• Senate approves bill for hotel and convention center at Gulf State Park
• Final AprilWalking Tour
• Gov. Bentley signs Scottsboro Boys Act into law ahead of ceremonial signing; legislation for full exonerations pending
• Goat milk ice cream? Goat cheesecake? Get your goat at Belle Chevre’s new cheese shop in Elkmont
• Whose barbecue sauce is boss? Alabama Tourism Department searches for the state’s best
• Huntsville one of 10 great places to be inspired by innovation
• News from the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville
• Grayson Russell Helps Save the Day in Space Warriors
• Birmingham’s Big wins best-of-show ADDY
• Alabama Tourism Department Workshop
• Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce needs new tourism director
• Hospitality Management program gets $228,000
• Alabama Tourism upcoming events
• Tourism Day Celebrations at Welcome Centers, and Motorcycle Motorist Day


Senate approves bill for hotel and convention center at Gulf State Park
by Kim Chandler,, April 24
The Alabama Senate has approved a bill to allow the state to partner with a private developer for a new hotel and convention center at Gulf State Park.
Senators approved the bill on a 23-11 vote after several hours of debate.
Proponents said the bill will allow large groups to hold their conventions in Alabama instead of heading to Florida.

Gov. Robert Bentley said the bill will provide an economic and tourism boost to the coast and the state.  “It will bring a lot of money into the state,” Bentley said. “If we get this through the House, we will be having conventions in Alabama rather than in Sandestin,” Bentley said.

Bentley thanked senators on the Senate floor after the vote. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

During the debate, opponents questioned if it was right for the state to be competing with private enterprise or to use state dollars and prime state real estate to help a private company.
“I believe when the government does certain things like building convention centers and hotels, they are directly competing with the private sector market and they end up obviously subsidizing in some shape form or fashion,” Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, said.

The nearby Perdido Beach Resort, a convention hotel in Orange Beach, has opposed the legislation.  The project site is limited to the 29-acre stretch of Gulf State Park where the old state lodge once stood before it was damaged by Hurricane Ivan.

“It’s another resource to attract visitors to Pleasure Island for vacations, conferences and economic activity, have a good time and spend money,” said Sen. Trip Pittman,R-Montrose. Pittman said the project could unfold in various ways with the state leasing the site or building the facility and contracting with a company to run it.  “The state could build a lodge and a conference center. They could do a ground lease and build a conference center. They could do it the other way,” Pittman said.  A ground lease could be up for 70 years.

The bill would allow the state to use BP oil spill money for the project. Some senators tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill so the BP money could not be spend to build the hotel.
Bentley said there are three pots of BP money that could be used for the project.
“All of this money is going to the two (coastal) counties anyway,” Bentley said.

Final April Walking Tour
Twenty-three towns across Alabama will be on display this Saturday, April 27, as the final day of the Alabama Tourism Department’s April Walking Tours.

A variety of community leaders will lead the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns.

Towns and starting places for the April Walking Tours are:Athens, Athens Visitor Center; Atmore, Heritage Park; Birmingham, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Butler, Jackson’s On The Square; Courtland, Town Square; Cullman, Cullman County Museum; Decatur, Old State Bank; Eufaula, various locations; Fairhope, Fairhope Welcome Center; Florence, various locations.

Madison, Madison Roundhouse; Mobile, Downtown Mobile Alliance; Monroeville, Chamber of Commerce; Montevallo, Chamber of Commerce; Montgomery; Montgomery Area Visitor Center; Phenix City; Amphitheater; Prattville, Autauga County Heritage Center; Selma, Selma-Dallas County Library; Sheffield, Sheffield Municipal Building; Sylacauga, B.B. Comer Memorial Library; Tuscumbia, ColdWater Bookstore; Wetumpka, Elmore County Museum.

The tours have been coordinated by Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department. “Alabama is the only state in the nation to hold statewide, simultaneous walking tours. These walking tours are a great way to get out and enjoy the spring weather and find out about the history of our state. We have done almost 1,800 walking tours since the beginning of the program ten years ago and they keep increasing in popularity every year,” Jones said.

More information about the April Walking Tours is available on the Alabama Tourism Department website at:

Gov. Bentley signs Scottsboro Boys Act into law ahead of ceremonial signing; legislation for full exonerations pending
by Kelly Kazek,, April 17
The Scottsboro Boys Act, state legislation that allows for a pardon for eight of the nine black men unjustly accused of raping two white women in 1931, has been signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley.

The official signing last week allowed the bill to be filed in a timely manner but a ceremonial signing of Senate Bill 97 will be held Friday at the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church. A time has not been set.

Shelia Washington, who founded the museum and led efforts to exonerate the Scottsboro Boys, said she is expecting crowds of people, including Clarence Norris Jr., the son of one of the Scottsboro Boys, and Catherine Schreiber, who is producing the Tony-award-nominated musical “The Scottsboro Boys,” in London. Washington said she hopes other descendants of the Scottsboro Boys will attend.

She is in a celebratory mood but thinks justice took too long.
“I’m excited and disappointed, too, that it took so long for this to happen,” Washington said. “What happened to the Civil Rights leaders? Why did they let the Scottsboro Boys down in this?”
First step for pardons, then full exoneration?

The governor’s signing of the Scottsboro Boys Act does not mean an immediate pardon for the teens and young men who were convicted – and all but the youngest teen initially sentenced to death – of raping the women aboard a train. The nine were arrested when the train stopped in Paint Rock and taken to the nearest jail in Scottsboro.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the first convictions led to a series of trials but all nine were eventually sentenced to time in prison.

By signing the bill into law, Bentley paves the way for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to pardon eight of the men. Clarence Norris, the only one of the accused alive at the time, was pardoned in 1976 with the aid of then-Gov. George Wallace.

Senate Bill 97 was introduced by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.
Because a pardon is a “forgiveness of an offense” and not a declaration of innocence, two Jackson County legislators introduced a resolution exonerating the Scottsboro Boys in February.

Rep. John Robinson, D-Scottsboro, and Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Scottsboro, sponsored House Joint Resolution 20. Robinson said HJR20 is currently in the Senate. He said he is not sure when the Senate will act but he expects the resolution to pass this session.

Goat milk ice cream? Goat cheesecake? Get your goat at Belle Chevre’s new cheese shop in Elkmont
by Kelly Kazek,, April 13
Piper Belvin wasn’t sure what to think of a dessert made with goat milk, but ice cream is ice cream and the 9-year-old was willing to give it a try.

She took a bite of the cool treat and crinkled her nose at the unusual taste. It might take some getting used to.

Goat cheese ice cream was just one of Piper’s unique experiences today during the grand opening celebration of Belle Chevre Cheese Shop and Tasting Room in downtown Elkmont.
Piper and other children petted baby goat siblings Jack and Jill, listened to bluegrass music, had their faces painted and sampled the newly introduced “goat cheesecake” that received rave reviews in the New York Times, where a writer described it as “ethereal lushness.”

The event was held in conjunction with the town’s annual Bean Day fundraiser, where residents eat plates heaped with pinto beans. It’s a safe bet the majority of Elkmont’s 470 residents attended the events in the quaint-but-tiny downtown, which encompasses a strip of five storefronts built more than 100 years ago, a town hall, a gas station and a park.

It was Elkmont’s charm that encouraged Belle Chevre owner Tasia Malakasis, a Huntsville native and Grissom High School graduate, to open the shop, which will serve as a front for a creamery she plans to open soon in the empty 7,000-square-foot cotton warehouse behind it. The creamery would take the place of the small facility where the Belle Chevre cheeses are currently made.

“I just happened upon this historical building back here and said, ‘How cool is this?’” she said.
“My goal was to let the people here in Alabama know what we are doing and have them embrace it as a southern product.”€Tasia Malakasis

The location was also ideal because it adjoins the entrance to the Richard Martin Trail, which turned the town’s abandoned railway beds into picturesque walking, biking and riding trails for the community.

“Cotton and railroads were historically the big industries here in Elkmont,” Malakasis said. “We feel great embracing the history of this cute little town.”

The proximity to the trail encouraged Malakasis to offer bike rentals, picnic baskets and to-go treats at the shop, where visitors can find items such as goat’s milk soap, “Get Your Goat” T-shirts and dozens of Alabama-made products, such as local baked goods and sauces.

The store at 18849 Upper Fort Hampton Road will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Call 256-732-3577 for information or visit the website at

Whose barbecue sauce is boss? Alabama Tourism Department searches for the state’s best
by Bob Carlton,, The Birmingham News, April 21
In Alabama, perhaps the only thing we enjoy more than eating barbecue is arguing about who makes the best barbecue.

The Alabama Tourism Department gets it.

A couple of weeks ago, the tourism folks at least tried to settle that great debate when it crowned Birmingham’s Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q the state champ in its NCAA Tournament-styled Alabama Barbecue Bracket. But judging from all of the passionate comments, it only stirred up more arguments.

Fully aware that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to ‘cue, the tourism department is now on the hunt for Alabama’s best commercial barbecue sauce in its statewide BBQ Sauce-Off. The contest is part of the ongoing Year of Alabama Food campaign.
So far, 27 sauces have been nominated, according to Brian Jones of the tourism department.
Those include: Baumhower’s, Berdeaux’s, BBQ Shack, Big Bob Gibson, Bishop’s, Bob Sykes, Bryant, Carlile’s, Costas, Dale’s BBQ, Demetri’s, Dreamland, Full Moon, Golden Rule, Jim ‘N Nick’s, Johnny’s BBQ, LawLers, Mike & Ed’s, Mike Elliott’s, Noodie’s, Ollie’s, Perfect Bite BBQ, Phil’s, Rob’s, Saucy Q, Slaphappy and Viper, according to the tourism department.
Only bottled barbecue sauces available in retail outlets such as stores and restaurants are eligible, Jones said. So, no matter how proud you are of your secret homemade sauce, you can’t enter it here.

All sauces also must be made in Alabama or bottled for an Alabama-based company, and they have to include the word barbecue or variation thereof in the name or description on the bottle.

For all of the rules and entry requirements, go here.

Unlike the Alabama Barbecue Bracket, which was a popularity contest in which fans voted for their favorites on Facebook, the winners of the BBQ Sauce-Off will be chosen by a panel of judges in a blind judging.

The finalists from four regions will be selected on Saturday, May 4, and Saturday, May 11, and the statewide finals will be held on Saturday, May 18, at Pepper Place Saturday Market in Birmingham.

Here are the dates and locations for the four regional finals:
South Region: Saturday, May 4, 3 p.m. at the Southern Makers Festival in Montgomery.
Gulf Coast Region: Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m. at Market on the Square in Mobile.
Central Region: Saturday, May 11, 10 a.m. at the Tuscaloosa River Market.
North Region: Saturday, May 11 at the Decatur/Morgan County Farmers Market.
For more information, visit the Year of Alabama Food website at

Huntsville one of 10 great places to be inspired by innovation, April 19
America’s success has been fed by its innovators and inventors – optimists like Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison whose inspired work continues, even after their deaths, to fuel this country’s growth. Author Alec Foege celebrates these quirky geniuses in his new book, The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great (Basic Books). Certain sites still resonate with a tinkering spirit, he says: “These are places to go to inspire if you want to create your own project or just to get into the mind-set.” He shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

America wouldn’t have reached the moon without Huntsville. Rocket City is where NASA developed its powerful Saturn rockets, among other space innovations. Foege recommends a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a showcase of space engineering — with a lot of cool hardware. 256-837-3400;
For the entire article, go to:

News from the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville
Hundreds are expected to turn out Thursday night, April 25th, for the world premiere of Space Warriors, a movie shot on location at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. The film stars Danny Glover, Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino and child actor Thomas Horn. It was shot on location at Space Camp.

Directors, producers, cast and crew are headed to Huntsville for the event. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle has proclaimed April 25, Space Warriors Day in the City of Huntsville. The event will take place inside the Space Center’s 3-D Theater and Saturn V Hall. Guests will enjoy watching the movie underneath the Saturn V Moon Rocket, which was featured in the film.
This just up on the new “Made in Alabama” Commerce Dept webite:

Grayson Russell helps save the day in Space Warriors
Film premieres in select theaters nationwide April 26.
Russell To Make Appearance Opening Night in Alabama

Grayson Russell, known as Russell “Rusty” Riggs, helps save the day in his all new movie Space Warriors. The exciting tale follows a group of exploring kids who attend Space Camp and find themselves in the middle of a real-life urgent crisis aboard the International Space Station. The film incorporates historical events, archival footage and breathtaking special effects. Space Warriors was filmed in Huntsville, AL at the US Space and Rocket Center and stars Danny Glover (The Color Purple andLethal Weapon), Josh Lucas (A Beautiful Mind, Sweet Home Alabama, American Psyco and the popular television show, “The Firm”), Oscar-winner Mira Sorvinao (Mighty Aphrodite andRomy and Michele’s High School Reunion), Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding andThe Grey) and Thomas Horn(Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer) co-wrote anddirected the kid-friendly movie. Space Warriors premieres at the US Space and Rocket Center this Thursday and opens in select theaters nationwide on Friday, April 26, 2013. Grayson is set to make a special appearance on opening night at the Carmike Patton Creek 15 in Hoover, AL from 5:30-6:30 pm, with Space Warriors showing at 6:40 pm. Fans should plan to arrive early on Friday for autographs and to purchase tickets.
Grayson is no stranger to the big screen and has made quite a name for himself. The Alabama native made his debut as Will Ferrell’s son, Texas Ranger, in Talladega Nights; The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. He has also appeared as the awkward, high-strung Fregley in the Hollywood blockbuster trilogy Diary of a Wimpy Kid based on the best-selling novels by author Jeff Kinney. In previous years, he claimed the leading role in the independent film, The Rainbow Tribe, and landed the lead in the television series “The Haunting Hour” by RL Stines. Grayson has guest starred in the popular Disney show, “I’m In The Band” and has appeared in numerous commercials both nationally and locally. In 2008, he was a featured presenter during the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards, held in Nashville, Tennessee.

Grayson recently completed filming A Season of Miracles alongside John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville), which is set to release later this year.

Grayson currently resides in Alabama, where he is a freshman in high school.
For more information on Grayson Russell, visit or join him on Facebookand Twitter at Grayson Russell. To view the official Space Warriors trailer, visit .

For Grayson Russell interviews and personal appearances, please contact:
Crystal Russell ( or Crystal Johnson (
Space Warriors Source:

Birmingham’s Big wins best-of-show ADDY
By Stan Diel,, April 23
Big Communications’ Gulf seafood campaign won best-of-show at the regional ADDY awards.
Birmingham-basedBig Communications won Best of Show in the District 7 ADDY Awards for its Alabama Gulf Seafood campaign.

The campaign was selected from a field of 826 entries from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

“Our creative team developed a truly authentic campaign to celebrate the hard working individuals of Alabama’s seafood industry,” John Montgomery, president of Big Communications, said in a prepared statement. “We are thrilled to be recognized for our work, but most of all, we are honored to have been given a platform to tell the rest of the country that the best seafood comes from the Gulf Coast of Alabama.”

For the article, go to:

Hospitality Management program gets $228,000
On April 11, the hospitality industry’s finest gathered at The Hotel at Auburn University for the annual Auburn University Hospitality Gala, which brought some of the country’s and world’s top chefs and winemakers to Auburn. The Hospitality Gala is a fundraiser organized solely by the students of Auburn University’s Hospitality Management Program in partnership with executives of the Capella Hotel Group. This year’s event raised $228,000 for the program.

Alabama Tourism Department Workshop
The Alabama Tourism Department Workshop date has been scheduled for May 8. Please mark your calendar and make plans to attend the Alabama Tourism Workshop on Wed., May 8, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in Birmingham.

The free workshop, which is for tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area, will be at the Westin Hotel, 2221 Richard Arrington Blvd. N., in Birmingham.

Come and learn about the many programs and services the Alabama Tourism Department offers. Be sure to get your registration in soon.
For information and registration, contact: Rosemary Judkins, Sales Manager, 334-242-4493

Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce needs new tourism director
Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new Tourism director. Contact Sheryl Z. Smedley, Executive Director, Selma- Dallas Co. Chamber of Commerce, 912 Selma Avenue, Selma, AL 36701 / 334-875-7241 /

Alabama Tourism upcoming events
April 27 April Walking Tours
May 4-12 National Travel & Tourism Week – Nationwide
May 8 Alabama Tourism Department Workshop

Tourism Day Celebrations at Welcome Centers, and Motorcycle Motorist Day
Celebration time at all Welcome Centers is: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
May 2 – Sumter Welcome Center
May 3 – Dekalb Welcome Center – Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association
May 9 – Cleburne Welcome Center
TBA – Lanett Welcome Center
May 10 – Ardmore Welcome Center – Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association
May 10 – Cullman Rest Area – Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association
May 17 – Baldwin Welcome Center
May 18 – Houston Welcome Center
May 18 – Motorcycle Motorist Awareness Day at all Welcome Centers
May 24 – Grand Bay Welcome Center
May 30 – Dekalb Welcome Center
May 31 – Ardmore Welcome Center

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