Tourism Tuesdays February 16, 2016

  • Alabama musicians win 8 Grammys: Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell and more
  • ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Is Headed to Broadway
  • Initiative to increase International tourism begins
  • Barber Motorsports promoted on Italian Facebook site
  • Montgomery to be in National Spotlight
  • Travel South Showcase reaches 130 registered tour operators
  • Grand Hotel celebrates longtime employees, seeks 119 new ones
  • New Battleship Park director: It’s all about ‘the life of the ship’
  • Stone wall honors ancestor’s journey on Trail of Tears
  • Greene Street Market comes to Huntsville Visitor Center for first time
  • Southeast Tourism Society selects three North Alabama events as “Top 20 Events”
  • Ten years after Katrina, Amtrak to make splashy return to Gulf Coast
  • Alabama Tourism Department presents workshop in April
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Alabama musicians win 8 Grammys: Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell and more

By Mary Colurso,, Feb. 16

Alabama musicians made a big impact at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, with multiple wins, splashy performances and trophies that reached deep into the event’s 83 categories.

The Grammys show — broadcast Monday night from the Staples Center in Los Angeles — was preceded by an afternoon ceremony at the nearby Microsoft Theater. Most awards were handed out early in the day, with about a dozen high-profile categories reserved for the televised event on CBS.

The Alabama Shakes, a soul-rock band from Athens, took home three trophies, winning Best Alternative Music Album for “Sound & Color,” and Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song for “Don’t Wanna Fight.”

“Sound & Color” also won a Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, with the award going to engineers Shawn Everett and Bob Ludwig.

The Shakes lost in one major category, ceding Album of the Year to Taylor Swift. They made up for it, however, with a mesmerizing live rendition of “Don’t Wanna Fight.” Lead singer Brittany Howard captured both eyes and ears during the performance, caressing the lyrics and commanding the stage in a flowing white cape and gown.

Jason Isbell
, a singer-songwriter from Green Hill, was nominated in two categories and made a clean sweep, winning Best Americana Album for “Something More Than Free” and Best American Roots Song for “24 Frames.”

Little Big Town
, a country-pop quartet, received a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance, for “Girl Crush.” The band performed the song on camera, with Karen Fairchild handling lead vocals in her bold, smoky alto.

“Girl Crush” also won for Best Country Song, with the award going to songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose.

Little Big Town includes Jimi Westbrook, who grew up in Sumiton. Two other members of the group, Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, met as undergraduates at Samford University in Birmingham.

The SteelDrivers
, linked to North Alabama, won Best Bluegrass Album for “The Muscle Shoals Recordings.” Gary Nichols, a Shoals native, is the band’s guitarist and lead singer. The album was recorded on Nichols’ home turf, with producer Jimmy Nutt at The NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield.

Other Grammy wins with Alabama ties:

“Glory,” Best Song Written for Visual Media. The award went to John Legend and Common, who created and performed the ballad for the 2014 movie “Selma.” Che Smith, known as Rhymefest, also shared the award.

“Selma,” a 2014 drama, filmed in Alabama and Georgia, traces key events in the civil-rights struggle of the 1960s. The lynchpin of the action: the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights led by Martin Luther King Jr.

“Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.

This award goes to various artists on the recording, including The Band Perry, a family trio with roots in Mobile. The Band Perry — siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry — covered “Gentle on My Mind” for the soundtrack.

The Fairfield Four, Best Roots Gospel Album for “Still Rockin’ My Soul.” The venerable gospel group has changed its lineup several times since 1921 and included Alabama performers such as James Hill and Isaac “Dickie” Freeman.

The Grammys broadcast also featured a salute to Lionel Richie, a Tuskegee native, veteran pop star and 2016 MusiCares Person of the Year. Richie joined artists John Legend, Luke Bryan, Demi Lovato and Meaghan Trainor for a medley of his hits, as a solo artist and member of the Commodores.

Sam Hunt
, a country-pop star and former quarterback at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, lost his bids for Best New Artist and Best Country Album. Hunt was showcased, though, in a performance with Carrie Underwood.

The two singers offered a mashup of Underwood’s “Heartbeat” and Hunt’s “Take Your Time,” trading verses and harmonizing.

To read this article online, go to:


‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Is Headed to Broadway

By Alexandra Alter, The New York Times, Feb. 10

Over the past 55 years, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has racked up pretty much every accolade imaginable.

It won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film starring Gregory Peck. The book became a commercial blockbuster that sold more than 40 million copies, a staple on school curriculums, and an enduring moral parable about a young girl’s coming of age in an unjust world.

Now, for the first time, it’s coming to Broadway.

The producer Scott Rudin has acquired stage adaptation rights for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and has hired the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to adapt the story. Barlett Sher, who won a Tony Award for his revival of the musical “South Pacific,” will direct the play, which is scheduled for the 2017-18 season.

Mr. Sorkin, who has collaborated with Mr. Rudin on feature films like “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs,” said it was both exhilarating and daunting to tackle such a cherished classic.

“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is one of the most revered pieces of 20th century American literature,” Mr. Sorkin said in a telephone interview. “It lives a little bit differently in everybody’s imagination in the way a great novel ought to, and then along I come. I’m not the equal of Harper Lee. No one is.”

To read this entire article online, go to:

Initiative to increase International tourism begins

The Alabama Tourism Department and TourMappers North America started a four-phase plan last week to increase international tourism to the state.

Phase one of the initiative was a Destination and Product Educational & Development trip by the TourMappers’ Managing Director Julie Katz and Contracting Manager Donatella Cedrone.

The pair flew to Nashville where they rented a car and conducted an 8-city tour of Alabama before departing from New Orleans. Their trip would be ideal for an international traveler looking to see a diverse number of sites in a three state visit of the southern USA.

The visit included the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Selma, Montgomery and Mobile.  In each city, the local DMO showcased their destination and held either one-on-one meetings or a workshop with attractions and hoteliers.

Alabama Tourism Department Regional and International Director Grey Brennan said work will soon begin on the second phase of the plan. “TourMappers will begin finalizing new and existing hotel and attraction contracts for the 2016-2018 time period now that their trip to Alabama is complete,”  Brennan said.  “The TourMappers drive from Nashville to New Orleans, by way of Alabama, highlights cites and one possible route that has now been visited by a company in the position to help market Alabama.  We know that with TourMapppers’ expertise, they will discover the best USA destinations that include Alabama and other southern states to increase tourism.”

TourMappers North America is a full-service Receptive Operator. They sell hotel rooms, attractions, fly-drive trips for individual foreign travelers and tailored group tours to tour companies around the world. Their top two markets are the UK and Germany.

For more information on Alabama’s efforts to market destinations worldwide, contact:


Barber Motorsports promoted on Italian Facebook site

One of the top international attractions in Alabama received an extensive posting on Facebook site Travel South Italia.

Through an electronic translation, the posting reads in part; “In the heart of Alabama former dairy owner George Barber built a world-class race track and the largest museum of motorcycles that exists in the world.  Barber Motorsports Park, located in Birmingham, is a vast area equipped to accommodate different motor sports.  

Guinness World Records officially proclaimed the Vintage Barber Motorsports Museum as the largest museum of motorcycles that exists in the world. The five-floor Museum houses the largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles with more than 1,300 models on display. The models come from many countries and represent more than 200 manufacturers. The museum has developed its own department of restoration.”

The Barber Motorsports promotion is part of the marketing effort covered in last week’s edition of Tourism Tuesday in the story “Alabama active in Italy with Travel South digital campaign.”

To see the full article in its native Italian, go to and look for the Feb 12th posting.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing efforts in Italy, contact


Montgomery to be in National Spotlight

C-SPAN to reveal Montgomery history and highlight authors during week-long visit

Mayor Todd Strange and Charter Communications will welcome C-SPAN to Montgomery on Thur., Feb. 18, 10:00 a.m., at the Rufus Lewis Library Branch, as they kick off a visit to record and feature the city’s history and literary life.  The kickoff event, hosted by the city of Montgomery, will coincide with the unveiling of the final mural honoring Civil Rights at the Rufus Lewis Library Branch, located on the route of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery March.


“It’s an honor to welcome Charter Communications and C-SPAN, a distinguished cable network to Montgomery – voted America’s Best Historic City, and we cherish the opportunity to have our story shared with its viewers,” Mayor Strange said. “From American innovators like the Wright brothers, Hank Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Civil Rights icons like Rosa Parks, Fred Gray and Martin Luther King, Jr. and leaders of the Confederacy like Jefferson Davis, we feel certain Montgomery’s wealth of history will provide C-SPAN with more than enough stories to produce extraordinary and informative programming for viewers across the country.”


At Thursday’s event, C-SPAN representatives will reveal the stories and segments that will be explored by the national television network during its stay in Montgomery. While in Montgomery, C-SPAN representatives will also conduct community and educational outreach.

Working with its cable partner Charter Communications, the C-SPAN Cities Tour producers will be in Montgomery, February 18-22. Local segments recorded throughout the week will air on Book TV (C-SPAN2, Charter channel 85) and American History TV (C-SPAN3, Charter channel 99) during C-SPAN’s special Montgomery weekend, March 19-20.                

Programming recorded in Montgomery will air on Book TV (C-SPAN2, Charter channel 85) and American History TV (C-SPAN3, Charter channel 99) on Book TV on March 19-20. C-SPAN is available in Montgomery on Charter channel 98.

For more information, visit the C-SPAN Cities Tour website and follow the program on Twitter @CSPANCities.


Travel South Showcase reaches 130 registered tour operators

The Alabama Tourism Department and industry partners from across the state will have a record crowd on hand next month at the Travel South Showcase.  Travel South announced recently they had registered their 130th group tour attendee for the March 6-9th show in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

This year’s show includes many new tour operators who have not attended in past years.

Travel South Showcase is a regional appointment-style marketplace focused on increasing domestic and Canadian group travel to and within the southern states. Showcase offers the most targeted opportunity for tour operators / wholesalers and travel service providers to meet face to face with southern travel suppliers. 

This year’s showcase reached another milestone when the registration for suppliers went to Sold Out status.  Now both the international show and the domestic group tour showcase marketing events organized by Travel South USA are in such demand suppliers must register well in advance of the shows to attend. 

For more information on Travel South Showcase, contact


Grand Hotel celebrates longtime employees, seeks 119 new ones

By Michelle Matthews,, Feb. 11

Debbie Weeks-Badalamenti remembers the day, nearly 31 years ago, when she interviewed for a job at Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear. As she walked up to the celebrated, meticulously tended 169-year-old resort on Mobile Bay, with Spanish moss blowing in the limbs of the old oak trees, she thought to herself, “I could definitely work here.”

After an eight-hour interview – it lasted that long because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, and the general manager wasn’t sure where to put her – she landed a job at the Grand, starting out working in the Grand Dining Room. And, except for a two-year stint with Marriott in Atlanta, she has been there ever since, working her way up quickly through several jobs, including catering director, to become director of event management, which is her current title.

“I didn’t make a plan,” she said. “I just did it.”

Weeks-Badalamenti is one of some 40 employees who are members of the Grand’s “Quarter-Century Club.” Tonight, the group and their significant others will be celebrated at an annual dinner held at the hotel.

Another perk of hitting the 25-year mark with Marriott, she said, is a complimentary stay at any Marriott property on the weekends. She spent New Year’s Eve in Monaco a couple of years ago for free, and she has her eye on a Marriott in Venice. “I can’t wait,” she said.

Before her interview, Weeks-Badalamenti, who lived in west Mobile at the time and whose background was in elementary education, had been to the Grand Hotel only a couple of times. She jokes that she sneaked in to pose for photos in one of the oak trees. After about six months, knowing she was in for the long haul, she moved closer to Point Clear.

And when she went to Atlanta to help JW Marriott kick off its wedding market there, she desperately missed the Grand. She was thrilled when she was asked to come back.

She manages eight event planners and two administrative assistants in her office in the resort’s conference center. She and her assistant have been together for 30 years, she said, and her other employees have 20, 15 and 10 years with the hotel.

“I’m in charge of group business,” she said. “We take care of the rooms, catering, golf, tennis, sailing” – whatever the group needs to make their stay relaxing and/or productive. “We have some groups that have been coming here for 57 years. That says a lot.”

She personally coordinates events for several larger groups whose trust she’s cultivated over the years. “I have to think outside the box for my groups,” she said. She also plans the hotel’s Grand Summer Ball, a benefit for Thomas Hospital held annually since 1986, which is attended by some 600 people.

She has planned 791 weddings (but who’s counting?) and has arranged for Cirque du Soleil to perform an aerial act in the Grand’s ballroom and even once hosted an actual circus, of animals, on the Grand’s driving range.

“It puts excitement in your life,” she said of the job that often requires her to book celebrities to entertain for various groups. “Sometimes I go home and think, ‘I don’t know how I pulled that off!'”

Though she works in what many would consider Paradise, it is work, after all, and sometimes it can be stressful. When her detail-oriented days get to be too much, Weeks-Badalamenti said all she has to do to is “go out, smell the bay and come back in.”

She never tires of watching guests marvel at the amazing sunsets at the hotel’s Julep Point, and she likes to tell them that she’s charging them extra for it. She knows when the dolphins are about to make their daily appearance and will say, “Cue the dolphins,” just before they jump, only to laugh when the guests ask how she did that.

As lovely as the setting is, what she likes best about her job is the people she meets every day – and those she sees again and again, year after year. The repeat guests – like one woman from Texas who’s been coming to the Grand every year since her honeymoon, now bringing along her children and grandchildren – become like family.

Though she doesn’t have plans to retire yet, she admits she’s started thinking about it. “What a great place to have been for 30 years,” she said.

To read this entire article, go to:


New Battleship Park director: It’s all about ‘the life of the ship’

By Lawrence Specker,, Feb. 11

Before you even start with the Army-Navy jokes, you should know that the USS Alabama is hardly the first ship to come under the direction of Maj. Gen. Janet Cobb.

The new director of USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park will retire later this year from the U.S. Army Reserve.

Her career, since being commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1978, has included seven years of active duty, which in turn included two tours in the Mideast. In one of those, she served as battalion commander of the Mobile-based 1184th Transportation Battalion, which operated the Port of Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait, in 2002-2003 before and during the Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion. According to an official biography, “The battalion discharged 105 vessels and 90,152 pieces of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps cargo throughout the period of combat operations.”

“Oddly enough, most of my active duty service was the type involving vessel loading and unloading,” said Cobb, who has become only the eighth person to serve as executive director of the park, and the first woman to do so.

“I’m honored. I’m humbled by it,” she said of her membership in that very small club. “To work here, to work with the community, is kind of a dream job.”

It’s also a big job: The park is a major tourist attraction, and in addition to the battleship itself, it features dozens more memorials, vessels, aircraft and other exhibits, all of which require upkeep. While it gets periodic cultural uplifts – for example, being featured in movies such as “Under Siege” and the upcoming “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage” – it also is subject to setbacks such as the hammering delivered by Hurricane Katrina.

But Cobb knew what she was getting into. A longtime resident of the area, she was well aware of the park’s prominence. Having served on the Battleship Commission, she had a good idea of the behind-the-scenes effort to keep the park healthy. And having worked for 10 years with Kaiser Realty in Orange Beach, primarily in property management, she had perspective on how the park fit into the overall regional tourism picture.

“When you look at Janet’s overall skill set … she’s got everything you can look for, in someone for the leadership of the park,” said Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism and himself a member of the Battleship Commission.

Bill Tunnell, the outgoing park director, has said that the Battleship Commission considered 150 applications for the job before narrowing it down to five finalists. “I’ve known her for 20 years,” he said of Cobb. “I couldn’t be happier that she’s the choice.”

Cobb who reported for duty in mid-December, recently sat down for an interview about her ambitions for her tenure as park leader. She said that while property management and tourism are huge parts of the job, the heart of it is “to let the public know what goes on in the life of the ship.”

What that means, basically, is that the USS Alabama is not just something neat to walk around on: It’s a tribute to the sacrifices and effort that won World War II, illustrating the lives of the men who crewed her. By extension, it’s a reminder of the national spirit that motivate the WWII effort – and that’s part of the reason why the park contains prominent memorials to other branches of the service, and to those who served in more recent campaigns.

Cobb said staff work hard not just to preserve the ship, but to present its various features – such as the living quarters where the Alabama’s warrant officers went about their business – in period-correct detail, so that visitors can get an accurate sense of their lives. “It’s kind of a labor of love,” she said.

“The Commission and Bill Tunnell have put this park in great shape after Katrina,” she said, praising the resilience of the staff.

“My focus is going to be more on a statewide outreach,” she said. “We want the people in north Alabama to know this is not ‘a Mobile thing.’ It does belong to the state, to the people of the state.”

In particular, she said, she wants young visitors to realize the critical role that Alabama schoolchildren played in creating the park. Kids were encouraged to donate pocket change to help save the Alabama, and their pennies and nickels added up to a significant portion of the drive that brought the ship to Mobile Bay.

Malone said that the park has regularly surveyed its visitors over the years, and for “a very large percentage, their destination is Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.”

Cobb said she thinks the park also has a beneficial relationship with Mobile institutions, including a new one. “I’m very excited about GulfQuest and what that will bring to the area,” she said of the new National Maritime Museum.

Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, has noted that with Cobb in charge of the battleship and Deborah Barnhart running the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville for five years, Alabama has women leading two of its biggest landmarks.

Cobb said Barnhart had been “gracious” about welcoming her, and that the two are eager to promote each other’s institutions. But she said that over the course of her military career, seeing women in leadership roles had become commonplace.

“You don’t even think about women serving,” Cobb said. “It’s not even an issue to the young generation anymore. I kind of think that’s where we are.”

The self-supporting park is debt-free, following major renovations and the post-Katrina recovery during Tunnell’s term. Challenges ahead include the eventual need to replace the Alabama’s patched-up teak decking, a big-ticket item. Park leaders are also thinking about building new facilities to expand its capabilities for education, Tunnell and Cobb said.

“It’s a good transitional time,” Malone said of the park, now in its 51st year of operation.

As she makes the transition into her new office space aboard the historic vessel, Cobb said, she’s already enjoying the benefits.

“It’s always good exercise, climbing around this place every day,” she said. And the visitors provide a constant dose of variety: “You can meet someone from Japan one day, someone from France the next, someone from Chambers County the next,” she said.

“I think Janet has recognized, there’s no such thing as a regular day,” said Tunnell, who is sticking around through March. “You can walk out and talk to just about anybody in the world.”

“Sailors will tell you, a ship has a spirit in her,” said Cobb. “I like to think about that when I’m on the ship.”

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Stone wall honors ancestor’s journey on Trail of Tears

By Jackie Sheckler Finch,The Daily Journal, Kankakee, IL, Feb. 9

As a youngster, Tom Hendrix would listen to his grandmother talk about her grandmother, a Native American who was forced as a teen to walk from her Alabama home to an Oklahoma Indian reservation. The young girl had her name taken away and was identified as No. 59 on a tag that she wore around her neck.

Thousands of men, women and children during the 1830s died on that 1,000-mile Trail of Tears. Hendrix’s great-greatgrandmother survived. But that is only part of her miraculous tale.

As a grown man, Hendrix decided he wanted to do something to honor his ancestor whose real name was Te-lah-nay, which in the Yuchi language means “Woman with Dancing Eyes.”

Around 1985, Hendrix says, he began having a recurring dream about an Indian woman who repeatedly touched her hand to her mouth. Hendrix’s wife, Doreen, suggested that it was Te-lah-nay, asking him to tell her story. That year at a Native American gathering in Lebanon, Tenn., Hendrix met an old Yuchi woman.

When Hendrix told the woman about his great-great-grandmother and expressed his desire to commemorate her, the Yuchi woman responded, “We shall all pass this earth, Tom, but only the stones will remain.”

That’s when Hendrix realized what he had to do. In 1988, Hendrix began constructing a commemorative stone wall on the property of his home outside Florence.  Although Hendrix had worked with his hands at the Ford Motor

Company as a die caster for decades, he had never built a stone wall. He didn’t draw up any blueprints. He didn’t have any final plan in mind. He just started collecting rocks discarded along roadsides by farmers and pulling rocks from creek beds.

Then he piled the rocks and improvised as he went along.  Today, Hendrix estimates that the wall he built consists of nine million pounds of stone. “This wall has worn out three trucks, 22 wheelbarrows, 2,700 pairs of gloves, three dogs and one old man,” the 87-year-old Hendrix said.

Built without mortar or cement, the 3-to-5-foot-high wall is the largest such rock wall in the United States and the largest monument to an American woman. “I lifted each of those rocks at least three times,” Hendrix said, gesturing to the mile-long curving walls. “I picked each rock up to put in the truck. I picked it up to take it out of the truck. And I picked it up to put it on the wall.”

For his ancestor, Hendrix said, living on the Indian reservation meant sure death. “When she got to Oklahoma, she said she searched for a river that sang to her.  We call this the Tennessee River but all tribes called it the Singing River.  They believed a young woman lived in this river, sang to them and protected them.”

When the displaced teen could find no singing river in Oklahoma, she determined to return home. “If she stayed in that dark place, she knew she would die.”

So his great-great-grandmother ran away from the reservation and started the long trek home.  It took her five years.

From 1839 to 1844, the young woman struggled through the wilderness and finally made it home. His great-great-grandmother eventually married Jonathan Levi Hipp, had three children before dying at a young age.  “My grandmother said she walked herself to death,” Hendrix said.

The two walls symbolize his great-great-grandmother’s trip to Oklahoma and her journey back.

A section of the wall is dedicated to all those on the Trail of Tears. It is 4 feet tall and starts out at about 25 feet wide. But, as you walk, the wall gets thinner and thinner until it is about 4 feet across at the end. “They’re dying, all the way to Oklahoma,” Hendrix said.

Nestled by the wall is a prayer circle where Hendrix prays in the morning. It features four tiers that represent birth, life, death and rebirth. Through word of mouth, people from all over began coming to see the wall that Hendrix was building. They walked through the circles, they sat in silence, some knelt in prayer.

“This is a special place,” said Hendrix, who tries to be at the wall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week to greet visitors. “It’s a holy place.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jeff Johnson, visiting the site with a motorcycle group.

“A friend told me about it and it is everything he said it was. You have to see it to believe it.”

Over the years, people also began bringing and sending rocks to add to the wall. “I have the heaviest mail in all of Lauderdale County,” Hendrix joked. “I have stones from all 50 states and rocks and fossils from 127 nations, territories and islands. Many of them have special stories to tell.”

There’s the heart-shaped rock left by a 94-year-old widow. “During the Great Depression, a man didn’t have money to buy a ring for the woman he wanted to marry so he found a heart-shaped rock,” Hendrix said.  “He told her, ‘I can’t afford a ring but I can give you my heart.'”

In 2000, Hendrix published a book, “If the Legends Fade,” about his ancestor’s journey. “If the legends fade,” he said, “who will teach the children?”

Knowing that his time on earth is coming to an end, Hendrix said he recently got a letter in the mail. “This is what it said: ‘We are eagerly anticipating your arrival up here. You will immediately be set to work building us a stone wall.'”

Pausing for a moment, Hendrix concluded, “The letter was signed by St. Peter.”

To read this entire article online, go to:


Greene Street Market comes to Huntsville Visitor Center for first time

If you’re in a cold weather or Super Bowl slump, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has some news that just might brighten your day.

The popular Greene Street Market, known for selling locally made goods and produce every

April through October on its namesake street in downtown Huntsville, is setting up shop at the Visitor Center on Fri., Feb. 12, from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

The first time event is a partnership between the Huntsville/Madison County CVB and Greene Street Market organizers to celebrate the 3rd annual #iHeartHsv campaign. 

“Not only does Huntsville continue to surprise and delight visitors and residents alike with new and unique offerings, but so does the #iHeartHsv campaign,” said Huntsville/Madison County

CVB President/CEO Judy Ryals. “We’re thrilled to host the #iHeartHsv Greene Street Pop Up

Market at the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is a wonderful resource to find information about events, attractions, hotels, restaurants and more throughout Madison County. We look forward to more events like this one that show off our diverse, hospitable and charming community at the Visitor Center.”

For more information, contact the Visitor Center by phone at 256-551-2370 or via e-mail at


Southeast Tourism Society selects three North Alabama events as “Top 20 Events”

Three events held in North Alabama have been selected a Southeast Tourism Society (STS) Top 20 Event in the Southeast for March 2016. First Friday Gadsden, First Friday Florence and the Jerry Brown Arts Festival located in Hamilton, Ala. were nominated by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association for the prestigious program coordinated by STS.

The STS Top 20 Events program has highlighted events and festivals around the Southeast since 1985. Travel industry experts select 20 events per month, and STS publicizes them throughout the United States. The complete list is published on two websites: and

Hosted by the Northwest Alabama Arts Council, the highly acclaimed Jerry Brown Arts Festival (JBAF) is set for March 5-6, 2016, in Hamilton, Ala. Artists from across the Southeast demonstrate and offer one-of-a-kind creations and masterpieces during the two-day event. The festival has earned the title of Top 20 Event seven times in the last eight years. The festival honors Hamilton’s Jerry Brown, a ninth generation potter whose work can be found in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. He is the only known potter in the United States still using a mule, Blue the Mule, to help him mill clay for his pottery. For more information, visit

First Friday Gadsden is organized and produced by Downtown Gadsden, Inc., a non-governmental entity, and is held to support and promote downtown merchants. On the first Friday of every month, Broad Street is closed to traffic and the parking spaces are filled with antique cars, motorcycles, food vendors, arts and crafts, and more. Each month features a different theme and the merchants stay open later and offer special events and sales as live music fills the air. For more information, visit

On the first Friday of each month March through December, historic downtown Florence comes alive with art, music, shopping and entertainment for the entire family. First Fridays Florence is a festive arts and entertainment event organized by Downtown Florence Unlimited in cooperation with the City of Florence, Florence Main Street and Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Department. Each month features a different theme and admission is free. For more information, visit

“The Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Festival Event list is an excellent guide for the Southeast’s visitors and residents. Events selected represent the best, and often most unique, activities in our region,” said Bill Hardman, president and CEO of the Southeast Tourism Society.

Events considered for the STS Top 20 recognition must be at least three years old and have attendance of at least 1,000. Nomination forms and deadlines are available at or by calling 770-542-1523.

STS, founded in 1983 and headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting tourism to and within 12 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

For more information on things to see and do in North Alabama, visit

Ten years after Katrina, Amtrak to make splashy return to Gulf Coast

By John Sharp,, Feb. 13

Marching bands will lead pep rallies in Gulfport, Bay St. Louis and Biloxi while a jazz band will serenade a gathering in Pascagoula.

In Mobile
, the Excelsior Band will be on hand in what could be a Mardi Gras-themed welcoming.

And all along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida Gulf coasts, people will be encouraged to show up, bring signs and wave banners in support of Amtrak’s first trip from New Orleans east toward Jacksonville, Fla., since before Hurricane Katrina blasted through a decade ago.

“There is a lot of excitement about the possibilities,” said Billy Hewes, mayor of Gulfport, Miss.

Coastal cities where the Amtrak “inspection train” will stop for 10-minute intervals on Thursday and Friday are planning for as much hoopla as they can cram into a short time frame. The purpose, according to city officials, is to make a good impression as a study moves forward on returning passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast.

“I’m certain this will be fun to see,” said Marc Magliari, spokesman with Amtrak.

At the same time, those on board the train – from Amtrak officials, including CEO Joe Boardman, to Southern Rail Commission members – will be at work.

Officials say this isn’t a public relations jaunt, but rather a trip with a purpose.

“This is very much a working track inspection,” said John Robert Smith, chairman of the board for Transportation for America, a non-profit alliance that pushes for grassroots support of progressive transportation policy in the U.S.

Some of the cities – including Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis – will be prepared to showcase renovated train stations. Over the years, since Amtrak ceased operations, some stations have been repurposed for offices and tourism, while others have been redesigned for retail.

Biloxi plans to illustrate its renovated station that serves as a “multi-modal” operation from which buses depart for Greyhound trips and public transit.

Biloxi city officials are touting its facility as the “only stop that has a multi-modal transit center right on the tracks” and in close proximity to nearby casinos and MGM Park, where the Double A-affiliated Shuckers play minor league baseball.

“It was built there because we wanted Amtrak to come back some day,” said Vincent Creel, the city’s spokesman. “We just think this will be a huge economic development tool for all four states. Hopefully, the four states can come to an arrangement where they will see viability to this.”

In Mobile, the station that once served Amtrak’s Sunset Limited line is long gone, a casualty following Katrina’s devastation.

And there are questions about where a new train station could be built. Mayor Sandy Stimpson has said that the station’s former site, at the foot of Government Street, could be better suited for other uses. Right now, it’s a parking lot for nearby Cooper Riverside Park.

But the Stimpson administration is placing an emphasis on reducing the amount of traffic on Water Street, a busy six-lane thoroughfare that separates the city’s waterfront – which features a convention center, a new maritime museum and the Alabama Cruise Terminal – from the rest of downtown.

An Amtrak train stop would presumably be located east of Water Street.

The Mobile City Council is expected, on Tuesday, to approve a $238,459 engineering contract with Thompson Engineering Inc. for a redesign of Water Street from Beauregard south to Government Street. The idea is to shrink the number of lanes, through striping and landscaping, from six to four.

The city anticipates the overall project to cost around $2 million.

Colby Cooper, chief of staff to Stimpson, said that an Amtrak train station could be a component of the overall project.

“What we’re facing is all opportunities whether it’s Amtrak coming back or accessibility or biking to the waterfront,” said Cooper, who will be on the inspection train trip. “The last thing we want to do is, if a station comes back, should Amtrak (return), to not have it reap the effect we want it to.”

Mobile could be poised to be a rail hub with its position along the east-west Gulf Coast corridor as well as a north-south route that is being analyzed by the city of Montgomery’s planning department. The former Gulf Breeze route, active from 1989-1995, ran from Mobile through Bay Minette and Atmore on the way to Montgomery before connecting into Birmingham.

Talks of Mobile as an Amtrak ‘hub’ surface

Several routes could be explored for the restoration of passenger rail through Mobile during a Southern Rail Commission meeting Friday morning at the Battlehouse Hotel.

Wily Blankenship, CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership, said he’s not interested in looking back – when Amtrak ran through Mobile and was underutilized because of poor performance. Blankenship said the key purpose of Thursday’s trip is to look “at what could be.”

“I think the world is a lot different place than it was 10 years ago when the passenger rail came through Mobile,” he said. “Everything is about timing. It’s time the Alabama Gulf Coast has alternatives for transportation.”

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Alabama Tourism Department presents workshop in April

The Alabama Tourism Department will host the semi-annual Tourism Workshop in Montgomery on Wed., April 20.  This workshop is for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. 

Watch upcoming editions of this newsletter for more information on the workshop.

For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

April 20                       Alabama Tourism Department Workshop                      Montgomery



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Alabama Tourism Department