TOURISM TUESDAYS September 30, 2014

·      Gulf State Park convention center project moving forward

·      $35 million Grand Bohemian hotel under construction in Mountain Brook

·      Rock Atlas author posts Alabama visit online

·      Historic marker honors Percy Sledge, Quin Ivy

·      From the backyard to the best: Decatur’s Smokey C’s came a long way to win Alabama’s Best BBQ Ribs

·      The Nook in Huntsville is only Alabama establishment to make ‘America’s 100 Best Beer Bars’ list

·      Second Annual Southern ReInvention hosted by Belle Chevre on Oct. 18

·      Birmingham’s Clayton Sherrod tells NPR how he became chef at all-white country club

·      Millennial spend outpaces boomers, Gen X

·      Magic City Smooth Jazz partners with State Parks for a series of free concerts

·      The History Museum of Mobile will no longer have an admission fee

·      Muscling through the Shoals

·      Alabama Garden Trail meeting

·      Documentary on Ave Maria Grotto creator to be broadcast

·      Alabama Tourism Workshops are next week

·      Save the Date for the 2014 Alabama Welcome Center Educational Retreat

·      Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Gulf State Park convention center project moving forward

By Kathy Jumper,, Sept. 28

State officials may call it a lodge and meeting space, but locals know it as the much-talked-about convention center and hotel to be built on 2 miles of beachfront at Gulf State Park. Gov. Robert Bentley has contracted with the University of Alabama to help get the project rolling. The university has asked for a request for proposals (RFP) to be submitted by Oct. 6 for a master plan for the project. RFPs for the lodge and meeting space are due Oct. 17. Along with an environmentally friendly designed hotel and conference center, the RFPs should include plans for a research and education center.

To read the entire article online, go to:

$35 million Grand Bohemian hotel under construction in Mountain Brook

By Michael Tomberlin,, Jan. 16

Construction has started on the $35 million Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook boutique hotel, with the owner promising a project unlike anything the area has ever seen.

The Kessler Collectionwill make the 100-room Mountain Brook hotel – part of the $120 million Lane Parke development – its 11th, joining others in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, New Mexico and North Carolina.

“The Grand Bohemian is going to be a very amazing place,” Richard Kessler, chief executive of the Kessler Collection, said in an interview. “We will add to the quality of life in beautiful Mountain Brook.”

While Kessler promised “luxury” in the rooms, the Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook’s amenities also promise to set it apart.

A rooftop restaurant and bar will have indoor and outdoor components, he said. A dining room will be decorated with a Porsche automotive theme and, as with other Grand Bohemian hotels, it will feature a gallery of local and regional works of art with paintings, sculpture and jewelry, including items for sale.

The hotel will have 12,630 square feet of meeting space, something the Mountain Brook community has said it needs.

The Poseidon Spa will offer the spa experience to both hotel guests and members of the community.

Kessler said being hidden away a bit off the beaten path but surrounded by shops and restaurants for guests will create an attractive mix between the hotel and the surrounding development.

“I think Grand Bohemian is a perfect fit for Mountain Brook,” he said.

To read the entire article, go to:

Rock Atlas author posts Alabama visit online

Calls Alabama the friendliest state imaginable as he researches his musical road trip

David Roberts, author of Rock Atlas USA: The Musical Landscape of America, is posting online about his visit to Alabama.  On Rock Atlas’ official Facebook website, Roberts wrote to his readers on Friday that “Over the next few days, I’ll be posting a cut-down version of my recent diary entries for a music locations road trip through the greenest and friendliest American state imaginable.”

His late summer trip to Alabama included Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, Birmingham and Montgomery. Planning on the trip started after he attended an Alabama Tourism Department’s showing of the film, “Muscle Shoals” last November in London.

The book, Rock Atlas USA, lists 650 music locations in America and is a sequel to his popular Rock Atlas UK book.

To read his posts, go to

For more information on the Alabama Tourism Department’s efforts to promote Alabama as a tourism destination around the world, contract .

For information about state tourism’s United Kingdom marketing program, you may also contact 

Historic marker honors Percy Sledge, Quin Ivy

A historic marker commemorating the site where “When A Man Loves A Woman” was recorded will be unveiled Tue., Sept. 30, at 1 p.m. at 104 East Second Street in Sheffield. This address was the site of Quin Ivy’s North Alabama Recording Studio (NORALA).  The song, which was recorded on Feb. 17, 1966, launched Sledge to international fame. Sledge and Ivy are scheduled to attend the marker unveiling.

Ivy established the studio in 1965 and used the proceeds from the Sledge session to construct a more modern studio across town named Quinvy. Donna Jean Thatcher was the first artist to record there.

The marker unveiling is open to the public and is being held the same day as a benefit concert to raise money for Sledge, who is battling liver cancer. The concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at any branch of First Metro Bank or Valley Credit Union.

From the backyard to the best: Decatur’s Smokey C’s came a long way to win Alabama’s Best BBQ Ribs

By Bob Carlton,, Sept. 25

Casey Culver was walking into his and his brother Cory’s barbecue restaurant when his cell phone rang Wednesday morning, just a few minutes after 7 o’clock.

It was their dad, Mike Culver, calling to tell them the good news.

Smokey C’s Bar-B-Que & Wings, which the Culver brothers opened in Decatur six years ago, had just been named the winner of’s statewide search for Alabama’s Best BBQ Ribs.

“My dad called me just a few minutes after he saw it online,” Casey Culver said during lunch Wednesday. “Apparently, he was stalking the website waiting for it to come up. He’s not a real excitable guy, but he was beside himself when he called me this morning.”

Customers streamed into Smokey C’s throughout lunch, many of them were regulars from the nearby 3M and Daikin America plants and some were first-timers who stopped in to find out what those ribs are all about.

Decatur’s Bo Turner has been a fan of the Culver brothers’ barbecue since back in the day when they were just cooking for their buddies on a Big Green Egg ceramic smoker at their house.

Turner dropped by their restaurant at lunch Wednesday to offer his congratulations and to have some of their hickory-smoked ribs.

“I think it’s very well-deserved,” he said of Smokey C’s best-in-the-state recognition. “I know they’re good and I like what they do, but I’m really impressed that they’ve gotten to be as well-known as they are and that people really enjoy it as much as I do.

“I can remember eating their food in their backyard and thinking they were good,” he went on. “Then when they said they were going to open a restaurant, I kind of thought they were crazy. I think it’s been a long, hard road for them to get where they’re at, but they’ve done a really good job.”

Smokey C’s is right in the thick of North Alabama barbecue country, home to such legendary smokehouses as Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que and Whitt’s Barbecue, places that have been around since long before the Culver boys were born.

“Once we kind of got our foot in the door, it was a downhill slope from there,” Casey Culver said. “It all kind of worked in our favor.

“We’ve got a fantastic customer base,” he added. “We’ve got some people who come in here and eat two or three times a week at lunch with us. We’ve made some really good contacts with some of these people in these industries, and they’ve really helped us out, getting our name spread around.”

James Chrzanowski, from Queens in New York City, is here this week to go backpacking in the Sipsey Wilderness in the northwest corner of the state, and he made a special trip to Smokey C’s on Wednesday to get a plate of barbecue before spending the next four days in the woods.

Chrzanowski discovered Smokey C’s on a previous trip to the Sipsey Wilderness about a year ago, and he has since become friends with Casey Culver.

“This is my third time here,” Chrzanowski said. “Just because it’s so good, I flew in to Birmingham last night and came here just to have some of his food.

“I knew he was in a contest, but I didn’t know he had won. That’s pretty darn amazing for a couple of guys who started in their backyard.”

Donna Culver, Cory and Casey’s mom, helps out at Smokey C’s a few days a week, and the sides they serve at the restaurant — including baked beans, potato salad and banana pudding — are all from her recipes.

She, too, was enjoying all of the attention for the rib contest.

“We’ve had a lot of good feedback,” she said. “Just people saying, ‘Congratulations, y’all deserve it; y’all have the best.'”

An “unreal” couple of days at Big D’s in Monroeville

Meanwhile, down in Monroeville, Donnie Ricketts of Big D’s Butts ‘N Stuff said his business hasn’t let up since word got out that Big D’s won the Alabama’s Best BBQ Ribs Readers’ Choice category.

“It’s been unreal,” Ricketts said Wednesday afternoon. “The emails are flying in, the congratulations. The business just exploded. I guess everybody is wanting to find out what it’s all about.”

Before the contest, Ricketts served his pecan-and-cherry-smoked baby-back ribs only on Fridays and Saturdays, but he said their sudden fame has forced him to rethink that plan.

Most likely, Big D’s will start serving ribs six days a week, Mondays through Fridays, Rickett said.

“We’ve had people ask for them every day since they started reading about it, so we’re going to have to do something.” he said. “Everybody wants to try them.” launched the search for Alabama’s Best BBQ Ribs four weeks ago by asking readers to nominate their favorites around the state. Readers later helped select 15 state finalists, which staff members visited last week.

The Nook in Huntsville makes ‘America’s 100 Best Beer Bars’ list

By Lucy Berry,, Jan. 15

The Nook, a bar on Bob Wallace Avenue in Huntsville, founded in April 2007, and known for filling the Tennessee Valley’s craft beer cravings has made Draft Magazine’s 2014 list of “America’s 100 Best Beer Bars.”

“After six years of making this annual list, we had to rethink the definition of a top-notch beer bar,” the article announcing this year’s winning businesses said. “New ones are opening every second, and ‘good beer bar’ no longer equals a zillion taps; there’s just more to it now. We needed to walk out of these places saying, ‘Now there’s a bar that really, really cares about your experience with beer.’ “

The Nook, a non-smoking establishment and eatery that offers more than 450 beer selections, has been included on Draft’s annual list each year since 2011, according to the magazine’s website.

To read the article online, go to:

Second Annual Southern ReInvention hosted by Belle Chevre on Oct. 18

By John Corrigan,, Sept. 25

Belle Chevre, internationally renowned local goat cheese creamery, invites southern artists, craftspeople, and artisans to the second annual Southern ReInvention on Oct. 18 in Elkmont.

Festivities include a cheese-making class led by Belle Chevre President Tasia Malakasis, a pop-up shop by award-winning fashion designer Billy Reid, an assortment of creative food prepared by acclaimed chefs and artisans, plenty of music, and lectures from historians and cotton farmers.

Southern ReInvention started last year as a celebration of Belle Chevre’s new creamery space–an 8,000 square foot historic-building which was a former cotton warehouse. The train tracks adjacent to the building have now been reinvented as a “Rails to Trails” initiative which is where the “Running with the Goats” 10k, 5k, and Fun Run took place this past July.

Belle Chèvre cheeses have received numerous national awards from the American Cheese Society and the American Dairy Goat Association, and have been featured by Martha Stewart and Oprah.

The Southern Reinvention runs from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Oct. 18 at the creamery on 18849 Upper Fort Hampton Rd in Elkmont. Admission is $5.

Birmingham’s Clayton Sherrod tells NPR how he became chef at all-white country club

By Bob Carlton,, Jan. 17

Birmingham chef Clayton Sherrod was featured on NPR’s “StoryCorps” series recently, recounting his experience working his way up from dishwasher to head chef at an all-white country club in the 1960s.

Sherrod, who is black, told “StoryCorps” he was 13 when he stated working as a dishwasher at the country club, and by the time he was 19, in 1964, he had become the executive chef.

“All of my friends told me I was crazy,” he said. “But I saw something that no one else could see, and that is me walking around with that big, tall hat on.”

The “StoryCorps” piece does not mention the country club by name, but Sherrod told it was Vestavia Country Club.

Sherrod said he has received lots of phone calls, text messages and emails since the “StoryCorps” piece aired.

Sherrod, who was executive chef at Vestavia Country Club for 13 years, now has his own catering business, Chef Clayton’s Food Systems, Inc., and serves on the board of Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College.

To see the article and listen to the “StoryCorps” feature, go to:

Millennial spend outpaces boomers, Gen X

By Alicia Hoisington,, Sept. 22

Data from industry researchers shows millennials are spending more on travel.

Millennials spent 20% more on travel over last year, surpassing the 12% average year-over-year gain of all U.S. households, according to the “2014 Portrait of American travelers,” released by MMGY Global, a travel and hospitality marketing firm. This surge is the largest year-over-year spike in spending since pre-Recession years, according to the report.

The research looked at more than 2,500 people in four generational categories who have traveled within the last 12 months, all of whom had an annual household income of more than $50,000. The four categories were:

  • millennials (ages 18 to 35);
  • Gen Xers (ages 36 to 49);
  • baby boomers (ages 50 to 68); and
  • matures (ages 69-plus).

 Steve Cohen, VP of insights for MMGY, said the demands millennials have are different from previous generations, and they are spending more money on vacations.

 “They’ve spent the second-most on vacations in the last 12 months among the four generational categories, and they’re looking to spend the second most among the four categories in the next 12 months,” he said. The mature generation took the No. 1 slot in both time frames.

“Everything we see suggests that millennials are traveling more. … Travel intentions among millennials is up 10%. Compared to the other generational groups, they’re the only ones that are up. Xers are down 6%; boomers are down 1%; matures are down 3%,” Cohen said.

“Millennials are leading the travel resurgence as the economy returns,” he added.

“If you’re not focused on them, you’re really missing a big segment of the spend that’s out there,” Jim Merkel, president & CEO of Rockbridge, a private equity firm that specializes in hotel investments, said.

Millennials’ future spending power alone is worth hoteliers’ attention, Chris Klauda, VP of lodging research services at D.K. Shifflet, said.

“I think (millennials) are just going to continue to spend more as their income increases. The flipside is they’re not in their peak income-earning years yet, so I would say the only place they’re going to go is up.”

See more at:

To read the entire article, go to:

Magic City Smooth Jazz partners with State Parks for a series of free concerts

In the 1980s, Bernard Lockhart was in the Navy and living in San Diego when he fell in love with jazz music. Today, the Leeds, Ala., native is sharing his love of jazz with thousands of people across the state though his nonprofit organization Magic City Smooth Jazz. Lockhart, executive director and founder of the group, organizes up to 14 free Jazz in the Park™ concerts each year primarily in the Birmingham area.

This fall, Magic City Smooth Jazz is partnering with Alabama State Parks for the first in a series of free concerts at select state parks. The first event will be held at Chewacla State Park in Auburn on October 3, from 6-9 p.m. The concert is free, but park entry fees apply. In 2015, the concert series will travel to Chewacla, Lake Guntersville, Monte Sano and Oak Mountain state parks. Dates and times will be announced on and

From supporting jazz artists in Alabama to attracting national acts such as Esperanza Spalding, Lockhart said that the mission of Magic City Smooth Jazz is to increase access to cultural activities for all Alabamians.

“We’d like to enhance the cultural arts in underserved communities by supporting area jazz musicians and educating youth and adults through music workshops and free concerts like the one at Chewacla,” Lockhart said. “Our goal is to cover the entire state. What better way to do that than through state parks.”

Alabama State Parks has also been expanding its offerings in recent years. From the Gulf Adventure Center at Gulf State Park to Flip Side Watersports at Oak Mountain, visitors are finding more activities and entertainment choices at their favorite parks.

“Our visitors are looking for more varied experiences in our parks,” said Greg Lein, State Parks Director. “The Jazz in the Park concert series is a welcome addition to what we can offer them.”

The Oct. 3 concert will feature KB’s Technique from Birmingham. Vocalist Jackie Young from Anniston will open the show. The concert will take place in the grassy area near the upper pavilion. Chairs and coolers are welcome. The concert is sponsored by Magic City Smooth Jazz, the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Board and Alabama State Parks.

Chewacla State Park is located at 124 Shell Toomer Pkwy., Auburn, Ala., 36830. For more information about Chewacla, visit or call 334-887-5621. Entrance fees: Ages 12-61, $3. Children 6-11 years old and seniors, $1. Kids under 6 years old, free.

Jazz in the Park is made possible through individual contributions and from groups such as the Alabama State Council on the Arts. For more information about Jazz in the Park, call Bernard Lockhart at 205-616-1735 or visit

The History Museum of Mobile will no longer have an admission fee

By Sally Pearsall Ericson,, Sept. 25

Mayor Sandy Stimpson made the announcement on Wednesday after taking a preview tour of the museum’s upcoming exhibit, “Ark of India,” which opens Oct. 16, and will be on display through Sept. 1, 2015.

Stimpson’s Chief of Staff, Colby J. Cooper, said the change was part of the mayor’s vision to make the city more family-friendly.

The Dallas Museum of Art was one example of a museum that recorded greater attendance and community engagement after ending its admission fee, Cooper said via email.

“The Mayor made the administrative decision on the occasion of the Ark of India exhibit to try this concept,” he wrote. “We hope that we can open more doors of opportunity for our citizens and guests.”

Until now, the History Museum’s admissions revenue had been sent to the museum’s board of trustees, an arrangement that was part of a 1960s ordinance, Cooper said in the email.

“Since the new government structure of 1985, and the museum subsequently becoming a city department (that reports into the Chief of Staff), this is one of those arcane realities we are working to transform,” his email said.

The museum’s operating costs are paid by the city.

Last fall, the museum’s staff revamped the exhibits at Fort Conde, which is just across Royal Street downtown. There is no admission fee to the fort.

The History Museum is at 111 S. Royal St., next door to the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center.

“Ark of India” will be the first travel exhibit created by the staff, according to Jacob Laurence, curator of exhibits.

To read more online, go to:

Muscling through the Shoals

By WordGeisha,, Sept. 27

On my final day in northern Alabama, I stood over a pond at Stanfield’s Riverbottom Grille, sated after a meal of blackened fish and Southern coleslaw, flinging hunks of fried hushpuppies to catfish the size of sharks. The O’Neal bridge spanning the Tennessee River—the artery that bisects Alabama’s Colbert and Lauderdale counties, dubbed the Singing River by Native Americans—made a graceful backdrop for the feast.

The giant fish devoured the leftovers of the meal I’d shared with travel writing colleagues and our congenial host, Georgia Turner of Florence/Lauderdale Tourism, as greedily as we’d consumed a mélange of Southern delicacies on a romp through Florence, Sheffield, Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia—the quartet of cities known collectively as the Shoals.

Before our farewell dinner, one colleague accepted the invitation to fire a celebratory canon shot into the sunset. We watched it explode over the Florence Marina—one more unexpected episode on a Fame and Fashion press tour following the North American Travel Journalists (NATJA) 2014 conference in Huntsville, Alabama. Our guide was the aforementioned Georgia, prodigal daughter of Sheffield, back in her childhood home after a 14-year hiatus in Florida. With contagious enthusiasm, she introduced us to friends she’s known since grade-school in her close-knit community, while guiding us through some of her favorite haunts in the Shoals.

To read the entire article, go to:

Alabama Garden Trail meeting

Representatives of major gardens in Alabama will meet with Alabama Tourism Department director Lee Sentell in Montgomery at 10 a.m., Oct. 20, to plan the Alabama Gardens Trail.

The gardens being featured in the Alabama Garden Trail are: Aldridge Gardens – Hoover; Bellingrath Gardens and Home – Theodore; Birmingham Botanical Gardens; Dothan Area Botanical Gardens; Huntsville Botanical Garden; Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum – Wetumpka; and Mobile Botanical Gardens.

Documentary on Ave Maria Grotto creator to be broadcast

A documentary on the life and work of Ave Maria Grotto creator Brother Joseph Zoettl will air on a global Catholic network this fall.

“Brother Joseph and the Grotto,” a feature documentary from Red Clay Pictures, will be broadcast on EWTN this November.

The documentary is a “creative chronicle” of the life and work of Brother Joseph, who spent his life building miniatures of concrete and recycled materials on the grounds of Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman, where he arrived in 1892 as a 14-year-old boy named Michael from Bavaria.

The miniatures now surround a large, man-made grotto on the abbey grounds. The entire park, known as Ave Maria Grotto, is a top tourist attraction for the state.

The film had its public premiere at Saint Bernard Abbey in October 2013.  It has since been screened in locations across Alabama and been purchased by individuals and libraries across the country and in Germany.

For more details, go to:

Alabama Tourism Workshops are next week

The Alabama Tourism Department will host two tourism workshops for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area.  These workshops, which are free of charge, will be held Oct. 7, in the Alabama Center for Commerce, 7th floor auditorium, 401 Adams Avenue, Montgomery; and Oct. 9, at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham.  Attendees will learn about the many programs and services the Alabama Tourism Department offers.

For registration information, contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or e-mail: Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov.

Save the Date for the 2014 Alabama Welcome Center Educational Retreat

The 2014 Alabama Welcome Center Educational Retreat is set for Nov. 9-11, at Lakepoint Resort State Park in Eufaula.

The Welcome Center Educational Retreat continues to be a unique opportunity to update the Welcome Center staff on your organization, attractions, accommodations and special events. The registration fee is $150, which includes your meals on Sunday afternoon and dinner Sunday night; breakfast, lunch and dinner on Monday and the Monday night event, along with your booth setup on Monday.

The host hotel is Lakepoint Resort State Park and they are offering a rate of $61.95 plus tax for each night to all participating partners.

For registration and additional information, please contact:

Ann Sparks @334-687-6664 or @ Email:,

Trisa Collier @ 256-423-3891or,

Jerry Hale @205-392-5443 or Email:

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Oct. 7                          Tourism Workshop, Center for Commerce, Montgomery

Oct. 9                          Tourism Workshop, McWane Science Center, Birmingham

Nov. 3 – 6                   World Travel Market, London, England

Nov. 9 – 11                 2014 Alabama Welcome Center Educational Retreat

Dec. 2 – 4                    Travel South International Showcase, New Orleans

Dec. 5 – 8                    Travel South International Super FAM to Alabama



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