Sticker price of depot wasn’t surprise

Published 12:53 am Saturday, July 16, 2016

If anyone believes in being frugal, it’s me.

I think it’s a combination of my parents trying to support three children off of small salaries my entire life; my grandmother taking me grocery shopping since I was a child and seeing her stretch the budget every week to feed a family of seven; and most recently being a single mom trying to better my family’s life.

I think being responsible with your money whether, it’s a home, a business, or even taxpayer’s money is something we should all strive to accomplish.

And it’s true that sometimes you have to make larger investments to reap even larger benefits.

Sometimes you have to take gambles to complete a vision.

It’s no secret that Opp is struggling to find its footing. The mills left town and the community hasn’t fully recovered from that.

I came to Andalusia at the beginning of 2010. Since then, my beat has been to cover all things Opp. I’ve gotten to know people from all over the community and every person I’ve talked to has one goal in mind and that is to restore the town to prosperity.

Baby steps have been made over the last two years. I can’t say what the reasons are but a Made in Alabama report showed two years in a row that majority of industry coming to Covington County was going to Opp.

In 2014, American Apparel added back 80 new jobs, Global Aerospace added 20 new jobs, as well.

And in 2015, MFG added 50 jobs.

When I came to Andalusia, two months in I sat through a meeting with Scott Farmer from the Southeast Regional Planning Commission. There was excitement in the air.

A massive downtown revitalization plan was under way complete with new sidewalks, new lighting, four-way stops and different parking.

The plan came to fruition after a broad section of the townspeople put their heads together to take a step toward moving Opp forward.

The plan called for renovating the L&N Depot – a historic building in the heart of the City of Opportunity, and included plans for a boulevard on Main Street.

As part of the Depot project, plans were to move the Chamber of Commerce to the depot and make it a welcome center.

I visit the Chamber on most of trips to Opp during the day and it’s a busy place. People come in and out looking for answers about the city. So, it makes sense to have a beautiful location for a place that represents the city.

Beautification is vital to cities. Many may think it’s just another option, but it’s important to the economy.

The Knight Foundation conducted research titled “Soul of the Community” in which it found three main qualities that attach people to a city.

• Beautification helps you hang onto tax-paying talent. Things such as entertainment, how welcoming the place appears and the area’s aesthetics are crucial.

• The more beautiful your city, the higher your city’s GDP.

• Beautification is a strong driver for tourism.

Last week, the Opp City Council rejected bids in a 3-2 vote on the depot project. The low bid was just over $812,000. The city has received a $400,000 80-20 funding grant to help pay for the renovations.

Specialized pieces to keep the historical value have driven the costs up, but that’s not a new discovery. We reported that replacement pieces for the depot would be costly, as far back as the last administration.

Twice, we’ve reported that the estimate for the depot was more than $700,000 – once in 2013 and once in 2015. Three years have passed since the first time we reported the estimate. Council members were aware of the estimates.

I certainly understand wanting to be conservative with taxpayers’ money, but what happens when you don’t have any residents left to pay taxes?

Opp is in a crucial stage in its economic future. The depot project is one that people across political lines want.

If people want to see Opp grow, they have to make investments that will draw people’s eyes to the City of Opportunity. First impressions are everything. If the Chamber of Commerce is the face of the town, it also needs a place that is warm and inviting.

Sometimes you have to have growing pains before you actually grow.