Tourism Tuesdays June 20, 2017

New York City celebrates “Sweet Home Alabama”

The New York Times: 36 Hours in Birmingham

San Francisco Chronicle: One Day, One Place- Tasty bite of Deep South in Birmingham

Southern Living: Some of the best gulf beaches are in Alabama

Oprah Winfrey’s magazine highlights City Cafe and Wintzell’s Oyster House

Toronto Star: Musical roots run deep in Muscle Shoals

Finley Center opens in Hoover

Sports tourism on the rise in Morgan County

Teachers to participate in astronaut training program at U.S. Space & Rocket Center

U.S. Space & Rocket Center welcomes new leader

Alabama beer used to lure investments and tourism dollars

College Chefs hiring classically trained chefs in the Tuscaloosa area

State tourism award nominations deadline is Friday

Alabama Gulf Seafood Summit is June 26-27 in Orange Beach

Alabama Scenic Byways summer workshop is June 27-28 in Montgomery

ALABAMA 200 bicentennial workshop is June 29 in Robertsdale

Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events deadline is June 30

Alabama Makers Market is July 27 in Montgomery

Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 19-22 in Birmingham

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


New York City celebrates “Sweet Home Alabama” 
The Alabama Tourism Department introduced a little bit of Alabama to the streets of New York City last week, where they showed locals and tourists why Alabama is a perfect vacation destination. Over a three-day period, celebrations and pop-up events were placed throughout the city.

“These takeovers are just the start of a conversation for those who celebrated, hiked and took photos with us,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department. “Our state offers an amazing array of activities, and we brought Alabama to the forefront as a top travel destination.”

The week began with a launch party at Three’s Brewing in Brooklyn, where guests sampled a variety of Alabama craft beer, Alabama food and a 360-photo booth with scenes taken from locations around the state. Chef Kyle Knall of Maysville, who had previously worked under Birmingham restaurateur and chef Frank Stitt, prepared the menu with ingredients from Alabama.

Those in Times Square experienced a Mobile Mardi Gras in June. Costumed revelers threw out beads and MoonPies, while the Jambalaya Brass Band played music. The pièce de résistance was an actual Mardi Gras parade float, semi-completed in a warehouse in the Bronx, whose construction was completed in Times Square, followed by the Mobile Mardi Gras pop-up parade.

The week wrapped up with a mountain exhibit built in the middle of Flat Iron Pedestrian Plaza, where passersby were invited to “hike” to the top and see the famous Little River Canyon with a virtual reality headset. Climbers received a souvenir digital photo of their “visit” to save and share.

Earlier in June, the Alabama Tourism Department responded to comments made by Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knicks, regarding star player Carmelo Anthony being better off playing “somewhere else.” On a large, hand-painted wallscape facing the home of the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the tourism department decided to give Anthony a supportive message. The wallscape features a scene from Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne, Alabama.

The New York City events are a complement to the award-winning “Take It All In” campaign, aimed at educating potential tourists about what truly makes the state a place you can take in all the sights, sounds, smells, flavors and sensations. For the first time this year, the activations featured an online component, where viewers can watch 360 videos of Mardi Gras, Little River Canyon and Alabama craft brewery Cahaba Brewing. Visit to learn more.

For articles with photos and videos of the events please see and


The New York Times: 36 Hours in Birmingham
From the article by Chaney Kwak in The New York Times:

This quintessential Southern city with a complex past is ready to surprise you.

Founded in 1871 at the junction of railroad lines, Alabama’s largest city is used to moving forward. Part stone-ground grits and part steely grit, Birmingham flourished so quickly that it earned the name “Magic City” during the heyday of its iron trade. But this melting pot has also been a pressure cooker of racial tensions, overshadowed by a violent history of segregation and brutality against African-Americans. Today, as you retrace the steps of demonstrators who changed the course of American history on the Civil Rights Heritage Trail, you’ll find a city experiencing an electrifying revival. Creative entrepreneurs are returning home, airy lofts breathe new life into downtown and Southern cooking gets global makeovers. Home of the nation’s first bike-share program that incorporates electric pedal-assisted bikes, Birmingham is ready to surprise you.

1) 4 p.m. Artsy Souvenir
A cluster of eclectic merchants enlivens Forest Park, a stately neighborhood of early-20th-century homes. The vibrant gift shop Naked Art champions local artisans by stocking objects like hand-thrown pottery and delicate watercolors of local landmarks. The gallery also features prints by the owner, Véronique Vanblaere, who was so enchanted by the city during her high school exchange year that she relocated from Belgium in 1996. On the third Friday of each month, the shop teams up with nearby businesses like the consignment store Zoe’s in Forest Park and the bistro Little Savannah for the offbeat Tour de Loo, which invites guests to visit bathrooms transformed by artists into installations that often stay up for a month.

2) 6 p.m. Grub Street
Avondale, which used to be an unremarkable district of automotive parts shops and service stations, is now a walkable enclave chockablock with well-regarded restaurants concentrated around 41st Street. Returning home after stints at Per Se and Momofuku Ssäm Bar, John Hall runs the wood-fired pizzeria Post Office Pies. For a more local flavor, try the excellent fried chicken that is brined in sweet tea and cooked to a succulent and crunchy perfection ($7.69) at Saw’s Soul Kitchen.

3) 8 p.m. Universal Appeal
By day Saturn is a mellow hangout of freelancers and graduate students typing away to a soundtrack that swings from Buddy Holly to the Pixies. In the evening, its vintage arcade games and space-age mod décor attract revelers who congregate for a varied roster of performances. On a given night you may catch a concert by an indie rock band, a vaudeville show by a local burlesque troupe or a raucous game of bingo led by a foul-mouthed host commandeering a restored 1960s board.

4) 9 a.m. Market Meal
Over a hundred farm stands, food stalls and craft sellers sprout each Saturday morning from April to December at the popular Market at Pepper Place in the parking lot of a handsome brick complex that used to house a Dr Pepper factory. Graze for blackberries, buttery poundcake (made with a recipe by a matriarch named Big Mama) and sheep’s milk dulce de leche. For a sit-down meal, head to OvenBird, whose cast iron hearth sends out Spanish-meets-Southern dishes like fried chicken with chorizo ($13) and a pork belly B.L.T. with piparra chile ($15).

5) 11 a.m. On a Roll
Check out a flashy green Zyp bicycle from a bike-share kiosk next to Pepper Place ($6 for unlimited rides of up to 45 minutes each within a 24-hour period).  Then explore the expansive grounds of Sloss Furnaces, which manufactured pig iron from 1882 for nearly a century.  Now a National Historic Landmark building with a ruddy patina, this interpretive museum is not only a site for concerts and metal forging classes, but also a symbol of the city’s industrial foundation and green evolution.

6) 11:45 a.m. Rail to Trail
A pleasant 1.5-mile ride, which includes zipping down an abandoned railroad reborn in 2016 as the Rotary Trail, will lead you to Railroad Park.  This 19-acre green lung, molded largely with materials reclaimed from the site where warehouses once occumpied the heart of the city, has become a communal garden with ponds, streams, hills and a skate park.  Dock your bike and join the joggers and stroller-pushers on the three-quarter-mile loop path to admire the skyline.
7) 12:30 p.m. Out of the Park
The intimate (and free) Negro Southern League Museum views baseball through a distinctively local lens. As you browse the memorabilia, interactive displays and uniforms of players like the pitcher Satchel Paige, you’ll learn not only about how the sport has evolved, but also about how the United States changed in the 20th century, causing the league to rise and fall.

8) 1:30 p.m. Global Aspirations
Once deserted after business hours, downtown has made a dazzling comeback in the last decade, with lofts occupying historic buildings along First and Second Avenues North. Catering to the young professionals who flock here, the Pizitz Food Hall opened in February with globally minded dining spots like Eli’s Jerusalem Grill, which pairs a shawarma pocket ($7.79) with sweet tea, and Lichita’s, which scoops out Mexican-style (eggless) ice cream made with local fruits, all centered on a bar serving milkshakes and cocktails. Drop by Yellowhammer Creative, brimming with covetable dish towels, retro-style posters and T-shirts reading “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham.”

9) 3 p.m. ‘Yearning for Freedom’
Designated a national monument by President Barack Obama during his last days in office, the Birmingham Civil Rights District consists of sites like the A. G. Gaston Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met with activists, and the 16th Street Baptist Church, where a 1963 bombing killed four girls and injured many other congregants. Today the Romanesque church remains a thriving place of worship that testifies to the community’s resilience. Tour the adjacent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute  ($15), which chronicles African-Americans’ continuing struggles through photographs, multimedia and objects like the bars of the cell where Dr. King wrote the “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” At the eerily quiet Kelly Ingram Park across the street are a number of sculptures, including a police dog lunging at a boy and three pastors kneeling in prayer.

10) 7 p.m. Points Well Taken
Spend your Saturday evening in Five Points South, where the idyllic neighborhood of Highland Park collides with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The dynamic neighborhood is home to convivial gastro pubs as well as James Beard winners like Frank Stitt, who runs two French-accented restaurants, Highlands Bar & Grill and Chez Fonfon, side by side, and Chris and Idie Hastings, whose Hot and Hot Fish Club serves plates like rabbit roulade with crawfish and rice grits ($36). Afterward, sip a dessertlike martini at the intimate Blue Monkey Lounge or rock out with the town’s good-hearted revelers to live music at Marty’s PM, which stays open until 6 a.m.

11) 10 a.m. Treks With Tales
Red Mountain, a ridge named for its rust-colored hematite ores, was once the force behind Birmingham’s prosperity. Until the 1,500-acre grounds opened as the nonprofit Red Mountain Park in 2011, the ridge lay untouched after mining ceased in 1962. Today you can explore its 15-mile trail system that threads together panoramic views, tree houses and former mines. To enrich your hike, download the free TravelStoryGPS app to listen to former miners, park rangers and other interviewees share stories about life in Alabama’s Appalachia region. When you reach the trail’s northeastern terminus at Grace’s Gap Overlook, the Magic City’s silhouette will rise in the distance like an illusion.

12) 1 p.m. Next Act
Get a preview of what’s to come in Birmingham with a stop in the Woodlawn neighborhood. The close-knit community is experiencing a resurgence led by businesses like the concept store Open Shop and the clothing and home accessory supplier Club Duquette popping up alongside recording studios and an old-time barbershop. Before leaving for the airport just two miles north, fortify yourself at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe with a cold brew, an oxtail empanada and a buttery brioche stuffed with bacon and Harvest Roots kimchi, made in Alabama.

The 14-story Redmont Hotel completed its $20 million renovation in 2016. The oldest continuously operating hotel in Alabama, the 1925 downtown landmark offers 120 smart guest rooms in calm shades of gray, blue and white, as well as a rooftop bar with a bird’s-eye view over the city. Rooms from $129;

A dainty 1890s Victorian filled with porcelain and lace, Cobb Lane Bed and Breakfast has eight rooms and a breezy front porch in Five Points. Rooms from $99;

For the complete article please see

San Francisco Chronicle: One Day, One Place- Tasty bite of Deep South in Birmingham
From the article by Larry Bleiberg in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Birmingham takes mealtime seriously.

The former steel town’s restaurants have won national acclaim, winning James Beard Awards and profiles in food magazines. The city pioneered New Southern cuisine, a modern take on traditional ingredients and flavors that has spread across the region like kudzu.

While there are plenty of other reasons to visit — last month the city dedicated a National Park Service civil rights monument — it’s easy to plan a day just devoted to food.

Wherever you go, try to chat up the folks around you. You’re in the South, and the normal do-not-talk-to-strangers rules do not apply. Conversations may be as memorable as your entree, and that’s saying a lot.

The historic downtown Tutwiler Hotel puts you within a few miles of all your meals. Start your dining adventure a few blocks away at the city’s newest culinary gem, the Pizitz Food Hall, a 1923 flagship department store building shuttered for decades and reopened just a few months ago. The developers relied on a pair of local food bloggers to select its dining spots, so order without fear. Locals are abuzz about Ghion Cultural Hall, the state’s first Ethiopian restaurant, but you’ll want to try Alabama Biscuit Co., which uses locally sourced sprouted spelt flour. Toppings range from almond butter to farm eggs to goat cheese.

Aim your visit for a Saturday, so you can explore the Market at Pepper Place, where the city comes out every weekend to shop, people-watch and graze. The former Dr Pepper bottling plant schedules open-air culinary demonstrations from local and visiting celebrity chefs.

Slip away from the couples and stroller-pushing families and seek out vendors such as Petals From the Past, which sells heirloom fruit, like pears, persimmons, apples and muscadines. Then mosey over to Dayspring Dairy, specializing in sheep’s milk cheeses. You’ll want to pick up a jar of bourbon caramel dulce de leche spread as a gift.

But above all, leave room for pie. The rural storefront Pie Lab sets up temporary shop here every week, and always sells out. There are no wrong choices from this James Beard Award winner, but it’s hard to turn down a slice of coconut chess.

OK, that was a lot of calories. It’s time to head to the bike-share rack and grab a Zyp bike to pedal to Avondale. (It’s just a mile, but every bit helps.) The commercial district, centered on 41st Street South, is Alabama’s answer to Brooklyn, but with more sweet tea and less attitude.

You’re heading to Saw’s Soul Kitchen, a barbecue purveyor famous for “Pork n’ Greens,” a symphony of collard greens and pulled meat over cheese grits, topped with fried onion strings. (Believe it or not, Saw’s co-owner once worked for locally based Cooking Light magazine.) Or order a smoked chicken sandwich slathered with white sauce.

The spicy mayonnaise-based condiment is the state’s contribution to national barbecue culture. Get it to go, and head next door to Avondale Brewery’s beer garden, where you can wash it down with a pint of Vanillaphant porter, named for Miss Fancy, a beer-swilling elephant who once lived at the Birmingham Zoo.

This will take some planning. You made reservations weeks ago, right? Your goal is Highlands Bar and Grill, the city’s culinary granddaddy. It has been nominated nine times for the James Beard most outstanding restaurant award.

And earlier this month, it once again lost. Maybe 10 will be the charm.

The owner, Alabama native Frank Stitts, started his career at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, then worked in Provence before opening shop here in 1982. He made his name with the then-radical idea of using refined European cooking techniques to prepare down-home cuisine, calling his stone-ground baked grits Southern polenta, and offering entrees like beef cheeks and dumplings, and squab with grits and red-eye gravy. Today his influence radiates across the city, with former line chefs and waiters opening their own dining spots and food trucks.

If you can’t snag a seat at Highlands, try Hot and Hot Fish Club, run by Stitts protege Chris Hastings. Back in 2012, he shared the front page of the Birmingham News with Alabama native Octavia Spencer. The night before, she had won an Oscar for “The Help,” and he had beaten the Iron Chef. If it’s in season, you must order the tomato salad, a tower of thick beefsteak slices tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and layered with field peas, corn and okra, all topped with a slice of bacon. “This is the South,” Hastings tells customers. “We put bacon on everything.”

For the complete article please see

Southern Living: Some of the best gulf beaches are in Alabama
From the article by Valerie Fraser Luesse in Southern Living:

Some of us can remember when Gulf Shores was a sleepy fishing village with no condos, no music festival, and just a handful of restaurants (one of which was a chicken shack, if memory serves). And Orange Beach? Where’s that? 

Today, Alabama beaches are among the state’s most popular tourist destinations, even attracting visitors from other Gulf Coast beaches with surf of their own. While Alabama doesn’t have as much coastline as its neighbors, the 32 miles of white sand and saltwater just south of Mobile are top-notch, offering gorgeous seascapes, abundant wildlife, a laid-back pace, and a family-friendly environment with plenty to see and do. And while all of these beaches are in close proximity, each one has something unique to offer.

Gulf Shores
Even though it saw major growth after Hurricane Frederic devastated this area in 1979, Gulf Shores still felt like an old school beach town for many years. It has retained some of that character while attracting a new generation of travelers with special events like the Hangout Music Festival and the National Shrimp Festival. The 6500-acre Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores is home to pristine beaches, freshwater lakes, a paved backcountry trail, golf course, popular fishing pier, and more.

Orange Beach
Just 7 miles east of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach is condo central, with families flocking here to cart their groceries and boogie boards into their temporary home away from home, and settle in for some serious beach time. It’s the kind of place where you’ll tell the rental guys, “What the heck—we’ll take the chairs and umbrellas for the whole week—we’re on vacation!”

Dauphin Island
Lots of travelers bypass Dauphin Island —the town and island share the same name—en route to more popular beach burgs, and that’s a good thing for you when you vacation here. This quiet, relaxing community with nary a traffic jam in sight has just over 1,200 residents, so it’s easy to find a spot to call your own. Don’t miss the 164-acre Audubon Bird Sanctuary. And if you need a taste of the city, downtown Mobile is less than an hour away.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
The more development on Alabama’s coast, the more critical places like this breathtaking refuge become. With 7,000 acres of protected lands, Bon Secour (French for “safe harbor”) hosts some 350 documented species of birds, as well as loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, and green sea turtles. It is the only remaining habitat for the endangered Alabama beach mouse.  Admission to its trails, beaches, and Little Lagoon (ideal for paddlers) is free.  Respect the dunes and the wildlife. (Hint: Bring plenty of water and bug spray.)

Fort Morgan
The actual U.S. Army fort is located at the tip of Scenic Fort Morgan Peninsula, where Mobile Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. Built between 1819 and 1833, it played a role in four wars, from the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 to the Spanish American War and both World Wars. But this area also features tucked-away beaches that offer relaxation and gorgeous scenery.

For the complete article please see

Oprah Winfrey’s magazine highlights City Cafe and Wintzell’s Oyster House
O, The Oprah Magazine highlights City Café in Northport and Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile in its July 2017 issue.

From the article “The Best Thing to Eat in Every State” in O, The Oprah Magazine:

Vacation meals should be as glorious as your vacation. Our state-by-state guide is an invitation to savor the most delicious tastes near and far.

With its wood-paneled walls and daily specials, City Cafe in Northport offers soothing Southern-style mains, like chicken-fried steak and fried chicken livers, partnered with three or four comfort sides, including fried green tomatoes and stewed squash.

On most menus here, you’ll find tangy West Indies salad—a cold seafood affair starring lump crabmeat, chopped yellow onion and a liberal dose of vinegar. Mobile’s 75-plus-year-old Wintzell’s Oyster House marinates theirs for a thorough 24 hours, resulting in a sweet-sour dish as refreshing as an afternoon on a porch swing.

For the complete article please see

Toronto Star: Musical roots run deep in Muscle Shoals
Editor’s note:  Rick McGinnis with the Toronto Star visited the state in October on a press trip coordinated by the Alabama Tourism Department. This is the third article McGinnis’ has written on Alabama. His first article was a feature on the Talladega Superspeedway ( and his second described some uniquely Alabama souvenirs he picked up along his travels (

From the article by Rick McGinnis in the Toronto Star:

Until the release of the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, Alabama’s contribution to modern pop, soul, R&B and rock music had been an open secret, known mostly to music geeks all over the world. But since Bono, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Aretha Franklin have been filmed singing the praises of a tiny city near the border of Tennessee, the world has been flocking to hear what they heard.

Nashville and Memphis are much more famous, but to see Muscle Shoals the right way, travel north from Birmingham, Alabama’s biggest city. Birmingham is a college town, and the site of some of the bitterest struggles of the civil-rights era, but today it’s a tidy, self-possessed city that’s turned its remaining steel mill into a museum and boasts hip neighbourhoods, such as Five Points and Avondale, full of music venues, craft breweries and coffee shops.

Driving north, you’ll know you’re almost there when you hit the cotton fields outside Tuscumbia, one of four towns (including Florence, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals) that make up “The Shoals.” Tuscumbia is the home of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, a museum, research library and concert space that had closed for nine months in 2013 due to state budget cutbacks, but reopened in time for the opening of Muscle Shoals in Birmingham.

You enter the museum through the Hall of Fame, which features portraits of music legends such as W.C. Handy, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, and Alabama, the band that took its name from the state. There’s Motown star Martha Reeves and Lionel Richie — inducted twice, once on his own and once with the Commodores.

Inside the museum is Alabama’s tour bus, a wildly customized Pontiac tricked out with saddles, steer horns, silver dollars and six shooters, and the original recording console used by Florence native Sam Phillips in the Memphis studio of Sun Records, where the music producer discovered Elvis Presley. Glass cases along the way display stage costumes, sheet music, instruments and gold records explaining the evolution of Alabama into a country and — especially — soul music powerhouse.

Ground zero is FAME Studios on East Avalon Ave. in Muscle Shoals. This is the building producer Rick Hall built in 1963, where he discovered Percy Sledge, and where he produced breakthrough sessions for Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin. FAME is still a working studio, so studio tours will be cancelled when the studios are booked, as they were last spring when Gregg Allman took over both rooms.

Spencer Coats, a young engineer at the studio, gives a tour to a group of fans from as far away as Australia. He takes us through the first, small studio, and then into the big room, where he sits down at the same Wurlitzer electric piano that keyboardist Spooner Oldham played on the day he broke the logjam at Aretha Franklin’s first session, and begins the haunting, gospel-tinged chords that kick off “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).” Everyone in the room stands silently, like they’re in church.

Oldham had been one of the Swampers, a group of Muscle Shoals-based musicians who formed the backbone of Hall’s studio band. In 1969, the group’s rhythm section — drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and keyboardist Barry Beckett — struck out on their own, bought a casket warehouse across from a cemetery in Sheffield and turned it into a studio.

I pull into the parking lot at 3614 Jackson Highway and have my first Swampers sighting — Hood, walking to his car. He’s back in Muscle Shoals after an accident on tour with the Waterboys in Europe: breaking his arm after falling off a chair in his hotel room. He cheerfully endures my star-struck introduction and stops for pictures.

Hood’s wife Judy meets us in the studio gift shop; she’s chairman of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, which took over the building to return it to use as a museum and working recording facility. Renovations began in 2015 after receiving a grant from Beats By Dre. She takes us into the remarkably small room, with the toilet just off the recording floor and where guitarist Keith Richards retreated to work on Wild Horses when the Rolling Stones recorded there in 1969.

Judy unlocks the door to the low-ceilinged basement rec room where the musicians relaxed, and reveals a hidden door that opens into a tiny bar — an inner sanctum where stars and their guests could drink when Colbert County was “dry.”

After a decade of landmark sessions with artists such as Paul Simon, Cher, Elton John, Willie Nelson and others, the Swampers outgrew 3614 Jackson Highway and moved to a huge complex next to the Tennessee River. After several changes of ownership, Tonya Holly took it over in 2005, renamed it Cypress Moon Studios, and discovered the drawbacks of its stunning location in 2015 when a tornado pushed the river into the hallways and studios. Conducting a tour of the repaired building, Holly admits the lingering damp only adds to the building’s haunted reputation.

But don’t mistake Muscle Shoals for a museum. Like Nashville’s Music Row, there are songwriters working out of rooms at FAME and Cypress Moon, with artists recording there as well as at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and other studios such as the NuttHouse, owned by a former FAME engineer. This is brought home by my next Swamper sighting, later that night, at a showcase concert for songwriters held at the Muscle Shoals Marriott.

Will McFarlane served as Bonnie Raitt’s guitarist in the ’70s, and moved to Muscle Shoals in the early ’80s to get away from the fast life in L.A. Somewhere along the way he became a Swamper. I see him at Muscle Shoals to Music Row, a monthly concert series produced by Jerry Phillips, son of Sun Records’ Sam.

McFarlane is onstage with his son Jamie on bass, backing up songwriter Sandy Carroll, and afterwards he raves to me about the town. He can record, write and play whenever he wants, and make it home for dinner; he is even able to coach little league. Swampers sightings happen everywhere, from showcases to local juke joints to the bar at the Marriott, aptly called the Swampers. Birmingham has been built on steel, and much of Alabama on cotton, but Muscle Shoals is one of a tiny handful of places in the world built on music.

Rick McGinnis was hosted by the Alabama Tourism Department, which didn’t review or approve this story.

For the complete article please see

Finley Center opens in Hoover
From the article by Lauren Roland in The Hoover Sun:

Hundreds of people converged on the Finley Center in Hoover the morning of June 16 for the ribbon cutting ceremony to declare the facility officially open. This all-purpose facility holds 11 basketball courts, which can be converted into other uses including 17 volleyball courts, an event space for trade shows or banquets, as well as other purposes.

“The large crowd shows not only Hoover’s support [for the Finley Center], but the support of the metropolitan area as well,” Hoover Mayor Frank V. Brocato said, “and it will have an impact on the entire metropolitan area.”

Brocato was front and center with Diane Finley, wife of the late Bob Finley, for whom the complex was named. After the ribbon cutting, which was held outside of the facility, everyone headed indoors and down a red-carpeted path to hear speeches from those involved in the Finley Center’s development and construction.

Diane Finley said she was deeply honored and humbled to be at the grand opening.

“I am so grateful that even after 24 years he’s still so fondly remembered by so many people,” she said. She thanked those who worked on the project, as well as the citizens of Hoover who voted to name the facility after her husband. Bob Finley was the head football coach at Berry High School from 1968 to 1993, and was introduced to the Alabama High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992. He died in 1994.

Brocato started the speeches, introducing city council members in attendance as well as recognizing the architecture firms responsible for the center’s completion, including M.J. Harris Inc., CS Beatty Construction and Diversified US. He thanked those involved in the project, citing its projected benefits for the city.

“The Finley Center will have an incredible economic impact on our community,” Brocato said. “It’s a great drive for creating jobs, and has an estimated $33 million annual impact on the city of Hoover.”

Brian Jones of the Alabama Tourism Department spoke next, adding that the Finley Center would be more than just a sports complex — it would be a means for economic development as well.

“Nationally, there are only a handful of places like this,” Jones said. “The opening of the facility put Hoover in the top 15 places for youth sports destinations in the country. It’s not only their introduction to Hoover, but also their introduction to Alabama.”

Ricky Phillips, president of the Hoover Parks and Recreation Board, toasted the great way the area’s youth will be served by the addition of these competitive fields. He said that the RV park is already serving its purpose, as all of the 170 spots were reserved for the 2018 Southeastern Conference Baseball tournament after the May 2017 tournament ended.

John Oros, president of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Finley Center and the remainder of the Hoover Metropolitan Complex will help secure the city’s place as a go-to for tournaments, such was the SEC baseball tournament.

“To have a great sports destination, you need great sports facilities,” Oros said.

The opening of the Finley Center rounds out Phase I of the Hoover Metropolitan Complex project, which began in January 2016, and starts Phase II, which will include the construction of NCAA regulation-size fields that can be used for soccer, football, lacrosse and softball and baseball, as well as tennis courts, a playground and more.

For the complete article please see

Sports tourism on the rise in Morgan County
From the article by Evan Belanger in The Decatur Daily:

Local parks and recreation departments are reporting significant increases in athletic tournaments hosted at local parks this year, an advent that could bring more tourism dollars to cash-starved Morgan County.

“At the beginning of the year, I ordered enough chalk to last all year, and I’ve had to re-order extra pallets twice now,” Morgan County Parks and Recreation Director Sean Dailey said this week, noting a sharp increase in baseball and softball tournaments.

Dailey said county parks hosted nine tournaments total last year but have already hosted 17 this year with three more scheduled this weekend and 10 scheduled for the fall. He expected more to be scheduled as the year progresses.

With 15 to 20 teams in each tournament, he estimated each brings in 750 to 1,000 people, including players, parents and other family members.

That’s good news for city and county governments, said Melinda Dunn, president of the Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. According to Dunn, sports marketing and tourism has become one of the strongest components of local tourism in recent years.

“These tournaments that bring visitors to town mean money in our city and county coffers, but also impact each of us as taxpayers,” she said.

According to an Alabama Tourism Department estimate based on lodging tax data, direct travel-related jobs in Morgan County climbed 9.4 percent last year to 1,401. That compared to an increase of 0.7 percent to 1,057 in Limestone County and an increase of 5.7 percent to 112 jobs in Lawrence County.

Projects to build three new hotels in Decatur with a combined 272 rooms drew $19.9 million in construction investment alone last year.

Dailey attributed the increase in tournaments to scheduling changes that freed certain fields up for travel-ball tournaments while maintaining the same number of games or more for local recreation leagues.

He also cited various facility improvements and a growing reputation that the county is a good place to host tournaments.

Other contributors he said include the new West Park Archery Course, which has already hosted two tournaments this year, and new non-athletic events this year such as the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama’s Annual Festival and Pow Wow set for Sept. 22-24 at South Park in Falkville.

The annual event, historically held in Cullman County, is expected to draw 1,000 people.

From October to May, food sales at county-operated parks were up 32 percent from the same period last fiscal year, hitting $82,761, and revenue from park rental fees and other sources was up 174 percent, hitting $13,357.

At Decatur Parks and Recreation, Recreation Superintendent David Wisdom noted similar gains this year, including 16 extra travel-ball tournaments, the Southern State Athletic Conference Softball Championship, and the U.S. Ultimate Frisbee Southern Regional Championship to be hosted in September.

“We are definitely up from last year,” he said.

The River City Rivalry, a lacrosse tournament, begins today at the city’s Jack Allen Recreation Complex and was expected to bring in about 1,000 people affiliated with 26 teams from across the Southeast.

Despite increased revenue, County Commission Chairman Ray Long said he does not foresee the Morgan County Parks and Recreation Department ever becoming a self-sustaining entity.

The parks and recreation department’s $881,000 budget this fiscal year includes $376,883 from the county’s general fund and $392,040 from the commissioners’ road and bridge fund.

“They’ll never make that kind of money. Parks are really just a service like most of our departments,” Long said.

Despite the cost, Dunn said each tourism dollar brought into the county helps the local economy, supporting restaurants, hotels and retailers, and creating jobs and tax revenue. She cited a statistic from the Alabama Tourism Department that said each Alabama household would have spent $444 more on taxes last year if not for tourism dollars.

In recent years the county and Decatur have struggled to contend with stagnant revenue growth and flat revenue. From 2012 to 2016, Morgan County’s population fell by near a percent and Decatur’s population fell by 1.5 percent.

For the complete article please see

Teachers to participate in astronaut training program at U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Honeywell and long-term partner, the  U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC), will welcome more than 200 middle school teachers from 33 countries and 45 U.S. states and territories to the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy (HESA). Over the course of two consecutive weeks, from June 14 to 27, teachers will experience a unique opportunity to re-ignite their passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Honeywell Hometown Solutions, the company’s corporate citizenship initiative in partnership with USSRC, created this award-winning scholarship program in 2004. Since then, HESA has graduated 2,776 educators from 62 countries and 52 U.S. states and territories, reaching more than 3 million students around the world.

“Technology is changing exponentially. Things we once held as impossibilities are reality – we are on our Journey to Mars,” said Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. “Educating the next generation of leaders and learners is key to global success. Exploration improves quality of life for all humanity through discoveries in science and engineering. The Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program unites teachers with exciting tools and methods to change the lives of students around the globe.”

The program includes 45 hours of classroom and laboratory instruction focused on science, space exploration and leadership skills development. Teachers will participate in astronaut-style exercises such as high-performance jet simulation, scenario-based space missions, coding challenges, land and water survival training and interactive flight dynamics programs. Through these exercises, teachers learn how to reinvigorate their classroom with ideas, lessons and other materials.

“Attending Honeywell Educators at Space Academy was truly the most incredible experience of my teaching career,” said 2016 alumni Jodie Guillen, of Moriarty, N.M. “I was so excited to get back into my classroom and use everything I learned to inspire the future scientists and engineers sitting right in my classroom. Who knows, maybe one of my students will actually make it to Mars one day.”

“As a leading technology and software company, Honeywell places a great deal of importance on educating our next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Mike Bennett, president, Honeywell Hometown Solutions. “The teachers who attend the academy understand the importance of STEM education better than anyone. They use these learnings to keep their students engaged and passionate about science, technology, engineering and math.”

HESA candidates complete a rigorous application process. Qualified teachers are awarded scholarships, round-trip airfare, tuition, meals and accommodations, thanks to the generous support of Honeywell and its employees.
For more information about HESA, visit:

U.S. Space & Rocket Center welcomes new leader
From the article by Lucy Berry on

The state of Alabama’s top paid tourist attraction has a new leader.

Joe Vallely, former director of government relations at Lockheed Martin, is the new vice president of external affairs at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. He previously served as the assistant vice president of corporate relations at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and director of economic development for the City of Huntsville.

We are honored to have such a prestigious and credible addition to our team,” Rocket Center CEO and Executive Director Deborah Barnhart said in a statement. “Joe and his wife, Lynne, are pillars of our community, and we welcome them to the Rocket Center family.”

Vallely will work with corporate, government and community stakeholders to implement new projects at the Rocket Center, which is home to Space Camp and Aviation Challenge and is the official visitor center for the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

The Rocket Center said it is partnering with the U.S. Army to develop Exploration Park from land adjacent to the Center’s property to provide recreational space for the community.

“I am excited to join this team,” Vallely said. “Its mission to advocate for science and space exploration and help inspire the next generation is something I am excited to be a part of. I am looking forward to helping the Center continue to shine as a vibrant part of this city, the aerospace community and the state.”

More than 657,000 people visited the U.S. Space & Rocket Center last year, ranking it first among state attractions that charge admission. The Birmingham Zoo ranked second with 644,667 and the McWane Science Center in Birmingham was third with 388,551, according to the Alabama Tourism Department.

For the complete article please see

Alabama beer used to lure investments and tourism dollars
From the article by William Thornton on

Two events this week in the nation’s capital will see Alabama’s craft beer industry used to attract investment and tourism.

State business recruiters at the SelectUSA Investment Summit will serve the state’s distinctive brands at a conference reception. Alabama beer will also take the spotlight at the Southeast Tourism Society’s Congressional Summit on Travel and Tourism, which starts June 20.

Vincent Perez, project manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, said serving Alabama’s craft beer was one way to drive interest in the state from international investors.

“I think we make some good beer in the state, and featuring an Alabama-made product is a fun thing that will get us some foot traffic,” Perez said in a statement.

Jason Wilson, Back Forty CEO, said this is his company’s fifth year to participate in the tourism summit. His company also participated in a Latin America trade mission last year, and has made inroads into the Chinese market.

“It’s been a fun event to take part in,” Wilson said. “And it helps solidify the state’s image as a place of innovation. We sent some product up there last week.”

Among the beers featured at the reception will be Birmingham’s Good People Brewing Co., Avondale Brewing Co. and Cahaba Brewing Co.; Gadsden’s Back Forty Beer Co.; Opelika’s Red Clay Brewing Co.; Black Warrior Brewing Co. of Tuscaloosa; Fairhope Brewing Co. of Fairhope, and Yellowhammer Brewing of Huntsville.

For the complete article please see

College Chefs hiring classically trained chefs in the Tuscaloosa area
College Chefs is hiring classically trained chefs and kitchen help for several positions in Tuscaloosa near the University of Alabama.

Although the company is hiring for all levels of talent, the main need is at the Head Chef position.  All classically trained chefs are encouraged to apply.  The position offers an unmatched level of creative freedom as the job will allow passionate chefs an avenue to write their own menus and hone their craft.  The work schedule is excellent and the company prides itself on staff having a great life outside of the kitchen.  For example, employees have the chance to earn 4-6 weeks of paid vacation within their first year.  Most positions require no nights and minimal weekends.

College Chefs is a chef-first company that provides from-scratch food service to fraternities & sororities.  A national company on more than 60 campuses nationwide, College Chefs has about 20 employees currently in Tuscaloosa,

Including Area Manager, Chef Charlie Niewadomski, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Tuscaloosa resident for the past several decades.  Niewadomski started out as a Head Chef managing a staff of five people and eventually rose within the company.  He now manages an area overseeing several campuses including Tuscaloosa.

According to General Manager of Business Operations, Dave Tarrant, “We are in the process of significantly expanding our operations in the South and especially Tuscaloosa.  We currently service some of the largest chapters in the country and are very excited to add to our team.  A pillar to our success is that we are a company of chefs first and foremost and we want our employees to love the company as much as our customers….if we can continue to find passionate and creative Chefs and offer them a job that they love, we will continue to provide the top-notch food & service that our customers love us for.”

Candidates are urged to apply now as interviews typically start in late June and early July.  Those wishing to apply can visit the company’s website at

State tourism award nominations deadline is Friday
The deadline for state tourism award nominations is Friday, June 23.  The awards will be presented at the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Birmingham on Aug. 19 to Aug. 22 at the Sheraton Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Award categories include:
Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame
Attraction of the Year
Event of the Year
Governor’s Tourism Award
Tourism Advocate (Government)
Tourism Advocate (Media)
Rising Star
Tourism Employee of the Year
Tourism Executive of the Year
Tourism Organization of the Year
Tourism Partnership
Welcome Center of the Year
Alabama Tourism Department Employee of the Year
Theme Campaign

The online nomination form is available at

Alabama Gulf Seafood Summit is June 26-27 in Orange Beach
The Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission (ASMC) – in partnership with the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries (ADAI) – will host the 5th Annual Alabama Seafood Summit from June 26-27 at The Wharf at Orange Beach.

This is the second year the event has been held at The Wharf and a milestone fifth year for the overall event. The Summit historically connects seafood processors, grocers and restaurateurs/chefs in an informative environment to achieve a better understanding and sense of community in the industry – all while providing quality networking opportunities.

“The Seafood Summit is one full of educating attendees around critical issues, fellowshipping with like-minded industry peers, and, of course, enjoying delicious Alabama Gulf Seafood,” said Chris Blankenship, acting commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and program administrator for ASMC.

“Alabama’s Gulf Seafood is known worldwide for its impeccable quality, and we look forward to the upcoming Summit where we will discuss how to continue to enhance this valuable contributor to the state’s economy,” said John McMillan, ADAI commissioner.

Registration is now open and attendance is free. For a schedule of events and registration information please see

Alabama Scenic Byways summer workshop is 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.

Registration information is available at

ALABAMA 200 bicentennial workshop is June 29 in Robertsdale
The next in the series of ALABAMA 200 workshops is Thursday, June 29, at the Central Annex Building in Robertsdale beginning at 10 a.m. The workshop is free and open to the public; however, registration is required. For more information, visit

The ALABAMA 200 series of regional workshops, offers community members access to bicentennial programming ideas, resources and funding opportunities. The workshops are designed to assist communities in planning for Alabama’s bicentennial commemoration.

Each workshop is tailored to the region and includes tourism professionals, representatives from area history/heritage and arts organizations, local bicentennial committee members, chamber and county representatives and others.

Between 2017 and 2019, ALABAMA 200 will engage residents and visitors in educational programs, community activities and statewide initiatives that teach, inspire and entertain. Local communities, though, will be the heart of the commemoration. The regional community workshops are an opportunity to develop cross-county partnerships that can include shared calendars, collaboration on projects and joint celebrations.

The workshops are supported by local and statewide partners, including Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism, Alabama League of Municipalities, University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, Main Street Alabama, Design Alabama, Alabama Historical Commission, Black Heritage Council, Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, Alabama Tourism Department, Alabama Association of Regional Councils, Alabama Communities of Excellence and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

For future workshop locations and dates, visit

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

Alabama Makers Market is July 27 in Montgomery
The Alabama Tourism Department will assist local vendors with getting their goods sold at gift shops across the state when it hosts the Alabama Makers Marketplace on Thursday, July 27 in Montgomery.  The event is free and will also be open to the public for retail sales.

Booth space is free for the event. Local vendors interested in participating can contact Leigh Cross at for registration information. Deadline for registration is June 27.

Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 19-22 in Birmingham
The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 19-22 at the Sheraton Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism provides tourism professionals a chance to gather and learn about the economic impact of the industry on the Alabama economy, learn new strategies for marketing local Alabama attractions and amenities to visitors, raise money for scholarships through silent auctions and celebrate achievements.

For an agenda, list of speakers and registration information please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Did you know that you can update/refresh your event for the its web listing anytime? If something changes or you just want to spice it up-you can edit your event listing in the partner site whenever you please. These changes will be seen within 24 hours.

Not a partner yet? Sign up today at

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.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

To subscribe to the newsletter please contact Brian Jones at:

Alabama Tourism Department