It’s Cooler in Opelika

If you drive around downtown Opelika, you’ll probably notice that you keep seeing the same green sign over and over. The signs are fairly small and affixed to the outside of old cotton warehouses, empty but not abandoned. You might expect these signs to say something like “Go Away” or “No Trespassing.” Instead, they read: “SPACE FOR ARTISTS CREATIVES START-UPS ENTREPRENEURS.” There is a phone number on the bottom. It belongs to Richard Patton.

There’s more than one way to revitalize a downtown, but it seems like Patton is on the right track, or at least the cool one. Since moving back from Birmingham more than a decade ago, the serial entrepreneur and impresario has steadily helped to breathe new life into Opelika using the arts as his muse and his business base.

“To me, anything you want in a community can come from an arts initiative,” he said.

That’s something he has learned by merely paying attention. Opelika and nearby Auburn have always had strong arts councils, he noted. And Patton has civic mindedness and community building in his blood. His mother served as mayor of Opelika for two terms and recently retired as its Chamber of Commerce president.

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