Concourse/South kicks off in Opelika this weekend

Concourse/South kicks off in Opelika this weekend
Richard Patton is among those working to revitalize his hometown of Opelika through the arts. (Anne Kristoff/Alabama NewsCenter)

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.

Revitalization done right in Opelika from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Patton started by opening a bar called 8th and Rail, geared toward a post-college crowd. He sold that and then bought a bunch of those empty cotton warehouses with the hope of attracting artists and other creatives by offering cheap, sometimes free, rent. He also has a 10,000-square-foot space called The Union, which is home to an ad firm, a film group and a photo group. He’s a partner in Cottonseed Studios, which puts on art and music events in and around town and has its hand in everything from filmmaking to foodies.

With everything Patton does, there is a sense of purpose. He’s more concerned with creating a community rooted in creativity and inclusion than making a buck. In addition to having a clear vision and the means to enact it, he’s also incredibly humble, always quick to mention his partners and to point out that he’s just one of many working toward this goal.

To that end, Concourse/South kicks off this weekend in Opelika. What started as a one-day event last year has grown into a weeklong music and art festival taking place in a variety of spaces around downtown Opelika.

“There can be some negative connotations of the South, especially small Southern towns,” he said. “And we wanted Opelika to be known as an accepting, loving, artistic, creative, cool, funky spot. We think we’re heading that way.”

Concourse/South kicks off Sunday, Aug. 20, with Supper & Songs, and runs through Aug. 26. Concourse/South will benefit O Grows, BigHouse Foundation and future arts programming in Opelika.

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