Alabama Tourism Department News June 3, 2014

  • Tourism director: $1M available for festivals
  • ‘Buffet’ of tourism experiences at new visitor center
  • Muscle Shoals Sound Studio restoration still on despite $3B Apple deal with Beats Electronics
  • Swampette tours set for 2014
  • Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa launches “Summer at the Castle”
  • Tuscaloosa set to commemorate 50th anniversary of “Bloody Tuesday”
  • New exhibit connects Freedom Rides to larger movement
  • New tiger cubs make debut at Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores
  • Dr. Pijeaux retires
  • Extras casting for movie “Selma”
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Tourism director: $1M available for festivals

By Russ Corey, and, May 29

State Tourism Director Lee Sentell is encouraging local governments to take advantage of a pool of grant money provided by the state Legislature to help fund festivals.

Sentell was one of the speakers at Thursday’s Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments board meeting. He said the Legislature has made $1 million available in the form of $1,000 grants.

Sentell said each state representative will be able to release five $1,000 grants while senators will be able to release 10 grants.

“They will be doing this in September,” Sentell said.

He urged mayors and county commissioners to contact their representatives now and give them the names of their events.

Sentell, who has served as tourism director since 2003, said the office also can help small towns that have interesting attractions, but insufficient funds to advertise them.

“Every year our office gives out grants to cities or towns that want brochures,” Sentell said.

He suggested officials contact the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association for suggestions and brochures from other cities. Cities can receive up to $5,000 to cover half the cost of printing brochures, Sentell said.

He pointed out tourism is a regional business.

During his introduction of Sentell, Florence Mayor Mickey Haddock said tourism revenue has increased by 67 percent since Sentell took over the office in 2003. Information provided by the Tourism Department indicates visitors spent $11 billion in the state last year.

“People do multiple things when they travel,” Sentell said. “They go to more than one attraction. City limits and county lines mean nothing to tourists.”

He said the idea is to lure international tourists to the region because they will visit several places during their visit.

“People in Europe know more about Muscle Shoals music than the people in Birmingham,” Sentell said.

He called the “Muscle Shoals” documentary a two-hour commercial not only for the Shoals, but the entire state. The movie also led to the reopening of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

New Alabama State Parks Assistant Director Rob Grant was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, but Tim Haney, superintendent of Joe Wheeler State Park and district superintendent for northwest Alabama, provided an update on another round of renovations to the park and lodge. He said the park received $5 million for renovations.

Haney said the golf course will close June 2 to allow new greens to be installed. Cart paths were upgraded last year, Haney said.

He said there also has been a move to make the park lodging areas more pet friendly. He said there are lodge rooms and cabins for visitors who bring their pets.

While local residents might not use the park as much as Haney would like, it’s being visited by people from elsewhere in the country.

“Last week during Memorial Day I saw more people in the park than I’ve ever seen,” Haney said.

To see this article online, go to:


Buffet’ of tourism experiences at new visitor center

By Marie Waxel,, June 2

The Florence-Lauderdale Visitors Center and Tourism Office officially opened to the public Monday, creating another stop on the ‘must-see, gotta-do’ list in Alabama.

More than 100 guests were on-hand Monday morning for the grand opening of the facility. Located in McFarland Park, the new visitor center shows off just a little of what the Shoals has to offer.

From a music ‘hive’ to artifacts, the new center covers a little bit of everything – and if they don’t have what you are looking for, they can point you in the right direction.

Local and state leaders hope the new facility will become a special place for both visitors and community members alike.

“I think the most interesting thing of this facility is it shows the wide diversity of the different kinds of visitor experiences,” said Tourism Director Lee Sentell. “Whether you’re interested in music, outdoor recreation, food, history, Native American history – all of these elements are on display so people can pick and choose. This area is sort of like a great big buffet of visitor experiences.”

The new center cost nearly $2 million and was paid for by the area’s lodging tax.

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Muscle Shoals Sound Studio restoration still on despite $3B Apple deal with Beats Electronics

By Lucy Berry,, May 29

Efforts to revitalize the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield will continue this year despite Apple’s announcement that it will buy Beats Electronics for $3 billion.

Apple said Wednesday it will acquire the subscription streaming music service Beats Music, as well as Beats Electronics, which makes headphones, speakers and audio software.

Last fall, Beats Electronics said it would use proceeds from all Beats products sold between Nov. 29 and Dec. 25 last year to restore the Shoals studio to its former glory. Beats also plans to renovate FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals.

Board chairman Rodney Hall said Beats, which was founded by Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine and hip hop icon Dr. Dre, still plans to kick off the six to nine month restoration process despite being acquired by Apple.

“There will be no changes whatsoever,” Hall said. ” … I know that this will be a better thing now that two of the largest electronics and music brands in the world are on our side. How can you lose?”

Hall said Beats has already completed environmental tests on the property and created blueprints of the building. Hall said the groundbreaking should begin in late July.

Until then, the studio on 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a $5 donation to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. T-shirts are also available for purchase.

Hall said the studio has “been overrun with people” over the past several weekends.

“It’s just been overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve sold hundreds and hundreds of T-shirts. We’ve had people from Brazil, Australia and Canada.”

Built in 1945, the iconic structure operated as a recording studio from 1969-79 and saw during its reign hundreds of established musical artists, including The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Percy Sledge and Art Garfunkel. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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.

“I’ve always known in my heart that Beats belonged with Apple,” Iovine said in a statement. “The idea when we started the company was inspired by Apple’s unmatched ability to marry culture and technology. Apple’s deep commitment to music fans, artists, songwriters and the music industry is something special.”

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Swampette tours set for 2014

Florence/Lauderdale Tourism has announced future dates for its popular Swampette Trolley Tours of music heritage venues in the Shoals area. Dates are June 7, July 12, August 2, September 6, October 4 and November 8. Cost is $35 per person.

Tours are led by “Swampette” Judy Hood, the wife of bass player David Hood, one of the famous Swampers — a group of session musicians who crafted the Muscle Shoals Sound. Traveling on a trolley bus, each tour is slightly different. But each tour will include visits to sites like the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, FAME Studios and 3614 Jackson Highway, which was the home to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.

The tour on Saturday, June 7 is scheduled from noon to 4 pm. This tour will begin at the new Florence/Lauderdale Tourism & Visitor Center, located in McFarland Park. The new Center has an expansive drum-shaped music exhibit playing all Muscle Shoals music. The exhibit includes artifacts like one of David Hood’s session journals, a trumpet played by W.C. Handy and the first mixer producer Rick Hall of FAME Studios used to record Arthur Alexander’s hit “You Better Move On.”

Seating is limited and tours fill quickly. Call the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism office at 256-740-4141 for reservations.

Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa launches “Summer at the Castle”

Summer fun isn’t just for kids anymore. Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa is offering “Summer at the Castle,” a summer full of activities for families and couples staying at the resort. Ross Bridge guests will enjoy Highland games for children, “A Taste of Scotland” cocktail tastings for adults and dive-in movies for everyone all at no additional price.

“Renaissance Ross Bridge has been an international golf and luxury destination since opening in 2005,” said Rick Smith, general manager of Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa. “With Summer at the Castle, we are embracing our Scottish heritage and offering a variety of fun activities for families and couples in the region. Ross Bridge has become known for our nightly bagpiper and this summer it will become known for so much more. The program started over Memorial Day weekend and was a great success,” said Smith.

While the activities will change each week some favorites that will be featured all season during Summer at the Castle are; Highland Games on the Grassy Knoll each day, High Iced Tea – Afternoon Tea with a Southern Twist, Dive-in Movies at the indoor pool, Create Your Own Spa Blends, Follow the Bagpiper – Follow the piper around the resort grounds, Cupcakes with the Pastry Chef – Enjoy a sweet treat, Marshmallow Roasting at the Terrace, Cooking Classes and Tastings, Acoustics by the Pool on Saturday afternoons, Night putting on the Green, and Bike rides to the original Ross Bridge.

Summer at the Castle offers great family and adult sun with a Scottish accent.

For more information visit Renaissance Ross Bridge on Facebook, click on or call 205.916.7677.

Media Contact – Bill Lang –

Tuscaloosa set to commemorate 50th anniversary of “Bloody Tuesday”

The Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission (TTSC) is excited to announce Unity Week, a commemoration of Tuscaloosa’s civil rights history. A three-day long event will take place, beginning on June 8, and continuing through June 10, marking the 50th anniversary of Tuscaloosa’s “Bloody Tuesday,” and remembering the town’s civil rights movement.

TTSC Director of Tourism Tina Jones states, “We are truly honored to have wonderful partners to help commemorate this historical movement in our city. Our city continues to grow together and overcome all kinds of adversity to become a stronger community. We have evolved considerably in the half century that has passed since the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and that horrible Tuesday. TTSC considers it to be a privilege to be a part of that growth.”

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Tuesday” and honor Tuscaloosa’s civil rights history, the First African Baptist Church will play host to the upcoming event’s activities. Beginning on June 8, a special program will be held at the church at 4:00 p.m., followed by a mass meeting with guest speakers at 6:00 p.m. on June 9. To end the three-day memorial, on June 10, at 9:00 a.m., there will be a march from the First African Baptist Church on Stillman Blvd. to the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse to honor the path taken that was to be taken by protesters 50 years ago. This three-day event serves as a memorial for the civil rights movement and its history in Tuscaloosa.

On June 9, 1964, a group of African-Americans assembled to march in a peaceful demonstration from the First African Baptist Church to the newly built County Courthouse in downtown Tuscaloosa. The mass meeting of individuals was organized by the Tuscaloosa Citizens for Action Committee and Rev. T.Y. Rogers who had been sent by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to head the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa. Ultimately, “Bloody Tuesday,” ended with 33 African American men, women, and children being hospitalized while another 94 were arrested and jailed. This incident occurred almost a year after Gov. George Wallace protested the segregation of schools by standing in the University of Alabama’s schoolhouse door, blocking the entrance for two African American students.

For more information, contact Brandt Garrison, Manager for Communications and Public Relations for the TTSC, at 205.391.9200 or

New exhibit connects Freedom Rides to larger movement

By Allison Griffin, Montgomery Advertiser, May 24

Telling the stories of those who participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961, in their own words, has been a goal of Montgomery’s Freedom Rides Museum since its grand opening three years ago.

So it’s fitting that the title of this year’s exhibit at the museum is “Travelin’ Down Freedom’s Main Line,” a lyric from a black protest song that the riders sang on their way to fill up Mississippi’s jails. The voices of those riders come to life in the text of a series of panels along the interior walls of the museum, with framed artwork and photographs to provide a visual connection to a time that is forever frozen in black-and-white mugshots.

But this exhibit also puts the Freedom Rides in the larger context of the civil rights movement.

“People will be coming for the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march and the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, so we want to give them something to show how these two events connect to the Freedom Rides,” said Ellen Mertins with the Alabama Historical Commission. Mertins came up with the concept for the exhibit, did the research and wrote the script.

Her inspiration came in part from reading the 2008 book by journalist and photographer Eric Etheridge, “Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders.” Etheridge found mugshots of those arrested in Mississippi, and photographed a number of them he was able to track down.

The Freedom Rides Museum has acquired a set of Etheridge prints for its collections; those prints and the 1961 mugshots, along with portions of the oral histories from the riders, make up a part of the current exhibit.

Also included are works of art, in various media by multiple artists, that offer different points of view and add a depth of meaning. There are several prints by Faith Ringgold, an African-American artist and activist known mainly for her painted quilts; a large narrative quilt created specifically for the museum by self-taught artist Nora Ezell; and local sculptor Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas’ large interpretive bus, created from found scrap metal.

The exhibit explores several themes, from the riders’ point of view: their commitment to non-violent action; what happened when they told their families of their involvement; what it was like to be in jail; and how the rides changed the course of their lives.

Flooding the jails

The Freedom Riders were seeking to end segregated facilities on interstate bus routes in the South. Attacks on riders at Anniston, Birmingham and Montgomery, among other places, made national headlines and built support for the civil rights movement.

An angry mob waited for the bus that arrived from Birmingham at the Greyhound bus station on Court Street in Montgomery on May 20, 1961; several of the riders were beaten.

As the movement grew, the focus shifted to flooding the jails in Jackson, Miss., and making racially segregated bus, train and air travel too costly to maintain. Riders from across the country and Canada poured into Mississippi; the majority of the rides aimed at Jackson launched from three cities — Montgomery, Nashville and New Orleans.

The 84 people headed for Jackson from Montgomery came from all parts of the country, and were black and white, male and female. Much of the new exhibit focuses on these riders.

A large, rectangular billboard across one wall features the mugshots of all those riders who ended up arrested in Jackson, broken down by state and hometown.

“What we’ve found is really powerful is if people can say, ‘Oh, I know that town.’ So we’ve got all of these towns, all of these states, all of these faces, and it will ultimately fill the whole wall,” Mertins said. Next year, the museum’s exhibit will focus on those who came from Nashville and New Orleans.

The next generation

Three years in, the museum continues to draw visitors from not just Montgomery and Alabama, but from other parts of the country and other countries, said Christy Carl, site director of the state Capitol for the Historical Commission. She was helping to install the new exhibit at the Freedom Rides Museum last week.

The museum recorded 2,238 visitors in 2013, a slight increase over 2012, according to the Alabama Department of Tourism and Travel.

“I love that we have both the art and the more traditional exhibits — more text and photos,” Carl said. “You’re able to reach people on a different level.”

That’s particularly important for the young people who visit, who are more than a generation removed from the civil rights era. Making the museum relatable to them is important, Carl said.

“Often we’ll talk about bullying, and that’s something they can relate to,” she said. “In a sense, that’s what the Freedom Riders were doing — standing up to bullies.”

They also understand that the rides were a young person’s movement. Seventy-five percent of the Freedom Riders were younger than 30, and a large percentage were college-age, Carl said; the youngest rider was 13.

“They realize that not only did they change the world, they had to face some real danger in doing so.”

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New tiger cubs make debut at Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores

By Dennis Pillion,, May 30

The “Little Zoo That Could” in Gulf Shores has received two new Bengal tiger cubs from the Marcan Tiger Preserve, and the cubs are available now for encounters with the public.

The 30-minute encounters cost $50 for adults and $25 for children age 4-12, who must be accompanied by a paying adult. The tigers had their first public encounters Thursday, and Johnson said bookings are already being made for encounters through the month of July.

The tigers are only small enough for safe human interaction for the first few months of their lives. Animal rights groups say the tigers often face cruel living situations once they are too big for such encounters, and that the abundance of captive tigers creates false impressions that the animals are not endangered in the wild.

There are currently more tigers living in captivity in the United States than there are wild tigers left in the world. Habitat loss and poaching have decimated the wild population, as tiger parts are used in some ancient Chinese medicines.

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Dr. Pijeaux retires

Effective May 30, Dr. Lawrence J. Pijeaux, Jr. has retired as President & CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI).  Priscilla Hancock Cooper, BCRI Vice President of Institutional Programs since 2006, was appointed Interim President & CEO effective May 20.

Pijeaux’ leadership of BCRI began in July 1995.  Since that time, BCRI achieved full accreditation from the American Association of Museums, received two national awards for community service presented by First Lady Laura Bush at the White House, was named an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and underwent a $2.5 million dollar renovation. Recipient of numerous appointments and awards during his tenure, Pijeaux will remain a member of the boards of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and of the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), to which he was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate in June of 2010.

Extras casting for movie “Selma”

Selma Productions, Inc. is looking for 500 extras for the feature film “Selma”, currently in production to be released spring 2015.

 The Casting Director will see candidates Mon., June 9, 3 p.m. – 8 p.m., at the John Abernathy Auditorium on the campus of Alabama State University, Montgomery, AL., and Tues., June 10, Noon – 6 p.m., at the Performing Arts Theatre, Selma, AL,

Candidates must:

Be 17 to 70 years old

Bring valid photo ID

Bring recent photo

Be eligible to work in the U.S.

Be willing to working as a local hire at $64 for 8 hrs

Be African American or Caucasian

Be male or female

Be able to work 12-14 hours in vintage wardrobe

Be available and have means to attend wardrobe fitting in Selma, AL one of the following days: June 16 – 23

Breakfast and lunch will be provided.


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

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

Sept. 7-14                   World Leisure Congress, Mobile


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