Tourism Tuesdays November 8, 2016

  • Governor awards $1.6 million in grants for trail improvements in Alabama
  • Amusement park ‘more upscale than Six Flags’ set for Alabama coast
  • Roller coaster rivaling longest in the U.S. anchoring coastal Alabama amusement park
  • Alabama’s music heritage runs deep
  • Big Bob Gibson’s Chris Lilly inducted into barbecue hall of fame
  • Alabama steakhouse named one of nation’s best
  • Elkmont set to celebrate 90 years of Delmore music
  • Alabamians ‘can all be proud’ of USS Indianapolis film, in theaters Nov. 11
  • ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ depicts war hero who wouldn’t carry a gun
  • Scott World Firefighter Combat Challenge in Montgomery extinguishes ABC News reporter
  • Mobile’s GulfQuest museum, opened for 13 months, closes for now
  • Guardian of Cullman’s history, Elaine Fuller
  • Georgia Turner tapped to lead W. Volusia tourism group
  • Gary Ellis of Compass Media, Inc. retires
  • 2016 Welcome Center Employees Educational Retreat
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Governor awards $1.6 million in grants for trail improvements in Alabama
From the Office of the Governor, Nov. 3

Gov. Robert Bentley has awarded $1.6 million in grants to improve recreation opportunities in Alabama.

Funds will be used to build or expand trails at 12 locations. In addition to those grants, Bentley awarded another grant to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to purchase equipment necessary to build and maintain trails at its state parks and install signage and provide maps at state parks which have designated trails.

The grants were awarded from funds made available to the state through the Recreational Trails Program which is a program of the Federal Highway Administration.

“I am excited about the wonderful outdoor projects going on within our state and the enthusiasm surrounding them,” Bentley said. “Alabama is truly an outdoor paradise and trails are a wonderful way to experience the wonders of our state. I am delighted in playing a role in these projects.”

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants.

“From the sand-swept paths along the coast to the rugged rocky terrain in north Alabama, Alabama’s diverse topography makes for some of the best trails anywhere,” said ADECA Director Jim Byard Jr. “I value the partnerships that ADECA has made with communities, volunteers and professionals that make these trails happen and make our communities great. I am pleased that these grants will develop new recreational opportunities.”

Grant recipients and their projects (from north to south Alabama) are:

  • Auburn University– $100,000 to build a 10-mile-long looping trail at the Graham Farm and Nature Center in Jackson County. The farm is managed by the Jackson County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
  • Hodges – $100,000 to build a multi-purpose trail connecting Overton Farm to Rock Bridge Canyon and build a covered arena. The new trail will tie in with 27 miles of existing equestrian trail.
  • Fayette – $100,000 to purchase 2.1 miles of an abandoned railroad line with plans to construct a 10-foot-wide multi-purpose trail along the line from the depot to Taylor Road.
  • Shelby County – $60,000 to build a 2-mile long connector trail that will connect several existing multi-purpose use trails at Oak Mountain State Park.
  • Pelham – $80,000 to develop a portion of an overall greenway and trail system connecting neighborhoods, civic buildings, school and parks. This phase will develop a trailhead at Pelham City Park including a 6.4-mile trail with parking, water fountains, picnic areas and benches.
  • Columbiana – $393,975 to work with the Historic Shelby Association and other local governments to construct the 5-mile-long Rascal Rail Trail from the city to the Shelby Iron Works Parks along a Civil War-era railroad bed.
  • Montevallo – $100,000 to construct a trailhead pavilion, restrooms and signage along a portion of 167 acres recently donated to the city.
  • Chilton County – $275,000 to purchase an additional 80 acres and construct new trails for motorized vehicles on property adjacent to Minooka Park near Jemison and to construct a bathhouse at the recreational vehicle campground.
  • Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association – $87,429 for improvements at its Smith Mountain Trail and Lookout Tower in Tallapoosa County. Funds will be used to improve trail signage, rebuild a CCC building at the foot of the tower for use as an educational center, and expand the number of trails.
  • Montgomery County – $100,000 to construct a nearly 1-mile-long paved and compacted gravel multi-use trail on 110 acres off the Old Selma Road. In addition to the 12-foot wide trail, a parking area and access road will be constructed.
  • The State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources State Parks Division – $78,400 to supply maps and trail information and install signage to encourage increased use of trails at state parks and enhance trail knowledge and safety. Funds will also be used to provide trail maintenance equipment to keep up trails and build news.

Bentley previously announced two of the grants during recent community visits:

  • Section – $35,000 to pave and provide other upgrades for a .33-mile-long walking trail at Weatherton Park.
  • Sumiton -$100,000 to install lighting along the city’s multi-purpose trail which connects with the Dora city trail.

ADECA manages a wide range of grants and programs that support law enforcement, economic development, recreation, energy conservation and water resource management.

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Amusement park ‘more upscale than Six Flags’ set for Alabama coast

By John Sharp,, Nov. 1

Whenever Foley Mayor John Koniar gets a question about what the Poarch Band of Creek Indians plans for the city, the issue typically comes back to gambling.

“Some people would like to see it there,” said Koniar, referencing the tribe’s past economic development projects which are heavily invested in casino and bingo halls in Alabama and Louisiana. “The answer is that while it’s their land, it’s not federal Indian land, so gaming is not allowed.”

The follow-up he provides: “We wanted a family-friendly development and that is what they will do. It’s unlike anything in our region. It’s a destination.”

That destination, at the Foley Beach Express and Baldwin County 20, about 9 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is expected to feature a roller coaster and about 20 other rides. That will make it the biggest amusement park in Alabama.

There will also be shops and other attractions, Koniar said. The roller coaster, the mayor added, could be among the largest in the Southeast.

The amusement park is expected to augment the sports tourism arm of the overall development. Sixteen new soccer fields recently opened and a $15 million indoor event center is under construction.

Coastal Alabama cities are pushing forward elaborate park plans to lure visitors and to create new amenities for residents.

‘Higher-end amusement’

The project is anticipated to deliver a regional economic boost that will further entrench the state’s coast as its tourism epicenter.

Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, said the development will establish the region as a “year-round destination,” creating new energy and opportunities outside the popular summer season.

Koniar goes so far as to call the amusement park a “hybrid” of a Six Flags theme park and Walt Disney World.

Whether the park rivals a Six Flags in size and scope remains unknown. Six Flags Over Georgia sits on 290 acres in Cobb County, Ga., and features 11 roller coasters.

“They wanted it a little more upscale than Six Flags,” said Koniar. “They want a lot more green space and landscaping. It’s not just concrete and rides. It will be softer and they tend to lean toward the Disney side of it … they are looking at higher-end amusement.”

Said Lee Sentell, director of Alabama Tourism: “A nationally known attraction developer who visited the coast several years ago said, ‘Alabama has beautiful beaches, but where are the attractions?’ Well, the Poarch Creek Indians are providing an emphatic statement.”

Indeed, the Atmore-based tribe’s economic development arm has tapped into theme park experts since taking over the Foley property in 2015. Among those involved is Chuck Corley, a former attractions manager for Six Flags.

The Foley development was once named “Blue Collar Country” after the comedy team of Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. The Creek Indian Enterprise Development Authority purchased the development and has since revamped the initial master plan. The tribe also will give it a new name.

“The tribe is doing this first-class,” said Koniar, adding that the amusement rides themselves will cost anywhere between $30 million to $40 million. “They’ve gone all over the world looking at amusement venues and doing it right, in my opinion.”

Economic support

Philip Carr, professor of anthropology and Chief Calvin McGhee endowed professor of Native American Studies at the University of South Alabama, said the tribe is looking at the Foley development as a “long-term” investment.

“It’s unlike anything in our region. It’s a destination.” – Foley Mayor John Koniar

He also said the investment illustrates the tribe’s expanding portfolio that has evolved through the years since the Poarch Band of Creek Indians received federal designation in 1984. The tribe owns and operates three bingo casinos in Alabama: Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, Creek Casino Wetumpka at Hickory Ground in Wetumpka and Creek Casino Montgomery in Montgomery.

Within the past year, the tribe has moved outside of Alabama with its investments by agreeing to purchase Margaritaville Restore Casino in Louisiana. It’s also partnering with the Washoe Tribe to open a casino near Reno, Nev.

The Foley project, said Carr, will “meet their goals to diversify to what they are trying to do.”

The tribe’s push into economic development could also give it influence in Alabama to rival that of other tribes in their respective states.

For instance, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is among Connecticut’s principal taxpayers and largest employers, contributing more than $3 billion through a gaming revenue-sharing agreement with the state.

Florida’s Seminole Tribe, which was the U.S. Indian tribe to first to open bingo halls in 1979, acquired the Hard Rock brand in 2007.

In east-central Mississippi, the Pearl River Resort offers two casinos and a water theme park. It’s owned and operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Carr said he thinks the evolution of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is somewhat surprising. “There are tribal members, growing up in poor rural Alabama, who have expressed to me growing up that they’d never thought they’d see the changes coming about.”

He added, “I would say with their tribal leadership and community focus, they really are thinking about the future and not just next week or next year. It’s a long-term future of 20-30 years down the road.”

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Roller coaster rivaling longest in the U.S. anchoring coastal Alabama amusement park

By John Sharp,, Nov. 2

What is initially being touted as one the “longest roller coaster” rides in the U.S. will anchor a new theme park opening in the coastal Alabama by Memorial Day weekend.

The roller coaster, which has not yet been named, will join 20 rides and two other “thrill rides” within 14 acres of a 520-acre development site in Foley, about nine miles from Alabama’s beaches.

Renderings of the amusement park, which will be adjacent to the Foley Beach Express, were unveiled during an event Wednesday. It’s included in the Poarch Band Creek of Indians first major non-gaming development in Alabama.

“It’s our intent to put people in roller coasters next May, Memorial Day weekend,” said Tim Martin, president of Creek Indiana Enterprises Development Authority. “It’s risky. We know it. But we have a great construction team. We are going forward and it will be successful.”

Martin compared the roller coaster to Thunderbolt, which opened in New York’s Coney Island in 2014. The same designer of the Foley roller coaster, Italian-based Zamperla, designed and manufactured Thunderbolt.

Martin said that “six to seven” mid-size rides and children rides are included. He said there is enough property to double the amusement park’s size.

“If you think of Six Flags and Disney (World), I’m not going to spend the money Disney spends,” said Martin. “But I’ll build … closer to Disney. If Disney is the main entree, we’ll give them heavy hors d’oeuvres.”

‘OWA’ arrives

The amusement park is part of an overall project named “OWA,” which means “Big Water” in the Muscogee Creek language. The language is spoken by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the only federally-recognized tribe in Alabama that owns and operates the only three casinos in the state.

The OWA name was also unveiled for the first time during Wednesday’s event in Foley.

Also included in the initial $241 million phase: A new 150-room Marriott TownePlace Suites; 1540,000 square feet of dining, retail and entertainment space; and a 14-acre lake with a 1.5-acre island. The island will include a 300-seat outdoor amphitheater and boathouse.

“OWA is in our tribal name and it means ‘Big Water’ and one of the central themes of this is a 14-acre lake in the middle of it, a big island,” said Martin. “It’s all about branding, marketing and a great experience.”

OWA will be divided up into four “distinct districts,” Martin said, that emulates a “mystical southern town.” The districts include a warehouse district, the downtown district, the main commerce district and the theme park. A future addition is being called the “garden district.”

Future plans include an outdoor water park, a resort level condominium, four hotels and a luxury RV resort.

Martin declined to name any specific retail stores or restaurants that will open on site. He said the Poarch Band of Creek Indians plan on making intermittent announcements leading up to Memorial Day weekend.

“We’ll give tidbits out,” said Martin. “They will be local, regional and national tenants. The dining, we believe, will be the anchors here.”

‘Public-private partnership’

OWA will augment a nearby $40 million sports complex, which was development by the city of Foley and includes 16 soccer fields that opened this year. A $16 million, 90,000-square-foot indoor events center is slated to open next summer.

That project is being paid for through two bond issues the city endorsed, one which includes a 25-year payback and another at 30 years.

Jeff Rouzie, director of economic development with the city of Foley, said revenue from the facility is expected to help pay back the bonds. He called the entire facility “self-funded,” and that the project was conceived thanks to several feasibility studies he said showed a strong economic impact from it.

The analyses were not immediately available Wednesday.

State incentives are also part of the package, but exact details were also not available and a spokesperson with the Alabama Department of Commerce did not return a call for comment.

Rouzie said the developers will receive a sales tax exemption on materials purchased to build the facility as well as a 10-year property tax abatement.

The city also spent around $2.4 million on the construction of a $12 million extension of Pride Drive, a four-lane boulevard which extends from Ala. 59 into the development.

The project was funded through an Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement, or ATRIP, grant.

“We’re talking about a public-private partnership that we could not do without the city and state,” said Martin.

‘Family destination’

Martin said the initial OWA development will generate an additional 7 percent of all tourist spending in the South Alabama region, which bolstered by the beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is the hottest tourism driver for the state.

Said Lee Sentell, director of Alabama Tourism: “People are coming to the beach in larger numbers every year. (Baldwin) County represents 30 percent of the travel expenditures in the state, which is just phenomenal.”

Martin said the development is located to capture nearly 6.2 million visitors who flock to the beaches for surf and sand.

“We’ve never had this kind of incredible destination to promote,” said Sentell.

Martin said he anticipates an additional 1 million visitors coming to the region for sports tourism-related activities at the nearby fields.

He also said that OWA can benefit from the shopping traffic at nearby Tanger Outlets on Ala. 59.

“What people don’t realize is that at Tanger Outlets, some of their best performing months are November and December,” said Martin. “We’ll compliment that.”

The project is anticipated to bring in an average of 2,072 jobs, both direct and indirect hires, each year.

Reid Cummings, director of the University of South Alabama’s Center for Real Estate and Economic Development at the Mitchell College of Business, said that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ investment into the project will further bolster Mobile and Baldwin’s dominance in Alabama tourism.

He also said it will fuel an increase in sales tax going back into state coffers.

“It’s a great opportunity for growth,” Cummings said. “It’s a real blessing to have the Poarch Band of Creek Indians invest and expand into other areas and support other communities.”

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Alabama’s music heritage runs deep

Historic sites throughout the state make Alabama perfect for a music lover’s pilgrimage. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

By David Bodle,

Muscel Shoals Music Trail

The music scene in Muscle Shoals began in 1959 with the opening of Alabama’s first professional recording studio, FAME Recording Studios, Inc. The studio’s 1961 Arthur Alexander recording “You Better Move On” moved to #24 on the charts and the hits just keeps coming. R&B, pop and country artists with names such as Aretha Franklin, the Osmonds and Jerry Reed have all recorded at FAME. Today’s artists continue with recording sessions that feature the current beat. Tours are available.

From the late 1960s through the 70’s, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, the Staple Singers, Bob Seger and Bob Dylan each had a recording on the U.S. Pop Chart Top 25. The one thing they all have in common—each was recorded at the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the studio is home to the Muscles Shoals Sound Studio Museum. It’s a great photo op for any tour to the area.

In nearby Tuscumbia is the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which represents all styles of American music. You’ll discover the stories portrayed in exhibits and memorabilia of Alabamians who made their mark on music. Muscle Shoals natives W.C. Handy (“Father of the Blues”), Percy Sledge and Sam Phillips (“Father of Rock and Roll”) are among the 1,000 stars portrayed. Private group tours are available.

In 1978 the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio moved into a converted Naval Reserve building, where the recording of gold and platinum records continued. The building is now the Cypress Moon Studio, a film production company. The historic recording studio is still being used today. Tours can be arranged.

This interesting community can be explored at Pathways: Walk Through the History of Muscle Shoals. Located in a designated corridor within City Hall, it’s a great introduction to the city’s history, including Muscle Shoals music.

Hank Williams Trail

Alabamian Hank Williams, Sr. was one of the first people inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In only 29 years of life he composed and recorded the classic hits “Hey Good Lookin,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Cold, Cold Heart.” He was country music’s first big star and sold more than 10 million records from 1947 to 1953.

The Hank Williams, Sr. Boyhood Home & Museum in Georgiana offers a glimpse at the legend’s early surroundings through personal belongings and exhibits that chronicle the family’s hard times, a reason why Hank may have turned to music. It was a black street singer/musician who taught Hank to play guitar.

The 38th annual “Salute to a Legend,” The Hank Williams Festival will be held June 2-3, 2017 on the grounds of Hank’s Boyhood Home & Museum in Georgiana. The 2016 festival featured a dozen musical groups, including Mickey Gilley, Brad Magness and Jett Williams.

If you’re a country music fan, the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery is a must stop. It’s a journey into the life and times of this country music superstar. More than 35 showcases exhibit Hank Williams, Sr. memorabilia, including performance suits, portraits, guitars, sheet music, records and Hank’s 1952 Baby Blue Cadillac convertible. His gravesite is in nearby Oakwood Cemetery.

Alabama’s music story doesn’t stop here. For an unforgettable music tour, begin by logging on to music.

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Big Bob Gibson’s Chris Lilly inducted into barbecue hall of fame

By Catherine Godbey,, Oct.31

With the smell of barbecue filling the air — the result of hundreds of teams competing in the American Royal World Series of Barbecue — the culinary world honored the accomplishments of a Decatur pitmaster.

Chris Lilly, pitmaster of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que, which helped put north Alabama on the barbecue map with its iconic white sauce, was inducted into the barbecue hall of fame along with David Knight, of Missouri, and Ardie Davis, of Kansas City, on Saturday night at the American Royal in Kansas City.

Each year the American Royal Association inducts into the hall of fame three individuals who made significant contributions to the barbecue community.

The association noted Lilly’s influence in restaurants, cookbooks, television and competitions. Headed by Lilly, the Big Bob Bar-B-Que team has appeared 18 times at the American Royal, set a record with seven pork barbecue titles at Memphis in May and earned the grand champion award at both competitions.

Lilly’s connection with the Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q team began at the University of North Alabama, where he met his wife, the great-granddaughter of Gibson, who started serving barbecue with a tangy white sauce from the backyard of his Danville Road home in 1925.

“I grew up in Florence and knew of Big Bob Gibson’s, but was never a regular customer. I had always been a foodie and a fan of barbecue, but never thought about cooking as a career,” Lilly told The Daily in 2010. “I graduated with a double major in marketing and finance. I didn’t go to college to cook. I guess I just lucked into it, or it was fate.”

After a short stint as a pharmaceutical salesman, Lilly joined Big Bob Gibson and learned the art of operating a barbecue restaurant and the recipes passed down through 90 years. Representing Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Lilly has appeared on the Food Network and “Today” and at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, NASCAR events, Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and New York City’s Big Apple Barbecue Party.

At the American Royal last weekend, the Big Bob Gibson team took home the Legend of the Royal award.

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama steakhouse named one of nation’s best

By Tim Steere, Birmingham Business Journal, Nov. 3

OpenTable recently revealed its list of the best steakhouses in America, and an Alabama location managed to squeeze into the rankings.

Connors Steak and Seafood in Huntsville, specializing in fresh seafood and premium aged steaks, was named to the list – the only Alabama restaurant to do so.

“With its long history and timeless traditions, the steakhouse occupies a special place in our nation’s dining culture,” said Caroline Potter, OpenTable’s chief dining officer. “These winning restaurants are honoring those comforting – and delicious — traditions while providing top-notch hospitality that diners want to return for again and again. We can’t imagine a better place to celebrate the holidays than at one of America’s greatest steakhouses.”

100 steakhouses across 28 different states were named to the annual list, which analyzes 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants.

To learn more about Connors visit the restaurant’s website here.

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Elkmont set to celebrate 90 years of Delmore music

It was a stellar rise from sharecroppers’ sons to Grand Ole Opry Stars of the 1930’s but that’s the story of Elkmont’s own Delmore Brothers – Alton and Rabon.  Alton and Rabon started humbly learning music from their father and performing in church before teaching others the melodic arts. Alton and Rabon were definitely bitten by the music bug and set out competing in homegrown music competitions throughout Limestone County before they were discovered in a recording session in North Carolina that set them to blazing the charts on King Records and standing under the lights of the Ryman.

The stories behind the Delmore Brothers rise to success and family life as well as their music will be the feature of an upcoming music festival in downtown Elkmont, Alabama on November 12th organized by The Red Caboose’s Gary Compton.  Many may actually know the songs “Freight Train Boogie,” “Brown’s Ferry Blues,” “Blues Stay Away From Me,” “I’ve Got the Kansas City Blues,” “Gonna Lay Down My Ole Guitar” and many more that had success because of harmonized singing of the Delmore Brothers.

Debby Delmore will be there sharing stories of her father and uncle.  Gary Compton will be bringing some of Nashville’s talents to the festival including Bradley Walker, Carl Jackson, Thom Bresh, Shane Adkins, Bruce Walker, Jerry Salley and Farmer & Adele will be performing.

Attendees will enjoy the music and storytelling and can wander amid the vendor booths, grab a bite to eat, win door prizes and more from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Tickets are $5 with ages 12 and under enjoying free admission.

For more information: 256-306-6201


Alabamians ‘can all be proud’ of USS Indianapolis film, in theaters Nov. 11

By Kelly Kazek,, Nov. 2

For many years, the horrific fate of the crew of the World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis was largely forgotten by the general public. Then the movie “Jaws” brought the story of the world’s deadliest shark attack to a new generation with a monologue performed by the gravel-voiced Robert Shaw. Here is a condensed version:

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side, Chief … We’d just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Vessel went down in 12 minutes … Didn’t see the first shark for about a half-hour. Sometimes that shark looks right at ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then … ah, then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin.’ The ocean turns red, and despite all your poundin’ and your hollerin’ those sharks come in and they rip you to pieces. So, eleven hundred men went into the water. Three-hundred-and-sixteen men come out. The sharks took the rest… Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

Richard Rionda Del Castro was among those audience members in 1975 blown away by Shaw’s chilling speech, and now Del Castro says he is proud his production company, Hannibal Pictures, is bringing the story of the brave survivors of that very real tragedy to the big screen in “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.”

With a few exceptions, the monologue was an accurate and hair-raising description of the events of July 1945, he said. Of the 1,196 men aboard when the Indianapolis was struck, 900 made it into the water alive and 317 were rescued. The movie depicts the start of the ship’s mission to deliver components for the bomb that would destroy Hiroshima, the subsequent torpedo strike, the ship’s sinking and the days and nights the men spent in the ocean awaiting rescue, as one-by-one, their friends were eaten by the hundreds of sharks surrounding them.

“The movie has drama, action, suspense, emotion, all of that, because these men spent hours and days in the water, in pitch black, with sharks attacking,” Del Castro said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “Nine hundred jumped into the water and 317 were rescued five days later. These days, when someone is bitten by a shark, it makes national news. But nearly 600 men were eaten by sharks in five days and few people remember it.”

Alabamians ‘can all be proud’

The $40-million movie was filmed entirely in Alabama with the exception of a few days of shooting, Del Castro said. It stars Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane and Matt Lanter. It was filmed in 2015 aboard the USS Alabama, a battleship museum docked in Mobile, as well as at the Battle House Hotel, Mobile County Courthouse, an oil rig in the Gulf, Wolf Bay and a few private homes, according to Kathy Faulk with the Alabama Film Office.

“USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” directed by Mario Van Peebles, will be in theaters Nov. 11. It was released in October on-demand and is available on iTunes, Apple TV and Spectrum where it “is over performing,” Del Castro said.  His previous efforts to make the film failed but he was able to “make it happen because of Alabama.”

“You can all be proud,” he said of Alabamians. “This movie is one of the best ambassadors for Alabama ever made.”

The film includes numerous Alabama residents as extras, he said. Stan Houston, a Dothan resident who portrayed Sheriff Jim Clark in the film “Selma,” has a small credited role in “USS Indianapolis.”

Cage portrays Capt. Charles B. McVay III, the commander of the Indianapolis who survived the ordeal only to be accused of contributing to the ship’s sinking and court-martialed. He committed suicide in 1968 and was posthumously exonerated by Congress in October 2000. Del Castro said McVay’s granddaughter will attend a premiere of the film to be held in Mobile on Nov. 12.

In addition, Cage spent time on the set with 88-year-old Navy veteran and Alabama native Richard Stephens, who survived the Indianapolis tragedy. At their meeting, Cage asked about the experience and Stephens responded: “I haven’t thought about it in a good while. I tried to get it out of my mind. Death is not a pretty thing and I saw too much of it.”

Del Castro said it was his fourth movie to be filmed in Mobile, including the 2014 Cage thriller “Rage.”

“We had a marvelous adventure shooting in Alabama,” he said “All the people from Mobile and Orange Beach, the mayors and the film commission, everybody has been so great. My team and I, we can’t wait to come back. We really had a good time. It will always stay in our heart.”

An Oct. 28 article in “Variety” said Alabama is luring more large productions and smaller films thanks to its diverse locations and government incentives for filmmakers. “It’s easy to see why Alabama is a popular destination for filmmakers. It easily doubles for multiple North American locations,” Terry Flores wrote in the article.

The story lists some recent projects with portions filmed in Alabama: “Vice” (2015), “Extraction” (2015), “Heist” (2015), “Convergence” (2015), “Rage” (2014), “Selma” (2014), “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (2014), “42” (2013) and “Oculus” (2013).

Legacy of the USS Indianapolis

A 2013 article in “Smithsonian” magazine
 described the Indianapolis tragedy: “Shortly after midnight, a Japanese torpedo hit the Indianapolis in the starboard bow, blowing almost 65 feet of the ship’s bow out of the water and igniting a tank containing 3,500 gallons of aviation fuel into a pillar of fire shooting several hundred feet into the sky. Then another torpedo from the same submarine hit closer to midship, hitting fuel tanks and powder magazines and setting off a chain reaction of explosions that effectively ripped the Indianapolis in two. Still traveling at 17 knots, the Indianapolis began taking on massive amounts of water; the ship sank in just 12 minutes. Of the 1,196 men aboard, 900 made it into the water alive. Their ordeal—what is considered the worst shark attack in history—was just beginning.”

Del Castro said the movie tells this incredible true story of survival in a way he hopes will draw attention to the sacrifice of the crew.

“Basically, these men have been forgotten,” Del Castro said. “They survived against all odds. Many of them did not make it, many of them died, and this tragedy could have been avoided. I hope that this movie is going to somehow bring for these men the respect of this young generation, the respect of this incredible nation that we have.”

He recounts a story of how the men were found. Because the ship’s mission was secret, no rescue party was sent. Instead, the pilot of a plane on a mission to find a Japanese submarine had a feeling he should look into the water.  

“He was by himself in the cabin and he heard a voice saying he needed to look down,” Del Castro said. “He felt pressure on his left shoulder and again a voice said, ‘Look down, look down.’ So he took the plane lower and one of men in back spotted the men in the water. They didn’t even know where these men came from but they called for help. Basically, God talked to him and told him to go down. The survivors called it the angel from the sky.”

Del Castro met two survivors of the Indianapolis and some relatives of crew members while in Alabama filming the movie. He said their input and their response was important to him.

“Many of the family members have watched the movie and said they were really very pleased with the outcome,” he said. “I know their children and grandchildren are all very proud of them.”

One of the survivors described the emotional impact of the event, which traumatized many of the men throughout their lives. He said the average age of the men on board was 21.

“We met with a survivor who told us, basically, when he came back home, he had his life jacket with him and he put in the basement,” Del Castro said. “Several times a week, he was going down to basement and putting the life jacket on. He would leave it on for hours.”

Cast member Matt Lanter, who stars in the NBC series “Timeless,” had a personal connection with the movie. “His grandfather was a survivor of the Indianapolis,” Faulk said. “His dad, Joe Lanter, is very involved with remaining survivors and joined him on set. This film is very personal to them both.”

Click here to read about a scholarship program for Indianapolis survivors.

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‘Hacksaw Ridge’ depicts war hero who wouldn’t carry a gun

By Donna Thornton, Gadsden Times, Nov. 1

A new movie captures the character and the integrity of Desmond T. Doss well, according to people who knew him as he lived the last years of his life in Piedmont, AL.

They recall Doss as an humble, devout man — one of the charter members of Piedmont Seventh Day Adventist Church. Without the “seed money” Doss donated, the church might not have been built in 2006.

He attended the church with his wife, Frances, as long as his health allowed. Pastor Rick Blythe and his wife, Ginger, remember them sitting on the first or second row, even though Doss couldn’t hear the sermons anymore. Frances would take notes and Doss, using a magnifying glass, would read along.

This Medal of Honor recipient served in World War II, saving countless lives — including 75 saved in a series of offensives on Okinawa — without ever touching a gun. On Nov. 4, the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” will bring Doss’ story to the big screen. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, the film is being marketed broadly with special direction toward military and faith audiences.

“I know who I owe my life to, as well as my men. That’s why I like to tell this story to the glory of God, because I know from the human standpoint, I should not be here,” Doss said, in his Medal of Honor oral history.

Doss was the nation’s first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. That’s what the Army called him, anyway.

Blythe and Doss’ stepson, Mike Duman, said it was a classification he always rejected.

As a Seventh Day Adventist, Blythe said, Doss observed the Sabbath on Saturday, and he rejected weapons of any kind. However, the denomination does not oppose saluting the flag or wearing the country’s military uniform.

Doss has long been a sort of hero in the Seventh Day Adventist church. Along with his commitment to go into combat as a medic without a gun, he was determined to observe the Sabbath, abstaining from work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Both brought him trouble in the Army, from leaders who thought he was cowardly, disobedient and shirking duty, and from fellow soldiers who saw no value in an unarmed man on the battlefield.

Doss grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, but lived much of his adult life on Lookout Mountain in Rising Fawn, Georgia. Doss’ first wife — the young bride portrayed in the movie — died in 1991. A few years later, Doss married Frances Duman.

Mike Duman recalled that someone arranged a date between his aunt and Doss. His aunt wasn’t interested, Duman said, but his mother was.

The couple were dedicated to one another, and when their health started to fail, they came to Piedmont to be closer to Mike and his family. Doss had come to consider Mike as his son, Blythe said.

Mike Duman grew close to his stepfather, though he remained a bit awed by Doss.

“He definitely had an aura around him,” Duman said, an unshakable integrity.

Meeting with the Blythes and Duman at the Piedmont SDA Church, Duman has a framed print to show. It’s an old-style print of the 10 Commandments, with illustrations of each commandment around the border of the print. It’s the same print that hung on a wall in Doss’ home when he was a child.

“Desmond would stand on a chair and look at the print,” Duman related. He was especially drawn to the image accompanying the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” It depicted Cain standing over his slain brother Abel with a club.

The print helped to inspire Doss to the commitment he maintained through his time in the Army: that while others were taking a life, he would be saving it.

When the movie was screened, Duman said, everyone expected some alterations might be made to his story, to make it more dramatic for the screen. A scene where Doss’ fellow soldiers beat him in training camp didn’t happen, though he was mocked, harassed and had boots thrown at him while he prayed.

However, Duman said, when it came to portraying Doss’ character — his humble nature, and his determination — the movie rings true.

“The filmmakers were very concerned with getting the story right,” Duman said, and he believes they did.

Doss’ life after the war was not easy. Injuries and illness — he contracted tuberculosis that was treated by removing one lung and five ribs — left him 90 to 100 percent disabled. He was given an overdose of antibiotics that destroyed his hearing for 12 years, until he had a cochlear implant.

After moving to Piedmont with his second wife, Blythe said, Doss was a great supporter of building the church there.

His health was failing at the time, but he would come out and watch the work on the church.

Duman said workers got the sanctuary built in about six weeks — hurrying, he believed, so Doss would get to see it.

When it was time for the church dedication ceremony, Blythe said he didn’t expect Doss to be able to attend. But Doss told him he was going to be there, and he was.

Days later, Doss passed away.

At a time when on-screen heroes are often superpowered, or super violent, those who knew Doss are anxious for people to see the story of a hero who was not.

“I believe this world is hungry for real heroes,” Blythe said.

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Scott World Firefighter Combat Challenge in Montgomery extinguishes ABC News reporter

ABC News

In the final week of October, Montgomery welcomed more than 600 incredible visitors from all over the world for the 25th Anniversary World Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, including Michael Koenigs of ABC News.

Michael’s show, “Election Cycle” features the journalist traveling from town to town all over the U.S. to talk to everyday Americans about the election, and to show a slice of life in each city.  After pulling 9 Gs in an F-16 Red Tail at Dannelly Field with Montgomery’s 187th Air Wing, that morning, he made an impressive run on the combat challenge course. Check out the action, including interviews with Montgomery’s Mayor and several of the competing firemen in this segment.

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Mobile’s GulfQuest museum, opened for 13 months, closes for now

By John Sharp,, Nov. 4

GulfQuest Maritime Museum is temporarily shutting down 13 months after it opened in September 2015, and just days before the Carnival Fantasy is scheduled to partake in its first voyage out of the Alabama Cruise Terminal on Wednesday.

The announcement of the closure, effective Monday, was made through a news release from Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office on Friday.

The decision was related to projected attendance numbers not being reached within the museum’s first year of operation.  According to the city, the board of trustees with the National Maritime Museum of the Gulf Coast submitted a request for an immediate $1.8 million infusion of funds from the city.

“Our conclusion is, at this time, we cannot recommend additional city funds be allocated to GulfQuest without significant changes to the Maritime Museum’s business model and its management,” Stimpson said in the news release.

Added Stimpson: “Our hope remains that a path forward will be identified leading to a successful outcome — a sustainable GulfQuest operation that provides a fun, attractive and appealing entertainment and educational opportunity for citizens and tourists alike.”

Limited basis scheduling will continue, specifically for private and special events including those already scheduled.

The museum will be maintained by a minimally required number of staff who will become city employees reporting to the mayor’s office.

The board of trustees, meanwhile, will be responsible for raising funds for maintenance of the exhibits and to cover their outstanding payables and debt obligations.

The city and board, according to the news release, will work to identify a consultant or third-party operator who can “bring a renewed sense of fund, entertainment and education to the Mobile waterfront.”

The closure comes ahead of when GulfQuest was expected to generate more activity with the arrival of the cruising industry back in Mobile.  The Carnival Fantasy, under a 13-month agreement, will sail its first voyage out of the nearby Alabama Cruise Terminal on Wednesday afternoon.

GulfQuest opened following years of setbacks related to the facility’s construction, highlighted by an expensive remediation of mold growth within the vessel-shaped museum more than a year before it opened.  Much of that money came from a contingency account, which was a little less than $2 million at the time.

Ground was broken on the museum’s construction in 2009 and, over the years, its price-tag ballooned to what the city estimates is nearly $70 million in a public-private investment.

The mayor’s office, last month, estimated that GulfQuest was behind on its utility payments at around $400,000.  At the time, the mayor’s office stated it was looking to work with GulfQuest’s leadership to resolved the structure’s financial situation.

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Guardian of Cullman’s history, Elaine Fuller

By Loretta Gillespie,, Nov. 5

“We were honored to induct Elaine into the Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame in August,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell.  “She has been a tourism leader for Cullman, north Alabama and our entire state for the last three decades.”

Cullman County Museum Curator, Elaine Fuller, might just have the corner on awards lately. In September 2015, she was inducted into the Mountain Lakes Hall of Fame for her efforts in encouraging tourists to visit north Alabama. In August 2016, she was inducted into the Alabama State Tourism Hall of Fame at the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Orange Beach. The award was bestowed on Fuller for her tireless efforts to promote tourism, for her work in making Oktoberfest one of the largest attractions in this area and for her dedication to making the Cullman County Museum a destination for 10,000-12,000 people annually. State Tourism Director Lee Sentell presented the award.

Perhaps her greatest achievement is not one that has been recognized as an honor as of yet. She would certainly win, if it were.  That award might be called, “Easiest Job Transition” and it would be awarded to Fuller because when she started this job, she only intended to fill in for the museum curator for a couple of weeks. However, what was intended to be a short-term, part-time job turned into a 31- year career for Fuller, who is still hard at work, making sure that things run smoothly at the Cullman County Museum.

“When Margaret Farr asked me to fill in because she was in the hospital, I agreed,” Fuller recalled.

After Farr’s sad and untimely passing, Cullman Mayor Jack Sides called Fuller into his office and asked if she would consider taking the job full-time.

“When I agreed, he handed me two boxes of slides taken on his trip to Germany. I was to make a presentation of them, and we didn’t even have a computer at the time,” she said.

Over the years, Fuller has had the opportunity to see and do many things that have greatly impacted the preservation of much of Cullman’s rich history. In one instance, she was part of a group who buried a time capsule containing information pertaining to historical events from 1873-1973. The capsule was sealed in a rock container designed and made by Frank Schwaiger. Fuller was responsible for collecting the material enclosed in the capsule, which is scheduled to be opened in 2073.

The museum was opened in its present location in 1975. Home to many authentic pieces of Col. Cullman’s furnishings and belongings, the museum also boasts one of the oldest pieces of antiquity in north Alabama, the Harris Rocker Stamped Pot, the museum’s most prized possession, which dates back to between 450-600 A.D.

According to Fuller, the museum’s most popular display is the extensive Civil War collection. “We also have a video filmed on the site of the Battle of Crooked Creek,” she said.

In the aftermath of Oktoberfest, one which, by the way, eclipsed all past Oktoberfests in revenue and attendance, Fuller and her staff are already gearing up for the busy holiday season just ahead.

“There is always something going on here,” said Fuller. “We always say that every day is different at the Big M!

“We have two churches that meet here now, one on Wednesday and the other on Thursdays,” said Fuller. “The Nimble Thimble group meets here every second Friday, and the Sew and Rip It Club on the third Friday of each month. Two events have recently been rescheduled or canceled. The regular Friends of Frankweiler meeting has been moved to January, and author Charlotte Thomas March’s reading and book signing has been indefinitely postponed due to illness in the family,” Fuller explained.   

Fuller and her staff are abuzz with excitement about the 2019 Alabama Bicentennial. Staff member Drew Green has been appointed by Cullman Mayor Max A. Townson as the local chairman for the event.

Visiting the Cullman County Museum is always a treat, even if you’ve been before, there is usually something new to see or some event or display that is being showcased. It is one of Cullman’s jewels, thanks to Elaine Fuller’s dedication.

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Georgia Turner tapped to lead W. Volusia tourism group

By Clayton Park, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Nov. 3

A familiar face is returning to the Volusia-Flagler area tourism scene.

Georgia Turner, 56, has been named to succeed Renee Tallevast as executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority.

Tallevast, the tourism group’s longtime top executive, is retiring at the end of the year.

Turner is a former staffer at both the Daytona Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, where she was public relations director and later director of specialized markets, and the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, where she was vice president of tourism development from November 2011 to December 2013.

Since 2014, she has been manager of media relations and group sales for the Florence-Lauderdale (County) Convention and Visitors Bureau in Florence, Alabama — her hometown.

She is set to start at the WVTAA in mid-December, pending formal confirmation by the Volusia County Council. The council is set to make it official at its meeting Nov. 17.

“Georgia was head and shoulders above the other candidates during the interview process — it wasn’t even close,” said Doug Little, WVTAA board chairman, in a news release. “We’re very fortunate to have found someone with her experience, contacts and extensive knowledge of the area.”

At the Daytona CVB, which hired Turner for the first of two stints in 1987, Turner helped create Biketoberfest in the early 1990s.

In her most recent stint at the CVB, she was involved in the successful effort to bring the Shriners International 2017 annual convention to the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach next July.

The convention, which is expected to bring more than 10,000 visitors, will be the largest ever held in Daytona Beach.

She also operated her own tourism/public relations/marketing firm in Ormond Beach from 2000 to 2010.

“It keeps calling me back,” said Turner of Volusia County where she still owns a house in Ormond Beach.

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Gary Ellis of Compass Media, Inc. retires

From Gary Ellis

It is with great excitement that I officially announce my retirement as President and CEO of Compass Media, Inc., which will now operate as Compass Media, LLC. 

As a result, Dustin Gontarski has been named President of the new entity, and I will continue to work with Compass Media LLC in an advisory role to ensure a smooth transition with the new leadership team. I am beyond enthusiastic over this new chapter in my life, and genuinely look forward to watching the company continue to grow and flourish under Dustin’s leadership. 

Dustin Gontarski is well suited for this role. His impressive 19 year career with Compass is a testament to his dedication to Compass Media-and I’m certain he will lead with that same passion and focus.

Compass Media has been serving the travel and tourism industry in the Southeast for 30 years, and will continue to do so. I look forward with great excitement to see the things that Compass Media will do in the future.

2016 Welcome Center Employees Educational Retreat

Registration continues for the 2016 Welcome Center Employees Educational Retreat at the Sheraton in downtown Birmingham.  The event includes a new format.  Welcome Center employees will engage in a speed dating type set up similar to National Tour Association and Travel South.  Industry partners will be stationary and get one on one time with each center and their employees. 

Dates for the retreat are Nov. 13-15.  

For registration forms, schedule of events and hotel information contact Patti Culp at: OR 334-271-0050.  

Sponsorships are still available. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to showcase your community with the devoted staff members who welcome our visitors to Sweet Home Alabama. 


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Nov. 13 – 15                           Welcome Center Retreat                                Birmingham



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.

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Alabama Tourism Department