• Alabama tourism spending in fiscal year 2013 grew by 4 percent for third record year
  • Alabama museum, in area where stars found sound, seeks an audience: tourists
  • Alabama Theatre named one of America’s favorite vintage movie theaters
  • Movie filmed in Alabama grosses $1 million on opening weekend, showcases landmarks
  • New Montgomery: city set for $6.6M streetscape project on Dexter Avenue
  • Firefighters from across the nation to gather in Montgomery for competition
  • Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association to give away 16 road trips
  • 10 great places to hunt for treasure
  • Grand opening set for North Alabama’s newest attraction
  • Alabama Tourism Department hosts Tourism Workshop in October
  • Montgomery’s Lattice Inn B&B takes two top honors
  • Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference
  • Tuscaloosa and the U of A nominated in 10 Best Readers Choice travel award contest
  • Thursday conference call about Travel South International Showcase
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Alabama tourism spending in fiscal year 2013 grew by 4 percent for third record year

Tourism spending in Alabama during the fiscal year 2013 increased by 4 percent to a new record, according to preliminary tax data from the Department of Revenue. This represents the third record year in a row with expenditures exceeding $10 billion each year, tourism director Lee Sentell said.

A detailed spending report for the 2013 calendar year by county and category will be generated by Dr. Keivan Deravi and released by the Governor’s Office in the spring of 2014, officials said.

Tourism officials noted that lodgings taxes in August increased by 5.5 percent over the past year and by 10.35 percent over the past two years. Seventy-five percent of the state’s 4 percent lodgings tax goes into the state’s General Fund. Sales taxes, which support the Education Trust Fund, grew by $9 million from August 2011 to the same month in 2013. The month was closely watched because legislators pushed back the start of the school year by two weeks for the past two Augusts to generate more revenue for state government. The legislation automatically expires unless renewed in 2014.


Alabama museum, in area where stars found sound, seeks an audience: tourists

by Jennifer Crossley Howard, The New York Times, Oct. 6

A tentative revival is under way in this rural nook of northwest Alabama, a holy place in the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll and home to a museum noticeably light on tourists. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, off the beaten track in Tuscumbia, is scheduled to reopen on Oct. 18, thanks to a $150,000 state grant.

The fate of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame is far from resolved. The struggling Alabama Music Hall of Fame, a 23-year-old shrine that includes the funky horns and pulsating bass lines of the Muscle Shoals sound, is scheduled to reopen on Oct. 18.

It has been closed since last November, which is not surprising since the number of visitors who found their way here had been dwindling for some time — about 12,500 a year in 2011 and 2012, roughly one-third of what it needs to break even without state money. To operate solely from ticket sales, the hall needs 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year.

But the museum, after all, is more than 60 miles from Interstate 65, the nearest Interstate highway. As Rodney Hall, its former chairman and a current board member, put it: “There’s a lot of passer-by traffic, but not a lot of traffic that will stop. The No. 1 rule in retail is location, location, location. That’s one we missed out on.”

The reopening was made possible by a $150,000 state grant, but the museum’s fate and the issue of its off-the-beaten-track address are far from resolved.

Opened in 1990, the hall was intended to celebrate native artists as diverse as Hank Williams and Lionel Richie. The Muscle Shoals sound emerged here in the 1960s, first at Fame Recording Studios and later at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. These recording hubs attracted Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and later Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart, among others. The museum displays artifacts as varied as the 1989 tour bus for the band ALABAMA, around which the museum was built, and a black dress and pumps worn by Joy Williams, of the Civil Wars, in 2010.

“You Better Move On,” released by Arthur Alexander in 1961, became the area’s first hit, and soon Etta James and a 25-year-old Ms. Franklin came calling. The hits — including Ms. James’s “Tell Mama,” which was produced by Rick Hall, Fame’s founder and producer and Rodney Hall’s father — kept coming.

Listeners presumed session players were black. Most were white and native to the area. Two hours south, Birmingham was becoming the face of resistance to the civil rights movement, but Muscle Shoals studios had been integrated since they opened.

In 1969, the rhythm section at Fame known as the Swampers split to start the competing Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in neighboring Sheffield. The group was immortalized in the 1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd hit “Sweet Home Alabama.” (“Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers / And they’ve been known to pick a song or two.”) The Swamper guitarist Jimmy Johnson engineered the sound for the Rolling Stones in December 1969 when they recorded “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses” and a version of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move” at the studio.

Far from Los Angeles or New York, the Shoals, as this area along the Tennessee River has long been known, is part of a music scene that includes the towns of Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, as well as Muscle Shoals, and it has lured rock stars with its masterly musicians and studios free of outside distraction.

For the Stones, the Shoals also provided an inconspicuous hideaway from the law.

“Their recording was supposed to be a secret because they didn’t have the proper work permit to work in the States,” said David Hood, bass player for the Swampers. The public almost never knew when rock stars were coming to town. While Fame still draws Top 40 artists like Alicia Keys and the Civil Wars — both recorded there last year — Muscle Shoals Sound Studios failed to attract a big-name crowd after the Swampers moved to a different studio in 1978. The Muscle Shoals Music Foundation acquired the studios in June with plans to revive them.

Although state financing stopped in 2011, the new grant will get things started, with a Tuesday through Saturday schedule. But even with state help, some feel that the museum should move to a more heavily trafficked community, like Birmingham, Montgomery or Huntsville, each of which has expressed interest.

Others say it should stay where it is, and they point to the serendipitous national release of a new documentary, “Muscle Shoals,” as encouragement. In the film, the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards wonders whether revered rock songs like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” might have been “just a little more funky” had they been recorded in Muscle Shoals.

“When I saw the documentary, I thought, people from around the world are going to come to Muscle Shoals to see where this remarkable music came from,” said Lee Sentell, Alabama’s tourism director and the music hall’s board treasurer.

Susann Hamlin, the executive director of the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau, said it did not make sense to move the hall to a larger city when taxpayers had already paid for the museum’s land and building.

“We think losing the state’s music museum would be like moving the Space and Rocket Center out of Huntsville,” Ms. Hamlin said.

To see the article, go to:


Alabama Theatre named one of America’s favorite vintage movie theaters

by Bob Carlton,, Oct. 4

The Alabama Theatre  has been selected one of America’s seven “favorite vintage movie theaters” by the nostalgia magazine Reminisce.

“The Alabama Theatre in Birmingham has entertained audiences since 1927 and survived near demolition in 1987,” the magazine says. “Today, the theater features a diverse lineup of live performances and classic films such as Gone With the Wind.”

For a list of the other theaters on the list, go to:


Movie filmed in Alabama grosses $1 million on opening weekend, showcases landmarks

by Greg Garrison,, Oct. 7

“Grace Unplugged,” a movie filmed mostly in Alabama last year, opened at 511 theaters nationwide on Oct. 4 and grossed $1,045,000 during its opening weekend, according to, a web site that tracks movie box office receipts.

It was the 15th highest-grossing movie of the weekend, while playing on fewer screens than most of the movies showing.

The movie fits a trend of low-budget but profitable feature dramas made with a Christian perspective, such as ”Fireproof” and ”Courageous.” The movies have a Christian message but are meant to be broadly entertaining.

”It’s a growing genre that has found a receptive market,” said ”Grace Unplugged” producer Chris Zarpas, former vice president of production for Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney and former CEO of Scott Free, the production company of directors Ridley Scott (”Gladiator”) and the late Tony Scott (”Top Gun”).

Zarpas said ”Grace Unplugged” was filmed with a budget of less than $2 million. It was distributed by Lionsgate.

“Grace Unplugged” features Birmingham prominently throughout the movie, even in scenes where it doubles as Los Angeles, where the rest of the movie was filmed.

The opening scenes were filmed at Liberty Park Baptist Church, as the movie announces onscreen that the setting is Birmingham, Alabama. The church is a recurring setting.

Homewood Park, Dreamcakes, the Rick and Bubba Show and The Edge movie theater also make appearances in the movie. WorkPlay doubles as a nightclub in Los Angeles.

One scene was shot at The Club, with an overview of the city lights of Birmingham doubling as Los Angeles. The Alabama Theatre appears as itself, hosting a concert during the final scene, with the marquee on Third Avenue North shown prominently. That scene required 2,000 extras in the audience. Filming started in mid-August of 2012 in Birmingham and wrapped up on Sept. 7, 2012.

“Grace Unplugged” stars A.J. Michalka as the daughter of a worship minister played by James Denton, of “Desperate Housewives” fame. Michalka plays the character Grace Trey, a teen church singer who strikes out on her own to land a record deal in Los Angeles. She cuts off contact with her parents, including her father, a former rock star turned worship leader at a small town Alabama church.

To see the entire article, go to:


New Montgomery: city set for $6.6M streetscape project on Dexter Avenue Project will make areas more pedestrian friendly, handicap accessible

by Kala Kachmar, The Montgomery Advertiser, Oct. 4

The city is moving forward with a $6.6 million streetscape project that will give Dexter Ave. and the area around the Capitol a makeover.

The project will include new sidewalks, improved street and pedestrian lighting, street trees, green space, improved crosswalks, new street paving and other features that will make it more pedestrian friendly. The construction also will make the street handicap accessible.

Construction is supposed to start by the beginning of November and is expected to be finished by January 2015, City Engineer Patrick Dunson said. The bid was awarded to the Montgomery-based Dubose Construction LLC this week.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, who has been trying to secure grants for the improvements since he came into office in 2009.

About $4 million of the project will come from federal transportation enhancement grants, $1 million will come from Alabama Department of Transportation grants and about $1.8 million is an 80/20 match from the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Strange said although the plans for the improvements started before he was mayor, one of the goals is to have the work complete by 2015, which is the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

“It just so happens that we want to make sure it’s completed in time for the anniversary,” he said.–City-set-for–6.6M-streetscape-project-on-Dexter-Avenue?source=nletter-news


Firefighters from across the nation to gather in Montgomery for competition

The battle to find the fittest, fastest and most effective firefighter in North America will be held Oct. 10 – 12 in downtown Montgomery at the SCOTT National Firefighter Combat Challenge. More than 250 firefighters from all over the United States and Canada will compete, including representatives from the Montgomery Fire Rescue.

According to Montgomery Fire Chief Miford Jordan, the challenge emphasizes fitness and helps firefighters meet the demands of their jobs. “The readiness and skills of competition are required of firefighters every day on the job. When we improve our performance in the Combat Challenge we also improve our service to the people of Montgomery,” said Jordan.

Montgomery hosted regional Firefighter Combat Challenges in 2011 and 2012. This year’s national level event will have an economic impact of about $150,000. The chief said Montgomery Fire/Rescue is honored to host the 2013 national competition. “This is a great opportunity for us to showcase Montgomery and provide River Region families a chance to enjoy this world-class spectator sport,” Jordan said.

The SCOTT Firefighter Combat Challenge has been seen on ESPN for the past 12 years. The Challenge seeks to encourage firefighter fitness and demonstrate the profession’s rigors to the public. Wearing “full bunker gear” and the SCOTT Air-Pak breathing apparatus, pairs of competitors race head-to-head as they simulate the physical demands of real-life firefighting by performing a linked series of five tasks including climbing the 5-story tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses and rescuing a life-sized, 175 lb. “victim” as they race against themselves, their opponent and the clock.

Competitors will face off at 3 p.m., Thur., Oct. 10, and Fri., Oct. 11, with the finals at 10 a.m. on Sat., Oct. 12. The competition will be held on an obstacle course set up in a parking lot at the corner of Tallapoosa and Commerce Streets. The public is encouraged to attend this action packed, family friendly, free event. The 2nd Annual Top Chef Firefighter District Cook-off Competition will also be held in conjunction with the event from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., Oct. 12, with judging at 1 p.m. at the corner of Water and Commerce Streets. Also, kids can ride on a Montgomery Fire Rescue Fire Truck on Saturday morning. Rides will load and unload at the corner of Commerce and Tallapoosa Streets.

Montgomery Fire Rescue will have more than 100 competitors in the Combat Challenge. There will be representatives from each fire station and each division. Going into the national event, the Montgomery Combat Challenge Relay Team has the fastest time this year.

For more information on the National Firefighter Combat Challenge contact Assistant Fire Chief K.D. Gordon at 334-309-5201 or e-mail at


Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association to give away 16 road trips

Road Trip Sweepstakes launches Oct. 7

The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) announces the launch of a new sweepstakes promotion where travelers can win one of 16 roads trips to north Alabama. The “Road Trip Sweepstakes” promotion begins today and features an ultimate fishing package, an outdoors getaway, a golf excursion, a relax and rejuvenate getaway to the Marriott Shoals, a trip to Huntsville and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center among other trips that are packed full of adventure and fun.

Sponsored by AMLA, the Road Trip Sweepstakes promotion will begin accepting entries Oct. 7, with the first trip to be given away on Oct. 11. An entry form is available at Travelers simply enter their name and email to receive an entry in the sweepstakes and to sign up for North Alabama email updates. Sweepstakes winners will be randomly selected and announced as each giveaway period ends. The final road trip will be given away on July 18, 2014.

The 16 packages, ranging in value from $820 to $3,000, include attractions, meals, and accommodations, and in some special packages, there are Visa gift cards for shopping, and offer exciting trips such as a fishing trip with a professional guide, skydiving in Cullman, a golf getaway to three of the Robert Trent Jones golf courses, and a luxurious spa treatment at the Marriott Shoals’ 6,000 square foot European spa.

“We encourage everyone to come back following each giveaway and enter to win the next one,” said AMLA President/CEO Tami Reist. “Whether you are looking to be wowed by spectacular scenery, want to experience the jump of your life, or want to journey back in time to the Civil War-era, the Road Trip sweepstakes are a great way for travelers to hit the roads and see what North Alabama is all about.”

For more information and a list of packages being given away, call Reist at 800.648.5381 or visit


10 great places to hunt for treasure

by Larry Bleiberg, USA Today, Oct. 3

The country is scattered with mines and sites that welcome treasure hunters. (Gem Hunt, a series about the gem industry, premieres Oct.15 on the Travel Channel.) Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, a family travel expert at, shares some favorite spots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Alabama Gold Camp
Lineville, Ala.
The gold rush wasn’t limited to the West. Parts of the Southeast have the precious mineral too, and amateur prospectors still come hoping to strike it rich. This site, about 85 miles east of Birmingham, rents shacks for lodging and welcomes families. “The gold camp has miles of creek you can sluice and pan and dredge to your heart’s content while you’re there,” Kelleher says. Visitors can also find red garnets, fossils, citrine and Indian artifacts. 256-396-0389;

Grand opening set for North Alabama’s newest attraction

Oct. 12, will mark the grand opening for one of North Alabama’s newest attractions – Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park in Hodges, Alabama. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. and features a ribbon cutting, an organized ride, refreshments, and live music.

Located in northwest Alabama, Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park offers over 27 miles of trails boasting waterfalls, a natural rock bridge, scenic overlooks, and breathtaking views. For the adventurous rider, there are challenging trails and there are less challenging trails for a more leisurely ride. While the Park is an equestrian trail, walking and hiking trails are also offered.

Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park is located at 331 Trail Head Road in Hodges. For more information, visit or call (205) 935-3499.


Alabama Tourism Department hosts Tourism Workshop in October

Please note the change of venue

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) will host a Tourism Workshop on Wed., Oct. 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Camp Butter and Egg, 2127 Butter and Egg Road, Troy, (334) 670-9954.

This workshop event is for tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. Come learn about the many programs and services the ATD offers.

Lunch, sponsored by the Alabama Tourism Department, will be provided.

To register or if you have questions or need additional information please contact Rosemary Judkins at Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov or 334-242-4493


Montgomery’s Lattice Inn B&B takes two top honors

Montgomery’s Lattice Inn has again been recognized as the number one bed and breakfast in Montgomery. The two honors come from the world’s leading travel website, has awarded The Lattice Inn its Certificate of Excellence for 2013. The award honors hospitality excellence and is given only to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveler reviews on TripAdvisor. Only the top-performing 10 percent of businesses listed on receive this prestigious recognition. The Lattice Inn has received this recognition every year since the award was established by TripAdvisor. The Lattice Inn is also ranked on as the Number One B & B out of four establishments in Montgomery.


Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference

Recognizing that tourism is a vital part of a community’s economic development, the Mississippi-Alabama Rural Tourism Conference is a collaborative effort focused on assisting smaller communities in bolstering tourism. Dynamic speakers will present innovative ideas and relevant information that attendees will find useful in facing the unique challenges of promoting rural tourism with limited budgets. This annual conference is hosted alternately between Mississippi and Alabama, however anyone associated with or interested in the rural tourism industry is invited to attend.

The 2013 Rurual Tourism Conference will be held at Guntersville Oct. 28 – 30. For more information, please visit:


Tuscaloosa and the U of A nominated in 10 Best Readers Choice travel award contest

Remember to vote for Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama in the 10 Best Readers Choice travel award contest as a contender for the “Best College Game Day Ambiance” category. The contest is being promoted by USA TODAY, and will run for four weeks. Voters can vote for the candidate of their choice at Voters can vote once a day for the duration of the contest!

Voting ends on Oct. 21 and the winners will be announced on 10Best on Wednesday, Oct. 23, then later on USA TODAY.


Thursday conference call about Travel South International Showcase

There has been great support from the Alabama tourism industry for the Travel South International Showcase. The group of 30 Alabama tourism leaders attending the marketplace in Nashville in early December is one of the largest from any southern state. They will sell Alabama to tour operators from around the world.

The Alabama Tourism Department has scheduled a conference call for anyone attending the showcase. The conference call will take place Thur., Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. CST.

To join the call, dial either toll free at 866-465-2284 or direct at 334-242-0017 and use the pin #6167.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Oct. 16 ATD Tourism Workshop

Oct. 28-30 Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference, Guntersville

Dec. 3-6 International Showcase, Nashville

Feb. 23-26, 2014 Travel South Domestic Showcase, Charleston, WV

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:

Alabama Tourism Department