in association with the national Main Street, Inc. program. With a compact historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Downtown Opelika has attracted a variety of specialty shops, galleries, antique stores and restaurants.

With industrial and retail growth has come an increase in population. From 2000 to 2010, Opelika grew from 23,638 to 26,617.

Geography

Opelika is located in north-central Lee County, and is bordered by Auburn to the west. Opelika lies in the southern reaches of the Piedmont Plateau, and straddles the divide between the Tallapoosa and the Chattahoochee river watersheds. Opelika has an elevation of 812 feet (247 m).

Opelika is located at 32°38′50″N 85°23′22″W / 32.647183°N 85.389404°W / 32.647183; -85.389404.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 53.4 square miles (138 km2), of which 52.8 square miles (137 km2) is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km2) (1.24%) is water.

Recreation

In August 2005, the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Statistical Area was named by Golf Digest as the #1 area for golf in the United States. One part of the reason this area received this ranking is that Opelika is home to Robert Trent Jones Grand National. The site for the course, which hugs the edge of Lake Saugahatchee in Opelika's northwest, was described by Jones as the "single greatest" site for a golf complex that he had ever seen. The course, which is considered to be the jewel of Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, has hosted a number of national tournaments, including the 1997 Nike Tour championship, the 1998 LPGA Tournament of Champions, and the 2000 NCAA Men's Division 1 National Championship. Robert Trent Jones Grand National also served as the tournament host for the first PGA Tour tournament in Alabama since 1990, the Barbasol Championship, held the same week as The Open Championship. Another reason that the Auburn-Opelika MSA was named the #1 area for golf in the United States was for the local public golf courses like Indian Pines Golf Course here in Opelika. Indian Pines Golf Course is an 18-hole public golf course that has a par 71 course with summer Bermuda grass and a bentgrass/ryegrass mix in the winter.

The Alabama Recreation and Parks Association awarded the Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatics Center the 2010 Facility of the Year Award for cities with populations of 15,001 people or more.

The City of Opelika was honored by the Alabama League of Municipalities at the Statewide conference in May, 2010. At that conference the League presented the City of Opelika with the 2010 "Municipal Quality of Life Award" for the city's new Sportsplex & Aquatics Center. In their remarks, league leaders noted "Your exemplary program demonstrates a strong commitment to improving the quality of life in the City of Opelika...your program exhibits the type of innovation that the National League of Cities is looking to recognize." This $32 million, 75,000-square-foot (7,000 m2) complex is the largest project ever undertaken by the City of Opelika in its 155-year history, representing the first-ever public-private partnership, with businesses, corporations and private individuals. The idea began with a survey that was conducted in the early 2000s (decade) that concluded that the citizens of Opelika wanted a “family oriented” facility that would offer a wide variety of activities where everyone could have fun together. The city’s governing body set out to make the dream a reality, and soon resolutions were passed by the city council authorizing the city to move forward with the plans. On February 21, 2008, after years of preparation and fundraising, groundbreaking ceremonies were held. On August 31, 2009 – on schedule and on budget – Opelika’s new state-of-the-art Sportsplex & Aquatics Center opened its doors to the public.

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 3,245
1890 3,703 14.1%
1900 4,245 14.6%
1910 4,734 11.5%
1920 4,960 4.8%
1930 6,156 24.1%
1940 8,487 37.9%
1950 12,295 44.9%
1960 15,678 27.5%
1970 19,027 21.4%
1980 21,896 15.1%
1990 22,122 1.0%
2000 23,498 6.2%
2010 26,477 12.7%
Est. 2015 29,527 11.5%
U.S. Decennial Census
2013 Estimate

According to the 2010 Census (SF1, 100% data), there were 26,477 people, 10,523 occupied housing units (households), and 7,078 family households residing in the city. Of the 10,523 occupied housing units, 6,586 (62.6%) are owner-occupied and 3,937 (37.4%) are renter-occupied. The population density was 448.7 people per square mile (173.2/km²). There were 11,751 housing units at an average density of 199.1 per square mile (76.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 50.6% White, 43.5% Black, 4.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino, 1.7% Asian, and 1.3% two or more races.

There were 10,523 occupied housing units (households) out of which 64% (6,731) had a child under the age of 18 living with them, 45.2% were married couples living together, 20.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.7% were non-families. 28.2% of all households were made up of one person households, and 5.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.46 and the average family size was 3.02.

Of the total population (26,477), 27.9% are 19 years old or younger, 13.4% are 20 to 29 years old, 26.9% are 30 to 49 years old, 22.6% are 50 to 69 years old, and 8.3% are 70 years old or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 87.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.9 males. According to 2009 Census estimates, the median income for a household in the city was $35,243, and the median income for a family was $47,864.

Gallery

  • Alabama State Department of Education. Accountability Reporting. Retrieved June 13, 2004.
  • Alabama State Department of Education. Reports. Retrieved October 5, 2006.
  • Auburn, Alabama, City of. (2000) The City of Auburn, Alabama Comprehensive Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ended September 30, 2000. Finance Department.
  • Auburn, Alabama, City of. (2000) The City of Auburn Proposed Biennial Budget for FY 05 & FY 06 Budget Message. Office of the City Manager.
  • Center for Demographic Research, Auburn University - Montgomery. U.S. Census Reports for Opelika City for the years 1950, 1960, 1970, and 1980.
  • Conway Data. (May 2004). Top Groups of 2003. Retrieved on October 14, 2006 from http://www.conway.com/cdi/press/040428apr.htm. Also available in Site Selection magazine (May 2004).
  • Department of Industrial Relations, State of Alabama. (1978–2005). Total Nonagricultural Employment for Lee County. Montgomery, Alabama: Author.
  • Duran, Rachel (2003). "Automotive Industry in the Driver's Seat", Global Corporate Xpansion, July 1, 2003. Birmingham Ala., Latitude 3 Media Group.
  • EDAA Newsletter (Fall 2006). EDAA/SEDC Community Awards Presented at Conference. Economic Development Council of Alabama. Retrieved on October 14, 2006 from http://www.edaa.org/newsletter.aspx.
  • Golf Digest, August 2005 Vol.56, No. 8
  • Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Inc. (1999). Strategic Plan for the City of Opelika.
  • Nunn, Alexander (Ed.) (1983). Lee County and Her Forebears. Montgomery, Ala., Herff Jones. LCCCN 83-081693
  • Opelika, Alabama, City of. (2005). Comprehensive Plan for the City of Opelika. Opelika, Alabama. Opelika Planning Department.
  • Opelika, Alabama, City of. (2005). Financial Statements for the Fiscal Year ended September 30, 2005. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  • Opelika, Alabama, City of. (2005). Our City Council Members. Retrieved August 9, 2005.
  • Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. (Summer 2005). Alabama Reading Test Results Show Overall Improvements from 2004 to 2005, but School System Results Vary. The PARCA Quarterly, 3-7.
  • Randle, Mike. (Spring 2006). Top Deals & Hot Markets 2006: Alabama and North Carolina: Performing Economic Miracles. Southern Business and Development Magazine. Retrieved on October 14, 2006 from http://www.sb-d.com/issues/Spring2006/features/sbd100TopDeals.asp.
  • Site Selection online. (May 2006). Top Groups 2005. Retrieved on October 14, 2006 from http://www.siteselection.com/issues/2006/may/topGroups/. Also available in Site Selection magazine (May 2006).
  • Jake Hess, New York Times Obituaries, Jan 11, 2004.
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