• State finance director wants to see Music Hall of Fame reopen
• Alabama Restaurant Week kicks off August 16th
• Sweet Home Saving campaign to boost August tourism
• Tourism speakers, award winners named for conference
• runs article “A return to downtown Birmingham”
• World-renowned scientists participate in Pass the Torch lecture series
• Rick Smith named GM for Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
• 9 Southern foods you must try
• Guided Segway tours of Montgomery offer smooth, slightly geeky way to see capital city
• Last chance to visit: Sequoyah Caverns closes Sept. 3
• Sign-up for International Showcase in Nashville
• Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


State finance director wants to see Music Hall of Fame reopen
By Russ Corey,, Aug. 10

After touring the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and Museum for the first time Friday, acting state Finance Director Bill Newton said it will be a priority of his to find the means to reopen the facility.

While it has been open for a few days here and there, the facility has been essentially closed since December.

On Aug. 3, Newton was appointed to the hall of fame’s board of directors, along with state Tourism Director Lee Sentell and Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director July S. Ryals.

Newton was traveling to Memphis on Friday and decided to tour the facility with Sentell.
“It was actually overwhelming,” Newton said. “I’ve heard of the hall of fame since it was first considered by the Legislature.”

Newton admitted that while he has been involved in financial matters associated with the hall of fame dating back to the bond issue used to build the facility, he had never visited it.

On Friday, Newton, his wife, Evelyn, and Sentell were treated to a tour by hall of fame board Chairman Rodney Hall, Judy Hood, wife of legendry Swampers bassist David Hood, and Bonnie Bak, a local music marketer. “The tour has been surprising,” Newton said.

He said many people know about the state’s connection with well-known artists such as Hank Williams and the group Alabama, but there are many more artists whose Alabama connections might not be that widely known.

“This is a valuable asset for the state, and we will do everything we can to optimize its value to the state,” Newton said.

Newton said it will “be a priority of mine” to find a way to reopen the facility so it can once again be enjoyed by the public.

Newton, who has been in state government for the past 40 years, said he was involved in the $2.5 million bond issue that was used to finance the facility’s construction and museum and worked on annual budgets that until recently included the hall of fame.

In 2012, the hall of fame and several other state tourist attractions were cut from the state’s general fund budget. Even though money is tight in state government, Newton said the state “needs to do whatever it takes” to reopen the hall of fame.

While funding the hall of fame could upset other agencies whose budgets also were cut, Newton said that happens every day in state government. “I’m used to people being unhappy,” he said. Evelyn Newton, too, expressed enthusiasm for the hall of fame.
“I thought it was fabulous,” Evelyn Newton said. “It opened my eyes. I didn’t expect this.”

Like many people who visit the hall of fame for the first time, she said she never realized there were so many artists, especially songwriters, associated with Alabama.
Bill Newton said he grew up in Greenville, the county seat of Butler County, which also was the birthplace of Hank Williams.

To read the article, go to:

Alabama Restaurant Week kicks off August 16th
More than 250 restaurants will offer lunch and dinner discounts to encourage customers to try new dishes during the second annual Alabama Restaurants Week Aug. 16-25, officials announced today.

The two-course lunch specials will range from $5 to $15 while three-course dinners will cost from $10 to $30, not including tax, tip and drink. Restaurants have the option of offering specials at both lunch and dinner or choosing to offer just lunch or just dinner specials.

“This is a great time for people to try restaurants in their hometown and other places in the state while saving money,” said Alabama Tourism Department Director Lee Sentell.
Martie Duncan, 2012 Next Food Network Star finalist, will be conducting a tour of participating restaurants during Alabama’s Restaurant Week. She will be sharing her culinary experiences from restaurants all over the state. The tour will begin in Birmingham heading south to Montgomery, Mobile, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach. Duncan will return to the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa area heading north to Decatur, Elkmont, Florence, Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, and Huntsville. The tour will end in the Montgomery/Auburn area.

The Alabama Tourism Department will be using the hash tag #EATALFOOD on all of their social media channels to promote Alabama Restaurant Week and photos of Ms. Duncan’s appetizing adventures.

The social media channels include:

For more information and a complete list of participating restaurants please visit

Sweet Home Saving campaign to boost August tourism
Industry partners can enter their deals for Alabama residents to enjoy during the month of August at restaurants, accommodations, ticketed attractions and gated events as part of a campaign to take advantage of later school year starts. This is an in-state campaign to boost tourism throughout Alabama during August. Enter your deal today to take part in this exciting, free campaign. Visit\portal to take advantage of this free tourism promotion campaign.
Participating is easy.
Visit\portal to register your business or organization in the campaign.

1.Enter your special deal. You can select from suggested deals or enter any deal you like. You can update or change your deals as needed. Website visitors will be informed that deals are subject to change, and to “book or reserve now OR call to confirm deals before you travel.”

2.The website and deals will be promoted through a full-scale marketing and advertising campaign this summer. You can benefit from the free promotion of your business and your deals through the Sweet Home Saving™ campaign.
Visit\portal and promote your exciting deals for Alabama residents in Aug.
For questions or more information, write or call (251) 967-7572.

Tourism speakers, award winners named for conference

National Tour Association President Lisa Simon will headline the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism being held Aug. 17-20 at the Westin Hotel in Huntsville, officials announced.

Southern Living publisher Greg Shumann and senior editor Erin Shaw Street will also be at the conference to give attendees an inside look at the magazine’s operations and its social media strategy.

“More than 250 tourism professionals from across the state will be attending this three day educational conference,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell. “This is our opportunity to bring in nationally recognized experts to present the latest trends in tourism marketing. Tourism is a $10.5 billion industry in Alabama and has shown an increase of more than 60% over the last ten years,” he said.

Customer service specialist Theresa Syer will be one of the keynote speakers at the conference. Tourism specialist Neville Bhada will be presenting sessions on international tourism and effective communications strategy. Vancouver-based digital marketing expert Dave Serino will make a presentation on the use of social media in tourism promotions.

Hospitality consultant Phil Bruno will conduct a training session on creating customer experiences at attractions. Author and business strategist Mack Collier will speak on creating engagement with social media. DeKalb County Tourism executive director John Dersham will host a training session on the use of photography in tourism promotion.
The staff of the Alabama Tourism Department will present an annual update Sunday from 3:15-4:15 p.m.

Thirteen award winners announced
The conference includes an awards banquet Monday evening where 13 tourism awards will be presented.

Ed Buckbee from Huntsville will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Buckbee was selected by Wernher von Braun in 1970 to serve as the first CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and served in that role for 25 years.

The Museum of Alabama in Montgomery has been named as the 2014 Attraction of the Year. The museum was recently expanded to include a new centerpiece exhibition, Alabama Voices, that will open early next year.

The “50 Years Forward” campaign from the City of Birmingham will be acknowledged as the Event of the Year for its commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Reef & Restoration Foundation in Orange Beach will receive the Governor’s Tourism Award for the organization’s creation of a new artificial reef in the gulf coast waters with the sinking of “The LuLu” earlier this summer.

DeKalb Tourism in Fort Payne will be named the Tourism Organization of the Year for their work in increasing tourism expenditures in the Northeast Alabama.

The Tourism Partnership Award will be given to the Alabama Bass Trail for the Decatur-based organization’s promotion of Alabama as a year-round fishing destination.

Tami Reist will receive the Executive of the Year award for her work in increasing tourism promotion in North Alabama as the President/CEO of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association.

Larry Bowser will be named the Hotelier of the Year for his leadership as the General Manager of the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa in Florence. The Marriott Shoals was named the top Marriott hotel in North America for guest satisfaction in 2012 and has maintained the ranking in 2013.

The Birmingham-based Alabama Media Group will receive the Media Award for its consistent and comprehensive coverage of the tourism industry in The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, Mobile’s Press-Register and on

Sen. Trip Pittman from Daphne and Rep. Steve McMillan from Bay Minette will be presented with Legislator of the Year awards for their work with sponsoring legislation authorizing the rebuilding of the Gulf State Park Hotel and Conference Center.

The Ardmore Welcome Center welcomed more than one million visitors last year and will be named the Welcome Center of the Year.

Jessica Carlton with the Huntsville/Madison County CVB will receive the industry’s Rising Star award for her work in launching the new CityVision in-room hotel video system and bringing the Social Media Tourism Symposium to Huntsville. runs article “A return to downtown Birmingham”
by Joe Gose,, Aug. 6

Long scarred as the site of brutal civil rights struggles and decades of industrial collapse, downtown Birmingham, Ala., has struggled to attract new business or visitors, even from its own region.

But some recent efforts give the city a bit of hope.

The centrally located $25 million Railroad Park, 19 acres with lakes, an amphitheater and lots of green space, opened three years ago and has become a symbol for reviving the downtown district. Not only do thousands of tourists visit the park, but former city residents are also venturing downtown again after years of suburban life.

As evidence of continued growth, Regions Field, an 8,500-seat minor-league baseball stadium, opened in April just south of Railroad Park, another downtown attraction for the city’s roster. Other noteworthy projects include a heavily subsidized $70 million Westin Hotel and entertainment district in the city’s convention area, and a $7 million renovation of the Lyric, a former vaudeville theater nearly 100 years old and barely used since 1958.

While the downtown area somehow escaped the failed urban renewal efforts that razed buildings of historical significance in other cities, the district is home to an estimated 1.6 million square feet of largely vacant buildings constructed before World War II.

To help encourage more renovation, Alabama lawmakers in May approved a bill offering developers up to $5 million in state historical tax credits to help pay for projects. Other incentives, like federal historical tax credits and low-interest loans, are available, too.

“The momentum downtown is palpable,” said Derek R. Waltchack, a principal of Shannon Waltchack, a Birmingham-based property brokerage and investment firm. “You have all the pieces in place for it to be really hot for the next 10 years.”

“People that don’t live here used to say with pride, ‘I haven’t been to downtown Birmingham for 10 or 15 years,’ ” he said. “They wore it as a badge of honor.”
Mr. Waltchack, who operated his business in the suburbs for years, could have counted himself among them. But a trip to Railroad Park with his children soon after it opened helped change his mind about an investment opportunity in two buildings near the park that he had turned down a few months before. Eventually he and other investors bought the century-old structures and completed a $4 million renovation to turn them into 42,000 square feet of offices known as Railroad Square. Shannon Waltchack moved its offices into the project along with a handful of other tenants.

Now Shannon Waltchack is spearheading a similar redevelopment for a two-story warehouse and surrounding buildings totaling 40,000 square feet near Regions Field. Plans for the warehouse call for first-floor commercial space, second-floor apartments, and a rooftop deck overlooking center field.

“If you would have called me four years ago and asked, ‘Derek, would you consider moving your office downtown?’ I would have said, ‘Never,’ ” Mr. Waltchack said. “We’re a good case study in how much things have changed here.”
To read the entire article, go to:

World-renowned scientists participate in Pass the Torch lecture series
Three world-renowned scientists visit Huntsville this Thursday, Aug. 15. Retired Air Force Col Joe Kittinger, Art Thompson and Dr. Jonathan Clark will visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center to participate in the Pass the Torch lecture series. The three worked alongside Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from the edge of space last year, shattering a number of world records.

Baumgartner’s capsule and flight suit are on display for the next 50 days at the U. S. Space & Rocket Center, one of only five places in the world to host the exhibit. According to Space Center CEO, Dr. Deborah Barnhart, “this is a great honor for our city and our entire state, to be chosen to host this exhibit that showcases technology and ingenuity.” Dr. Barnhart was joined by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and more than a hundred people for the grand opening last week.

This Thursday hundreds will get to hear personal stories about how the Red Bull Stratos jump went from the idea process to reality. The event takes place this Thursday, Aug. 15, at 5:00 p.m. in the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s 3-D Theater. It is free and open to the public.

Rick Smith named GM for Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
by Alan Alexander, Birmingham Business Journal, Aug. 9

The only “four diamond” hotel in central Alabama has a new general manager. Rick Smith, who has more than 30 years of hospitality experience, will replace Steve Miller as the general manager of Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa.

“It is quite an honor to work with such a quality team at Renaissance Ross Bridge,” said Smith. “As a high profile resort, we welcome business and leisure guests from around the world daily. With a great facility and a team dedicated to guest satisfaction, the future of Ross Bridge is very bright and I am delighted to be a part of it.”
Smith previously worked with Marriot International, the parent company of Renaissance Hotels, and has held leadership roles in Marriott hotels in Houston, Denver, Fort Collins and Dallas.

Renaissance Ross Bridge ranked as the No. 5 largest hotel in Birmingham with 259 rooms.

To read the entire article, go to:

9 Southern foods you must try
Annette Thompson,, Aug. 8

The heat is on down South this summer, when seasonal dishes emerge on plates as fast as fat red tomatoes ripen on the vine. Southern chefs, cooks, and diners relish the fresh flavors of the fertile growing season, whether from the garden or the sea. We’ve gathered nine dishes that will leave you hungry for more, so pick up your fork and order a sweet tea. It’s going to be a tasty summer.

Barbecue ~ In the Deep South, barbecue is a noun, not a verb. Pitmasters slow-cook succulent meats over wood fires and the smoky aroma lures like the Pied Piper’s song, drawing the hungry to claim a plate of pulled pork, ribs, and brisket. The best way to pick a fight down South is to claim that one style of barbecue is better than another, and pitmasters vie for bragging rights as the king of ‘cue at competitions across the region. Barbecue changes in different areas, from North Carolina’s tangy vinegar-based sauce to South Carolina’s mustardy sauce, from Alabama’s thick red sauce to Memphis’ finger-licking dry rub. Give Southerners a summer holiday—be it the 4th of July, Labor Day, or any other—and they’ll celebrate it with barbecue.

Where to Go: How do you find a good barbecue joint? Easy. Look for two ingredients: smoke rising out of the chimney, and pickup trucks and Cadillacs side by side in the parking lot. A top spot is Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama. Here you’ll see trophies from past Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contests and tables topped with bottles of the porcine palace’s signature tangy white sauce.

Guided Segway tours of Montgomery offer smooth, slightly geeky way to see capital city
by Amber Sutton,, Aug. 5

The first time I saw a Segway in Montgomery, I was waiting at a red light on Dexter Avenue when a flash of shiny metal crossed the street in front of me before speeding down the sidewalk.

There’s a good chance I openly gaped before letting out an audible snort at how silly it seemed at the time.

Segway tour of Montgomery A Segway tour of downtown Montgomery, Ala., with Jeff Blake of Blake’s Segway Tours.

Now that I’ve experienced firsthand what it’s like to lean into the breeze and feel the machine accelerate with your movement while hanging out with Blake’s Segway Tours, it’s safe to say my opinion has changed.

Owner Jeff Blake started the business in December 2012 after taking a Segway tour in Chicago with his son and realizing Montgomery’s potential.

“When I got back, I looked around Montgomery and realized how many historical things were in the downtown area and how close together they actually were,” said Blake. “It became evident real quick we’re a perfect place for a Segway tour.”

Blake’s Segway Tours offers a variety of options, including a 45 minute introductory ride, an hour and 15 minute tour around downtown and a Civil Rights tour. Prices range from $38 to $58.

During the tour, we were able to check out several of the historical locations that make up downtown Montgomery, entertainment hot spots and more. For history buffs, it’s a great way to learn more about all of the Civil Rights sites without spending a day trotting around the city in the hot sun.

The Segway tour follows sidewalks up to the front steps of the Alabama State Capitol.
For more information or to book a tour, contact Blake’s Segway Tours through their website or by calling 334-657-4195.

Last chance to visit: Sequoyah Caverns closes Sept. 3
Fort Payne, Aug. 7

The general public has until Sept. 3, to visit Sequoyah Caverns and Ellis Homestead. Known for its “looking glass lakes”, Sequoyah Caverns is located in Wills Valley at the foot of Sand Mountain in northeast Alabama and has attracted thousands of families, school groups, and travelers for the past 49 years.

Unlike other caves, Sequoyah Caverns is full of “looking glass lakes”, which reflect the thousands of intricate rock formations and nature’s magnificent underground creations. Along with the reflection pools, the Caverns also feature towering stalagmites, waterfalls, and writings on the walls dating back to the early 1800s. The attraction was named Attraction of the Year in 2006 by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. In 2010, it was rated the #1 thing to do in Alabama by and was inducted into the North Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame.

A trip to Sequoyah Caverns and Ellis Homestead is more than just a visit to a cave. Along with exploring the caverns, the grounds also contain a picnic pavilion and a farm animal corral, as well as offer fishing and hiking the pristine Lookout Point Trail to a view of the beautiful valley below. Other activities include mining for multicolored gems as cool mountain water flows down a hand-made wooden trough and watching farm animals such as oxen, sheep, goats, and horses, milling around the property. A gift shop is also located on the grounds where a variety of souvenirs, handcrafted items, and light concessions can be found.

James Ellis and his family moved to this homestead in 1841 and, over the years, acquired and cultivated hundreds of acres of woodlands. Today, the direct descendents of James Ellis still live here and welcome visitors to the 58 beautiful acres set aside for all to enjoy.

The Cavern is named for Chief Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee alphabet, who taught his writing system in the Willstown community during the movement of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma. A historical marker in his recognition stands in Valley Head, only a few miles from the Caverns.

Sequoyah Caverns and Ellis Homestead is located off I-59 north of Valley Head and is open Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with guided tours available daily. Admission is $15.95 per adult, $8.95 per child, and free for children three years and under. Group Tours and Wild Cave Adventures are also available.

For more information, call 800-843-5098.

Sign-up for International Showcase in Nashville
Registration is currently underway for the International Showcase held in Nashville, Dec. 3-6, 2013. This will be the second international show presented by Travel South. Last year the response from both overseas tour companies and Alabama suppliers was great.

Nashville will be an exciting city for the International tour operators, so I think the level and number of companies attending will be even better. In anticipation, this year the showcase will have two full days of appointments instead of just a day and a half. This will allow you to have even more appointments. More than 75 international tour operators from more than a dozen countries around the globe are expected to attend.
Thanks to the large number of Alabama suppliers that signed up last year, Alabama projected a solid image of an area of the south where tourist should and do come to spend their money and have a good time.

Sign up now. The early bird special pricing that starts as low as $995 for a single seat at a three-seat appointment table ends Aug. 31. For the best appointment results, come with two others from your area and have a unified tourism message. Starting Sept. 1, the price of appointment taking admission will be higher.

To sign up, look at all pricing and regulations, go to:,
and to download the International Showcase brochure, go to:!userfiles/showcase/International%20Showcase/IntlShowcase2013_Brochure.pdf

Travel South is expecting that booth space will sell out, so the Alabama Tourism Department suggests destinations, attractions and accommodations register as soon as possible to make sure you can attend.

For more information, contact Liz Bittner at Travel South or
Grey Brennan, Alabama Tourism Department, 334-242-4459,

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events
Aug. 16-25 Alabama Restaurant Week
Aug. 17-21 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism – Huntsville, AL (Westin)
Sept. 19 Alabama Mountain Lakes Annual Meeting
Dec. 3-6 International Showcase, Nashville
Feb. 23-26, 2014 Domestic Showcase, Charleston, WV

ATD is currently registering and planning for the following 2014 Consumer Shows:
Cincinnati Boat and Travel Show – Jan. 17-19 & Jan. 22-26, 2014
Louisville Boat Show – Jan. 22-26, 2014
Indianapolis Boat and RV Show – Feb. 14-23, 2014
Nashville Southern Women’s Show – Mar. 27-30, 2014

If you are interested in working in the Alabama Tourism Department’s booth, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or

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. The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to: