Alabama Tourism Department News April 29, 2014

  • Alabama Tourism Department Annual Report
  • Guinness says “world’s largest motorcycle museum”
  • Alabama State Parks mobile app now available
  • ConventionSouth Magazine picks ‘elite’ meeting spots
  • Ten historic ballparks where you can still catch a game
  • Tours of iconic Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield draw 1,400 visitors
  • Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction banquet makes $80,000
  • Plans for ‘Little Zoo That Could’ relocation in Gulf Shores roaring back to life
  • Tourism dollars pumping big money into Rocket City economy
  • New York Times article features Old Cahawba prison
  • Florence barbecue stand nabs two awards
  • Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa completes $5 million renovation
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Alabama Tourism Department Annual Report

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) has released its annual economic impact report, which shows that the tourism industry grew by 3% with more than 23.5 million visitors spending almost $11 billion in 2013.

ATD statistician Pam Smith reported that, from 2004 to 2013, travel spending in Alabama has increased 50% according to the study conducted by Auburn University Montgomery.


The figures in the report are based on tourism-related total jobs, total earnings, expenditures and the amount of state lodging taxes collected on a county-by-county basis last year (2013). The complete economic impact report is available at

Barber Motorsports Park has world’s largest motorcycle museum

By Dawn Kent Azok,, April 25

It’s official: Birmingham is home to the world’s largest motorcycle museum.

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum now holds that title, according to Guinness World Records.

Officials made the announcement Friday at Barber Motorsports Park, where the museum is located, amid the opening activities for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, an event that is in its fifth year at the 830-acre racing venue.

Birmingham businessman and longtime motorcycle collector George Barber, who built the park and museum, said he and his team had always believed the museum was the world’s largest.

But they wanted something to back up that claim, so they sought Guinness certification.

While the museum’s new title means a lot to Barber and the people who helped him build it, he hopes it means the most to Birmingham.

“It’s got to bring some positive vibes to the city,” said the former dairy magnate and real estate developer. “I want to use it as a tool to help bring more people to Birmingham.”

The Barber museum and park already are doing their part in that area. Last year alone, they drew 270,000 visitors, including more than 3,000 museum visitors who hailed from other countries.

According to the official Guinness record, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles, with 1,398 unique exhibits.

The five-story glass, steel and concrete structure features eye-catching displays of motorcycle towers and machines suspended from walls. The whole place has a cosmopolitan feel, as there are exhibits from more than 100 countries.

The museum also has a collection of around 60 Lotus race cars.

Barber said he never imagined the venue would grow to what it is today.

The museum has been working on the Guinness certification for about six months and followed an extensive process that required photos and documentation of each exhibit, said Don Erwin, vice president of corporate development for Barber Companies.

“Once we dug into this, we found out it was serious business,” he said.

This is a new record category, according to Sara Wilcox, a spokeswoman for Guinness World Records North America Inc.

“Guinness World Records is always open to new record categories and we are happy to approve this achievement,” she said.

Barber says he doesn’t play favorites when it comes to his motorcycles: “You know you do not have a favorite child.”

But highlights of the collection include those driven by motorcycle and auto racing world champion John Surtees, as well as billionaire investor Jim Rogers, who was raised in Demopolis and made his own mark in the Guinness World Record books for transcontinental motorcycle travel.

“Most are connected to personalities,” Barber said of the motorcycles. “And they have their own personalities and a story to tell.”

He said he enjoys walking through the museum when it’s full of visitors, and he gets to meet people from far-flung places. But he also likes the quiet times there.

“If you come early in the morning or late in the evening, these machines will talk to you; they’ll tell you a little about themselves,” Barber said.  “Particularly the world champion bikes … you’ll walk by and feel the vibe and the energy of where they’ve been.”

To read the entire article, go to:


Alabama State Parks mobile app now available 

The Alabama State Parks Pocket Ranger smartphone app for iPhone and Android is now available in the iTunes and Android Markets and at The app is being released in conjunction with the park system’s 75th Anniversary celebration. This free interactive guide gives users detailed information on all 22 of Alabama’s state parks including general policies, contact information, activities, trails, park maps and much more.

“This app should help improve the user’s visit to any of the parks,” said Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks director. “With this app, visitors can tailor their experience based upon their individual interests. It also alerts visitors to various accommodation specials and events.”

The Pocket Ranger app helps users plan their outdoor trips by searching for a park via GPS location or by activity to find nearby locations to enjoy mountain biking, hiking, camping, boating, birding and more. Visitors can even store GPS maps in advance of their visit to ensure that navigation remains possible in the event of lost mobile reception.

The Pocket Ranger offers other features to maximize the outdoor adventure including:

  • Educational information, amenities, maps and directions
  • Real-time calendar of events
  • News, advisories and weather alerts
  • Social networking and photo sharing
  • Potentially life-saving alert feature
  • Advanced GPS mapping features
  • Record trail distance and time elapsed
  • Recall, post or share saved data
  • Friend Finder
  • Built-in compass

Pocket Ranger apps are products of the Parks By Nature Network. To learn more, visit

For more information about the Alabama State Parks 75th Anniversary Celebration or the Partners Pay the Way campaign, visit during the coming months. Visit the website often for lodging, camping and dining specials and event announcements.

ConventionSouth Magazine says state home to four of South’s most ‘elite’ meeting spots

By Steve Doyle,, April 22

Four Alabama venues have been honored as “elite” business meeting places by ConventionSouth.

The magazine says the Jackson Center in Huntsville, Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel & Conference Center at Grand National, Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham and Kaiser Conference and Business Center in Orange Beach all rank among the 50 best meeting spaces in the South.

Click here to see the complete list.

ConventionSouth said its ranking are based on available meeting technology and amenities; facility aesthetics, décor and appearance; and comments from meeting planners.

“The conference centers on this elite list are some of the coolest and most meetings-minded in the South,” said Marlane Bundock, the magazine’s associate publisher and editor. “They each offer meeting planners and their attendees a unique set of features such as technology and aesthetics, and are able to host a diverse range of gatherings from cutting-edge business meetings to well-orchestrated social events.”

Located next to HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the Jackson Center bills itself as a “distraction-free” space for professional meetings of up to 500 people. The center encompasses about 13,000 square feet.

Nine Alabama tourist spots recently made another ConventionSouth list: “99 Attractions in the South for Group Adventures.”

To see the article online, go to:


Ten historic ballparks where you can still catch a game

By Josh Lew, Mother Nature Network, April 15

Even non-baseball fans get excited about opening day. The first Major League Baseball games of the year are a sure sign that summer is on the way, and the leisurely pace and deep tradition that “America’s Game” provide the perfect way to ease into a warm-weather state-of-mind.

Tradition is a huge part of baseball’s allure.  Even the most modern stadiums have been designed to have a retro feel that hearkens back to the time when baseball was the biggest sport in America.  In addition, there are still a handful of stadiums in the country that were built more than 50 years ago, and a few of these historic ballparks have been hosting games for more than a century.

If you want to get a true taste for the history of the game or you feel nostalgic for the days before multimillion-dollar contracts and steroid scandals, you’ll enjoy a virtual visit to these 10 historic baseball stadiums.

Rickwood Field

Birmingham’s Rickwood Field was originally built in 1910 for the Birmingham Barons, a baseball team that was first established in the 1880s.  A private nonprofit organization is in charge of renovation and up-keep of this century-old Alabama ballpark.  No team currently calls Rickwood home, although it does play host to one of Alabama’s most anticipated baseball games of the year: The Birmingham Barons, Rickwood’s original team, play a once-a-year “throwback” game called the Rickwood Classic.  The Barons and their opponents dress in period uniforms, but the game is a regular season match-up that counts in the official Minor League AA standings.  Enthusiasts and baseball history buffs from all over the country travel to see this game. Amateur and semi-pro teams also use the facility regularly, and tourists can take a tour of the grandstands and the field when no games are taking place.

To read this article online and see the other nine ball parks, go to:


Tours of iconic Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield draw 1,400 visitors

By Lucy Berry,, April 25

Since the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation began offering tours of 3614 Jackson Highway a few weeks ago, more than 1,400 visitors have walked through the iconic studio that served many established musical artists during the height of its success.

The former Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield will remain open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. every Friday and Saturday until California-based Beats Electronics begins transforming the historic building into a fully-functioning recording studio.

Music fans, history buffs and the curious are invited to come out to see the studio in its original form before it is renovated. Rodney Hall, chairman of the foundation, said the turnout so far has been “amazing.”

“We have had visitors from throughout the United States and abroad,” Hall said in a statement. “Countries represented on our sign-in book include England, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada.”

Beats co-founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine decided to invest in the studio last year after seeing the celebrated “Muscle Shoals” documentary, which aired this week on Alabama Public Television. 

Foundation spokeswoman Bonnie Bak told last month that Beats Electronics, which is spending between $700,000 and $1 million on renovations, plans to kick off the restoration process this fall.

Built in 1945, the iconic structure operated as a recording studio from 1969-79 and served many well-known musical artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Percy Sledge and Art Garfunkel. Beats will also use proceeds to renovate FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals.

Frequented recently by artists like Alicia Keys and Band of Horses, FAME Recording Studio recorded soul-defining classics, such as “Mustang Sally,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “Funky Broadway.” The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio went on to produce “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones, “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon and “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger.

Swamper bassist David Hood said he is “very pleased” about the Beats partnership.

“I am also glad that the studio is open to visitors because it is a vital part of Muscle Shoals music history,” he said.

To read this article online, go to:

Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction banquet makes $80,000

By Russ Corey,, April 24

After all the bills are paid, State Tourism Director Lee Sentell said the Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction banquet will have cleared about $80,000.

The event, held in the Shoals for the first time, took place Feb. 28, at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center.

“Previous banquets have cleared in the $30,000 to $40,000 range from what we understand, so we were delighted to have this kind of result to help bolster the finances of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame,” Sentell said.

Sentell, who serves as treasurer for the hall of fame’s board of directors, said the money will be used for daily operations and upgrading exhibits.

To read the article online, go to:

Plans for ‘Little Zoo That Could’ relocation in Gulf Shores roaring back to life

By Marc D. Anderson,, April 23

Officials with Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo are preparing to kick-start stalled efforts to move the facility and its roughly 600 animals to a new location north of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Plans to relocate the zoo have been in the works since 2006 when local business owners Clyde Weir and his daughter Andrea Weir Franklin donated 25 acres on Baldwin County 6, just east of Ala. 59, to the nonprofit Zoo Foundation, which operates the park. The gift came after the Weir family witnessed multiple evacuations of the entire zoo at its current low-lying tract on Ala. 59 near the beach during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and others.

The zoo was swamped by storm surge and floodwaters of Ivan and then Hurricane Katrina in 2005. All of its nearly 300 animals had to be evacuated to zoo director Patti Hall’s home in Elberta before both storms.

The evacuation and recovery efforts were documented on the Animal Planet series “The Little Zoo That Could” in 2006. The exposure thrust the zoo into the national spotlight and boosted donations, gift shop sales and attendance, all of which are the nonprofit’s sole source of funding.

Since the new site was donated, plans had been in the works to open a new “green,” self-sustainable zoo with a zero carbon footprint, running mostly on wind and solar power. It was expected to open in 2012 but fundraising effort fell short during the nationwide economic slump.

Hall and Joey Ward, who founded the zoo in 1989, were at the Gulf Shores Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night looking for the board’s approval to reactive the new zoo’s original site plan, which expired in 2011. The plan, submitted by Chad Watkins of WAS Design Inc. on behalf of The Zoo Foundation, was approved unanimously.

After the meeting, Hall said the fundraising effort received a boost late last year.

“We are getting ready to make an announcement within in the next 45 days,” Hall said. “We received a very generous Christmas gift. … The project was shut down for six months until we could generate money and at Christmastime we received a very generous gift that has allowed us now to continue to get everything back going and hopefully get us open by January of ‘15.

“That’s barring any more hurricanes, anymore catastrophes but things seem to be moving along now.”

The fundraising campaign is pegged at about $10 million to $12 million, but Hall said $5 million should allow them to open.

“We’re planning a big educational center and a number of other things that will be in the works after we get the zoo open with the animals moved and the gift shop open,” Hall said. “We’ll be a work in progress for probably five years.”

Hall said professional zoologist Jim Fowler, former host of the television show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, has joined the team to make the new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo a reality.

“He’s been in town a couple of times,” Hall said of Fowler. “He has also designed a number of zoos and he is helping us design a lot of our exhibits. And he’s also going to be helping me do some fundraisers this year, including a big raptor show. He loves raptors.”

In coming months a new website will come online as part of a full-bore fundraising campaign.

To read the entire article, go to:

Tourism dollars pumping big money into Rocket City economy

By Matt Kroschel, WHNT 19 News, April 17

With more than half of all travelers coming to Madison County on business, experts are urging local tourism officials to diversify.

The findings from the independent in-depth study, researched by Tourism Skills Group on tourism in the region were presented April 14, in Huntsville to a room filled with local marketing and travel leaders.

The Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau hired Tourism Skills Group founder Neville Bhada to conduct the surveys last December to find out why travelers came here and what they liked about their visits.

Bhada reported business travel is the strongest segment in Huntsville tourism; it constitutes almost 60% of Madison County’s tourism business. He says there needs to diversity in the market.  2013 demonstrated Madison County’s reliance on the federal government as when the government shutdown, the county’s occupancy rates and income subsequently plummeted.

The Alabama Tourism Department recently reported the travel industry pumped $997 million into the Madison County’s economy in 2013 and is responsible for 14,255 local jobs.

To read the entire article, go to:

New York Times article features Old Cahawba prison

By Peter Cozzens,, April 24

For more than the obvious reasons, Civil War soldiers in both armies despised military prisons. Not only were the inmates held against their will, but the hunger, filth, vermin, rampant disease, overcrowding, brutal treatment and soul-crushing ennui made prison camps slaughterhouses of slow death. Andersonville, the infamous Georgia prison, was the ultimate abattoir; during the summer of 1864 nearly one in three Union inmates died. In other Confederate prisons, the average mortality rate was 15.5 percent; in Union prisons, 12 percent.

There was one remarkable exception: the virtually unknown Cahaba Federal Prison, 15 miles southwest of Selma, Ala. At Cahaba, the mortality rate was just 3 percent, a lower death rate than that among American prisoners in German stalags during World War II. According to federal figures, only 147 of the 5,000 prisoners interned at Cahaba died there.

What made Cahaba unique among Civil War prisons? Simple humanity. The prison commandant, Col. Henry A. M. Henderson of Kentucky, understood Northerners. He had graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and the Cincinnati Law School. Shortly after graduation and finding his true calling in the church, Henderson became a Methodist minister. When he assumed command of Cahaba in July 1863, a month after it opened, he pledged to run the prison with as much compassion as discipline and good order permitted.

Those who fell ill were well cared for at the prison hospital, located in a rambling, two-story hotel called Bell Tavern that the Confederacy had commandeered to serve both the guards and the prisoners. Whitfield treated Northerners and Southerners with equal consideration. Men died in the Bell Tavern hospital, but not for want of care.

Neither did they die for want of effort by Henderson, who in the autumn of 1864 found himself commandant of the most overcrowded of all Civil War prisons. That summer the Union’s commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, halted prisoner-of-war exchanges. As a result, Cahaba’s population surged to 2,151 in October, a number 600 percent above the prison’s capacity (Andersonville ran 330 percent above capacity at its peak). Each man had only 7.5 square feet to call his own; those at Andersonville had 35 square feet of space, albeit squalid, per man.

Henderson died in Cincinnati in 1912. Obituaries incorrectly said he had been a Confederate general, omitting any reference to his duty at Cahaba. Not that it mattered. After the 1865 flood the county seat moved from Cahaba to Selma, and by the turn of the century Cahaba was a ghost town; the warehouse prison demolished for the bricks. The horrors of Andersonville and notoriety of its commandant Henry Wirz would forever remain etched in American memory; memories of Col. Henry A. M. Henderson’s humanity were buried with the good reverend.

To read the entire article, go to:

This win is extra delicious Smokin’ on the Boulevard nabs 2 awards for BBQ

By Bernie Delinski,, April 24

Smokin’ on the Boulevard is a thriving take-out food stand that sells 4,000 pounds of meat in a weekend. The business is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

They certainly garnered a lot of attention Thursday. Local officials and state Tourism Director Lee Sentell were among those gathered at the Boulevard.

Sentell enjoyed the ribs, but was there for an additional reason. He handed the Hills and Carter two plate-shaped trophies. One was for winning the ribs portion of the 2014 Alabama BBQ Bracket championship.  The other was for winning the overall title, beating out big names such as Dreamland BBQ and large chains such as Jim ‘N Nicks’s Bar-B-Q.

The tournament, which was voted on by the public, lasted throughout most of March and early into April. Smokin’ on the Boulevard was announced as the winner April 7.

“Two-and-a-half years ago, we had never even thought of having a business, and now we have this,” Doug Hill said, holding one of the trophies. “This has been amazing. I’d say we’ve doubled our business since winning this.

We have a lot of loyal repeat customers and a lot of new customers coming in. We really can’t cook enough. I’d say anyone who wants some barbecue needs to call ahead to be assured of it.”

This is the second year of the contest, which the tourism office sponsors, Sentell said. Jim ‘N Nick’s won last year.

“This is tourism,” Sentell said. “It creates energy. It creates something to talk about.”

Debbie Wilson, director of the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism office, commended the community for supporting Smokin’ on the Boulevard, but said the business earned the award.

“This is phenomenal, that they went up against all of those big boys and beat them all,” Wilson said. “Everyone really helped get the word out, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about the barbecue.”

Mayor Mickey Haddock said the proof is in the barbecue, and it takes long hours and skill. “That doesn’t just happen without some good, experienced folks, and dedicated folks.”

To read the entire article, go to:

Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa completes $5 million renovation

Birmingham’s castle and top resort received a major makeover, just in time for a very busy spring and summer. Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa recently completed a $5 million renovation. The four diamond resort opened in 2005 and has been consistently ranked Birmingham’s top hotel and golf course.

All 259 guest rooms and most common areas have been renovated, including guest corridors, the boardroom, elevator lobbies, the ballroom and meeting rooms, restaurants and golf pro shop. The resort’s indoor pool also was refurbished.

“Guest rooms’ vinyl wall coverings have been removed and replaced with paint, and new carpet and drapes,” said Rick Smith, general for the Ross Bridge resort. “Most of the furniture, lamps and wall decor will remain since they go very well with the new decor.” The hotel’s master suites, including the Presidential Suite and Governor’s Suite, have been completely remodeled, including new furniture.

Probably the biggest change in the hotel will be a $1.2 million renovation of the nearly 2,000-square-foot lobby lounge, J.T’s. The tavern has been converted from a more open atmosphere to a more enclosed environment with and expanded outside all-weather space. All of the woodwork, including the bar and cabinets, has been replaced.

“The lounge is named J.T.’s in honor of James Taylor Ross, an early settler in the area,” said Smith.  “Because of the Ross family’s Scottish roots, the bar will start offering specialty scotch brands,” he said. “J.T.’s also features European comfort foods with a Southern twist and uses many local ingredients.”

Most guests are surprised to hear the hotel is getting remodeled because of its good condition, Smith said. “The new renovation is modern, fresh and has a stronger nod to Scottish roots, as seen by tartan carpets to go along with the nightly bagpiper. We’ve been here 8 ½ years and want to continue delivering the level of luxury and sophistication our guests expect.”

For more information on the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa, visit  Renaissance Ross Bridge is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama and is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Resort Collection. The Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa in Florence, another RTJ Resort, also recently completed a $3.5 million renovation. Both projects are being completed by Doster Construction, an Alabama construction company.

Media Contact:  Bill Lang,; 205-965-9574.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

May 1                          Sumter Welcome Center Tourism Day

May 2                          Cleburne Welcome Center Tourism Day

May 3-6                      Alabama League of Municipalities, Mobile

May 8                          Lanett Welcome Center Tourism Day

May 9                          Houston Welcome Center Tourism Day

May 22                        Baldwin Welcome Center Tourism Day

May 23                        Grand Bay Welcome Center Tourism Day

May 29                        DeKalb Welcome Center Tourism Day

May 30                        Ardmore Welcome Center Tourism Day

July 19-22                   Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism, Auburn

Sept. 7-14                   World Leisure Congress, Mobile


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:

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at:

Alabama Tourism Department