Tourism Tuesdays September 27, 2016

  • Governor announces grant for Jacksonville State’s Little River Canyon Center
  • New bus tour begins through downtown Montgomery
  • Travel South International registration closes Friday
  • Alabama college makes list of most beautiful public universities in America
  • Tuscaloosa plans to celebrate milestone
  • New hotel opens with local flavor in Tuscaloosa
  • 100-year-old building will become Springhill Suites in Montgomery
  • Presenting Alabama as a multi-course meal
  • Alabama Power boilers find new home as fish habitat
  • Openings for Tourism Promotional Representatives
  • Alabama Tourism Workshop Oct. 5
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Governor announces grant for Jacksonville State’s Little River Canyon Center

A $52,500 grant announced by Gov. Robert Bentley could lead to increased tourism and educational opportunities in northeast Alabama.

Funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission will be used for a feasibility study relating to the possible expansion of the Little River Canyon Center and activities. The center is an education facility and conference area that is located on the outskirts of Little River Canyon, a 23-mile-long river gorge atop Lookout Mountain. 

The center was built and is operated by Jacksonville State University while the canyon is managed by the National Park Service. The study will determine if an expanded center and added activities have the potential to bring in more visitors for longer durations.

“The canyon center and the educational programs it offers enhances the splendor of Little River Canyon,” Bentley said. “I am pleased to have a role in this project that will help reveal the area’s potential as an outdoor education and recreation location.”

JSU opened the 23,000-square-foot center in 2008 from which it holds field schools and conducts nature programs relating to northeast Alabama and Little River Canyon. The facility also serves as a visitor’s center, has an exhibit area and gift shop and houses NPS offices. A stage and amphitheater have recently been added.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 people visit the canyon annually providing an economic impact of $16 million to the area Other nearby attractions include DeSoto State Park, Weiss Lake and Cherokee Rock Village all of which are in DeKalb and Cherokee counties. 

The grant is being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

“Tourism and recreation are important sectors of Alabama’s economy,” ADECA Director Jim Byard Jr. said. “I commend JSU for recognizing Little River Canyon as something special and being willing to invest in the area with so many educational and recreational opportunities.”


New bus tour begins through downtown Montgomery

By Bethany Davis, WSFA 12 News, Sept. 20

The “I Am More Than…” bus tour is designed to promote and recruit educational student travel and tourism to Montgomery.  The idea is to get more young people to embrace Montgomery’s rich history.  The bus tours are a spin-off of the annual “I Am More Than” youth summits.

“It takes the knowledge of the history and what has happened, and makes it applicable to where they are today,” said Executive Director Michelle Browder.

Browder says she was encouraged by the influx of visiting students and parents for those summits, and the growing numbers of out-of-towners pushed her to start this company to benefit on-going educational programs.

“We started with these youth conversations downtown,” she said. Conversations “around not only truth but reconciliation and how we can come together as a people and start pressing forward.”

Visitors can expect tours complete with art, music, history, and conversation.  In short, expect to “experience” Montgomery, not just “tour” it.

For more information on private tours and how to book them, visit

To read this article online, go to:


Travel South International registration closes Friday

This is the last call for registering for Travel South International Showcase in Atlanta, Nov 28-Dec 1.  The showcase registration ends Friday, Sept. 30 with the beginning of appointment scheduling the following week on Oct. 3.

Signed up to attend Travel South International Showcase are 115 international buyers and Receptive Tour Operators from 24 countries.

“This is an important marketplace for Alabama destinations and attractions,” said Grey Brennan of the Alabama Tourism Department.  “The marketing organizations from each city should double check with Travel South this week that their registrations are in order and the partner information for their booths correctly listed.”

The following Alabama industry partners have signed up to attend Travel South International.  To verify your registration, contact

  1. Alabama Tourism Department
  2. Alabama Road Trips Booth #1 – Adventure Tours
  3. Alabama Road Trips Booth #2 – Private City Tours
  4. Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau
  5. Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau
  6. Visit Mobile
  7. Florence CVB
  8. Colbert County CVB
  9. Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission


Each booth can contain as many as 3 partners.

This year, the Alabama Tourism Department will be sponsoring the lunch presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 30.  

For more information on Travel South, contact:


Alabama college makes list of most beautiful public universities in America

By Leada Gore,, Sept. 27

A recent list of the country’s most beautiful public universities contains some familiar names: University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Mississippi. And it’s no surprise that the University of Hawaii, with its proximity to beautiful beaches, and the University of Colorado, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, were also included in Thrillist’s listing of 20 most beautiful public college campuses in the country.

But among those bigger names was a small Alabama college that stands out for its brick-lined streets and picturesque buildings.

The University of Montevallo was the only Alabama school to make Thrillist‘s list of 20 most beautiful public college campuses. The school – founded in 1896 with a current student body of about 3,100 – was described as the “hidden jewel of Alabama.”

Here’s how it was described by Thrillist:

“The campus is awash in classic Southern architecture like Reynolds and Palmer Halls, antebellum structures one wouldn’t expect in such a remote locale. But the scenic highlight of the campus is actually about six miles away at the university’s Ebenezer Swamp, a 60-acre wetland research center where students study the ecology of the Cahaba River watershed, or just escape into the wilderness for a little peace and quiet.”

Well done, Montevallo.

To read this article online, go to:


Presenting Alabama as a multi-course meal

By Patti Nickell, Lexington Herald-Leader, Sept. 24

This article is a result of a press trip led by Verna Gates for the Alabama Tourism Department.

To the uninformed, a culinary experience in the state of Alabama might be construed as choking down bites of a jumbo dog at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium between chants of “Roll, Tide, Roll.”

However, after a weeklong road trip with my friend Verna, an Alabama native, I know there’s a lot more to the culinary scene here than stadium fare. Armed with an Alabama Tourism Department list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” we traveled from Mobile to Huntsville on a relentless quest to discover the best the state had to offer.

We didn’t make it through all 100 dishes, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Starting in Mobile, we headed to Wintzell’s, where a sign over the bar advertises that you can have your oysters “fried, stewed or nude,” and where the signature Bloody Mary, using Whiskey Willy’s Bloody Mary mix from Orange Beach, contains — I swear — at least four of the seven major food groups.

It’s known as the Weekender, and it might take you that long to finish it, but don’t worry. Willie Brown, who has shucked oysters at Wintzell’s for 40 years, will present you with a platter of Oysters Four Ways (Monterey, Bienville, Rockefeller and char-grilled) to go with it.

Mobile’s contributions to the “100 Dishes” list include shrimp and grits at the Blind Mule and diver scallops at the city’s historic Battle House Hotel. At the famous Spot of Tea, a Mobile institution for 22 years, there are two: bananas Foster French toast and eggs cathedral, which satisfied diners liken to “a religious experience.”

Verna (who’s partial to the moon pie banana pudding), introduced me to Miss Ruby, Spot of Tea’s owner, who joined us for our meal. I couldn’t help but notice that her lipstick and nail polish were the exact shade as her stylish outfit, and when Verna persuaded her to tell me how her husband, a gambler, put three kids through college on his wits alone, I decided she was as unique as the dishes she served.

From Mobile it was on to Birmingham, Verna’s hometown, where celebrity chef Frank Stitt rules the culinary roost. With his James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Highlands Grill; its more casual sister property, Bottega; and his take on a Parisian bistro, Chez Fon-Fon, Stitt’s mastery in the kitchen offers a dining trifecta.

At another legendary Birmingham eatery, Niki’s, is “My Big Fat Greek Lunch” Alabama style. Niki’s steam table has 70 offerings, with a Southern take on traditional Greek favorites — collard greens instead of eggplant, country ham instead of moussaka and sweet potato pie instead of baklava.

We popped in for dinner one evening at SAW’s Soul Kitchen (SAW is an acronym for owner Mike Wilson’s high school nickname, Sorry Ass Wilson). There was nothing sorry about the pork and greens, the restaurant’s delectable entry on the “100 Dishes” list.

Afterward, we stopped in at Avondale Brewery just down the street to sample one of the 16 rotating hand-crafted beers on tap. Avondale is far from your typical brewery. It began as a brothel (try the Brothel Brown Beer) and once had a beer-guzzling elephant as a mascot. It hasn’t shed its quirky roots. It’s now the starting point for the city’s Wacky Tacky Christmas Lights Tour.

On another day, we ran into a traffic jam in the tiny town of Pell City, just outside Birmingham, that turned out to be a waiting line for a Texaco station.

My first thought was they had to be selling gas for a dollar a gallon, but it seems the real draw here is Butts-to-Go, a barbecue pit in the parking lot where grill master Wade Reich smokes beef, ribs and something he calls “Drunken Chicken.” A devoted clientele, whose motto is “Gas up and pig out,” makes it unwise to even think about showing up on weekends without reserving your cut of meat.

It might seem strange to discover a philosopher of French food — Reich spent 14 years in Paris — now grilling in a Pell City parking lot. However, I can attest that his Boston butts and baby back ribs can hold their own with beef Bourguignon.

In Montgomery, the state capital, our first stop was at Chris’ Hot Dogs, a family-run eatery that next year will celebrate its 100th year in business.  Legend has it that Martin Luther King, Bear Bryant and Elvis Presley have all eaten at Chris’, and former Gov. George Wallace once placed an order for 2,000 dogs.

I sat on the stool that was reserved for Chris’ favorite customer: country music legend Hank Williams, who always ordered his hot dog with a shot of whiskey chased by a beer. In fact, Chris’ might be the only hot dog joint in the country with a liquor license.

When I asked current owner Theo Katechis what made Chris’ dogs so special, he claimed it was their secret sauce.

With a sly wink, he said, “Only three people in the world know it.”

Montgomery and its environs are also home base for two young Alabama food and drink entrepreneurs. For those who like it hot, 29-year-old Auburn native Jessi Norwood provides it scorching. Norwood has spiced up traditional pepper jelly with her own version: Hot Damn Jelly.

I sampled her classic cream cheese and pepper jelly with a jalapeño pop during breakfast at a local hot spot, Davis Café. Her jellies are also available at the Montgomery Visitors Center.

Also joining us for breakfast was another millennial, Wes Willis, who just may be the cleverest marketer of his generation. His company, Alabama Sweet Tea, offers the beverage in 16 oz. bottles and gallon jugs, and even though in these parts it’s all about sweet tea — labeled Southern — he hasn’t forgotten those who live “up North.”

He offers them an unsweetened tea called Yankee, and for those who can’t make up their minds, there’s a third brand, Mason-Dixon, which he describes as “half and half.”

On the way to Huntsville, the final stop on our foodie road tour, we made an obligatory detour to Decatur to sample the barbecue at Big Bob Gibson’s. Yes, there really was a Big Bob, and now his great grandson-in-law, Chris Lilly, is the pit master at the restaurant, which has won two World BBQ Championships.

In Alabama, which Verna acknowledges to be a “red sauce state,” Big Bob’s is noted for its white sauce, especially good on chicken.

Huntsville had two of my favorite places, occupying different ends of the dining spectrum. At breakfast at the Blue Plate Café, a typical diner housed in a former auto parts store, I unashamedly gorged on their cocoa biscuits (not room for much else after that).

Dinner was at Cotton Row, a sophisticated restaurant on Courthouse Square, dating to 1821 and once occupied by a cotton merchant. Checking our trusty “100 Dishes” guide, we ordered the braised Meyer Ranch beef short ribs served with creamy grits.

From mid-March to mid-October, there is one dining experience that you can find only in Alabama: sampling authentic German fare in the beer garden under the shadow of a Saturn V Apollo moon rocket at Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The Saturn V is a replica of the Saturn rocket that first took man to the moon. I couldn’t swear that my brat and sauerkraut tasted better eating it in the presence of history, but it sure seemed as if it did.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Tuscaloosa plans to celebrate milestone

By Angel Coker, The Tuscaloosa News, Sept. 21

Tuscaloosa’s bicentennial is three years away, but community leaders are getting a head start on the celebration.

Representatives from entities across the county – Tuscaloosa city and county school systems, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, all three colleges, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports and others — met on Tuesday at the Drish House for the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial kickoff luncheon to begin planning bicentennial events and activities.

“Today, we are starting the planning for the celebration of the city of Tuscaloosa’s 200th anniversary, which will be Dec. 13, 2019,” said bicentennial committee co-chair Cathy Randall, a community philanthropist. “We’ll have a three-year celebration full of activities and events to celebrate the past and to plan for an even better future for all of the citizens of Tuscaloosa.”

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox read a proclamation at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night that declared Tuscaloosa a bicentennial town and formed the bicentennial committee so planning can begin.

The committee has no events planned at this time.

“The idea for today was to bring people together and let them decide what areas they would like to serve in … and from here we can form subcommittees and start to plan those events,” said Gina Simpson, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports CEO.

The state will also celebrate its bicentennial in 2019.

Alabama became a territory in 1817, and the territorial legislature incorporated the town of Tuscaloosa on Dec. 13, 1819 — one day before Congress admitted Alabama to the Union as the 22nd state.

Tuscaloosa, which served as the Alabama state capital from 1826 to 1846, was originally home to Native Americans, including Chief Tuskaloosa from whom the county received its name.

Tuscaloosa’s history includes Native American legends, Civil War battles, educational and athletic achievement, and a pivotal role in the civil rights movement.

Over the next three years, Tuscaloosa citizens will celebrate that history.

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it,” Randall said. “To the extent that that is true, celebrations like this are so important so we can learn from the past — the successes that we’ve experienced as well as the failures so the future can be even better than the glorious past of Tuscaloosa.”

To read this article online, go to:


New hotel opens with local flavor in Tuscaloosa

By Jason Morton, The Tuscaloosa News, Sept. 22

The ribbon on Tuscaloosa’s newest hotel was cut recently.

Hotel Indigo, the 91-room hotel on the banks of the Black Warrior River, is now complete and officially open to guests.

“We’re proud to add this boutique hotel to our overall portfolio,” said Judd Bobilin, developer and founder of Chance Partners, the company behind the hotel and nearby Riverfront Village mixed-use development. “From the outset, our focus has always been on local.”

Each of the nearly 60 existing Hotel Indigos — at least 37 of which are in the U.S. — has its own “Neighborhood Story,” a unique set of characteristics that are influenced by the area in which it is built.

For Tuscaloosa’s hotel, that theme is “Reconnecting With the River,” and Bobilin said consultants were hired to look into the history of the site and its surrounding five-block radius.

As part of this, the developers and designers turned to the Kentuck Art Center for aid and inspiration. The result is a satellite gallery of the Northport-based art center, in which everything is for sale, with a commissioned reproduction of the Hotel Indigo name and logo by Kentuck artist Steve Davis.

Davis used more than 3,000 hand-polished nails to replicate the logo, all the way down to the circled-R trademark logo.

“To have this done in nails, it’s never been done anywhere in the world,” said Kentuck Art Center Executive Director Amy Echols.

Hotel Indigo has about 1,000 square feet of executive meeting space, a fitness center, a business center and a 2,500-square-foot outdoor terrace with views of the Black Warrior River and the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.

The naming of the restaurant and rooftop lounge also are examples of the company tying its hotels to the local area.

On the roof is a lounge called The Lookout and inside is a restaurant named The Shoals.

There’s also a market called Pure Provisions on the ground floor that is open to all. Even this is a play on Pure Process Ice Cream, the Tuscaloosa-based ice cream manufacturer and shop that operated along the Black Warrior River from 1926 to the mid-1990s.

Rooms can be reserved at the hotel’s website,, or by calling 205-469-1660.

The Hotel Indigo marks the third hotel completed in downtown Tuscaloosa within about 19 months.

The $27 million, 154-room Embassy Suites hotel, approved by the City Council in 2012, opened in February 2015 on the northwest corner of Greensboro Avenue and University Boulevard.

And in August 2015, the $13 million, 113-room Home2 Suites by Hilton opened in the 2600 block of University Boulevard just west of Lurleen Wallace Boulevard South. It was approved for construction in 2013.

The Hotel Indigo is Chance Partners’ fifth construction project in Tuscaloosa within the past six years.

The Atlanta-based development company keeps returning because of the ripeness of the Tuscaloosa market and business-friendly atmosphere of City Hall, Bobilin said.

“The mayor has brought a very positive business-focused attitude to Tuscaloosa,” Bobilin said earlier this month, “and I think it shows in the construction and the business transactions that have happened.

“That economic development has been unsurpassed in most markets that I’ve been in today.”

On Wednesday, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox praised Chance Partners’ investment in Tuscaloosa and thanked the city staff and City Council for working out the details of an incentive package ranging between $1.5 and $1.7 million, depending on the development’s performance, that assisted its development.

Funded with rebates from lodging taxes and non-school related property taxes, the incentives will help finance the proposed Hotel Indigo, which was estimated to cost between $17 million and $20 million to build, according to developers.

“It is really, to me, a fantastic day in our city,” the mayor said. “It’s a Chamber of Commerce day right here in Tuscaloosa.”

To read this article online, go to:


100-year-old building will become Springhill Suites in Montgomery

By Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser, Sept. 21

Developers plan to spend $14 million turning an iconic, 100-year-old downtown Montgomery building into a Springhill Suites hotel.

The Advertiser first reported in May that the wedge-shaped Bishop-Parker building across from Riverwalk Stadium had been sold and would be turned into a hotel. Developer John Tampa said at a Wednesday announcement that the intention is to offer not just a hotel but “an experience.”

“This will not be your typical hotel room,” Tampa said. “It will be more an experience. It will take you back in the past and the golden age of this building, and also take you to the present.”

Renovation work will start around the end of the year and take about 14 months. Tampa said the exterior will remain mostly untouched, and the building’s historic charm will be balanced by a “modern, urban feel” to the interior design.

It will feature a “vibrant lobby” and bar, with room prices ranging from about $139 to $159, Tampa said.

Tampa owns four other Montgomery hotels, including the Hampton Inn and the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown.

The 152 Coosa St. building was built between 1905 and 1907 by Schloss & Kahn Wholesale Grocers, and Bishop-Parker used it as a furniture store and warehouse for two decades. The building has about 80,000 square feet of space and features ceilings that are 16 to 17 feet high.

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said, “Bishop-Parker has vacated the building and is renovating another space near the One Center, formerly Montgomery Mall.” Bishop-Parker was founded in Montgomery in 1923 and said in May that it is “stronger than ever” but decided to relocate its warehouse. Its primary store at 3035 E. South Blvd. was unaffected.

Strange said the announcement is the third of four downtown hotel projects that have been in the works for a while.

The most recent was a $12.5 million hotel project that was announced for the former downtown skate park site in June. He said the fourth hotel will be announced soon.

Montgomery has led the state in hotel occupancy rate for more than three years.

Dawn Hathcock of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce said, “There are more than 900 hotel rooms

currently open downtown and the hotels that are on the way will push the city over a threshold that will allow it to compete for larger conventions.”

Strange pointed to officials from nearby hotels at the Wednesday announcement for the new Springhill Suites. “They know the more hotel rooms we get, the bigger the conventions can be,” Strange said.

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Power boilers find new home as fish habitat

By Beth Thomas, Alabama Newscenter, Sept. 21

Alabama Power and the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are working together to provide a new place to fish off the Alabama coast.

The partners have been working together on a new artificial reef that will be located in the Gulf of Mexico about 25 miles south of Dauphin Island. The large reef is made up of two, 200,000-pound boilers recently removed from Alabama Power facilities in Washington County and Theodore, plus a 195-foot barge that will be sunk along with the boilers. The old boilers were recently replaced with new equipment as a part of regularly scheduled maintenance at the facilities. The barge is being provided by Cooper/T. Smith.

“While Alabama Power has a long history of partnering with organizations that promote and enhance the environment, this marks the first time that Alabama Power has been involved in a reef project,” said Alabama Power Vice President of Environmental Affairs Susan Comensky.

“We are very pleased to partner with the Marine Resources Division to create this reef that will provide not only a quality habitat for marine life, but also a first-class fishing area.”

“It has been our pleasure to work with Alabama Power on this reef project,” said Angus R. Cooper III, president of operations for Cooper T./Smith.  “Alabama Power has always been a leader in water quality and wildlife conservation and the company has done many great things for the state in these areas.

“Through my involvement as president of Alabama Wildlife Federation, I have had the privilege of knowing about many of these initiatives, but this is the first time that we have had the opportunity to collaborate on a project like this. I am looking forward to seeing the ecosystem that this reef produces,” Cooper added.

Over the past few months, Alabama Power has been working closely with the Marine Resources Division to clean the boilers, cut additional holes in the structures and prepare them for their new home in the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) helped develop the idea for the project.

“Alabama’s Marine Resources Division has been a leader for decades with inshore and offshore artificial reef systems,” said AWF Executive Director Tim L. Gothard. “The Alabama Wildlife Federation firmly believes that properly engineered artificial reefs provide ecological benefits and unique fishing opportunities for anglers – a true win-win. We were glad to partner with the Marine Resources Division and Alabama Power on this new reef project.”

“This is the type of public/private partnerships that we need more of in our country,” added Chris Blankenship, Director of the Marine Resources Division.  “This will be one of the largest reefs we have constructed. I am very thankful to work with Alabama Power, and I hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership to provide environmentally friendly fisheries habitats.”

While it takes a few years for the reefs to become fully established, fish will begin frequenting them after only a few days. The coordinates for the new reef will be:   29 47.544     87 59.104.  The reef is scheduled to be deployed Sept. 26.

On Sept. 13, the reef received a final inspection and approval to be deployed by Marine Resources Division personnel. This week, the boilers are being moved from the company’s facility at Theodore to a nearby ship channel where they will be launched.

You can find out more about the Marine Resources Division by visiting its Facebook page at

To learn more about Alabama Power’s environmental commitment, go to and click on the Environment tab.

To read this article online, go to:


Openings for Tourism Promotional Representatives

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) is seeking applicants for Tourism Promotional Representatives in our Welcome Centers.  ATD Personnel Director Lori Syck urges people from various hospitality segments to apply, “Our goal is to build a qualified applicant pool for vacancies in the eight Alabama Welcome Centers. These positions are front line and we are especially interested in people with experience in hotel, airline, food service, CVB’s, attractions and related tourism fields.”

To apply go to or for more information call Debbie Wilson at the Alabama Tourism Department at 334-353-4516.


Alabama Tourism Workshop on Oct. 5

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) will hold its fall Tourism Workshop in Montgomery on Wednesday, Oct. 5.  Some of the staff members in attendance will be: Scott Burbank and Leigh Cross of the Finance Division; Dawn Chandler, IT; Jo Jo Terry, Social Media Manager; Pam Smith, Calendar of Events editor; and Debbie Wilson, Welcome Center Manager.

The ATD offers a workshop twice a year for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area.  This workshop gives participants an opportunity to talk with staff members from each ATD division. 

For additional information and to register, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or e-mail: Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov.


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Oct. 5                                      Alabama Tourism Workshop                          Montgomery

Oct. 24 – 25                            AL-TN-MS Rural Tourism Conference         Columbus, MS

Nov. 13 – 15                           Welcome Center Retreat                                Birmingham



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