Tourism Tuesdays January 10, 2017

Business Alabama profiles landmark renovation of the Hotel Finial in Anniston

Historic Muscle Shoals Sound Studios open

Alabama promoted at travel shows across the nation

Attendance figures needed from state attractions and events

The New York Times names Birmingham a top global travel destination

Princess Theater helping revitalize Decatur

Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association hosts social media seminar


Business Alabama profiles landmark renovation of the Hotel Finial in Anniston

(Editor’s note: The advisory board of the Alabama Tourism Department will meet at the Hotel Finial in Anniston on Jan. 25.  The Alabama Travel Council, the Alabama Tourism Partnership and the planning committee for the 2017 Governor’s Conference are among other boards and committees that will host quarterly meetings there on Jan. 24 and 25.)

From the article “A Grand Hotel Venture” by Cary Estes in Business Alabama:

The house sits on a small hill surrounded by fast-food restaurants and discount stores. A glorious link to Anniston’s 19th-century past, the house is a beloved landmark in this town, an ornate reminder of an era when traffic noise consisted primarily of the clip-clop of horses. And as recently as two years ago, this historic Queen Anne-style structure — once a private home that had been turned into The Victoria Inn — was in danger of falling apart.

That is when Ginger and Del Marsh stepped in and, much to their own surprise, became hotel owners. Even though neither of them has experience in the lodging industry, they purchased the house and adjacent 55-room hotel from the City of Anniston in 2015, invested approximately $2.5 million on an eight-month renovation and reopened in March 2016 as Hotel Finial.

“It’s a risky venture. There’s no two ways about it,” says Del Marsh, who has been president pro tem of the Alabama Senate since 2011. “But Ginger and I talked about it, and we just felt like the historical significance of this home is important enough that we’re willing to take that risk in order for it to be preserved.”

Built in 1888, the house had only three owners before it became The Victoria in 1985. The hotel changed hands several times over the years and was even briefly owned by nearby Jacksonville State University. But nobody seemed interested in investing the type of money needed to maintain such an aging structure, and both the house and hotel slowly fell into disrepair.

Concerned about the deterioration of the historic home, the City of Anniston purchased it from JSU in 2013 for $710,000, with the intention of finding a private developer to restore the structure. The city issued a request for proposals in 2014, but nobody responded. A second RFP was issued in 2015, and the Marshes put in the only offer.

“No one else wanted to take it on, which is understandable, because it was a good bit of money to restore it, with a lot of uncertainty connected to it,” Del Marsh says. “This facility is not your normal situation with a hotel. If I were out there picking businesses to get into, this wouldn’t be one of them. It has its challenges.”

Rather than simply giving the hotel a facelift, the Marshes opted for a total renovation. Every guest room behind the main house was gutted and replaced with new lighting, plumbing and flooring. Similar work was done on the house, which has six guest rooms. The hardwood floors were refinished, extensive lighting was added and much of the plumbing was replaced.

The beds in the guestrooms were made by an Anniston-area ironworker, and the headboards were constructed out of hard pine salvaged from the old Avondale Mills. One of the tables in the bar was created out of a large piece of an oak tree that fell on the property during the renovation. Even the 9-foot-tall weather vane atop the turret was refurbished and now stands as the hotel’s namesake — a “finial” — a decorative feature on top of a roof.

“In terms of the final product from where we started, it’s exceeded our expectations,” Del Marsh says. “We’re very pleased with the look, and it’s been well received. The locals are very appreciative that it’s been saved.”

But restoring the hotel was only half the challenge. Now the task is to run the hotel and try to make it profitable. While Birmingham-based Jackson Hospitality Services is responsible for much of the day-to-day operation, the Marshes often are on site helping out however needed. In fact, Ginger Marsh says it is not unusual for the couple to go home to eat dinner, then return to the hotel for several hours.

“We’re learning things every day,” says Ginger Marsh, who previously worked as a teacher. “Del and I are so hands on. I’ll go out and pull weeds or sweep the deck. There’s nothing that he and I don’t do or work on. We plan on learning every aspect of the business, including cleaning rooms and bartending. With a small staff (16 employees), if somebody gets sick or can’t make it to work, we want to be able to step in and help out.”

Ginger Marsh also has taken charge of coordinating events at the hotel, through a business she started along with local interior decorator Patsy McKinney, called Beyond the Finial. Ginger Marsh says the hotel is a popular location for weddings, baby showers, holiday parties and business gatherings, as well as for bicyclists who ride the nearby Chief Ladiga and Coldwater Mountain trails.

“This place lends itself to some great parties,” Ginger Marsh says. “Any event that can be thought of, we can create it here. We had a group come over from Birmingham to play the Robert Trent Jones golf course (at Silver Lakes), and they wanted to have a party on our patio afterward. We decorated the patio with golf memorabilia and lit some outdoor lamps. They were surprised that we did all that just for them.”

While Hotel Finial already is experiencing some success as a destination for events or weekend getaways, Del Marsh says the true challenge is tapping into the Monday through Thursday business traveler. The hotel is located nearly five miles from I-20, and there are several chain motels near that exit.

“We’re running around 30 percent occupancy, and the motels at the interstate are around 70 percent,” Del Marsh says. “We’ll continue to try to build that up. We think we have a lot to offer with this facility. The reviews from people who stay here are great. The tricky part is finding a way to separate yourself from the others.”

“We are committed to this project. We think it’s a partnership with the city. People stay here and go downtown to eat and shop. We’re starting to see local businesses use the hotel when they bring customers in. Our goal is to make it profitable, and I think we can do that.”

Either way, the Marshes say they have no regrets about taking the chance. For an Anniston native like Ginger Marsh, who remembers seeing the home colorfully lit for Christmas when she was a child, saving the house is well worth the effort of owning the hotel.

“We knew it was going to be a huge undertaking, and, at first, we weren’t certain that we really wanted to do it,” Ginger Marsh says. “But in the end, with the history of this home, it was something that needed to be done. We just wanted to restore it and keep it here. Basically it’s a gift to the people of Anniston.”

For the complete article please see

Historic Muscle Shoals Sound Studios open

From the article “Muscle Shoals Sound Studios open” by Robert Palmer in the Times Daily:

For the first time since 1978, music and history fans will be able to see Muscle Shoals Sound Studios as it appeared in its 1970s heyday.

The studio at 3614 Jackson Highway, is open for tours after months of restoration. Admission is $12, and group rates are available.

The studio, which operated at that location from 1969 to 1978, is now owned by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

The owners of the studio at that time — the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section — moved their operations to more spacious quarters on Alabama Avenue on the banks of the Tennessee River. It was sold to Malaco Records in the mid-1980s before closing almost 20 years later.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Judy Hood, chairwoman of the foundation. “We want to honor the history and sustain the legacy of the legendary Muscle Shoals sound.”

She said the opening schedule is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The studio will be a working recording facility, and will be available for sessions in the coming months, she said.

“One thing we are very cognizant of is that 40-percent of our visitors are international,” she said. “We’re trying to have hours that suit their schedules. Some of these people have saved up for a couple of years just so they can walk into the studio.”

A wide array of artists worked in the studio and produced dozens of hit records. Among the artists were Cher, Boz Scaggs, the Rolling Stones, the Staple Singers, Bob Seger, Traffic, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Leon Russell and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The studio is the Alabama Tourism Department’s Attraction of the Year, which will be heavily promoted. The Business Council of Alabama is promoting it as well.

The studio was restored with a grant from Beats by Dr. Dre, which is now owned by Apple. Though the amount of the grant has not been revealed, those familiar with it say it was substantial.

Lee Sentell, state tourism director, said the documentary “Muscle Shoals” likely played a direct influence on the decision by Beats Electronics to restore the studio.

“Without Steven Badger’s documentary, the (Alabama) Music Hall of Fame would probably still be closed, and Dr. Dre and the people at Beats Electronics probably would not have known that the studio in Sheffield was just sitting there waiting to be revived,” he said. “And Rick Hall might still be waiting for his lifetime achievement Grammy award.”

As soon as the studio was announced as the attraction of the year, Sentell said it got international attention — a first for an Alabama attraction of the year.

“Because of this designation, (Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist) David Hood was interviewed live on BBC Radio in London,” he said. “That just shows the strength of the Muscle Shoals music brand.”

For the complete article please see


Alabama promoted at travel shows across the nation

Thousands of travel enthusiasts from across the country will learn first-hand about Alabama’s great vacation spots when they attend travel shows from this week into April. Staff members of the Alabama Tourism Department will be at eight of the major travel shows marketing the state directly to the traveling public.

The state tourism department’s travel show schedule begins with the Cincinnati Travel & Boat Show this weekend and concludes in early April with the Travel Adventure Show in Dallas.

“Tourism is a big industry for our state with a $12.6 billion economic impact and providing more than 175,000 jobs,” said Rosemary Judkins, Alabama Tourism Department group travel manager. “These travel shows give us a great opportunity to reach tourists when they are just starting to make their vacation plans for the year. There is always a lot of interest in our Gulf Coast beaches, golf, food culture, attractions, civil rights sites and outdoor adventures.”

Booths at the travel shows will be staffed by state tourism employees and tourism industry leaders from across the state.  A wide range of popular state travel publications will be available to the public including the 2017 Alabama Vacation Guide & Calendar of Events. This 204-page magazine-size publication contains colorful photos and covers the state by geographic regions with an introduction section, a city-by-city listing of attractions and accommodations and profiles of the state’s major cities.  The calendar section lists more than 700 annual and special events from across the state. 

The state tourism travel show schedule includes: the Cincinnati Travel Sport & Boat Show, Jan. 13-22; Snowbirds Extravaganza in Lakeland, FL, Jan. 24-25; Louisville Boat, RV and Sport Show, Jan. 25-29; Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto, Feb. 24-25; Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show, Feb. 17-26; Memphis Southern Women’s Show, March 10-12; Nashville Southern Women’s Show, March 30-April 2; Travel Adventure Show in Dallas, April 1-2.


Attendance Figures needed from state attractions and events

The Alabama Tourism Department is asking representatives of state attractions and events to turn in their attendance figures for the year 2016. These attendance figures are the basis for the annual “Top 10” listings. The figures serve as a vital guide for state government, local organizations and the media.

* In order for you to be counted we must have your data by Tuesday, Jan. 17. The online reporting process should take less than 5 minutes to complete.

Please follow this link to enter your attendance figures:  

Note: There is only one event or attraction per online form and only one classification can be chosen.  The Alabama Tourism Department reserves the right for final determination of classifications.


The New York Times names Birmingham a top global travel destination

From the article “Birmingham named a top global travel destination” by Dan Bagwell in the Birmingham Business Journal:

What do Birmingham, Madagascar and the Great Barrier Reef have in common?

They’re all among the 52 Places to Go in 2017, the newest edition of an annual list of the top global destinations published by The New York Times. The list spotlights a diverse mix of cities and countries that are ideal places to visit in a particular year based on recommendations from hundreds of Times contributors from around the globe.

Birmingham ranked 45th on the list, just behind the small island of Bozcaada, Turkey. The Magic City earned its spot on the ranking largely due to Avondale’s revival, which earned a shout-out from the Times‘ Chaney Kwak for spurring popular establishments, including Saw’s Soul Kitchen, Post Office Pies and Saturn.

Birmingham can add the nod to its growing collection of national, and now global, accolades for its culinary scene, business community and tourist attractions. As we’ve reported, Birmingham has been named one of the nation’s top travel destinations, one of the hottest food cities in the U.S. and one of the best cities to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

For the complete Birmingham Business Journal article please see

 For The New York Times feature please see 

Princess Theater helping revitalize Decatur

From the article “Old theater helping revitalize north Alabama city” by Catherine Godbey in The Decatur Daily:

Sitting in the middle of the newly renovated theater lobby, Anne Scarbrough gazed through the wall of windows out to downtown Decatur. Eleven months ago, the Princess Theatre’s board of directors tasked Scarbrough — the first new executive director in 28 years — with revitalizing the historic performing arts center and, indirectly, a downtown area in transition.

Across the street from the Princess Theatre stands a new performance space and two vacant storefronts once belonging to restaurants. To the left are three eating spots opened in the past five years. And, behind the theater, appears the Cook’s Museum of Natural Science, scheduled to be complete next year.

“What people want the Princess to do, which is to bring people to downtown and make the city a success, is something no one organization can do. It will take all of us. It will take the Carnegie and the Alabama Center for the Arts and the Cook’s Museum all working together and strategizing to make that happen,” Scarbrough said.

Since taking leadership of the Princess Theatre, Scarbrough spearheaded the transformation of the lobby into a coffee bar, the creation of community conversations and the organization of a summer performance lab for youths. She opened the theater for race relations meetings, re-established conversations with performing arts groups, hosted Broadway musical sing-a-longs and reconvened the community board.

“Anne seems to have a great desire to get the Princess back in the community’s bloodstream. What she has done is create a space where people feel comfortable. It is not a forbidden place anymore, sitting down there all closed up,” said Carol Puckett, president of the Bank Street Players, a community theater troupe.

With a 130-year history that includes time as a livery stable, the building once was described as a financial strain on the City Council. People now speak of the Princess Theatre’s possibility and promise.

To cultivate that excitement, Scarbrough spent hundreds of hours researching the performing arts center, getting to know the facility and talking to people in Decatur about their hopes and dreams for the theater.

Many expressed a desire for more concerts. Others wanted films and lectures.

“I heard as many dreams for the Princess as people I talked with. Beneath it all, however, there was this unspoken vibe that what people want is to feel like they belong here and that the Princess is open for them,” Scarbrough said. “What I want is to make the community feel like the Princess is theirs. I see the Princess like the library, a place that is shared.”

People she talked with fell into two groups: the connected and the disconnected. In some cases, a painful past was part of the problem.

When Scarbrough visited northwest Decatur, a predominantly black neighborhood, residents met her vision with guarded optimism.

“Many of them remember not being able to come through the front door of the Princess. When that is the memory they have of this place, why would they feel like it is theirs? They really want to see if this will be a hospitable place for them, and I feel a big responsibility to make that happen,” Scarbrough said.

During the summer, the theater hosted meetings on race relations and community relationships. The Decatur-Morgan County Minority Development Association organized the meetings in the wake of national violence involving police.

“I believe the Princess has become more open to the community, hosting a lot of events at no cost and expanding its reach to all parts of the community,” said Julia Roth, chair of the Princess Theatre’s board of directors.

That reach extended with the coffee shop, opened in August, and the monthly community meetings called salons. The conversations addressed multi-generational poverty, cyberbullying and the impact of the arts on public health. The next Community with a Conscience salon, scheduled for January, will center on nonviolent communication.

Along with making the theater accessible to the community, Scarbrough rebuilt connections with the city’s performing arts group.

“Decatur went from a vibrant performing arts community in past decades to nothing. In its heyday, there were arts events happening all the time there. All of that went by the wayside when rental costs rose and we no longer had an affordable performance space,” Puckett said.

DreamWeavers, a drama group for children, Bank Street Players and Backstage Theatre Co. disbanded. The Decatur Civic Chorus moved performances to area churches.

When Bank Street Players reorganized in 2012 after seven idle years, the troupe’s leaders found other performance sites at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, the former Coffee & Playhouse on Moulton Street and high schools. The company scheduled one performance, “The King & I,” at the Princess Theatre.

“We had to scrimp and save and jump through hoops to do it, but we did it because we knew what it meant to stage a show at the Princess,” Puckett said.

This season, three of the company’s four productions — “Called” held last October, “Steel Magnolias” in April and “The Sound of Music” in July — will take place at the Princess Theatre.

“We feel welcome again,” Puckett said. “Bank Street Players and all our kids feel like the Princess stage is our home now. That’s what we were going for when we re-upped and that’s what we feel.”

For the complete article please see

Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association hosts social media seminar

The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) is hosting the first in a series of four free social media seminars at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.

The keynote speaker will be Alabama Tourism Department Digital Marketing Director JoJo Terry.  JoJo will be speaking on new trends in social media and their use in promoting upcoming bicentennial events. Connor Lowry with the Alabama Bicentennial Commission will join JoJo to provide more information on the state’s bicentennial celebration.

Contact AMLA Social Media Manager Melea Hames at for registration information.



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