1 year ago

How Opelika became Alabama’s gold standard for small-town downtown revitalization

You know the place – a dominant courthouse, a few oak trees, a park and a few businesses with storefronts along a sidewalk that is sheltered by awnings. Perhaps there is a post office, two or three churches, a museum or a library. Throw in a handful of offices, a diner or a coffee shop, and you have a small town downtown district.

They are scattered all throughout Alabama and serve as the primary junction in places like Eufaula, Ozark, Demopolis, Winfield, and Cullman. Some are weathering hard times as commerce has shifted beyond downtown to lower cost outposts along the highways—like the Walmart Supercenter or malls with Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Welcome to Opelika

In East Central Alabama’s Lee County, the city of Opelika is reversing that trend and making downtown the place to be. Opelika, a city with a population pushing 30,000, has a traditional, small-town Alabama downtown, but with a railroad corridor and two adjacent avenues at its northern boundary.

Opelika is often overshadowed by its sister city Auburn to the west with its well-known university and status as a destination during college football season. But with an economy that has benefitted from the presence of nearby Auburn University, Opelika has started a different trend and is growing from within by revitalizing its downtown.

(Image: First Baptist Church in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Long-time Opelika resident Glenn Buxton, a 50-year veteran of the radio business who now serves as the director of the local museum, explains how Opelika resurgence has become noticeable in just the last several years.

“Even as late as 2010, there was nothing going on downtown until they started revitalizing the downtown restaurants,” he said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “Now, there are people living downtown. You got all the restaurants. The parking lots are filled all the way up to where we are even at night. You have a lot of activities going on.”

“From 2009 back, you could take a rock and throw it down that street and not hit anybody,” Buxton added. “And of course, a lot of the stores were in bad shape.”

After 5 p.m. on weekdays and the entire weekend, activity ceases in many a downtown. After working hours, people migrate out to their homes on the edge of town, out in the country and away from the blocks surrounding the courthouse square.

That trend had reversed for Opelika. While many of its establishments close shop after business hours, there are also businesses that start the day around the same time. Restaurants, bars, a brewery and now a distillery maintain the downtown’s pulse late into the night hours.

(Image: 1929 Western Railway of Alabama, Opelika Map — University of Alabama map archives)

A decades-long process

Getting to this point was a gradual process that goes back decades. Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller estimates the first steps took place under his predecessor former Mayor Bobby Freeman in the mid-1990s. Freeman’s successor Mayor Barbara Patton continued the effort, and the transformation is still taking place today.

“Toward the end of [Freeman’s] term, we started our first streetscape project,” Fuller explained to Yellowhammer News. “It was Courthouse Square, where the fountain is. Then we did some other streetscape downtown. We did a couple of blocks – underground utilities, landscape, new sidewalks. And then when I got here in 2004, we did several more streetscapes projects.”

(Image: Courthouse Square in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

What happened next Fuller suggests was something of an attitude adjustment by the downtown business owners. Initially, he explained the attitude seemed to be the businesses were downtown were something of a hobby for their owners. However, once they realized these businesses could be profitable, things started to change.

“We had some entrepreneurs come in,” he said. “They wanted to make some money. They were motivated by profit. They had a mortgage. They had a car payment. They had children in college. They wanted to make some money, so that changed that business atmosphere. So then, we got these great restaurants.”

The Marsh Collective

Fuller says the Irish Bred Pub, an establishment on the edge of the downtown district by the railroad, sparked his downtown’s resurgence.

The Irish Bred Pub (not to be confused with its franchise in Montgomery on Dexter Avenue that started that downtown’s revitalization) replaced an old drug store. The two-story gastropub has a balcony that wraps around a street corner and has an interior that is outfitted with mahogany to give a classic look.

(Image: Irish Bred Pub in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Fuller credits local developer John Marsh the Irish Bred Pub’s interior and many of the other revitalized elements in Opelika.

Marsh, who Fuller describes as a “young entrepreneur,” is the owner of J Marsh Enterprises, Inc., a company that is in the business of—as Marsh would say—redemptifying historic spaces.

“We’ve done 185-plus houses and buildings and ten blocks, so we’ve dedicated a good portion of the last 20 years to redeeming this small patch of ground,” Marsh said. “I grew up in Opelika. It’s been my home for about 30 years, and we believe there is something powerful about redeeming cities. So we’ve renovated all these downtown buildings and residential houses in an effort to make a difference.

“We believe that when you save historic structures, it makes a generational difference,” he added. “We know that Opelika’s blessed with some great historic structures. In fact, it’s our Mount Rushmore in so many ways. It’s something unique for us to have the type of historic downtown we have with historic districts that are in such beautiful condition.”

Marsh said his 50-year vision for Opelika has opened up other opportunities for his business, which include Stanford, Ky., Winter Haven, Fla., Bloomfield, Ky. and Albany, Ga.

(Image: Ave A at 8th Street in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“We believe it is such a huge part of our opportunity to have Opelika flourish for the next 50 years,” he added. “That’s our dream. How do we help our city flourish for the next 50 years? We learned that by slowly doing the work, and we stored a huge vision we have for our downtown and for this area. Then secondly, it opened up the door for us to help cities all around America. We have seven cities that have different patrons with portfolios of up to $100 million that we helped through our consulting company that we helped steward whole towns.”

Critics of downtown revitalization projects cry gentrification, wherein the city improvements attract more affluent patrons and residents, with the effect of displacing lower-income people. Marsh says that is a faulty label for his efforts.

“People say, ‘Well, is this gentrification?’” he said. “We kind of coined our own word. We say, ‘No, we do redemptification.’ And that’s the creative work of redeeming a place to its intending beauty or glory. We have a different mindset about this type of work, and we paid the price over 25 years to learn with our own money.”

(Image: Avenue A at 8th Street in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Marsh seeks to break the cycle of cookie-cutter development, which has plagued a lot of places in Alabama – strip malls with chain restaurants that offer a near-identical experience, be it in Tulsa, Okla. or Lakeland, Fla.

“Opelika has got a bright future – smart folks trying to do good work in the world and uniqueness,” he said. “Nobody ever goes to a city and says, ‘I had the most amazing dinner. I went to this town.’ ‘How was it?’ ‘Well, it was Ruby Tuesday’s.’ Nobody says that. We only celebrate uniqueness and to be honest with you, that’s one of the benefits of downtown Opelika. It’s not loaded with a bunch of chains that have the same experience as anywhere else in America.”

The formula

As Fuller had said, the business owners’ attitudes have a lot to do with the character of the downtown. Marsh says the first ingredient to set that tone is the culinary offerings.

“That’s in the hearts of the people that are running the businesses,” he said. “Businesses – you reproduce who you are, not what you want. Those are the operators who are creating. We realize food is powerful. Most town revitalization, we always start with food.”

(Image: 8th Street near Zazu in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“We know we can get people to drive through the worst part of town for good barbecue,” he added.  “Food moves people. We use food as the primary starting point for building communities.”

The other elements beyond food he says are the overnight stay options, the specialty shops and retail and the residential component.

“We think we can bring people in from one gas tank away,” Marsh explained.

Beverage attractions

Two of downtown Opelika’s “unique” offerings, the John Emerald Distilling Company and the Red Clay Brewing Company, are side by side on the north edge of the city’s downtown.

The John Emerald Distilling Company is a father-son team that released its first whiskey in 2015. That was a historic occasion given Alabama’s embrace of prohibition long before the rest of the country.

(Image: John Emerald Distillery in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“They distilled the first legal whiskey made in Alabama since before prohibition,” Mayor Fuller explained. “Alabama, and we’re the only state capable of this, we declared prohibition five years before the federal [government] did. I’m sure the bootleggers helped promote that, them and the preachers – but they make whiskey.”

Fuller also touted Red Clay Brewing, which he praised as one of Opelika’s big draws.

“Next door to that is Red Clay Brewing,” he continued. “Both of those are attractions. Folks come in and want to go to the tasting room, and it just draws people downtown.”

(Image: Red Clay Brewing in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

More development to come

Fuller anticipates the city will continue its role in downtown revitalization, just as it had when it started decades earlier.

“We’d like to extend our streetscapes – take it a few more blocks in town to go to the underground wiring, redo the sidewalks, landscape, and so I suspect we’ll be doing some more of that.”

Currently, Fuller says there are a handful of downtown loft apartments that he highly recommends as nice and convenient.

“I want to tell you – I’ve been in a couple of those lofts. My wife and I could live there just like that,” he said.

(Image: Downtown Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Fuller, a four-term mayor, said he would like to see more residential offerings, perhaps in the form of a condo development.

“I can see in the coming years we’re going to see more and more of it,” Fuller said. “I’d love to see somebody find a nice piece of property downtown and put some kind of nice condo development, maybe with some underground parking and maybe with some retail on the ground floor.”

(Image: 8th Street near Zazu in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Lacking in Opelika’s downtown portfolio are hotel options. Aside from the Golden Cherry Motel, made famous by the 1979 Academy Award-nominated film “Norma Rae” and has seen better days, and the Heritage House Bed & Breakfast, most of Opelika’s lodging accommodations are away from downtown. They are around exits off of nearby I-85, or north of town near the city’s much-celebrated Grand National golf courses, part of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones golf trail.

Marsh told Yellowhammer there is a plan in place to change that.

“We’re in the process of putting together an 88-room boutique hotel,” he said.

Marsh explained the entire effort had been a learning process through trial and error, which he indicated has made his business better positioned for the future.

“We have our heart and life invested in 10 blocks,” he explained. “We believe that we’re stewards of that place and we have to do a good job and make a difference for the people that live there. We want everyone in Opelika to flourish. That’s a pretty big order.”

Marsh predicted there would be “a lot more” over the next two years.

(Image: Lee County Courthouse in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“People don’t want to drive as much,” he said. “They want to have fast Internet, good shipping and walkable to all the things they need, and a good quality of life. If we can provide that, I think Opelika has a unique – probably the most unique downtown, properly located to the I-85 corridor between Atlanta and Montgomery. I don’t think there’s any downtown that is better located with distance to the Interstate and inventory of historic buildings. Hopefully soon, with offerings – we have more restaurants and hospitality concepts and all of that coming. You’re going to see a lot more within the next 24 months.”

Jeff Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and works as the editor of Breitbart TV. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_poor.

(Top image: View of Downtown Opelika, Ala. from Railroad Ave. facing south — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

25 mins ago

Alabama native bringing VR production to Sidewalk, looking to make feature film in the state

Meredith Riley Stewart has found a new home in Hollywood, but lately the Phenix City native is feeling a pull back to her home state.

Whether it’s showcasing her virtual reality (VR) short film at this week’s Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham or scouting locations in the Chattahoochee Valley for a new feature film, Riley Stewart is finding her way back to the South.

1461

After living life as a dancer in Philadelphia and as an actor in New York, she has found living in Los Angeles is not such a far cry from Alabama.

“I feel like L.A. is sort of the perfect blend of more of the charm and connection to nature that Southerners have with the grind and hustle of New York,” Riley Stewart said. “It’s kind of the perfect combination for me. I feel at home there. And there are so many Southerners in L.A. It’s always my tell, that I will say ‘y’all’ in some room and they’re like, ‘Wait a second, you’re not from L.A. Where are you from?’”

The University of Alabama graduate has even found that a well-placed “Roll Tide!” can lead to connections in Hollywood.

“In my resume under ‘education’ I just squeeze in a little ‘Roll Tide!’ and I can’t tell you how many casting directors I’ve had conversations with about SEC football because that’s on there,” she said. “It’s been a smart little addition. We can have a conversation that makes me more human. It’s not about the story. It’s not about the character. It’s about something totally different.”

It keeps rolling when she’s at home.

“I am married to an Alabama boy as well,” she said. “We literally just changed cable packages because we were with somebody who dropped CBS and he was like, ‘What? We can’t … no, no … I have to …’ Our life sort of revolves around football in the South. He’s counting down how many days until the opening game.”

Riley Stewart is counting down the days until her immersive VR experience “SEE ME” is shown at Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival this weekend. Alabama Power is a sponsor of this year’s festival.

“’SEE ME’ is a short-form, experimental VR experience that invites the audience to step inside the subconscious mind of a woman, invites you to sort of experience what daily life is like for many women, including the constant barrage of commentary that happens for them in our society,” Riley Stewart said.

Other than being shown for friends and family, “SEE ME” has been shown publicly only at last week’s Macon Film Festival in Georgia. Based on the reactions there, Riley Stewart said viewers should come in expecting something intense.

“They should know that it challenges the male gaze,” she said. “VR is a unique concept for that because of the headset aspect of it. Not only are you feeling the experience of a woman, but you are potentially stepping into a male gaze on these women. That idea of challenging the male gaze – because it can be uncomfortable, especially in VR where your eyes are covered, your ears are covered, you’re sitting in a chair – and when these women approach you, because it looks like they’re coming right at you, some people wanted to hide, you kind of can’t get away. It requires people to be ready to confront it.”

In Macon, women would take off their headsets with tears in their eyes and the men felt uncomfortable and shared what they felt in a conversation with the filmmakers after the showing. At Sidewalk, the film will have multiple showings at the Lyric Theatre Aug. 24-25.

“We hope they can get through it and then they can take a breath and either realize what many women go through or so many women watch it and say, ‘Yes, that’s what happens.’ For us to be able to add a voice to their experience is powerful,” Riley Stewart said.

“That’s really the point, is to have that eye-opening empathy,” she added. “Really it’s about how our society objectifies women, and women finally finding a voice and the strength – whether that’s physical or of character – to speak up and demand to be seen as an equal human.”

A friend Riley Stewart made in Hollywood, Celine Tricart, is a leader in VR filmmaking and directed the acclaimed “The Sun Ladies” documentary about women soldiers in the Afghanistan army.

Riley Stewart wanted to make something impactful to address the objectification of women, and began working on “SEE ME” just as the #MeToo movement was beginning.

“That’s something I’m always trying to do with things I decide to spend my energy on now,” she said. “Media is such an influential culture shaper. There is such an opportunity there to create change in our society and that’s what I want to do with the media that I create.”

It is part of an evolution Riley Stewart has gone through since graduating from the University of Alabama with degrees in dance and biology and then dancing professionally in Philadelphia. Hosting on QVC and shooting commercials gave her the acting bug. She took professional classes and earned a role as a dancer on the first season of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” which gave her a Screen Actors Guild card and allowed her to pursue other acting roles.

She’s had roles on ABC’s “Scandal,”NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” Lifetime’s “Devious Maids” and Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Riley Stewart co-produced “Flip The Script,” the first digital series by Women in Film. She created “AutocorrectFU,” that features funny, over-the-top reenactments of autocorrected text conversations. Her “Southern Dish” digital series is about a Southern belle in the Big Apple, embracing the culture clash instead of fighting it.

She has become known for her Southern charm and wise-cracking personality in various pursuits in Hollywood. The production she is looking to film in the Phenix City-Columbus, Georgia, area is in keeping with that.

“The Inheritance” is a faith-based family comedy with Hollywood’s Mustard Seed Entertainment.

As soon as Riley Stewart read the script, she envisioned it taking place back home.

“I just thought, ‘This is so perfect to bring back to my hometown,’” she said. “It’s a beautiful story about family.”

Family and home were important touch points for Riley Stewart.

“In the past 10 years I have lost both of my parents and my aunt who was like my second mother,” she said. “I’m young to have gone through all of that already, but it really gave me a deeper understanding of what’s important about your family and life. While this is a comedy, it kind of centers around the unique place of where people go when it’s time to claim inheritance. It’s this weird thing that happens. It brings out certain character and shades of character that might not have existed before.”

Riley Stewart noted your family has a way of seeing the real you.

“You think you’ve evolved so much and then you have Thanksgiving dinner with your family and remember who you really are,” she said. “The theme of family and that being an important part of your legacy was really something that connected to me immediately.”

Shooting the film will be easier than other productions because almost all of the story takes place on the grounds of one estate. Riley Stewart said some generous people in the Phenix City-Columbus area contacted her to offer their home to shoot in. Columbus has a film office and infrastructure to support moving productions in the area and the film is expected to create 30 jobs and bring about $500,000 in spending.

“I’m really hoping that that’s going to happen … no, it is going to happen by the end of the year,” Riley Stewart said. “There is so much support here. It’s really wonderful. To be a hometown person bringing this movie back, I’m excited about it.”

A second feature film Riley Stewart is looking to produce is important to her for another reason. It’s a drama about public school teachers and the heavy lifting they do as part of their job.

“That one is really dear to my heart because both of my parents were public educators,” she said. “My mother was the principal of my high school. It tells the story of those unsung heroes, the people who really do shape American culture in the microcosm of schools.”

For now, Riley Stewart is excited to be returning to her home state and making her first visit to Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival. She is planning on spending time with friends from Hollywood who are in the Magic City.

“Now that I’ve been in L.A. for five years, looking at my network of people there, I have probably five friends with pieces in (Sidewalk) that I’m going to see in Birmingham,” she said. “So, it will be really cool to sort of like be able to take them to a restaurant I went to in college or something.”

Riley Stewart loves the freedom that being an actor and a producer allows.

“I’m in the fortunate position of just being able to focus on being a creator,” she said. “As an actor, sure, I can audition any time for other people’s projects. But between those, I do have time to develop my own.”

In it all, she can always find room for a “Roll Tide!”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

Auto supplier DaikyoNishikawa kicks off construction on $110 million Alabama plant

Governor Kay Ivey joined executives of DaikyoNishikawa US (DNUS) and local leaders at a groundbreaking event this week to officially launch construction on the auto supplier’s $110 million manufacturing plant in North Alabama.

The DNUS facility, which will produce plastic automotive parts for the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. (MTMUS) assembly plant, will employ approximately 380 people at full production.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site on the MTMUS campus where construction crews are poised to begin work on DNUS’ first U.S. manufacturing plant.

456

“I’m proud to welcome another great Japanese company, DaikyoNishikawa, to Sweet Home Alabama, and I know that together we will build a lasting partnership,” Governor Ivey said.

“Today marks another pivotal moment for Huntsville as it becomes the next vital production hub for the global auto industry.”

In May, DNUS became the first supplier to announce plans to locate a facility on the site of the Mazda Toyota joint venture assembly plant, which will have the capacity to produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually.

“As our first manufacturing facility in North America, DNUS is proud to serve Mazda Toyota and call Huntsville our new home,” said Nariaki Uchida, president of DaikyoNishikawa Corporation.

“Together with our business and community partners, our aim is to be a good corporate neighbor and a premiere Tier I automotive supplier.”

By establishing its first North American facility in Huntsville, DaikyoNishikawa aims to maximize its business opportunities by further strengthening relationships with major customers.

MANUFACTURING ORBIT

Construction on the 3.1 million-square-foot MTMUS facility is well underway, with as many as 2,500 construction workers expected on the Limestone County site this summer.

The Mazda-Toyota partnership is investing $1.6 billion to open the Huntsville assembly plant, which will employ up to 4,000 people.

Once the DNUS facility begins operations to coincide with the start of MTMUS vehicle production in 2021, DNUS’s Alabama workforce will manufacture large resin parts such as bumpers and instrument panels for the automakers.

“By selecting Alabama as the site for its first U.S. manufacturing facility, DaikyoNishikawa joins a long list of world-class Japanese companies with growing operations in the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We look forward to working with this high-caliber company to assemble a workforce in Huntsville that can fuel its growth plans.”

HIRING PLANS

DNUS has started hiring qualified candidates. Individuals who are interested in applying for open positions at DNUS can visit the following links for more information:

The DNUS project represents one of the largest in a string of supplier announcements tied to the MTMUS assembly plant in 2019.

So far, a total of five MTMUS suppliers have pinpointed sites in North Alabama for production locations that will create almost 1,700 new auto-sector jobs, most of them in Huntsville.

“DaikyoNishikawa is a key manufacturer in the growing cluster of Tier 1 automotive suppliers for MTMUS, and we’re excited to provide the skilled workers for this high-performing auto industry leader,” ​Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

Hiroshima, Japan-based DaikyoNishikawa operates about a dozen R&D centers and manufacturing plants in its home country, as well as production sites in Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia and China. The company employs more than 5,000 people across these sites.

With roots stretching back to the early 1950s, DaikyoNishikawa supplies plastic parts to many major automakers based in Japan, including Mazda and Toyota.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 hours ago

Andrews’ AJ breaks 38-year-old Alabama record

The 127-pound, 12-ounce amberjack that reigned atop the Alabama state records for 38 years was landed before Brian Andrews was born.

Marcus Kennedy of Mobile, who caught the big amberjack on June 19, 1981, saw the last of his state records fall on Friday, August 23, when Andrews’ 132-pound, 12.8-ounce fish takes its place after the record certification process is complete.

Andrews was aboard Capt. Bobby Walker’s Summer Breeze II soon after the amberjack season in the Gulf of Mexico kicked back in on August 1 a few weeks ago.

1293

Walker, who has been fishing the Gulf as a captain or deckhand for 50 years, went to a special amberjack (AJ) spot and his anglers started to hook nice fish.

“I couldn’t have had a better angler,” Walker said of Andrews, who hails from Citronelle. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. He was a big, strong, strapping guy. You talk about a guy working on a fish, he could do it.”

The 37-year-old Andrews is no neophyte angler. He has previously owned his own private Gulf boat and had some experience fishing offshore. He said the trip on Summer Breeze II started out in rough seas but turned into a nice day for fishing. After catching a few beeliners on two-hook rigs, the anglers got down to serious business at the amberjack holes.

When Andrews hooked up, he wasn’t sure what was on the other end of the line. He had caught a 70-pound amberjack earlier in his fishing career, but this one was different.

“I was trying to be positive, but several people were telling me it was a shark,” Andrews said. “He was pulling like a shark, but you never know. He made at least three big runs. It took at least 30 minutes to get him in. When he makes a run, all you can do is hold the rod and watch him go. When he starts peeling drag, you just hold on. When he stops peeling drag, you have to start taking some of the line back.”

The main thing the boat captain was worried about was the number of sharks that were hanging out in the same vicinity as the AJs.

“We had caught so many big bull sharks,” Walker said “I was hoping to goodness it wasn’t a shark. We had already caught two or three good jacks off that hole and broke off a couple. I was just hoping we weren’t wasting time reeling up a big shark. I hollered down to Paul (Resmondo), my deckhand, to let me know when he could see the fish and tell what it was. He said, ‘Bobby, he looks like he’s 40 feet down, but I can tell you it’s an AJ, and he looks huge.’”

When Andrews finally reeled the big fish to the surface, the deckhands gaffed the fish and struggled to get it into the boat.

“When that fish hit the deck, his mouth flopped open, and I said he looked like he could swallow a basketball,” Walker said. “His head was huge. I told them I’d lay money that the fish was at least 100. I didn’t think any more about it.”

Andrews said it was time for a break after the fish was finally on the deck and the deckhands were in charge.

“We admired him for a few minutes,” Andrews said. “We took a few pictures and got him on ice. I went inside for some AC (air conditioning) after that. After about 45 minutes, I was ready to catch another one. It took me a little while to recoup.”

The boat came back in and docked at Zeke’s Marina. Walker was busy squaring away the boat for the next trip when he heard something that got his attention.

“Then I heard people hollering and raising Cain and wondered what was going on,” he said. “They had hauled the fish up on the scales. When I saw it, I said, ‘Whoa.’ Tom Ard looked at me and said, Bobby, you’ve got a state record.”

The big fish measured 65 inches from the tip of its snout to the fork of its tail and sported a 40-inch girth.

Obviously, when you spend as much time as Walker on the Gulf, plenty of big fish are going to hit the marina dock.

“I’ve caught plenty of big amberjacks during my day,” he said. “I think that was the third one over 100 pounds. Believe it or not, we caught a 109 and a 111 on the same day about 10 years ago.”

When Kennedy, 17 at the time, caught the long-standing AJ record, he said big amberjack were more common during the late ’70s and early ’80s, and he was definitely gung-ho when it came to targeting big fish.

“We had caught several fish over 100 pounds back then,” said Kennedy, who held the Alabama blue marlin record for 26 years before it was broken in 2013. “I had previously held the record at 102 pounds. Some of my high school friends and my dad (the late Rod Kennedy) were out fishing. We actually caught that big fish (the record) on the Edwards Liberty Ship. I think I caught it on a small, live king mackerel, but I can’t remember 100%. I definitely was using a 6/0 reel with 100-pound test line and a Ross Hutchisson custom rod. That was my big amberjack rig. Back then, that’s what we fished for. We won the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo on a regular basis with big amberjack. When we got that fish in the boat, I knew it was significantly bigger that the 102-pounder that I’d caught before. We got him to the boat in 15 to 20 minutes. We fought them hard, and I had a good, strong back back then.”

Now that his last record is off the Alabama record books, he’s not worried about getting back on the list. He’s going to leave that up to his 28-year-old son, Tyler, who already owns three state records for other saltwater species.

“If I catch a record fish, it’s going to be something smaller,” Kennedy said. “It’s not going to be an amberjack or blue marlin. I’ll leave that up to Tyler and Ryan (Kennedy, his 20-year-old nephew).”

Walker said amberjack are usually around some kind of structure – wrecks, petroleum rigs or big rocks on natural bottom – and can be anywhere from 50 feet to 300 feet down. He said it’s easy to distinguish between the different snappers and the amberjack. He marks AJs on his bottom machine and tells his anglers how far to drop.

Although a lot of anglers will use big jigs for amberjack, Capt. Walker likes to use live bait for the big fish.

“Hardtails (blue runners) are probably the best bait,” he said. “Jigs used to work great, but AJs are just not as plentiful and are harder to catch. We just like to drop a big, live bait down and see what’s down there. The secret to catching a big AJ is having the right tackle. You’ve got to go pretty heavy. You can’t catch one like that on light tackle. First, you’ve got to get him away from the wreck or the rocks. You’ve got to have some pretty strong tackle to do that. If you can get him away from the structure, you’ve got a good chance of catching him.”

Walker said amberjack fishing has been a little slow so far, but he knows fishing success is cyclical.

“One year it’s great, and the next year you’re wondering where the AJs went,” he said. “This has started out like one of those years that’s down a little.”

Walker said the demand to catch amberjack doesn’t compare with red snapper. He fished 55 of the 62-day snapper season for charter boats.

“People like to catch amberjacks, but it’s nothing like the bookings we get for snapper,” he said. “We tell them we can also catch beeliners (vermilion snapper) and maybe a scamp or a grouper. I’ve got some more 12-hour trips coming up. I’m probably going to the amberjack hole. I want to see if lightning strikes twice in the same spot.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

19 hours ago

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama announces sponsorship of Montgomery’s bike share program

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama announced Friday a partnership with the City of Montgomery to help sponsor Montgomery’s bike share program.

Blue Cross, Baptist Health and Wind Creek Hospitality are collaborating to launch the new program, which is an innovative biking system aimed at improving the quality of life and increasing tourism in downtown Montgomery.

151

“We are proud to partner with the City of Montgomery as we work together to build healthier communities across Alabama,” said Koko Mackin, vice president of Corporate Communications and Community Relations, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama in a press release. “Montgomery’s bike share program is an excellent opportunity to provide workers, residents, and visitors a new and convenient way to get around and enjoy our capital city.”

The Montgomery bike share program will be operated by Pace, a micro-mobility vendor. According to the announcement from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, bike stations are placed in prominent locations throughout Montgomery’s city-center.

Bike station locations include the Rosa Parks Library/Museum, First White House of the Confederacy, City Hall, Renaissance Hotel & Spa, Old Alabama Town, Morgan Library, Kress Building, Wright Brothers Park, the Alley and the Intermodal.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

20 hours ago

The Alabama Education Association protects the status quo by opposing charter schools

There are good things happening in education within the state of Alabama, but overall, the quality of education in this state lags behind the rest of the country.

In the past, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) claimed they were an organization that fought for quality education, but the results of their decades of control on the state, and the Alabama Democratic Party, were hardly anything to write home about.

Now, the AEA is in a completely different position. They are the adversary and the loyal opposition, and they are out of power.

366

The late Paul Hubbert, who ran the AEA and Democratic Party with an iron fist, is long gone. His predecessor, Henry Mabry, oversaw a wipeout of the AEA’s allies in elected office. No one reading this even knows what unfortunate soul is leading this weakened, but still relevant organization in 2019.

Legislators in the past feared the AEA, but now they are hardly aware of their existence outside of an active email list and subservient “journalists” who are trying to relive their glory days as the sun goes down.

The 2019 AEA is stuck in neutral, at best, they are seen as an annoyance and nothing more.

Recently, Alabama State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) announced that there would be an increase in funding to recruit charter schools to give interested parents more options for their children’s educations.

The quadrupling of their funding will allow $400,000 to recruit new schools, but Marsh highlighted part of the problem with the AEA by pointing out that some of those resources will have to be used to fight the AEA as they sue the state over the creation of charter schools.

Another organization just received a $25 million federal grant to attract charter schools to the state which could bring in 15 additional charter schools.

Will the AEA support them? No, they will fight them. They will fight them at every step.

They could put them in the worst school districts, and they would be opposed.

They could put them in the best school districts, and they would be opposed.

The AEA’s opposition to these programs is based on nothing except fear of competition. They, of course, claim they support “good charter schools,” but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to back that up.

The AEA sues charter school startups.

The AEA applauds when charter schools are stalled.

Does the AEA actually support charter schools? No.

Does the AEA support vouchers? No.

Does the AEA support school choice? No.

The AEA is an advocate for their members, and that is fine, but they do not seem like they are not good advocates for education and seem to have no desire to change that.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.