Derailed depot project leaves chamber hanging

Published 1:05 am Friday, July 8, 2016

When the Opp City Council voted Tuesday night to reject its long-planned depot renovation project, it left the face of the city without a new home.

As part of the L&N Depot renovation project, the Opp and Covington County Chamber of Commerce was to get a new office, putting it right in the heart of downtown Opp.

Currently, the Chamber of Commerce is housed in the office space above the Opp Fire Department on East Ida Avenue.

It’s no secret in town that the building leaks when it rains and needs renovations for sure.

The city council has already pledged to upgrade the fire department with money from the recent bond refinancing.

Emilee Gage of the chamber said that she arrived at the chamber in 2009, and even before her arrival, the depot plans were already set for the chamber offices to be relocated to the depot once the restoration project was completed.

Gage said the chamber serves as the welcome center for the city of Opp.

“People would be surprised at how many people stop by who are from out of town to learn about our town and Frank Jackson State Park,” she said. “People come here just for the name. They’ll say, ‘We saw the Opp sign and it was unique. We wanted to check it out.’ ”

Gage is a known traveler.

“Throughout my travels, I’ve been through big and small cities and have seen historic buildings restored for the community and visitors to enjoy,” she said. “It’s always nice.”

While the chamber is a non-profit organization, it partners with the city on a number of projects to promote Opp, including the Rattlesnake Rodeo.

Covington County Economic Development Commission Rick Clifton said that aesthetics play a vital role in his bid to draw new industry.

“I’ve heard it said, ‘pretty counts,’” he said. “And I believe that is true. Having an attractive way to bring prospects into town is a big plus. It sounds almost contrite but first impression are important. Sometimes you never recover if a prospect forms a negative first impression.”

Clifton said a lot is said about your community when you look at how you maintain your town.

“It says that you are proud of your town and want to be a part of it,” he said. “Few want to come into a place that is falling down. Aesthetics show progress and a vibrant community and is vitally important in marketing a community. It makes my job a lot easier.”

The city was to fund part of the project with $400,000 in funding from the Transportation Alternative Program in an 80/20 split match, with the city paying 20 percent.

The the low bid on the project was $812,000.

On Tuesday night, council members Bobby Ray Owens, TD Morgan and Mary Brundidge voted against the project.