Tourism Tuesdays November 15, 2016

  • USA TODAY: Sweet home, Carnival – Mobile is back as a cruise port
  • Alabama cooks compete at World Food Championships in Orange Beach
  • Muscle Shoals: Guests donate to get studio operational
  • Holiday events across Alabama
  • Goat Hill Gift Shop annual holiday open house and book signing
  • More record tourism numbers in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
  • Study shows Morgan County tourism numbers improving
  • The Florence/Lauderdale CVB to launch new web app
  • USS Drum to celebrate 75th anniversary with commemoration ceremony
  • Will the ‘Trump train’ lead to more passenger trains in Alabama?
  • Williams and Mills book signing at NewSouth Books
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

 

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USA TODAY: Sweet home, Carnival – Mobile is back as a cruise port

By Gene Sloan, USA TODAY, Nov. 8

Mobile finally is back on the map for cruisers.

Industry giant Carnival on Wednesday will resume year-round sailings from the city after a five-year absence, becoming the only line offering voyages from the port.

The 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy, will operate four- and five-day cruises to Mexico from Mobile’s Alabama Cruise Terminal. The four-day trips will feature a single call at Cozumel while the five-day voyages will add a stop at Costa Maya or Progreso.

The deployment comes as Carnival is in the midst of a fleet expansion that included this year’s addition of its biggest ship ever, Carnival Vista, and three more new vessels coming in 2018, 2020 and 2022.

The vessel underwent a multi-million-dollar refurbishment before sailing for Mobile that included the addition of a Guy Fieri-themed burger stand, two new poolside bars and a Mexican-themed eatery.

The Carnival Fantasy is one of eight Fantasy Class ships in the Carnival fleet. For a deck-by-deck look at a Fantasy Class vessel, scroll through the carousel below.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2016/11/08/mobile-alabama-cruise-carnival-fantasy/93467064/

 

Alabama cooks compete at World Food Championships in Orange Beach

By Brian Kelly, AL.com, Nov. 13

Folks living in the neighborhoods around busy Canal Road in Orange Beach have no doubt been getting the aroma of some great cooking in the last few days. That wafting smell of chili, burgers, meat being grilled was the result of the biggest cook-off in the nation in their own back yard. 

Professional chefs and home cooks from every corner of the country competed head to head with local chefs from Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and other parts of Lower Alabama over the last few days for the World Food Championships. The World Food Championships was held outside at The Wharf in Orange Beach from Nov. 9 to Nov. 15.  Now in its fifth year, the culinary showdown is the largest cooking competition where champions of previous events convene for a chance at winning the ultimate food crown and a share of $300,000. 

But not all the hundreds of cooks were professional chefs. In fact, many had never held the title of chef but have won a cooking competition over the past year. 

The field of teams included several from Alabama. Scott and Suzanne Burton of Madison, Ala. had made the cut to top 10 in World Barbecue in the barbecue category on Sunday afternoon. They were the South Pork Cooking Team. 

“We got third place last night (Saturday) in brisket so that’s what we won to move on to the top ten,” said Suzanne.

They were hoping their creation from the Gulf of Mexico would wow the judges.

“We are doing something a little different. We’re actually doing smoked salmon and barbecue shrimp wrapped in bacon.

The Burtons had a fellow Alabamian in the barbecue top 10 category on Sunday.

Patrick Banks of Fairhope and his team, Booty Que, had a good feeling about his team’s entry.

“We’re doing a compart duroc rib eye chop which is dry aged,” Banks said. “We went to the semifinals last year, but when I found out the World Food Championships were coming to Orange Beach I pretty much did everything I could do to dial into this.”

Chris Blankenship with the Alabama Seafood Marketing Agency says his agency has been working with the WFC for the last three years. That relationship led to the WFC choosing Orange Beach. 

“This is just a great opportunity for Alabama’s great cooks to showcase their skills,” Blankenship said. “You know we have a lot of great chefs in the state of Alabama but locally here in Orange Beach there are some awesome chefs who tend to get overlooked in the culinary world. So for them to have a golden ticket to compete here is really awesome.”

To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/news/beaches/index.ssf/2016/11/post_21.html

 

Muscle Shoals: Guests donate to get studio operational

By Robert Palmer, Times Daily, Nov. 11

The soft lights and colorful walls inside Muscle Shoals Sound Studios saw a crowd Thursday evening for the first time in many years.

The restored recording studio played host to an invitation-only fundraiser to raise operating money. The historic studio was restored with a grant from Beats by Dr. Dre, which is now owned by Apple.

Guests paid a minimum donation of $1,000 each to tour the studio, meet the musicians who owned it and enjoy cocktails and snacks.

“This gives me a nice feeling,” said Jimmy Johnson, one of the four musicians known as the Swampers, as he stood in the center of the studio floor. Johnson was one of four studio musicians who opened Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in spring 1969.  The others were David Hood, Roger Hawkins, and Barry Beckett, who has passed away.

Debbie Wilson, of the Alabama Tourism Office, which is launching heavy promotion of the studio as a tourist destination, said a grand opening for the public is planned in January.

“This is what we have been working toward for three years,” said Judy Hood, chairwoman of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, which bought the studio four years ago. “This sets the stage for a very important chapter in Muscle Shoals music.”

The stone and concrete building at 3614 Jackson Highway produced dozens of hits with the Swampers during the 1970s. Among the artists who recorded there are the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, the Staple Singers, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson and Traffic. More recently, the Black Keys recorded an album there.

“This is really pressing the reset button for the next generation of Muscle Shoals musicians,” said Aubrey Preston, a Leipers Fork, Tennessee investor who helped create the Americana Music Triangle.

“From a Nashville perspective and nationally, people are really excited about Muscle Shoals music,” he said. “I was in Los Angeles recently. If you wear a Muscle Shoals cap there, it is the coolest thing you can wear.”

David Hood, bassist with the Swampers who returned this fall from a world tour with the Waterboys, was visibly elated by the restoration.

“I can’t wait to record here again. It’s like being home,” he said. “When we took it over, we tried to sound as good as FAME Recording Studios — or better.”

The Swampers got their start at Rick Hall’s FAME before striking out on their own.

Bill Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama, was among the guests. He said the BCA is promoting Muscle Shoals Sound. “This puts our footprint on the global music economy. We’re proud to be promoting it.”

The plan is to operate the studio not only as a tourist attraction but as a working recording studio.

Rodney Hall, who operates FAME and is a member of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation board, said he was approached by the previous owner, Noel Webster, about buying it. Hall launched a fundraising effort that was successful, but the foundation did not have the money to restore it.

After the release of the documentary “Muscle Shoals,” greater interest was stirred.

“I got a call from Beats one day, and I thought they just wanted to sell me headphones,” Hall said. “But they wanted to buy the studio. I said no to that, but said we would accept some help. We negotiated and they were very generous.”

Jason Isbell was among the guests. He said he had been in the studio in the past, but it looked nothing like it does now, which resembles its 1971 phase.

“I could see myself working here,” he said. “The right people are in charge.”

A photo of the group was taken in front of the studio. Across the street is Sheffield Oakwood Cemetery and a monument company.

“The tombstones across the street remind you to hurry up, because we’re all on the clock,” Isbell said.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.timesdaily.com/news/local/guests-donate-to-get-studio-operational/article_e9a8ae28-8641-54ae-8a72-fbc8ddc9bb6e.html

Holiday events across Alabama

Great family entertainment highlights holiday celebrations across Alabama.  Events include everything from the Galaxy of Lights Tour at the Huntsville Botanical Garden to the lighting of the Christmas tree at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. The Governor’s Mansion will also be open for special Christmas candlelight tours on the first three Monday nights in December. 

More than 60 historical homes in Opelika will be part of the Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour and Christmas on the River in Demopolis will feature the Alabama State Championship BBQ cook-off.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following holiday events.  For a complete calendar of events listing see www.alabama.travel.

Birmingham- Christmas at Arlington

Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens celebrates the holiday season on Dec 3-4 with decorations of Christmas past by local floral designers.  www.birminghamal.gov/about/city-directory/arlington-house/

Decatur- Christmas Tour of Homes

Decatur’s historic districts will be decorated and several homes will be open for tours during the Christmas Tour of Homes on Saturday, Dec. 10.    www.decaturchristmastour.com

Demopolis- Christmas on the River
Christmas on the River is Nov. 30-Dec. 1.  The event will feature musical performances, the Alabama State Championship BBQ cook-off, a lighted boat parade on the Tombigbee River and fireworks.  www.demopolischamber.com

Dothan- Victorian Christmas

Celebrate a Victorian Christmas on Sunday, Dec. 11 at Landmark Park.  Sample turn-of-the-century desserts, sip hot chocolate or cider and try your hand at making traditional Christmas decorations.  www.landmarkparkdothan.com

 

Fairhope- New Year’s Eve Celebration

Spend New Year’s Eve on the Eastern Shore and enjoy Fairhope’s annual New Year’s Eve Celebration. There will be live music, children’s entertainment, a lighted ball drop and midnight fireworks. www.cofairhope.com

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach- Christmas lighted boat parade

Enjoy a lighted Christmas boat parade along the intercostal waterway in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on Saturday, Dec. 10.  www.mygulfcoastchamber.com

 

Huntsville- Galaxy of Lights Tour

The Galaxy of Lights Tour is Nov. 24-Dec. 31 at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens.  Experience North Alabama’s largest holiday light extravaganza with a two-mile driving tour of the garden.  www.hsvbg.org

Montgomery- Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting

The annual Capitol Christmas tree-lighting ceremony is Friday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m. on the front steps of the Alabama State Capitol.  The ceremony will feature Gov. Robert Bentley, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John Merrill, Treasurer Young Boozer and special musical guests The Secret Sisters. The tree will be decorated with more than 40,000 lights and 67 stars, one representing each of Alabama’s counties. The tree-lighting ceremony will be followed by a Capitol Open House from 6-7 p.m. There will be refreshments, photos with Santa Claus and a canned goods collection.  www.alabama.travel

Montgomery- Candlelight Tours at the Governor’s Mansion

The Governor’s Mansion will be open for special Christmas candlelight tours on the Monday nights of Dec. 5, 12 and 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The historic 1907 Governor’s Mansion will be aglow with holiday lights and decorations.  Admission for the tours is free.  For more information see the calendar of events at www.alabama.travel

Montgomery- Hank Williams Anniversary Memorial

The Hank Williams Anniversary Memorial at Oakwood Cemetery is Jan. 1 and will be followed by special entertainment at the Hank Williams Museum.  www.thehankwilliamsmuseum.net

Opelika- Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour

The Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour is Dec. 7-11.  Sixty historic homes in downtown Opelika will be transformed with colorful, nostalgic reminders of Christmas past.  www.opelikavictorianfrontporchtour.com.  

Theodore- Magic Christmas in Lights

Bellingrath Gardens and Home presents Magic Christmas in Lights from Nov. 25-Dec. 31.  Bellingrath will be ablaze with poinsettias, Christmas mums, snapdragons, and more. Stroll through 3 million sparkling lights and more than 950 displays throughout the 65 acre garden estate.  www.bellingrath.org

 

Goat Hill Gift Shop annual holiday open house and book signing

Mulled cider and refreshments will be available to shoppers while they browse the store’s large selection of unique holiday gifts. The Goat Hill Museum Store is the best place to find Alabama-made gifts, specialty food, souvenirs, holiday ornaments, and more.

A special book signing will be held for Ed Bridges’ Alabama: The Making of an American State on Nov. 17 from 9 – 11 a.m.  The book itself has been described as a watershed event in the long and storied history of the state of Alabama . . . [It] conveys the magisterial sweep of Alabama’s rich, difficult, and remarkable history with verve, eloquence, and an unblinking eye.

From Alabama’s earliest fossil records to its settlement by Native Americans and later by European settlers and African slaves, from its territorial birth pangs and statehood through the upheavals of the Civil War and the civil rights movement, Bridges makes evident in clear, direct storytelling the unique social, political, economic, and cultural forces that have indelibly shaped this historically rich and unique American region.

The Goat Hill Museum Store, Montgomery is inside the historic Alabama State Capitol at the Union Street entrance.

The open house will also feature artisans and book signings with other Alabama authors.

For more information, call (334) 353-4969 or go to Facebook.

The Goat Hill Gift Shop is owned by the Alabama Historical Commission, and all profits help continue efforts to preserve Alabama’s historic places.

Read more at: http://www.uapress.ua.edu/product/Alabama,6460.aspx .

 

More record tourism numbers in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

By John Mullen, GulfCoastNewsToday.com, Nov. 14

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism (GSOBT) announced another strong year for tourism, the return of several national sporting events and the success of the Leave Only Footprints initiative during the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber’s First Friday Forum at LuLu’s in Gulf Shores.

Each season in 2016 has seen sizable gains in lodging rentals with winter, December 2015 through February 2016, up 10.1 percent, spring, March through May, up 9.6 percent and summer, June through August, up 3.4 percent.

Through August 2016, lodging revenue is up 5.7 percent and retail sales are up 6.7 percent more than the same period in 2015.

“For the sixth consecutive year, we are forecasting another record-breaking year in tourism,” Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, said. “Gulf Shores and Orange Beach saw more than six million visitors in 2015 who spent roughly $4 billion dollars in our destination. These guests and these dollars significantly impact the livelihood of our residents.”

Last year, GSOBT announced the Leave Only Footprints collaboration with the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber, beach vendors and lodging properties. The goal of Leave Only Footprints is to keep the beaches pristine, safe and family-friendly.

Since its Jan. 1 implementation 161.64 tons of material have been removed from the beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach; and the program’s ambassadors have interacted with more than 47,000 people. Last year, 173 tons of materials were picked up off the beach in Gulf Shores alone.

“We welcome families from all over the world to Alabama’s beautiful beaches every year,” Malone said. “Leave Only Footprints is another way we hope to guarantee that their experiences here create lasting memories.

“Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism would like to thank both of the cities, the chamber and our local vendors and lodging partners for helping to make this initiative a great success and one that will continue to positively impact the beach experience for our guests and residents.”

In 2016, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission hosted 118 sporting events including several national championships. Those events contributed to nearly 100,000 sports-related room nights and $127 million in economic impact.

“Currently, we are hosting the SEC Women’s Soccer Championship, and next week we will welcome 438 culinary teams for the World Food Championships,” Beth Gendler, vice president of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission, said.

“The Sports Commission has had phenomenal success in contracting events on the national scale. This success is due largely in part to the quality of our facilities, sponsors and partnership with cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach as well as the hospitality of our locals and the beauty of this destination.”

The Sports Commission hosted the Inaugural NCAA National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship in May 2016 at The Hangout in Gulf Shores. SportsTravel Magazine dubbed the championship the “Best New Event” for 2016. NCAA beach volleyball will return to Gulf Shores in May 2017.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach will also see the return of the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship, NAIA Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field National Championship, and the SEC Women’s Soccer Conference Championship.

For more information on this family beach destination, visit GulfShores.com and OrangeBeach.com.

About Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism:

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism serves as the official destination marketing organization for the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in addition to the unincorporated area of Fort Morgan.

To learn more about the whole different state of discovery on Alabama’s 32 miles of white-sand beaches, visit either GulfShores.com or OrangeBeach.com. This convention and visitors bureau is an accredited Destination Marketing Organization (2012-2016).

To read this article online, go to: http://www.gulfcoastnewstoday.com/stories/more-record-tourism-numbers-in-gulf-shores-and-orange-beach,43868

 

Study shows Morgan County tourism numbers improving

By Bayne Hughes, DecaturDaily.com, Nov. 12

Despite a couple of major obstacles, Morgan County tourism numbers continue to improve.

An analysis of 2015 by the Alabama Tourism Department showed travel-related spending in Morgan County was up $10 million over 2014 to $159 million, while annual lodging taxes were up almost $50,000 to $799,000.

The annual analysis is a year behind because the state tourism study is conducted on a full calendar year, said Melinda Dunn, president and chief executive officer of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Dunn released the numbers this week at the annual tourism breakfast hosted by the CVB and Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association.

Morgan County showed tourism increases despite the Doubletree by Hilton Decatur Riverfront shutting down for an 11-month renovation and Amberley Suites’ permanent closure as a hotel.

“We were very happy because honestly it could have been a down year for us,” Dunn said.

Forrest Keith, whose term as CVB board chairman ended Thursday with Peggy Towns taking over, said he wishes he could have done more.

“Decatur and Morgan County certainly did OK, especially with losing so many rooms from the market right when U.S. Archery came to town,” Keith said.

U.S. Archery brought more than 1,000 competitors to Decatur in each of the past two years for its Outdoors National Championship at Jack Allen Sports Complex.

Decatur continues to be the home of the Open Cup soccer tournament. The city also benefited late in 2015 from an AAU cross-country meet at Oakville in Lawrence County, Dunn said.

Cross-country meets have become big on the local tourism scene. They’ve been such a boost that cross-country running was named the “Event of the Year” at the breakfast.

“We partner with them (Oakville) for these cross-country meets because there are very few places nearby where a team could stay,” Dunn said.

Oakville is hosting the state high school cross-country meet today.

If a 13-percent increase in lodging tax revenues for fiscal 2016, which ran from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, is any indication, Dunn said 2016 tourism will be even better.

The CVB collected $705,515 in lodging taxes from Decatur. This is an increase of $79,639 over fiscal 2015, Dunn said.

The CVB’s Housing Bureau documented 1,252 room nights in Morgan County with a $1.1 million economic impact.

The county hosted almost two dozen events that brought in more than 100,000 visitors to the area.

With Doubletree open for the full year and the recent opening of Holiday Inn Express on Beltline Road Southwest, Dunn said the city had more hotel rooms available this year as a boost to numbers.

“Event of the Year” was one of five awards given out at the breakfast. The other awards were:

• “Good Neighbor Award” — David Wisdom, city of Decatur recreation superintendent.

• Professional of the Year — Marie Allen, Nowlin Hospitality and Hospitality Association officer.

• 2016 Julian Walker “Mr. Tourism” Award — Noel King, for his work on Kiwanis Club of Decatur Pancake Day and River Clay Fine Arts Festival.

• “Making History” special recognition award — Nell Standridge, Barbara Kelley and Sally Smartt for their work at Delano Park.

• “Making History” special recognition award — Celebrating Early Old Town with Art featuring artist Frances D. Tate. This art show featured Decatur’s oldest neighborhood as Tate showed off her original painting and photograph collection.

The hospitality association also recognized the top five corporate companies producing the most room nights in Morgan County during 2015.

Those receiving recognition were Daikin America, 1,414 room nights; Toray, 1,789; United Launch Alliance, 2,246; 3M-Decatur, 2,297; and Nucor Steel, 2,522.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.decaturdaily.com/news/morgan_county/study-shows-morgan-county-tourism-numbers-improving/article_95f6320a-4353-5458-99e0-517e0666371e.html

 

The Florence/Lauderdale CVB to launch new web app

The Florence/Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau will launch a new tourism web app on Tuesday, November

15. The tourism app is available to download by searching Visit Florence AL on app stores such as Google Play and the Apple App Store. 

“Our team is excited about launching a new tourism app for Florence and the Shoals,” said Rob Carnegie, President & CEO of the Florence/Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s essential that we are providing the right tools for visitors to access all there is to experience in our area. This will only further support our digital marketing efforts and drive visitor traffic to local business.”

The app has information on everything there is to see and do in Florence and the Shoals area including attractions, restaurants, accommodations and annual events. The app also links to the popular “Must See Gotta Do” weekly enewsletter that features information on events such as entertainment at local music venues. Current weather information is available as well as links to the Visit Florence, AL social media outlets.

The app was developed by Bluebridge Tourism which works with over 175 tourism organizations including Gatlinburg, Atlanta, Denver and Indianapolis. According to Bluebrige, people are spending almost four hours per day on their smartphones and 90 percent of that time in apps. 

For more information on the app, contact Florence/Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at 256-740-4141.

 

USS Drum to celebrate 75th anniversary with commemoration ceremony

 

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park will be holding a 75th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony for the WWII submarine USS DRUM on Saturday, Nov. 19, 11 a.m., in the Medal of Honor Aircraft Pavilion.  The ceremony will pay tribute to this National Historic Landmark and celebrate her role, and the role of her crewmen, during WWII.

 

“Truth be told, USS Drum is as great a war hero, or heroine, as the USS Alabama,” stated Janet Cobb, executive director, Battleship Memorial Park.  “She earned 12 battle stars for undersea combat in the Pacific Theater and sent 15 enemy ships to the depths.  USS Drum ranks 8th in total enemy tonnage sunk during World War II.”

 

In honor of the USS Drum, Battleship Memorial Park will be offering free admission to the park for Saturday, Nov. 19.

 

For more information, please call 251-433-2703 or visit the Facebook page at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

 

Will the ‘Trump train’ lead to more passenger trains in Alabama?

By John Sharp, AL.com, Nov. 10

Alabama passenger rail supporters hope that the phrase “Trump train” is more than a metaphor. They’ll be pressing the new administration to bring back actual trains to the state, particularly the Gulf Coast.

In their number is Perry Hooper, a former state representative from Montgomery who was Alabama’s co-chairman for the Trump campaign.

“It’s a great form of transportation and people love to ride on trains, like my mother and friends that I have,” said Hooper, who’s also an advocate for privatized passenger rail. “From both a fun and economic development standpoint, it would be outstanding to have. I’m confident Donald J. Trump will make that happen.”

Trump’s Election Tuesday comes amid ongoing efforts by five coastal states to finalize a report on resuming Amtrak service from New Orleans toward Orlando, with stops in Mobile and Atmore. The Gulf Coast line, which has since been upgraded for CSX freight trains, has been without passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina damaged it in 2005.

Also, Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery are looking into restoring Amtrak’s Gulf Breeze line from Mobile toward north Alabama.

The president-elect, during his victory speech early Wednesday, cited infrastructure as a top priority of his administration. Amtrak train supplier Alstom SA, a French-based company, said hours later that Trump’s win could be good news for train-makers.

During the campaign, Trump hinted at interest in improving passenger rail. In March, he said America’s train lines were in sad shape compared to the slick high-speed system in China.

“President-elect Trump indicates he’s pushing for a large infrastructure package to not only put people back to work, but to create an underpinning for vibrant economies,” said John Robert Smith, chairman of the board for Transportation for America, a non-profit alliance that pushes for grassroots support of innovative transportation policy in the U.S.

“The question was asked, and I believe President-elect Trump asked it himself, ‘Why don’t we have the kind of transportation infrastructure in Europe and Asia?’ It’s because we haven’t invested in it,” Smith said.

Studies are ongoing to revive Amtrak service from Mobile north to Birmingham. The federally-backed analysis of restoring a Gulf Coast route is also in the works. Huntsville wants in on the act, as city officials recently pleaded with the Southern Rail Commission to have the Rocket City included into the Amtrak study mix.

Gulf Coast rail

Among the first passenger-rail-orientated plans that could land on Trump’s desk is an in-depth report from a federally formed working group analyzing the return of Amtrak along the Gulf Coast.

A preliminary report was completed in September, and a final report is expected before the end of the year. That report will include, among other things, an estimated cost on restarting Amtrak trains through coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Smith said it could be advantageous for the group to wait until Trump takes office, and then present the report. “If there will be an infrastructure package, you want something thoroughly thought through and priced and ready to go,” he said.

Greg White, an Andalusia resident and chairman of the Southern Rail Commission, said a delivery date could be held off to January. Trump will be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president on Jan. 20, 2017.

White and Smith both said that their key supporters in Congress remain the same, namely Mississippi Republican Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran.

Wicker, in particular, has been credited with working on bipartisan measures to improve passenger rail and Amtrak services. He and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker backed rail projects included in a five-year transportation bill authorized a year ago.

Thousands of people showed up in small Bay St. Louis, Miss., to welcome Amtrak back to the Gulf Coast more than 10 years after service was interrupted because of Hurricane Katrina. Other cities also held festive homecomings for the train as it traversed from New Orleans east to Alabama on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.

“We’ve developed relationships with (the Obama) administration that served us well,” said White. “It will require an investment of time to transition to new folks in those positions. But our congressional delegation is the same and those folks have been so helpful and supportive, so we expect to progress nicely.”

Smith noted that Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a top Trump adviser, is also supportive of a cost-effective rail option along the Gulf Coast. He said that other Trump allies – such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – understand the “economic vitality” of passenger rail.

“I certainly think it will be the effort of those from our region and the Gulf to share with them that while we understand passenger rail is critically important to large metropolitan areas, it’s also important to smaller cities and other regions,” Smith said.

He added, “We’re not talking about high-speed rail across the Gulf. We are talking about passenger rail that makes sense and which is to our scale.”

Privatized rail

Trump will rise to the presidency at the same time that Republicans command both chambers in Congress.

Republicans, during July’s GOP National Convention in Cleveland, called for an end to subsicized passenger rail, namely Amtrak. Their new party platform, instead, encouraged American’s passenger rail service be privatized.

Talks of privatizing passenger rail, worries about the condition of train stations in the southern part of the state, and the Republican’s national platform which opposes Amtrak subsidies are some of the recent issues to emerge.

Said U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope: “The key to getting the infrastructure improvement bill through Congress will be to ensure it is fiscally responsible, which is the same concern I have always had with restoring rail along the Gulf Coast.”

Hooper expressed confidence that the Trump administration will pursue more privatized rail systems throughout the South.  He said that rail supporters could work with local governments and states to apply for federal grants and attract private rail projects.

Alabama has only three cities with passenger rail options – Anniston, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. All three are stops along the federally funded Amtrak route from New York to New Orleans.

The U.S. is home to relatively few privatized passenger rail ventures. In south Florida, for example, All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, is set to be the first large privately run rail company lauched in the U.S. in 100 years.

The company is pursuing tax-exempt bonds to construct the Brightline rail system, featuring gleaming new trains running at speeds of 125 mph or more between Miami and Orlando.

“Where that opportunity exists, we should take advantage of it,” said Smith. “The Brightline folks recognize that this is a wonderful opportunity for them but they also realize there are very few other opportunities out there.”

Smith added, “For the development of passenger rail, there is always a public sector (role). The public sector is the player. You see that in any public-private sector partnership … The private side needs to know that public sector is involved first.”

To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2016/11/will_the_trump_train_lead_to_m.html

 

Williams and Mills book signing at NewSouth Books

Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. author and NewSouth Books Co-founder and Editor Horace Randall Williams will present and sign copies of his recently released 100 Things You Need to Know About Alabama, a work sponsored by the Bicentennial Commission in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of statehood Alabama will celebrate in 2019.  In short vignettes, 100 Things looks back at the events, places, and peoples that have shaped the state from the time of the earliest Native American settlement. The book offers a concise but authoritative portrait of our state.

Also on Sunday at NewSouth Bookstore historian J. Mills Thornton III will speak about and sign copies of his newest book, Archipelagoes of My South: Episodes in the Shaping of a Region, 1830-1965.  Author Jane Dailey calls this new work “a marvelous collection of essays on the South.  Based on exhaustive research and ranging across two centuries,” Dailey adds, “Thornton’s prose is always lively, his analysis razor-sharp.”

NewSouth Bookstore is located at 105 S. Court Street in downtown Montgomery, at the corner of S. Court and Washington.  Light refreshments will be served.

For more information or to reserve a signed copy of these books, call 334-834-3556.

 

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Nov. 17, 9 – 11 a.m.   Dr. Ed Bridges book signing            Goat Hill Gift Shop, Alabama Capitol

Dec. 2, 5 p.m.              2016 Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting                     Alabama State Capitol

Dec. 2, 6 – 7 p.m.        Capitol Open House                                                 Alabama State Capitol

Dec. 5, 12 & 19           Candlelight Tours                                  Governor’s Mansion, Montgomery

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Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to: www.tourism.alabama.gov

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at: peggy.collins@tourism.alabama.gov

Alabama Tourism Department
www.alabama.travel