Tourism Tuesdays January 3, 2017

Associated Press: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio named Alabama’s Attraction of the Year for 2017

Associated Press:  Alabama town expanding Harper Lee attractions

Arrangements for Peggy Collins

Grand Hotel in Point Clear undergoing $32 million transformation


Associated Press:  Muscle Shoals Sound Studio named Alabama’s Attraction of the Year for 2017

The Alabama Tourism Department named the newly restored Muscle Shoals Sound Studio as the attraction of the year for 2017.  The announcement was reported by the Associated Press and has been covered by media throughout the state and nationally.  The article has already appeared in Alabama newspapers, the Charlotte Observer, Norfolk Daily News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, the National Post, Yahoo News, ABC News and others.

From the Associated Press article “Alabama’s top tourist attraction 2017: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio” by Jay Reeves:

A fabled music studio where acts including the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan recorded hits hasn’t even reopened following an extensive renovation, yet it’s already being named Alabama’s No. 1 tourist stop of 2017.

The Alabama Tourism Department has selected Muscle Shoals Sound Studio as the state’s top attraction of the New Year.

Located in the northwestern Alabama town of Sheffield and once a sought-after recording location for some of the world’s best-known musical acts, the concrete-block building fell into disrepair years ago after being used for other things, including an appliance store. Inspired by the 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals,” officials from Beats Electronics provided nearly $1 million to renovate the studio.

With the work nearly done and the studio set to reopen Jan. 9 for tours and later as a nonprofit recording center, the tourism agency expects it to become a major draw for visitors. The main studio has been revamped with a 1970s feel that includes bright colors, retro chairs and a metal ashtray; the sign over the front door is once again bright blue.

Vintage recording equipment fills the production booth.

Tourists, many of whom saw the documentary, kept coming even while the studio was closed for renovation, and nearly half were from other countries.

“Muscle Shoals Sound is revered worldwide as one of the most influential and iconic studios,” said tourism director Lee Sentell. “The film introduced the Shoals’ musical heritage to a new generation of travelers.”

Judy Hood, chair of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation and the wife of one of the original studio owners, David Hood, said 2017 is “going to be an exciting year for Muscle Shoals music.” The foundation owns and will operate the studio.

Built around 1946, the building already is on the National Register of Historic Places. It opened as a studio in 1969 after a group of local musicians known as “The Swampers” — David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett — broke away from nearby FAME Recording Studios, another recording landmark.

During its heyday, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio drew the likes of Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Rolling Stones recorded “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” there for their “Sticky Fingers” album.

The studio also played host to Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, the Staple Singers, and others.

The small building became known widely as 3614 Jackson Highway after Cher titled the first album recorded at the studio in 1969 by its address. It was also featured in the Stones’ 1970 rockumentary “Gimme Shelter.”

The rapper and producer Dr. Dre founded Beats Electronics in 2006. Apple Inc. purchased the company in 2014.

For the complete article please see

Associated Press:  Alabama town expanding Harper Lee attractions

State tourism director Lee Sentell was interviewed recently by Jay Reeves with the Associated Press about the town of Monroeville’s expanding attractions based on the works of Harper Lee.  The article has already been featured by state and national media outlets including Conde Nast’ Traveler and ABC News.

From the Associated Press article “Alabama Town expanding Harper Lee attractions” by Jay Reeves:

Nearly a year after the death of Harper Lee, a group in south Alabama hopes to develop new attractions and bring more tourists to the novelist’s hometown of Monroeville, which helped inspire both “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set a Watchman.”

Working with Lee’s attorney Tonja Carter and others, local businessman and philanthropist George Landegger has purchased the 1909 bank building that housed the one-time office of Lee’s father A.C. Lee — who served as the model for attorney Atticus Finch in both books.

Organizers plan to renovate the 6,000-square-foot building and convert it into a museum in Monroeville, where Lee died in February 2016. Other attractions could be added later, including renovations of historic structures and reproductions of places mentioned in the books. A museum in the old county courthouse already prominently features Lee and author Truman Capote, childhood friend of Lee.

Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell, who has been involved with discussions about the project, answered questions about plans to spruce up Monroeville, which served as Lee’s model for fictional Macomb in both “Mockingbird,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and “Watchman,” which Lee actually wrote first but released decades later in 2015.


AP: Tell me about the old bank building; you’ve been in it. What does it look like?

Sentell: There’s been a drop ceiling put in probably since the days when Mr. A.C. Lee saw it, but you can see some nice trim and the old ceiling. It’s an empty building with very little furniture, but some built-in cases still exist. The most interesting feature is, since it was a bank, the vault with the large door still there. I think the intention is to certainly restore the vault because it was an important commercial building for the community beyond the connection to the Lee family.

AP: Once the building is restored what will it be?

Sentell: The intent is to have exhibits and artifacts related to Harper Lee and her career, (and it’s) to be determined as to what kind of additional exhibits. It would be a place where people, where pilgrims, could come and experience on a little more personal basis the character of Harper Lee beyond what they just now see in the courthouse museum.

AP: How would this fit into the overall Mockingbird-related tourism portion of Monroeville?

Sentell: George Landegger, who was associated with the business community of Monroeville for several decades, was a close friend of Harper Lee particularly late in her years. He wants to help the economy of the town by either restoring or recreating additional structures where visitors could get more of a sense of what the community looked like in decades past.

AP: Is the state going to dive in and help promote this?

Sentell: The state Tourism Department is enthusiastic about the prospects of Monroeville being a more robust destination because international visitors and other people who make the trek off the interstate to Monroeville want to experience and feel more about the town when Harper Lee lived there. It will be an easy sell.

For the complete article please see 

Arrangements for Peggy Collins

Peggy Collins who worked for the Alabama Tourism Department for more than 18 years passed away last Wednesday at UAB hospital in Birmingham. Peggy had worked as both a photo editor and as a regional director with the department.

The services for Peggy will be held on Saturday, Jan. 7 at:

Memorial Presbyterian Church

2130 Bell Rd.

Montgomery, AL 36117

Visitation 10 a.m.

Service 11 a.m.

Lunch Noon (Everyone is invited to stay and share stories)

The family requests that any memorials be made to:

Westminster Presbyterian Church

at Memorial Presbyterian Church

2130 Bell Rd.

Montgomery, AL 36117

(The congregations meet together, but have not yet formally merged – Peggy was a member of Westminster for about 40 years. If you have already sent one to Memorial, it will be moved to Westminster.)

Grand Hotel in Point Clear undergoing $32 million transformation

From the article by Michelle Matthews on

Standing inside a guest room that’s been completely stripped down to the cinder-block walls and concrete floor, Sam Sealy, wearing a hard hat, yells over the din of a jackhammer and the beep-beep-beep of heavy equipment going in reverse. Surrounded by ladders, wheelbarrows and hanging wires, he looks through the sliding-glass doors that provide a stunning glimpse through the branches of an oak tree dripping with Spanish moss to the fishing pier beyond, jutting into Mobile Bay.

“The only thing staying is the view,” said Sealy, the director of engineering for the Grand Hotel in Point Clear. Sealy has worked at the Grand since 1978. He knows it inside out. An never, during his tenure at the resort, has such a comprehensive renovation taken place as the one going on right now.

Though the actual construction work started only recently, the $32 million renovation and re-branding of the Grand has been a thoughtful process that started nearly three years ago. “It took a lot to get us to this point,” said Tony Davis, chief executive officer of PCH Hotels and Resorts – including an analysis of the past, present and future of the hotel. “For the next 12 to 18 months, we’ll be bringing the ideas to life.”By spring of 2018, every room at the award-winning, beloved Grand Hotel will have a new look, and the hotel will become part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, an elite group of only 100 independent-style properties worldwide. The Grand will be the second hotel in Alabama to join the Autograph Collection, along with the Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook.

Joining the Autograph Collection is a natural fit for the Grand, said Davis. “It’s the perfect niche since the Grand has its own personality,” he said of the hotel that has graced the same spot along Mobile Bay since 1847.

Just as so many employees, like Sealy, have spent years working at the Grand, guests have made the hotel a part of their lives as well. Year after year, they return, bringing their children and grandchildren along with them to participate in the rituals, such as afternoon tea and cookies, the firing of the cannon, riding bikes along the boardwalk south of the hotel, learning to sail in the shallow water, playing croquet and having drinks at Bucky’s Birdcage Lounge and Sunday brunch in the Grand Dining Room.

History and tradition are important parts of the hotel’s identity. “The hotel was built over generations,” said Davis. “That’s a challenge that we wanted to make into a strength.”

Though every building comprising the hotel will get a complete makeover, the Grand will maintain its character and charm, he said. “When guests who have been coming here for 60 years want the room they always stay in, we want to make sure they still have that room.”

Where now there are 23 different room types among the hotel’s 405 elegant and comfortable but somewhat dated guest rooms, after the renovation is complete the look will be streamlined into three basic room designs.

“We have listened to our guests and our ambassadors,” said Kevin Hellmich, the Grand’s director of sales and marketing, referring to the hotel’s longtime employees. Rooms with two double beds are being replaced by two queen-size beds, and those rooms will have a tub to accommodate the needs of families. King rooms will have walk-in showers with queen-size sleeper sofas.

‘We tried to think of everything’

Designed by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood architects, the renovation will take place on a building-by-building basis to minimize disruption to hotel guests. As work continues on the South Bay House building, where Sealy mentioned the view, the only outward sign that anything is happening inside is a green construction fence and locked doors. The building is scheduled to reopen on March 15.

On the second floor, in vivid contrast to the dust and debris of the demolition process in the hallway, a door with handwritten numbers taped to it opens to reveal one guest room that’s been completely renovated from ceiling to floor – the model for the other king rooms at the Grand. Warm, lush and inviting, the room features a bed with a low padded headboard topped by a large framed map of Mobile dated July 1863.

“You can see that the Grand Hotel was already on the map,” said Hellmich. The new look of the guest rooms is “simple and elegant, yet ties into the hotel’s history,” he said.

The room also has a sectional sofa that folds out into a queen-size bed, a desk and chair, an armoire that will hold the mini-refrigerator, stylish lamps, a flat-screen TV and modern necessities like charging stations on both sides of the bed as well as near the desk and sofa – “all the comforts of home,” said Scott Tripoli, who was named general manager of the Grand Hotel in March of 2016.

The bathroom is tucked behind a sliding barn-style door. Artwork by Alabama artist Nall incorporates the monarch butterflies that famously visit the Grand each fall, along with a nod to the resort’s golfing tradition.

“We tried to think of everything,” said Davis. “This is our main room type.”

On the opposite end of the property, the Marina House building is also currently undergoing renovation. Later this month, the North Bay House building will close, followed by the 126-room Spa building in the fall and the Main Historic building next fall and winter.

The 54 rooms in the Main building will be “the piece de resistance,” said Davis, with iron-post beds, hardwood floors and paneling.

A steel magnolia

The 37,000-square-foot conference center will also be renovated to give it a cleaner, more upscale look. Standing in the Grand Ballroom, Davis recalls what it looked like right after Katrina hit in 2005. A wall had been blown open and the room was “full of logs, the mud was six inches deep,” he said.

The fishing pier had washed into the building, with part of it against the wall of the ballroom and part of it in the foyer. A buoy was in the swimming pool. The Grand was closed for 16 months for repairs.

Noting that the hotel has been called “the queen of Southern resorts,” Davis said, the Grand truly is like a steel magnolia, standing through fire and war and hurricanes. “Coming back from storms is the personification of the Grand,” he said. “This place shouldn’t be here. It has survived so much devastation to come back every time. It has incredible fortitude.”

Golfers have already noticed some changes under longtime golf director Niall Fraser, who helped Robert Trent Jones design his signature courses around the world for 20 years before deciding to settle in Point Clear. In October, Fraser opened The Grand Golf Experience, a new practice facility that provides an alternative to a traditional round of golf.

“We wanted to make a place where you can hit balls, relax and have a drink and feel like you had a day of golf,” he said. “The idea is to make golf more fun.” The Experience offers family-oriented activities, USB ports in the golf carts, Wi-Fi in the range house and a more relaxed dress code – all designed to get more players outside on the golf course.

At the hotel, the management team is also considering updating the public spaces and outdoor spaces, with tentative plans to add a “tree trail” spotlighting some of the Grand’s historic live oaks, but always keeping in mind what the hotel means to guests as well as neighbors.

“This is a stewardship we all have,” said Davis.

During the transformation, “Everything will be touched, reviewed and looked at,” he said. “This is really an exciting time for the Grand.”

For the complete article please see





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