Opelika is a city in and the county seat of Lee County in the east central part of the U.S. state of Alabama. It is a principal city of the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Area. According to 2010 Census, the population of Opelika was 26,477. The Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA with a population of 135,833 which, along with the Columbus, GA-AL MSA and the Tuskegee, AL SA, comprises the greater Columbus-Auburn-Opelika, GA-AL CSA, a region home to approximately 500,000 residents.
The first white settlers in the area now known as Opelika arrived in the late 1830s and established a community called Lebenon. After the removal of the native peoples by force in 1836-37, the area became known as "Opelika", taken from a word in the Muskogee language meaning "large swamp". Settlement was sporadic until the late 1840s, when Opelika quickly became a commercial center with the coming of the railroad.
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, and 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. 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, despite the fact that Opelika was technically unincorporated after having its charter revoked for abetting the rebellion against the United States.
Opelika SportsPlex 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. Soon after receiving the new charter, city officials attempted to scam outside investors by issuing fake railroad bonds. For this, the town's charter was revoked again in 1872, and the town was administered as a police district by the state legislature for the following year. Opelika's downtown was packed with saloons, and frequent gunfire in the streets led to railroads ordering passengers passing through Opelika to duck beneath the windows to avoid being shot.
In 1882, voters dismissed the incumbent city government. Unwilling to give up power, the city council nullified the election until the courts ruled against them. When the state yet again revoked Opelika's charter, the city leaders took up arms against those that opposed them, and the governor was forced to send in the militia to restore order. Opelika remained under unelected military rule for the sixteen years until 1899, when Opelika's charter was again restored.
In 1900, local investors founded the Opelika Cotton Mill as the first textile plant in the city, employing 125. Attempts to expand the textile industry in Opelika continued for the next three decades, and in 1925 city officials were able to use a $62,500 bribe to induce the executives of the Pepperell Manufacturing Co. (now WestPoint International) to construct a large mill just outside of the Opelika city limits. The period between 1930 and 1970 would turn out to be Opelika's heyday as industrial growth turned Opelika into a regional economic powerhouse.
Opelika continued to add factories and other industry throughout the middle years of the 20th century. 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, and around the same time Diversified Products revolutionized the physical fitness equipment industry with products produced their Opelika plant. By the early 1970s, Opelika's industries employed nearly 10,000.
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, peaking in the late 1980s with declining employment since then. This trend appears to be changing, however, as the number of manufacturing jobs has risen steadily since 2002.
In the late 1990s, Opelika sought to increase its industrial employment base by purchasing and developing the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park. The 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 and four tier 1 automotive suppliers and the global leader in the manufacturering and the distribution of dietary supplements, Pharmavite, 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 also experienced a boom in retail development. TigerTown, a mixed-use development, is east Alabama's largest retail center with more than of retail space. Located at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Highway 280 (Exit 58) in Opelika, TigerTown's tenants include The Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, Starbucks Coffee, Olive Garden, Kroger, PETCO, Office Depot, Hibbett Sports, World Market, Hobby Lobby, Kohl's, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Old Navy, to name a few.
Opelika's largest employeer is the state of the art East Alabama Medical Center. Not only is EAMC Opelika's largest employeer, but it is Opelika's largest contributor as well. In 2009, East Alabama Medical Center paid approximately $119 million in salaries and benefits to more that 2,700 employees. East Alabama Medical Center has a simple yet important mission, to provide high quality, compassionate health care.
Historic Downtown Opelika is enjoying a return to the center of life in Opelika following a major renovation project that has restored the buildings and streets into a beautiful revitalized shopping district with a turn of the 19th to 20th century flair. The Opelika Main Street, Inc. program has contributed to the success of Opelika's downtown revitalization. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Downtown Opelika is filled with a variety of quaint specialty shops, galleries, antique stores and restaurants. Properties are still being renovated and a variety of business locations are available.
As industrial and retail growth spur the city forward, the city has seen an increase in its population. Opelika's population stood in 2000 at 23,638, in 2010 Opelika's population stands at 26,617.
Law and government
Opelika is governed by a mayor-council government, with a mayor and a five-member city council.
The chief executive official of the city of Opelika is the mayor. The mayor is elected at-large for a four-year term. The mayor has complete executive power in the city, and can appoint and dismiss department heads at will. The current mayor of Opelika is Gary Fuller.
The Opelika city council is the legislative body of the city. It passes laws and ordinances, and creates city-wide policy. The city council is made up of five members, chosen for four year terms each from one of five districts. Current council members through 2008 are:
- District 1 - Patricia Jones
- District 2 - Larry Gray
- District 3 - Joey Motley
- District 4 - Eddie Smith
- District 5 - David Canon
Recently the city council designated Opelika as a City of Character. The City of Character program is made to recognize, emphasize and in some cases enforce good character throughout the community as well as mandate character training from CharacterFirst!. There are 49 character traits emphasized. These traits were designated by Bill Gothard.
Opelika is located in north-central Lee County, Alabama, and is bordered by Auburn, Alabama 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 .
Opelika is located at .
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , of which, of it is land and of it (1.24%) is water.
Over the past several years, Opelika s economy has shifted away from a traditional basis in textile manufacturing. Since 2004, the city has experienced revitalization in many segments of the economy, including commercial, residential and industrial activity. Capital investment since 2005 has totaled 357.2 million, and more than 1495 new jobs have been created.
Recent projects include Daewon. Daewon's investment here in Opelika totaled $52.5 million dollars, but with a recent expansion of $13 million dollars brings their total investment here in Opelika to $65.5 million. Along with the additional investement of $13 million, they also added 32 more jobs bringing their total number to 240 jobs. Other new, large employers include Gambro Renal Products (a Swedish manufacturer of dialyzers for kidney dialysis). Gambro made the largest single initial investment in Lee County s history of $165.5 million. Our newest addition to the Northeast Industrial Park that is currently under construction is Pharmavite, the global leader and manufacturer of dietary supplements. Pharmavite will provide Opleika and the surrounding area with 280 new jobs with a capital investment of $76.5 million.
The TigerTown retail shopping complex continues to expand its commercial developments with stores like Kohl's, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Home Depot along with many restaurants like Chick-Fil-A, McDonalds, and Olive Garden.
Opelika has received several honors in recent years for its success in attracting new business. In 2004, the city of Opelika's Economic Development Department was named one of the top 10 economic development groups in North America by Site Selection magazine, a national industry trade publication covering corporate real estate management and economic development. Site Selection again recognized the efforts of the Opelika Economic Development Department in its Top Groups 2005 list in the Honorable Mention category.
Opelika is located between the Hyundai-Kia automobile manufacturing facilities with the Kia Motors manufacturing plant about east on I-85 and the Hyundai Motors manufacturing plant about west on I-85/I-65.
In early 2006, the Economic Development Association of Alabama named Opelika the top community in Alabama for business recruitment for the year 2005. Opelika also received the #1 rank in the South as "Small Market of the Year" by Southern Business and Development magazine, a professional publication that helps corporations around the country (and world) in their expansion, relocation and development decisions. The city earned its #1 status through its success in bringing Gambro, Jo-Ann, Maxforma, Benteler and Mando Corporation to the community in 2005.
Opelika is home to a branch of Southern Union State Community College. Southern Union is a two-year community and technical college offering academic, industrial, and health sciences training. Southern Union is the only two-year college in Lee County, and is the largest two-year campus in the region. Southern Union employs 72 full-time and 137 part-time employees. Its enrollment stands at approximately 2,718 in the academic division and 1,600 in the technical division. Current technical programs include: Automotive Technology, Business Management and Supervision, Computer Science, Drafting and Design Technology, Heating and Air Conditioning Technology, Industrial Electricity/Electronics Technology, Industrial Maintenance Technology, Machine Shop Technology, Office Administration, Accounting, General Secretarial, Welding Technology, and Word Processing.
The Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA is also home to Auburn University. Auburn University was founded in 1856 and is one of the largest universities in the South. The university employs nearly 6,000 employers in 2010,and enrolled just over 25,000 students.
Opelika City Schools is the public school system of Opelika. The Opelika City School System consists of eight schools. There are three primary schools serving grades PreK 2, three intermediate schools serving grades 3-5, one middle school (grades 6-8), and one high school, Opelika High School (grades 9-12). An alternative learning center houses a variety of programs including a 6-12 alternative program, a Mental Health Association day treatment classroom, the Choices Program for teen moms, and a Dental Clinic.
Beginning with PreK, students in Opelika City Schools are offered a challenging and diverse curriculum. Individual student needs are met through grade level curriculum, intervention and remediation classes, as well as enrichment and accelerated courses. All students have ample opportunities for fine arts instruction as well as many extracurricular choices. Classrooms have fully integrated technology systems that include laptops, tablets, mounted projectors, Promethean boards, ActivSlates and Elmo document cameras. There are also several sets of ActivVotes and ActivExpressions available for teacher/student use. Opelika City Schools employ highly qualified teachers trained in the latest instructional techniques including the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI), Transforming East Alabama Mathematics (TEAM-Math), Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), and Science in Motion.
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. 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.
Opelika is also home to Saugahatchee Country Club. This private member country club has everything one could ask for. Some of Saugahatchee Country Clubs's wonderful features include a 18 holes of golf, practice facilities, a swimming pool, fitness center, lighted tennis courts, formal and casual dining facilities, two bars, and a ballroom that will seat 200 diners.
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 dollar, 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.
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/km ). There were 11,751 housing units at an average density of 199.1 per square mile (76.8/km ). 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.
Opelika is served by the Columbus, Georgia Designated Market Area (DMA). Charter Communications provides cable television service. DirecTV and Dish Network provide direct broadcast satellite television including both local and national channels to area residents.
Opelika Power Services is currently building a fiber to the user system that will provide citizens, businesses and other industries with internet speed of up to 150 meg, voice and video services and will enhance to deployment of smart grid services.
Notable people from Opelika
Roger Brown American artist who was a member of the Chicago Imagists.
Brad Cotter country music singer
William Louis Dickinson U.S. Congressman from 1965 to 1993
Will Herring current NFL player who plays linebacker for the New Orleans Saints.
Lardarius Webb current NFL player who plays cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens
C. Blake Hess - Indie guitarist and drummer
Billy Hitchcock former Atlanta Braves manager
- Colonel Robert L. Howard soldier of the U.S. Army, Medal of Honor recipient.
- Brad Hurst- Founder of HOSS Records, an independent record label for experimental sounds based out of Brooklyn and Washington DC
T.J. Jackson former NFL player
Greg Taylor Former NFL player
Tommie Agee- former NFL Player
Fob James - Former Alabama Governor
- Jeff Lewis - Former drummer of Spooky Dawn, Lie Awake, TCC, Victory World and Ricardo Sanchez
Roy Lee Jackson former Major League baseball player
- Rod Lindsey - Former Major League baseball player
- Jimmy Stewart - Former Major League baseball player
David Brandon McGinty, strategy advisor to multinational NGOs and social enterprises at H14 Development Group and World Vision; Professor of Nonprofit Law at Villanova University 
John Herbert Orr - Founder of Orradio, Ampex Tape which produced the first commercially available audio tape, video tape, and computer tape in the world
Rob Penny playwright
William J. Samford - Former Alabama Governor
Brian Smith Former NFL player who played defensive end for the Denver Broncos in the early 1990s.
Lee W. Smith diplomat, U.S. State Department
Erick Strickland Former NBA player
- Bradley R. Sturz, Ph.D. - Experimental Psychology (Spatial Learning, Memory, & Cognition), Professor of Psychology at Georgia Southern University, and Brenda A. Milner Award 
Clement Clay Torbert, Jr. - Twenty-fifth Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from 1977 through 1989.
Joe Thomas Platinum R&B Recording Artist
James Voss NASA astronaut
Opelika in film
Opelika in music
The Pine Hill Haints have a song called "Opelika Train" which appears on their debut LP, God, the Devil and the Two by the Gate
Opelika in literature
- Caroline Ivey's characters visit Opelika in her novel Family.
- August Wilson's character, Citizen Barlow, from the play "Gem of the Ocean" is from "down around Opelika."
File:Lee County Courthouse Alabama (2).jpg|The Lee County Courthouse is located in Opelika. File:Opelika City Hall.jpg|Opelika City Hall File:New Chamber.jpg|Opelika Chamber of Commerce File:Opelika Alabama Post Office.JPG|Opelika Post Office (ZIP Code: 36801) File:Lewis Cooper Jr Memorial Library Opelika Alabama.JPG|The Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library File:Southern Union SCC Opelika Campus.jpg|Southern Union State Community College Opelika Campus File:Opelika Alabama Board of Education.JPG|Opelika City Schools Board of Education File:Opelika High School.JPG|Opelika High School File:Opelika Middle School.JPG|Opelika Middle School File:Morris Avenue Intermediate School Opelika Alabama.JPG|Morris Avenue Intermediate School File:Northside Intermediate School Opelika Alabama.JPG|Northside Intermediate School File:West Forest Intermediate School Opelika Alabama.jpg|West Forest Intermediate School File:Carver Primary School Opelika Alabama.JPG|Carver Primary School File:Jeter Primary School Opelika Alabama.JPG|Jeter Primary School File:Southview Primary School Opelika Alabama.JPG|Southview Primary School File:Salem-ShotwellCB.jpg|The reconstructed Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge is located in Opelika Municipal Park. File:Spring Villa in Opelika Alabama.JPG|Spring Villa was built in 1850 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. File:George W Andrews Federal Building Opelika Alabama.JPG|The George W. Andrews Federal Building was originally constructed as a post office in 1915. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. File:Dr JW Darden House Opelika Alabama.JPG|The Dr. J.W. Darden House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. File:Railroad Avenue Historic District Opelika Alabama.JPG|The Railroad Avenue Historic Distric was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. File:Geneva Street Historic District Opelika Alabama.JPG|The Geneva Street Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. File:Northside Historic District Opelika Alabama.JPG|The Northside Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. File:Mando Corporation Opelika, Alabama.jpg|Mando Corporation was recruited to Opelika in 2005. File:Opelika Mando.jpg|Mando Expansion File:Daewon.jpg|Daewon File:Gambro.jpg|Gambro Renal Products
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- 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.
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