Tourism Tuesdays May 10, 2016

  • Year of Alabama Makers monthly giveaways on Facebook
  • Rolling Stone names Hangout in Gulf Shores one of summer’s must-see music festivals
  • Foley looks to sports complex, event center to ignite tourism near Alabama beaches
  • TV series about Hall being developed
  • Bluegrass music gets attention at Alabama Music Hall of Fame
  • Birmingham, Alabama giving British couple Magic City vacation after airport mix-up
  • Alabama Restaurant Week sign up started this week
  • Nominations for Alabama Tourism Awards are open
  • Alabama Makers Market
  • There’s still time to take pretty outdoor pictures
  • Check your Vacation Guide listing today
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Year of Alabama Makers monthly giveaways on Facebook

The “Sweet Home Alabama” Facebook page will feature monthly giveaways through the end of the year to spotlight different Alabama Makers. 

This month the maker being featured is high-end leather goods maker Loyal Stricklin from Opelika.  The May prize pack from Loyal Sticklin includes four aviator mugs (an old fashioned Mason jar with a leather wrap and handle), a dog collar and leash, a signature whisky flask, four leather coasters and a “Made Here Y’all” T-shirt. 

Prize packages from other Alabama Makers including Billy Reid, Belle Chevre, Back Forty Beer Company, Freedom Soap and Alabama Chanin will be featured in upcoming months.

Like the “Sweet Home Alabama” page on Facebook and enter the Year of Alabama Makers monthly giveaway by going to


Rolling Stone names Hangout in Gulf Shores one of summer’s must-see music festivals

Rolling Stone magazine:

From May 20 through May 22, the white sands of Alabama’s Gulf Coast offer as gorgeous a party site as any shoreline in America. When the heat hits or you need a break from the star-packed lineup, sneak off to Hammock Beach, where you can wade in a saltwater lagoon, cool off in the shade, swing in a hammock or take in a panoramic view of the festival from the Sky-Bar Tower.

Must-See Acts: The Weeknd, Calvin Harris, Florence + the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Ellie Goulding, Lenny Kravitz, Grimes, Haim, Fetty Wap, Courtney Barnett

Official Hangout Music Festival site:

To read this entire article online, go to:


Foley looks to sports complex, event center to ignite tourism near Alabama beaches

By Robert DeWitt,, May 9

Smart investors know the value of diversifying their portfolio. That’s what developing more than 500 acres between Alabama Highway 59 and the Baldwin Beach Express on the south side of Foley is all about.

The city of Foley is putting $32 million in a sports complex and 104,000-square-foot event center in hopes of turning sports tourism into a major source of city revenue and economic development. The complex will go hand in glove with development of a family-friendly entertainment destination planned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Foley is banking on sports tourism providing a dependable stream of tourism revenue regardless of season or what might be happening at the beach. For the Poarch Indians, the development is an investment that doesn’t depend on gambling – something it has invested in heavily with bingo operations in Atmore and Wetumpka.

“During the oil spill, the one thing Orange Beach and Gulf Shores could say is sports tourism went on,” said Don Staley, executive director of sports for Foley.

Perhaps it was a lesson they took to heart. In 2014, Foley snagged Staley from the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission to promote and run the facility. Staley, a former University of Alabama soccer head coach, helped bring the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Super Six football championship to Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny

Stadium and Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium every other year in a rotating swap.

Staley knew the potential for Foley, just nine miles from Alabama’s beaches. He brought his UA soccer team to Orange Beach for a spring game, which eventually led to the Southeastern Conference’s soccer tournament coming annually to Orange Beach.

The Foley Sports Tourism Complex will include 16 natural grass multipurpose fields, one of which will be a championship field with stadium seating, a press box and upgraded lights to accommodate television broadcasts. The 120-yard-long, 75-yard-wide natural grass fields are designed to accommodate soccer, lacrosse, seven-on-seven football, rugby, ultimate Frisbee and other outdoor sports. These sports are played year-round and regardless of rain.

“With these dimensions, you can play everything but baseball,” Staley said. “In the stadium, you could even play a junior college or small college football game. The last five Super Bowls have been played on Foley sod. We’ll have some of the best surfaces in the country.”

The 104,000-square-foot event center will host basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, dance and other indoor competitions. It will also be available for the convention and trade show market, Staley said.

While the fields are still under construction, Staley has already booked the first major event. In November, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association will bring 96 club and intramural soccer teams to Foley.

Foley hopes to capture some of the tourists visiting the beach and to use the beach as an attraction that will induce sports organizations to choose Foley. Staley said the facility is designed to allow organizations to play a tournament on one site without having teams scattered among fields in different locations.

“There are incredible complexes around the country,” Staley said. “What separates us is when the Poarch Creeks build. We’ve got the beach, which is huge. But what puts us over the top is next door we’ll have an amusement park, hotels, restaurants, retail, an RV park and even a water park.”

Sports tourism has a lingering effect as well, Staley said. Kids who come to the Gulf Coast for sports tournaments will return with their families as adults.

Meanwhile, the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority’s Foley Holdings LLC is negotiating with the Alabama Department of Commerce to secure incentives to develop its proposed entertainment destination. Its first phase would include a 14-acre lake; a 150-room national brand hotel (attached to Foley’s Indoor Event Center); 225,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space; and a 10-acre theme park with 20 rides, including one major roller coaster. A trolley system will circulate people through the sports complex and entertainment center and take them to Foley’s factory outlets at the Riviera Centre across the street.

Foley Holdings hopes construction will begin in the summer and be done by summer 2017. Plans include an indoor/outdoor water park with an attached hotel and a resort-level RV park.

“Although the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast beaches provide opportunities for relaxation and fun, we feel there is still a huge need for a family-friendly destination,” said Tim Martin, president/CEO of Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority and managing member of Foley Holdings LLC. “With more than 6.5 million-plus visitors annually, there are limited opportunities in the market currently for families to shop, dine and be entertained within one location.”

The property is often referred to as the “Blue Collar” property because original plans called for development of a Blue Collar Country entertainment complex. The project involved Blue Collar Comedy team members Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy.

The Poarch Creek tribe provided financing for the real estate acquisition, and when developers didn’t meet their obligation on the property, the tribe assumed ownership of the land.

The sports complex and entertainment center aren’t competing with the beach, Staley said. They’re complementing it. Even the types of fields that Foley chose to build took into account that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are heavily invested in baseball and softball. Foley sometimes gets spillover on its baseball fields when Gulf Shores and Orange Beach need more room for baseball and softball, and they hope that will work in reverse when tournaments booked in Foley need more room.

“I envision this project will have a ripple effect throughout Baldwin County,” Staley said.

To read this article online, go to:


Bluegrass music gets attention at Alabama Music Hall of Fame
By Russ Corey,, May 6

David Boley said he thinks bluegrass music has been somewhat overlooked in Alabama, and he wants to change that.

Boley is the founder of the Alabama Bluegrass Music Association, which has inducted 17 Alabama bluegrass musicians into the Alabama Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

Earlier this week, about 50 people including Shoals bluegrass musician Jake Landers attended the debut of a temporary bluegrass exhibit at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia.

Landers played with the late bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and is an Alabama Music Hall of Fame Music Achiever.

“Since May is bluegrass month, this will be a great time to open the exhibit and honor this genre of music,” said Dixie Griffin, hall of fame manager. “We’re here to honor all genres of music.”

Griffin said she met Boley in October when he visited the hall of fame for the “Night at the Museum” fundraiser. She said he noticed there were a few bluegrass artists represented in the museum, but it was still lacking. Griffin agreed.

“He said he would like to talk to me about doing an exhibit,” she said. “He has done all the work.”

Boley, who is from Leeds, built the exhibit.

“I used an old antique glass showcase,” he said, “and built a 6 by 12-foot frame covered in burlap that has all 17 inductees’ awards, and two 6-foot glass cases.”

The exhibit includes numerous photos, articles of clothing, magazine clippings and bluegrass festival programs, several instruments and other items.

“It’s outstanding,” said Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee Mickey Dooley. “I think it’s just great.”

Landers, 78, said he played a guitar that is in the exhibit for about 30 years until he gave it to fellow bluegrass musician Tony Robertson, of the Shoals bluegrass band Iron Horse.

“He wanted it, so I just let him have it,” said Landers, who still sings a bit but has retired from playing an instrument. Landers said he started singing at age 6 and started playing guitar at 9. He started playing bluegrass when he was 17.

“For everybody who had a part in this, they’re to be commended,” Landers said. “They did a good job.”

The exhibit is in the gallery portion of the hall of fame where portraits of inductees are displayed.

Local musician Gary Nichols said he’s pleased to see the exhibit coming to the Shoals and taking its rightful place at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

“Bluegrass certainly has lots of ties here in northwest Alabama, especially with the likes of Jake Landers who had a big hit with, ‘Walk Softly on this Heart of Mine,'” Nichols said.

Nichols is a member of the Nashville-based SteelDrivers, which won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album for “The Muscle Shoals Recordings.” The album was recorded at the NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield.

“There’s so much talent in this state and right here in our area, so it’s great to have that recognized to let people see just how important it is,” Nichols said. “Bluegrass has been very influential in music, all types of music.”

Boley said the exhibit will remain at the hall of fame for about three months.

“The roots of bluegrass run so deeply in our area and we know this exhibit is going to appeal to many people,” Griffin said. “We didn’t know when we started planning this initiative that we’d have a bluegrass Grammy winner right here at home, with Gary Nichols. that just makes this even better.”

Boley said Alabama has a great bluegrass heritage that dates back to 1939. The association’s mission, he said, is to promote, inform and educated people about bluegrass music.

And, Boley said, bluegrass is enjoying a resurgence and is becoming more popular with younger music fans.

Griffin said she hopes the hall of fame can add to the museum’s bluegrass collection once the temporary exhibit ends.

Boley said he hopes to one day have a permanent site for the Alabama Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

After the debut festivities died down, Griffin said Landers joined Dooley and fellow bluegrass musicians Freddy Clowdus, Nick Foster, David Davis and Robert Montgomery in the hall of fame’s mini recording studio for a jam session.

To read this article online, go to:


TV series about Hall being developed

By Robert Palmer,, May 7

IM Global TV has issued a statement saying it is developing a limited-run series based on Rick Hall’s autobiography, “The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame to Fame.”

The project has been discussed since 2015, but nothing definitive has been released until now.

IM Global TV is partnering with actor Johnny Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil, and Richard Branson’s company, Virgin Produced, for the series.

Mark Stern, president of IM Global TV, said Hall’s story, along with the music recorded at his FAME Recording Studios, are fertile material for storytelling.

“Rick Hall and his small Alabama recording studio fundamentally transformed the music industry,” he said in the statement. “His personal and professional journey and the incredible talent he worked with is a compelling story that will make a great television series.”

Hall was featured prominently in the 2013 documentary movie “Muscle Shoals.”

Contacted about the release, Hall was pragmatic.

“We’re all very happy about it, but I have not received any contracts yet,” he said. “I expect something in the next month.”

Several state agencies have been watching the production closely. Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Office, said the information in the press release is “encouraging.”

“It looks like it’s headed in the right direction,” he said.

One of the issues that interests state officials the most is how much of the TV series will be filmed in Alabama.

“I know that the people involved in this production are extremely high on the Shoals,” Sentell said. “But a lot of decisions about where movies are made come down to money or availability of key people. Obviously, we will continue to encourage them to film as much as possible in northwest Alabama.”

He said the movie “Selma” was filmed in several locations, including Atlanta and Montgomery.

“Alabama got the money shots with Selma and the Capitol,” he said. “The scenes of Lyndon Johnson talking to George Wallace and MLK were filmed in Atlanta. Atlanta has a much bigger production capability, and it was cheaper to film those scenes in Atlanta.”

Sentell said the state has incentives to encourage film companies to hire Alabamians and to film on location.

Depp planned to be a musician before moving into acting, where he found great success working with filmmaker Tim Burton.

Christi Dembrowski, president of Infinitum Nihil, said Depp remains a keen fan of music.

“Muscle Shoals is an extraordinary story in which, through adversity, some of the world’s most amazing music was created,” she said in the press release. “It is perfectly suited for Infinitum as it combines Johnny’s love of music and its history and our company’s creative mission to tell these stories.”

To read this article online, go to:


Birmingham, Alabama giving British couple Magic City vacation after airport mix-up

By Erin Edgemon,, May 5

Remember the British woman who garnered international attention after mistaking Birmingham, Alabama for Birmingham, England when planning a surprise trip to Las Vegas for her boyfriend’s birthday?

Well, soon there will be no confusion.

During their upcoming trip to the United States, Richella Heekin and her boyfriend, Ben Marlow, will get to visit and become properly acquainted with Birmingham, Ala.

A British couple thought their trip of a lifetime was ruined when they arrived to the Birmingham, England airport expecting to hop a flight to Las Vegas, and instead learned their flight was departing from Birmingham, Alabama instead.

“I think it is just a great chance for us to demonstrate to people in Birmingham, England and throughout the UK that Birmingham (Alabama) is a worthy tourist destination in its own right,” said Tom Cosby, a retired Birmingham businessman. “Certainly, it was a heart-warming story to find out how this young woman made an honest mistake, a mistake that many other people have made.”

When Iron City hosted popular British band Arctic Monkeys in 2013 at least 12 residents of England mistakenly bought tickets to the show, according to the music venue. 

Cosby is arranging the couple’s trip with the assistance of the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau and several of Magic City’s popular tourist attractions.  Merrill Stewart of Stewart Perry Construction Company is paying for the couple’s airfare to Birmingham.

This story began a couple of weeks ago when Heekin and Marlow arrived at the Birmingham, England airport for their flight to Las Vegas, but learned, sadly, that their plane was actually departing from Birmingham, Ala.

Their tickets couldn’t be exchanged or refunded.

Virgin Holidays quickly came to the couple’s rescue and offered them free airfare and five free nights of accommodations in Las Vegas to make up for the trip they lost.

English business magnate and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson loves a good surprise.

Cosby said the couple will have an even better time in Magic City than in Sin City.

“It is just an opportunity to display our southern hospitality, for which we are world famous, and point out to the good folks in our namesake city – Birmingham, England – that this is a town well-worth visiting,” he said.

The couple’s trip is tentatively planned for some time in August.  They will fly Virgin Atlantic Airways direct to Las Vegas and later fly direct from Las Vegas to Birmingham, Alabama. Heekin and Marlow will fly back to Sin City to catch a return flight home.

Cosby said he expects the couple to spend two or three nights in Magic City where they will receive free concert tickets to Iron City, free day of ziplining at Red Mountain Park and other yet unplanned activities.

“We want to make sure they get to sample Birmingham’s great cuisine,” he said. “We are going to pair them with a couple close to their own age and let them explore Lakeview and Avondale.”

Heekin told she is appreciative of Cosby’s “generous offer” and is looking forward to visiting the South, and the city named after her Birmingham.

Before her “silly mistake,” Heekin said she didn’t know anything about Birmingham, Ala. besides that it existed. After, though, she decided to do a little research. 

“I did Google and happened across one website that drew my attention to Red Mountain Park,” Heekin said. “It sounds like both a fun and interesting place to visit.”

Despite the outcome, Heekin said she is still surprised by the media attention her mix-up received.

“It was initially just meant to be a silly story when a family friend contacted the local media,” she said in an email to  “It just escalated when there were a huge amount of negative comments on social media.  There was a few positive comments, but mainly negative and to be honest, I haven’t read very many for that reason.

It was extremely embarrassing that my expensive mistake is known on a global basis, but I have got over it,” she added.  “Plus, when you get a holiday and a few tweet mentions from Richard Branson, it did make it slightly easier to bear.”

To read this article online, to go:


Alabama Restaurant Week sign up begins

Restaurants are being asked to sign up for Alabama Restaurant Week 2016.  The sign-up period began May 9 and will run through July 29.  “We wait until after Mother’s Day to allow restaurants to get past their busiest day of the year before opening up registration,” said Grey Brennan of the Alabama Tourism Department.

Last year 196 restaurants participated in the promotion. 

Courtney Austin with the state tourism department will serve as special coordinator for Alabama Restaurant Week.  She will be assisting with sign-up and formatting entries.

Alabama Restaurant Week is a marketing event that highlights restaurants in the state.  This culinary event unites the state’s diverse range of cuisine into a 10-day event.  

Participating restaurants offer two-course lunch and/or three-course dinner offerings at an attractive set price.  A three-course dinner should include a starter, main course and dessert while the two-course lunch should include a main course and either a starter or dessert. Specialty restaurants with very limited menus may have pre-fixed meal offerings that are not multi-course.

There are no coupons or discount books to buy or bring. Just ask for an Alabama Restaurant Week meal at a participating restaurant during the promotion time period and enjoy.  With the promotion’s pre-set prices, you know before making your plans what your cost will be. 

Participating restaurants are listed on the website with exact meal offerings once they are known.  The Alabama Restaurant Week pricing is fixed at $10, $20 or $30 for dinner and $5, $10 or $15 for lunch.  In all cases, the price is per person and does not include tax, tip and drink.  Restaurants may offer a meal at all or just one of the preset prices.  A restaurant’s regular menu will also be available.

When is Alabama Restaurant Week?  Alabama Restaurant Week is set for Friday, Aug. 12 through Sunday, Aug. 21.

Which Restaurants Can Participate in Alabama Restaurant Week?  To qualify for participation, a restaurant must be a locally owned and operated restaurant in Alabama and/or a restaurant in the state that is important to the Alabama tourism industry.  Most chain restaurants do not quality.  The Alabama Tourism Department reserves the right to include or deny any restaurant.  A restaurant does not have to be featured in the popular “l00 dishes to eat in Alabama before you die” brochure to participate. 

How Many Different Meal Preset Prices Must a Restaurant Offer?  A restaurant may participate in all three preset prices for both lunch or dinner, or just one or any combination.  It is not necessary to participate in both lunch and dinner. 

What about a Restaurant’s Regular Menu?  In addition to the Alabama Restaurant Week meal listings, a restaurant should still use their regular menu. 

Is There a Cost to Participate?  The Alabama Tourism Department does not charge a fee. 

How does a restaurant sign up?  Go to  Restaurants that participated last year should click on the highlighted area that reads “Already a member?  Click here” and update their entry form, paying close attention to check the box that reads “I want to participate this year.”  Restaurants that have not participated before, should click on the highlighted area that reads “Sign up your Restaurant It’s quick and easy.”

Restaurants may register to participate and later put in their Alabama Restaurant Week special. 

The Alabama Tourism Department will send promotional material to restaurants that sign up.

Can a local restaurant week be conducted during Alabama Restaurant Week?  Yes, Chambers, Convention and Visitor Bureaus and other destination marketing organizations who conduct a local restaurant week during the same period and with the same guidelines are requested to let the Alabama Tourism Department know.

For more information, contact or


Nominations for Alabama Tourism Awards are open

Nominations for the Alabama Tourism Awards are open.  The deadline to submit nominations is Friday, May 13.  Award categories include:  Attraction of the Year, Event of the Year, Organization of the Year, Welcome Center of the Year, Tourism Executive, Government Advocate, Media Advocate, Tourism Partnership, Rising Star, Themed Campaign, Governor’s Award and the Tourism Hall of Fame.

Please submit nominations to Cynthia Flowers via email at or mail to Alabama Tourism Department, Attention Cynthia Flowers, P.O. Box 4927, Montgomery, AL 36103. 

Awards will be presented at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism on Aug. 22 in Orange Beach. 5


Alabama Makers Market

The Alabama Tourism Department is hosting its annual Alabama Makers Market on Thursday, June 9, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Alabama Makers are being showcased for the owners/managers of Alabama Gift Shops to see firsthand the products created and crafted right here in Sweet Home Alabama. 

Makers can meet with buyers from Alabama Gift Shops in order to wholesale product(s) to them. 

Makers need to register now for free booth space and owners/managers need to RSVP.

The market will be open to the public for retail sales as well.

To RSVP or register, contact Leigh Cross at:


There’s still time to take pretty outdoor pictures

To paraphrase an old song, Alabama’s Bustin’ Out All Over.  That means it’s time to get those cameras out and take pictures of attractions in your area to promote tourism.  Here are a few helpful hints on how to get the best images for your efforts.

Take only interior images between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.  Old Sol is just too brutal at that time of day to get good outdoor shots.  When shooting exteriors make sure the sun is shining on the object of your lens.  Taking a picture in the afternoon of anything facing east doesn’t usually yield good results.

Also, attractive people can add a lot of interest to your images.  Make sure they’re wearing solid and bright-colored clothing.  Shorts and blue jeans should be worn only when they are appropriate to the location and/or event.  Have them face the camera and appear to be having a wonderful time – if they’re really having a great time that’s a bonus.

In tourism, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.  Try to frame the images so that the location, attraction, event or other subject is obvious to the viewer.

Of course the Alabama Tourism Department always wants to get new images so, once you’ve captured all those green trees and flowering shrubs with your camera, you can send them to us.  We are looking for images that are at least 4” X 6” and 300 dpi.

Contact Peggy Collins at 334-242-4545 OR for information on how to send them.


Check your Vacation Guide listing today

If you have an attraction, outdoor, bed and breakfast, cabin or golf course listing featured in the Alabama Vacation Guide, please check and update the information.  Review your listing in the 2016 Vacation Guide.


Contact us with changes as soon as possible.  If you would like to add a listing, please contact: Pam Smith at 334-353-4541.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

June 9, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.          Alabama Makers Market                                            Montgomery

                                                RSA Activity Center, 201 Dexter Avenue, 36104

Aug. 20 – 23                           Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism            Orange Beach


Tourism Tuesdays 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