During Mayor Ron Anders’ fourth annual State of the City address on Wednesday night, the mayor touted the city’s progress in infrastructure, population growth and the economy. Several Auburn residents were also celebrated with the Mayor’s Lamplighter Award.
Anders opened by running through many of Auburn’s accomplishments in the past year, including the construction of several parks, the improvement of several major roads and how the city’s fiscal strength has allowed it to thrive.
“This is just one of the major indicators that the city is a good steward of your tax money,” Anders said. “Yes, we spend money on capital projects, but we also budget conservatively and maintain a significant reserve fund to anticipate fluctuations in the economy.”
Because of Auburn’s ability to budget, Anders claimed that the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic did not hit the city as hard as other places.
Anders turned to the city’s recent population growth and noted that based on the latest census estimate, Auburn is growing by 6.6 people per day and had more than 78,000 residents.
“It is easy to think of these newcomers as just numbers and to maybe feel a little anxious about how quickly our population is increasing,” Anders said. “I assure you, there is enough Auburn to go around.”
He said that he understood the concern of many about some negative effects of population growth such as increased traffic and assured the audience that the city was working to help assimilate to its rapid growth.
“Auburn is not a community of buildings or roads,” Anders said, “but a community of people.”
Anders welcomed new residents and invited them to get involved in the community. He then took a moment to recognize a couple of newer residents who swiftly got involved around Auburn.
The individuals Anders pointed out had recently participated in a city program known as Citizens’ Academy which allows community members to become acquainted with Auburn police officers.
Infrastructure improvements were Anders’ next topic, namely the recent construction on Opelika Road. The project, which began before the pandemic, faced many setbacks and cost $7.6 million. The road has been a point of interest for the city since 2011.
The Renew Opelika Road project sought to bring businesses to the once-empty street. Anders said that through the city’s efforts, Opelika Road had become “an urbanized, pedestrian, bicycle and business-friendly destination.”
Anders said the project still has two more phases to undergo before it was complete. However, he said that since 2011, businesses had invested over $97 million into the Opelika Road corridor. Sales tax and revenue were expected to increase by $9.7 million from fiscal year 2022.
“By investing time, resources and money into this area, we are also showing longstanding community staples like Niffer’s that we are dedicated to creating an environment and infrastructure that brings people to local businesses,” Anders said.
Anders then continued to praise the city’s work on roadways throughout Auburn. He mentioned several roads that have been completed or are in progress and some that are coming in the future to make Auburn more accessible and easier to navigate.
Anders addressed several other projects, including a library at the Boykin Community Center, a new soccer complex, millions of dollars being directed to revitalize northwest Auburn and the inclusion of accessible equipment and sensory components at Town Creek Park.
Anders then shifted his focus to those who made the work possible, thanking local firefighters and police officers and those who work for the city in other areas such as waste management and Inspection Services, among others.
Anders also noted how Auburn had continued to attract new businesses and restaurants and had even become a tourist destination, as evidenced by the success of The Collegiate Hotel and The Laurel Hotel.
He was excited to see local restaurants featured in magazines like Southern Living. He also noted the liveliness of Auburn’s downtown area aside from the restaurants through new businesses like the recently opened Publix and soon-to-be Target.
Anders wrapped up the night speaking about education, both at Auburn University and in the public and private schools throughout Auburn.
He said he had enjoyed working with and getting to know Auburn University President Chris Roberts. The two had been working with one another since Roberts’ tenure as president began.
Anders said schools were performing well academically and athletically, and most schools in the area were continuing to grow. He also mentioned that Auburn City Schools is working to design a new high school off North Donahue Drive with no projected completion date.
After Anders’ speech, he announced six winners of the Mayor’s Lamplight Award. He said these recipients had worked to make Auburn a better place.
Those recipients were Director of First Year Experience at Auburn University Mark Armstrong, Niffer’s founder and owner Kelly Beasecker, Yarbrough Elementary School Instructional Coach Shannon Brandt, Vice President of The Auburn Jungle Michael Floyd, second Black Auburn Police Officer John Lockhart and owner of The Flower Store Stanley Sistrunk.
“Even as it evolves, Auburn will always be The Loveliest Village,” Anders said. “Auburn is innovation and progress and forward-thinking, and yet it is still tradition and cherishing memories.”
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Tucker Massey, junior in journalism, is the content editor for The Auburn Plainsman.