Tourism Tuesdays May 23, 2017

  • Tourism industry legislation
  • Amusement park momentum builds following Wahlburgers reveal, with ‘many’ others coming
  • Kiefer Sutherland cuts track at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios
  • Muscle Shoals Sound Studio extends hours and adds Sundays
  • Alabama’s Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q named Grand Champion in Memphis
  • Kiwanis Club breaks ground at Vulcan for new Centennial Park
  • Whistle blower and advocate for Syphilis Study talk about their roles at Apology anniversary
  • Memorial Day weekend celebrations across Alabama
  • Alabama Scenic Byways hosts summer workshop on June 27-28 in Montgomery
  • Welcome Center tourism and travel week celebrations
  • Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events deadline is June 30
  • “Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Tourism industry legislation

Alabama lawmakers ended the 2017 legislative session on Friday. Here’s a look at some of the proposals affecting the tourism industry that passed and failed this year.


House Bill 353: The “Brunch Bill.”  This bill will allow any county or municipality that currently has Sunday alcohol sales to begin selling alcohol after 10 on Sunday mornings instead of noon, if the area’s county commission or city council approve the earlier sales.  If a local area has already voted by referendum for a specific time this legislation would not apply. The bill has passed and has been forwarded to the governor for her signature.
House Bill 550: In-State Travel Expenses Bill. This allows reimbursement of actual expenses for state employees and others traveling in service of the state to an in-state conference, convention, or seminar instead of just the daily per diem rate. This legislation does not affect routine overnight travel of state employees. This is to encourage state departments, institutions, boards, bureaus, commissions, counsels, committees, or other agencies to host their annual conventions and conferences in Alabama rather than going outside the state.  The bill has passed and has been forwarded to the governor for her signature.

Senate Bill 60: Memorial Preservation Act. This bill would prohibit the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming or other disturbances of monuments on public property that have been in place for 40 years or more. Any monument less than 40 years old and more than 20 years must go before a panel before any relocation, removal, alteration, renaming or other disturbance of any architecturally significant building may occur. The bill has passed and has been forwarded to the governor for her signature.

House Bill 345:  Historic State Tax Credit Bill.  This bill establishes a new income tax credit for rehabilitation, preservation, or development of certified historic structures, beginning in 2018 and running through 2022.  This bill allows for a maximum of $20 million per year of tax credits. The bill has passed and has been forwarded to the governor for her signature.

Senate Bill 395:  This bill would have removed the lodging tax charges on meeting spaces or any other rooms not intended for overnight sleeping in hotels. The bill failed to pass the House of Representatives.

Amusement park momentum builds following Wahlburgers reveal, with ‘many’ others coming
From the article by John Sharp on

With the announcement last week of its first “major tenant,” the Poarch Band of Creek Indians took a big step forward toward opening its heralded OWA entertainment complex in mid-July.

The news conference officially introduced Wahlburgers, an upscale burger restaurant linked to celebrity brothers Donnie and Mark Wahlberg.

And Wednesday’s announcement is just the first in what the tribe says will be a series of unveilings that will occur on a regular pattern through the early summer.

“The momentum is picking up,” said Greg Rawls, director of business development for the OWA/Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority.

“The vision … is coming to fruition,” said Stephanie Bryan, Tribal Chair and CEO of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

OWA covers a vast expanse: 520 acres in Foley, next to the Foley Beach Express.

The tribe has been planning the development for the past three years, Bryan said, and is looking to take advantage of the record-breaking tourism on Alabama’s beaches a mere nine miles away.

The OWA tract has been inundated with construction crews in recent months. A concrete opening date for OWA’s amusement park is expected soon.

The highlight of the park, called “The Park at OWA,” is the Rollin’ Thunder roller coaster, which is starting to rise within the complex and becoming more visible from the Foley Beach Express.

“That will be fully assembled in the first of June and testing and certification (will occur) in July,” said Rawls, adding that more details on the roller coast, and the entire 21-ride park, will be released this week.

Hiring is under way as OWA plans to add 400 seasonal workers. The application process is still open, and interested people can apply on the website.

Ray Schaefer, president/architect with his Orlando-based firm, is overseeing the design of the tenant establishments within an area that is inspired by “classic Southern towns.”

He said the entire development represents a “great opportunity” for “the entire Gulf Coast of the United States.” He said, “The response has been amazing.”

The introduction of Wahlburgers also adds a bit of star-power. The restaurant, which is part of a 16-eatery chain in the U.S. and Canada, was founded in 2011 by chef Paul Wahlberg in partnership with his famous brothers – singer Donnie, of New Kids on the Block fame, and movie actor, Mark.

Neither of the famous brothers was in Foley on Wednesday. Donnie Wahlberg is performing with the band, whose tour is in Nashville. Mark Wahlberg, who will star in a summer blockbuster, “Transformers: The Last Knight,” was hosting a charity event in Boston.

The restaurant’s CEO, Rick Vanzura, made no promises that the brothers would be in Foley for the Wahlbergers roll out in August. It will be the first Wahlburgers to open in Alabama, with a second anticipated to open in Huntsville in early 2018.

The Foley Wahlburgers is expected to be one of the chain’s largest at 7,200 square feet, and with 280-300 seats. By comparison, a Wahlburgers located at Coney Island in New York is 6,800 square feet.

“Certainly the name helps people get into the door,” said Vanzura. “The way we are ultimately successful is that we have guests who want to return again and again.”

OWA/Creek Indian Enterprises anticipates the restaurant – along with six others boasting “national” name recognition – will help keep crowds coming to OWA.

In addition to Wahlburgers, five other smaller tenants were announced last week: Sunglass World, Hershey’s Ice Cream Shop, Fairhope Soap Company, Utopia and Alvin’s Island.

Admission prices have yet to be set for The Park at OWA. There will be no cost to enter the shopping and dining area where Wahlburgers will be located.

“We want the guests to spend four to five hours here and at other entertainment options on the other end,” Rawls said.

He added, “The philosophy of what we have here to portray to our guests is ‘experiential retail.’ It’s more about the tourists and guests and experiencing and relaxing in the Gulf Coast area.”

For the complete article please see

Kiefer Sutherland cuts track at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios
From the article by Robert Palmer in the Times Daily:

The timeless allure of the funky Muscle Shoals sound was working its magic last week on Kiefer Sutherland, who was in the Shoals area for a gig at the Singin’ River Brewing Co.

“If you’re into something, like auto racing, you go to the Indy 500,” Sutherland said in the basement of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. “If you’re into music, this is an absolutely necessary destination.”

The actor and musician is on tour with his band. When he realized the legendary recording studio was just 10 minutes away from the location of his show, he said he scheduled a quick recording session.

Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitarist Will MacFarlane, and drummer Milton Sledge were on the session for Sutherland’s song “Rebel Wind,” which will appear on his next album.

Sutherland is one of the most recognizable actors on TV. His Fox series “24” reaped numerous awards, and was one of the most highly rated shows during its 2001-2010 run.

His movie credits include “Stand By Me,” “The Lost Boys,” “Young Guns,” “A Time to Kill,” and “Forsaken.”
“I’ll treasure this all my life,” Sutherland said of the recording session.

Sutherland is touring with his band to support his most recent album “Down In A Hole.”

For the complete article please see

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio extends hours and adds Sundays
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield has extended its hours of operation and added Sundays for tours and merchandise sales. The studio will be opened seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with guided tours being offered on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. beginning May 28.

The tour price is $12 per person. Groups of 20 or more are discounted at $10 per person. Customized experiences are possible based upon availability for groups and businesses.

The studio was named Alabama’s Attraction of the Year for 2017 and has seen a steady stream of music lovers from around the globe since opening for tours on Jan. 9.  Muscle Shoals Music Foundation Chairwoman Judy Hood says the studio has far exceeded expectations in the number of music lovers who have toured it. “We are delighted that the demand is high for our studio tours. It is thrilling to watch people from all over the world experience the magic of the music that came out of the studio. We are pleased that the response has exceeded our expectations.”

Muscle Shoals Sound operated as a full-time recording studio from 1969-1978 by Swampers David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins.  The studio was restored to the 1970 look and feel after Dr. Dre of Beats Electronics watched the documentary, “Muscle Shoals” and decided to award his first, “Sustain the Sound” to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

For more information please see

Alabama’s Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q named Grand Champion in Memphis
From the article by Lucy Berry on

One of Alabama’s most revered restaurants took home another accolade this past weekend.

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q was named Grand Champion for the fifth time on Saturday at the 2017 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis. The eatery previously won the award in 2000, 2003, 2011 and 2014.

Big Bob Gibson, which made USA Today’s list of the 10 Best Southern Barbecue Spots and was Thrillist’s most iconic restaurant in Alabama, has locations on 1715 Sixth Ave S.E. and 2520 Danville Road S.W. in Decatur. The business was founded in 1925

In addition to the Grand Champion award, Big Bob Gibson also won first place barbecue shoulder and third place vinegar.

For the complete article please see

Kiwanis Club breaks ground at Vulcan for new Centennial Park
From the article by Jesse Chambers in Iron City Ink:

The Kiwanis Club of Birmingham celebrated its 100th anniversary by hosting a late-afternoon groundbreaking at Vulcan Park and Museum on Friday, May 19, to mark the beginning of construction for the $4.66 million Kiwanis Centennial Park.

About 75 to 100 people – including club members, local politicians and other dignitaries – braved the summer-like heat and late afternoon sun to attend the event, held on the north side of the statue facing the city skyline.

The new park, referred to as the club’s Centennial Project, will involve substantial improvements to the long-neglected north side of Vulcan, as well as a new two-mile walking trail connecting the park to Green Springs Highway.

December 2017 is the estimated completion date, according to a Kiwanis news release.

Vulcan Park and Museum and Freshwater Land Trust are the club’s project partners.

The Kiwanis Club and its partners seek “to reconnect Vulcan to downtown Birmingham,” said club president Tom Thagard.

The club – which led the way in creating Vulcan Park in the 1930s – announced in November 2016 that the project will have three major components.

The first phase will include improvements to the north side of Vulcan Park, which the club said to be in disrepair. Work will include landscaping, renovation of the lower piazza entrance and the building of steps for walking access.

A jogging and bike trail will be the second component.

A third component will be a multi-colored light show, designed by internationally known lighting-design firm Schuler Shook, to be projected onto Vulcan each night to enhance the image of the city’s icon.

One purpose of the improvements is to “project Vulcan nationally and internationally as the symbol of Birmingham,” Thagard said.

Darlene Negrotto, president and CEO of Vulcan Park and Museum, said that the old pedestrian access to Vulcan that formerly existed on the north side of the statue was taken away during a renovation of the park in the 1960s, leaving only vehicle access off Valley Avenue.

“Now we reconnect Birmingham to the city, both physically and visibly,” she said.

Libba Vaughan, executive director of Freshwater Land Trust, said that she “can’t wait” to see Vulcan lit up or to see people using the new trail.

She said the two-mile piece of trail between Vulcan Park and Green Springs Highway will serve as a “key connector” and the “central backbone” of the new 750-mile Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System.

Birmingham city council members Jay Roberson and Valerie Abbott were among the attendees at the event, and Thagard credited Abbott with years of work to help create a full-length Vulcan Trail.

“Valerie has been working on this for about 25 years,” Thagard said. “She was the original inspiration for this.”

Abbott, during her remarks, wished the Kiwanis Club a “happy birthday” and called the groundbreaking “a big day for Birmingham.”

“I don’t know of anybody who’s been to Birmingham who doesn’t know that Vulcan is the symbol of our city,” she said.

For the complete article please see

Whistle blower and advocate for Syphilis Study talk about their roles at Apology anniversary
From the article by Jacquelyn Carlisle in The Tuskegee News:

Forty-five years after the end of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study new information on the study is still coming forward.

During on a special program on Tuesday, May 16, which marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center (now Tuskegee History Center) and the 20th anniversary of the formal apology issued by President Bill Clinton for the government- sponsored infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, more information was revealed.

The special program, “Conversations on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” featured two special speakers: retired United States Public Health Service investigator Peter Buxtun, the whistleblower whose actions resulted in the research project finally coming to an end; and retired CDC (Centers for Disease Control) manager Dr. William “Bill” Jenkins, who supervised the patient health benefits program for the men of the Study and their relatives.

During the conversation with Buxtun, he proclaimed that no one involved in the conducting of the Study was persecuted.

“One of the doctors involved was not that bright,” Buxtun stated. “He presented all of his works to Emory Medical School and later acknowledged his ties to the Study. He did not take any of the blame and placed it on the men of the Study. After that, he was shamed and punished by the community, but not persecuted.”

Buxtun also expressed how many during that time felt that for the good of science that the Study should continued.

He also told of how he never received letters from the Director of the CDC about his protest, although they were written.

“After turning in the protest letters about the Study, once I found out about it, many of the doctors did not want to end the Study because of all the information they were receiving. I was not informed of a lot of information because letters for me were never mailed. I saw the letters years later.”

Twenty years ago by Herman Shaw, an unwitting participant in the government sponsored program of “The Study of the Effects of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” introduced President Clinton at the White House on May 16, 1997 as part of the Apology program. Shaw asked for a permanent memorial in the honor of the participants — and the Center was established as the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center.

Now known as the Tuskegee History Center, it has an interactive exhibit devoted to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study — as well as exhibits on the history of Tuskegee and Macon County.

“I have to admit that Mr. Shaw, who was 92 at the time, was the better speaker on that day,” Buxtun stated. “He was so eloquent with his words and it came straight from his heart. He had only a few notes.”

Since 2017 is the 20th Anniversary of the Apology, several other organizations held commemorations. They are Voices for Our Fathers Legacy Foundation, Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, and the Shiloh Community Restoration Foundation.

The May 16 event also recognized the Center’s presence in the community for the past two decades and heightened awareness of its importance as an educational and cultural tourism resource in Tuskegee, Macon County and the state of Alabama.

“There is no other place in the State where — if one look up historical places in a community, nearly every building will be listed like it is in Tuskegee,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department stated.

“Tuskegee has played an important role in the history of the State and we are just honored to do what we can to help in bring others to see the legacy.”

The Center is embarking on a new history preservation project — identifying the men in the photographs of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study files housed at the National Archives in Morrow, Ga.

According to Deborah Gray, managing director of the Tuskegee History Center, the men in the study were known to the people of the community as fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, uncles, nephews and cousins.

“The Center wants to learn the names of the men in the photographs who lived and worked in the community as local residents and citizens,” she stated.

Citizens are encouraged to come by the Center and see pictures of the men on the wall to help identify them.

For the complete article please see

Memorial Day weekend celebrations across Alabama
Family fun and live entertainment highlight Memorial Day weekend celebrations across Alabama.  Events include everything from one of the Southeast’s largest hot air balloon festivals in Decatur to an outdoor symphony concert in Montgomery.

Other celebrations include the Smith Lake Park Memorial Day Festival in Cullman, Bluegrass on the Plains in Auburn, the LuLu Palooza music event in Gulf Shores and Art on the Lake in Eclectic. Special Memorial Day tributes are planned at the American Village in Montevallo and at Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following Memorial Day weekend events.  For a complete calendar of events listing see

Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival- Decatur
May 27-28 at Point Mallard Park.  This festival is one of the largest free hot-air balloon gatherings in the Southeast, featuring more than 60 balloons with races, key grab, tether rides and a balloon glow.  Free admission.

Smith Lake Park Memorial Day Festival- Cullman 
May 27 at Smith Lake Park.  Live entertainment, arts & crafts and food vendors are part of this annual event on the lake.  Free admission.

Coalfest- Brilliant
May 26-27 in Brilliant.  Live bands, food, arts & crafts, and children’s activities at this annual festival.   Free Admission.

Memorial Day at the American Village- Montevallo 
May 29 at the American Village. Events include musical tributes, historical reenactments, wreath-laying ceremonies and special tours. Visitors can experience the National Veterans Shrine and Register of Honor.  Free admission.

Montgomery Symphony Jubilee Pops Concert- Montgomery 
May 26 on the lawn of the Alabama Archives and History Building across from the Alabama State Capitol in downtown Montgomery. Picnic baskets, coolers, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome at this outdoor concert.  Free Admission.

Art on the Lake- Eclectic 
May 27-28 at Children’s Harbor on Lake Martin.  More than 40 artists from across the Southeast will be on hand to display and sell their artwork.  Canvas art, pottery, jewelry, rock work and  Free Admission.

Bluegrass On The Plains- Auburn
May 29-June 4 at the University Station RV Resort in Auburn. This annual festival includes all-star bluegrass bands, arts & crafts and horse rides.  Admission charged.

100 days of Summer Kickoff- Orange Beach
May 26 at The Wharf in Orange Beach.  The Wharf celebrates the start of summer with a concert by country star Blaire Hanks, live entertainment, rides, and the 4th annual Pepsi Beach Ball Drop. This year 5,000 beach balls will be released at the ball drop.  Free Admission.

LuLu Palooza- Gulf Shores
May 27 at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores.  Live music all day on the outdoor boat stage.  Free Admission.

Memorial Day Tribute- Gulf Shores
May 27 at Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores.  Historical interpreters dressed in U.S. Army uniforms from different eras will conduct special guided tours and give demonstrations throughout the day.  Artillery, small arms and other presentations will give visitors a glimpse of what military life was like at Fort Morgan through history.  Admission Charged.

Alabama Scenic Byways hosts summer workshop on June 27-28 in Montgomery
The Alabama Scenic Byways Program in partnership with the Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils will present a summer workshop on June 27-28 at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center.  The theme of the workshop will be “Using Your Historical Assets: Making the Places and Stories Along Your Byway Stronger” and will include discussions on resources, tax credits and building history-based itineraries.

This free workshop is open to 50 participants with 25 scholarships available for assistance with hotel room expenses.

Registration information is available at

Welcome Center tourism and travel week celebrations
The eight state welcome centers will celebrate National Tourism and Travel Week on different dates during the month of May to give tourism industry partners the opportunity to attend several of the events.  The goal of the events is to help kickoff the vacation season and show appreciation to guests stopping at the centers by offering special promotions to local attractions, hotels and restaurants.

The welcome centers and days of the remaining celebrations are: Cleburne Welcome Center- May 24, DeKalb Welcome Center- May 25, and the Grand Bay Welcome Center- May 26.  Each celebration will take place from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on the date scheduled.

Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events deadline is June 30
The deadline for submitting items for the printed version of the Alabama Tourism Vacation Guide and Calendar of Events is June 30.  Use the Alabama Tourism industry partners website at to enter and manage events/attractions in the database. If you need assistance please contact Pam Smith at 334-353-4541 or email at

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
It is time to start updating events for 2018. If you have a 2017 event that will reoccur in 2018, you can “duplicate” it in your partner account. By clicking “duplicate” you will be able to alter dates and details without having to redo the entire listing.

Need to touch up your partner account? Go to today.


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