Tourism Tuesdays February 19, 2019

$94.5M culinary center, hotel coming to Auburn University

Can slaves’ descendants save the town their ancestors built?

Spring break brings big business for tourism

First Look: The Lab Bar and Kitchen opens in $20M renovated hotel

The Best date spot in every state

Survey finds Alabama’s top 15 hotels for 2019

GMANE featured in AMHOF Star Player exhibit

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


$94.5M culinary center, hotel coming to Auburn University
From the article by Emma Simmons on

Home to Alabama’s only professionally accredited hospitality program, Auburn University is cooking up a special experience for students interested in the culinary arts.

The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, which includes a restaurant and boutique hotel, is coming to campus in 2021. The university’s Board of Trustees gave their final approval to the project last Friday.

“Our students will have unparalleled opportunities to learn best practices in the hospitality and culinary sciences within a luxury setting from the best in the industry,” said June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences. “The entire complex will provide guests with an immersion in hospitality that is second to none.”

Construction on the 142,000-square-foot facility will begin in April. As Auburn’s first academic building generating revenue, it will help to cover the project’s $94 million price tag.

According to Frank Stitt, executive chef of Birmingham’s Highlands Bar and Grill and 2018 James Bear Award winner, “The potential impact is enormous. The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is going to be one of the most interesting and exciting culinary education centers in America, if not the world.”

In 2017, an estimated 26.6 million people visited the state, generating over $14.3 billion in revenue, the Alabama Tourism Department reports.

The Laurel
The Laurel is the luxury boutique teaching hotel, where hospitality management students will gain hands-on practical experience working in all areas of hotel operations in a luxury-32-room facility. The spa on the sixth floor and the rooftop garden are parts of the Laurel. The garden will provide vegetables and herbs for food production throughout the center. The rooftop space can house small events. The Laurel is one of the center’s many features that can be enjoyed by the Auburn community and visiting guests.

A 40-seat teaching restaurant, 1856 will feature a “Chef in Residence” program, where a different nationally acclaimed chef will provide a chef de cuisine to work hand-in-hand with culinary science instructors and students to create a restaurant of his or her own vision. The practical educational experience for junior-level students will take place during lunch service while senior-level students will execute dinner service with instructors at their side. The restaurant will be open to the public.

Heyday Market
The 9,000-square-foot food hall will provide a number of food vendors for all to enjoy. A coffee bar will be located in the center with a small operational coffee roastery. Two vendor spaces will be food incubators, providing hospitality management/culinary science graduates the space at a minimal cost to begin and grow their own restaurant before venturing out on their own.

Wine Appreciation Center
Located on the second floor above 1856, the center will feature a tasting room for 50 students. The instructor will be a Master Sommelier or a Certified Wine Educator who will not only be teaching wine appreciation classes for students in the program and the campus at large, but also allow the community and hotel guests to experience such classes and tastings in the evening.

Distilled Spirits Center
Located adjacent to the Wine Appreciation Center on the second floor, the Distilled Spirits Center will feature a micro distillery for the purpose of research as well as showing students the distillation process in an experiential sense. Classes will be open campus-wide and will allow an opportunity for the Auburn community and hotel guests to experience distilled spirit tasting before dinner in the Laurel.

Brewing Science Laboratory
This facility will feature a state-of-the-art, open concept, micro-teaching brewery, tasting room and microbiology laboratory to provide brewing science and hospitality management students with the hands-on education and training necessary for employment in the ever-expanding craft brewing industry. The facility will expose students to all aspects of commercial beer production, such as scientific principles and facility operation, as well as technological innovation and its influence upon production methods, quality control and the sensory profile of all beer produced.

Culinary Exhibition Lab
Up to 80 students can observe demonstrations in the lab from atrium-style seating on the second floor. The design of the lab on the lower level will include non-conventional cooking stations to expose students to various cooking techniques and innovative methods. The space lends itself to commercial cooking demonstrations, not only for Saturday culinary workshops, which are open to the public, but any night of the week for the community and hotel guests.

Food and Beverage Media Studio
Located near the line in the exhibition lab, the studio will teach food and beverage photography and videography, helping to prepare future chefs, bar operators and restaurateurs to be media savvy. This media studio will be a unique resource for a hospitality management program in the United States.

Culinary Get-Aways
A rotating roster of celebrity chefs will create weekend workshops using every aspect of the center, with guests staying at the Laurel, enjoying the rooftop gardens, eating in the Heyday Market and 1856, experiencing a cooking demonstration and taking a class in the exhibition kitchen and wine tasting in the wine appreciation center.

The Residences at the Laurel
Only six upper-level residences will be available for long-term leasing. Each 1,650-square-foot unit will have two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen and space for entertaining. Residents will enjoy the rooftop swimming pool and bar, full-service spa and other amenities, as well as concierge services and valet parking from the hotel.

For the complete article please see

Can slaves’ descendants save the town their ancestors built?
From the article by Joel K. Bourne, Jr. on

Africatown, Alabama, has fallen on hard times, but residents are finding hope in their heritage.

It’s cold and gray outside the historic Mobile County Training School, but inside it’s as warm as an Alabama family reunion. More than 200 people have come together for the first gathering of the descendants of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to bring African captives to U.S. shores in July 1860.

After being freed by Union soldiers at the end of the Civil War, more than 30 of the Africans settled among the woods and marshes of nearby Magazine Point in north Mobile. Blending African traditions with American folkways, they built houses, planted gardens, tended livestock, hunted, fished, and farmed. They founded a church and the first black school in Mobile — which, with the help of Booker T. Washington, became the Moblie County Training School. Together they created a tight-knit, self-reliant community that took care of its own. It came to be known as Africatown.

“This little community was self-sustaining,” says Darron Patterson, a descendant of founder Pollee Allen. Patterson attended the training school in the 1960s before moving to Detroit to work as a sportswriter. “We had everything we needed right here,” he says. “This school taught us to be viable women and viable men. These folks had it going on.”

His words echo throughout the day as representatives from five of the original families take the microphone and speak about their past, their present, and their hopes for the future.

Lorna Woods grew up in Green’s Alley behind the Union Baptist Church. The houses there were squeezed so close together, she recalls, “we could reach out the window and hand two slices of bread to the home next door.”

Sometimes those gifts were sorely needed. If no smoke was rising from a neighbor’s chimney late in the afternoon, it meant they had no food for supper, Woods says. Soon enough they’d find a bag of groceries on the porch.

Since those days the population of Africatown has plummeted — from about 12,000 in the 1960s to less than 2,000 today. Only half of the homes are occupied, and many abandoned dwellings are dilapidated or falling down. The Josephine Allen housing project in Happy Hills was home to hundreds of families in the 1970s. It closed years ago and sits empty and ransacked on a knoll overlooking the Mobile River.

“I’m 70 years old,” Woods says, “and I still have in my heart a dream that our town will one day have stores and shops and gas stations again.”

It’s a dream many in the community share, but the City of Mobile seems to have another, more industrial vision. According to a recruiting brochure produced by Alabama Power and the Chamber of Commerce, Africatown is part of Alabama’s Chemical Corridor, a 50-mile stretch of river that’s home to 26 major chemical companies.

Big industry began moving into the neighborhood in the 1920s, and during its boom years the area was home to three paper mills, a massive sawmill and lumber yard, and a tank farm with a dozen or so hulking oil and gasoline storage tanks. The four-lane Africatown-Cochran bridge, completed in 1991, was thrust through the heart of the business district, dividing the community and destroying local shops and stores.

The large industries provided good jobs, but they were a mixed blessing, says Michael Ellis, 63, who worked at Scott Paper for 15 years. His family had a big house on Bay Bridge Road, not far from one of the three paper mills that for decades released thousands of pounds of chloroform, a known carcinogen, into the air.

“When I was a kid and all the paper mills were going, they were making a lot of people sick,” says Ellis, another descendant of Pollee Allen. “The smoke from those stacks would eat the paint off cars, so you know it wasn’t good for people. A lot of my family died from cancer.” Ellis himself is now fighting kidney cancer.

The giant International Paper mill was located near the training school. It closed in 2000 and the company bulldozed the plant. Residents are now suing the company for failing to remove all the pollutants from the site.

Joe Womack is one of several local activists who envision a cleaner, healthier future for the community, and who believes Africatown’s unique past can help revitalize its economy.

“The city hasn’t taken care of the community because they want to industrialize the whole area,” Womack says. “They just want to make money, but they could make money with tourism. We just have to head them the right way.”

A recent proposal to build 40 more tanks to store tar sand oil from Canada failed for a variety of reasons, including local opposition. The community has also been awarded $3.5 million from the BP Deepwater Horizon legal settlement to rebuild a visitor center destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. There, tourists will learn the story of the last American slave ship and the resilient souls who founded Africatown.

Last year the Alabama Historical Commission partnered with the underwater archaeology firm Search, Inc., and the National Geographic Society to study a section of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta where the Clotilda is believed to have been burned and scuttled. Last summer marine archaeologists surveyed the area and located 18 objects of interest, including the remains of sunken ships. Analysis of their finds is ongoing, says James Delgado, leader of the Search team.

“People have been searching for Clotilda since 1860, and the only way to find it is through a careful and systematic survey,” Delgado says. “We promised everyone in the community that we’d leave no stone unturned, and that’s what we’re in the middle of doing.”

For the complete article please see

Spring break brings big business for tourism
From the article by Rosanna Smith on (WSFA-12 News)

Spring break is quickly approaching. This means many are already trying to figure out where to vacation.

“Spring break is huge for us, because it really kicks off the vacation season. People start planning for their spring and summer vacations months ahead of time,” said Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department.

Jones said they try to make the planning process easier with vacation guides. One destination anticipated to draw many to the Gulf Coast of Alabama is the new Gulf State Park Lodge.

“It’s a Hilton hotel, and it’s on state park property. It is right on the beach, it’s got an incredible pool, 350 rooms, ballroom, and gulf coast restaurants,” he said.

There are a number of other things beachgoers can enjoy while at the lodge.

“Just across the road from it is an interpretive center, outdoor classrooms, biking and hiking trails,” said Jones.

Over in Huntsville the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is expected to draw some large crowds with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

“It starts in the spring, and it culminates July 16. They’re going for the Guinness Book of World Records with the launch of 5,000 model rockets to celebrate,” said Jones.

Golf enthusiasts also have a place to go and relax this spring and summer.

“Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail literally stretches across the state. Of course people play there all year long, but really the spring and summer are the most popular. They just announced another tournament. The Tour is coming there,” said Jones.

This year Alabama is celebrating its bicentennial. There are a number of events going on across the state from now until the end of the year.

For the complete article please see

First Look: The Lab Bar and Kitchen opens in $20M renovated hotel
From the article by Hanno van der Bijl on

A new restaurant and bar is open inside a prominent hotel in the Magic City.

The Lab Bar and Kitchen at Hilton Birmingham at UAB is now open in Birmingham’s Southside.

Formerly the Doubletree by Hilton, the hotel recently opened as part of a $20 million renovation and rebranding project. The UAB Educational Foundation purchased the property in 2016.

Led by chef Matthew Comarato, the restaurant offers a Southern-inspired and Alabama-sourced modern menu.

“We are excited to welcome the community into The Lab,” Comarato said. “We aim to make a unique contribution to Birmingham’s culinary scene, particularly here near Five Points. I’m eager to complement the city’s rich cultural, food and beverage scene while maintaining a focus on Alabama ingredients and sources. We’ve worked to create a menu and an experience that will establish The Lab among Birmingham’s most memorable bars and eateries.”

Comarato said the name of the restaurant is inspired by the university.

“The collaborations at UAB have brought about some of the world’s most significant medical breakthroughs,” he said. “The Lab is a tip of the hat in appreciation to the institution, and we are excited to create a notable dining option on campus for UAB faculty, students and staff. We like to think of our Lab as a collaborative space, as well.”

For the complete article please see

The Best date spot in every state
From the article by Lauren Mack on

Whether it’s a first date or the 50th, a milestone occasion like a proposal or anniversary or just a Friday night out, any day can be an opportunity to turn an ordinary date into an exceptional date. Romantic restaurants are nice, but sometimes couples want something more than dinner and drinks.

Our list of the best date spot in every state includes options at all price points in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. From a bat-watching sunset cruise to zip-lining, these activities are sure to bring excitement and build better bonds with your beloved, as you explore the best date spot in your state.

Alabama: Dauphin’s in Mobile
In the heart of downtown Mobile across from the historic Battle House Hotel, Dauphin’s restaurant serves exceptional French Creole fare, but it’s the panorama spanning Mobile Bay that wows. Known since the late 1960s as the Bienville Club, the Alabama restaurant’s name is a playful twist on the history of owner Bob Baumhower and Mobile: the “dauphin” was the title of the French crown prince when that country founded the Port City in 1702. And football — with the Miami Dolphins — was the first chapter of Baumhower’s career before he became a restaurateur. Perched on the 34th floor of the Trustmark Building, book a seat at the area’s first and only chef’s table and enjoy the sunset over the skyline while chatting with executive chef and sommelier Steve Zucker.

For the complete article please see

Survey finds Alabama’s top 15 hotels for 2019
From the article by William Thornton on

U.S. News & World Report is out with its Top 15 Hotels for 2019 list for Alabama. The list was compiled based on analysis of expert and user opinions, as part of its ranking of the best hotels in the U.S.

To rank them, the magazine compiled a score based on awards and recognition, hotel class and guest rating.

The top two hotels are along Mobile Bay, while seven of the top 15 are part of the Resort Collection along Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

1. The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa
2. Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa
3. Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, Autograph Collection
4. Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa
5. Fort Condé Inn – Mobile
6. The Westin – Huntsville
7. Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa – Hoover
8. Wind Creek Casino & Hotel – Atmore
9. Wind Creek Wetumpka
10. Elyton Hotel, Autograph Collection – Birmingham
11. Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel – Mobile
12. Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center
13. Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort & Spa at Grand National
14. The Admiral Hotel – Mobile
15. Perdido Beach Resort – Orange Beach

For the complete article please see

GMANE featured in AMHOF Star Player exhibit
From the article by Russ Corey on

Geoffrey “GMANE” Robinson made his mark in the hip-hop world the hard way.

He and his friends who wanted to make rap and hip-hop records in the Shoals were the pioneers. Unlike country or rock musicians, there weren’t any local predecessors for them to seek advice from.

But due to changes in technology from the time GMANE started making music in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the challenges young rappers face today aren’t as daunting. They can record tracks in home studios and share them over the internet.

But they still seek advice from the elder statesman, who is being featured in the first Alabama Music Hall of Fame Star Player exhibit, unveiled after a conversation between GMANE and WZZA disc jockey and local promoter Montrell Reeder.

The event is one of three events the hall of fame is hosting during Black History Month.

“They ask different things,” he said, “but everything is so accessible now.”

Reeder warned young artists to be registered with a music copyright organization like BMI or ASCAP before posting original material online, because without that protection their music is in the public domain.

“Control your content,” he said.

Alabama Music Hall of Fame Curator John Moseley said the Star Player exhibit is a returning series of small exhibits that began a couple of years ago. The exhibits highlight the accomplishments of artists from north Alabama.

“The exhibition space was taken away by the renovations in the lobby,” Moseley said. “More recently, we have taken one of the white box displays and converted that into a showcase.”

The purpose of the Star Player exhibit, he said, is to showcase people who have just come to the attention of the museum. Last year, the hall of fame unveiled its first hip-hop exhibit, featuring memorabilia from Alabama hip-hop artists.

The exhibit will be up for three months, and there are future exhibits in the works.

GMANE’s exhibit includes a 2014 concert poster from Stockholm, Sweden. He said he went for one show, but promoters who saw him perform asked if he was interested in doing additional shows. He said Sweden has a hip-hop movement all its own.

There is a copy of “Chocolate,” his first “extended play” single, which was released on cassette in 1994; cassette and compact discs from Slave Kamp, a band GMANE was a member of in the 1990s; and the solo album “Realities.” There is also a red satin jacket with “Straight Off Da Chain Records” embroidered on the back.

The display also includes a short bio about the artist.

The Slave Kamp single “Relaxin'” was featured on the popular video game “Grand Theft Auto V.”

Moseley said video from the discussion will be posted on the hall of fame’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel.

Prior to the unveiling, GMANE discussed how music was always in his life, and how his cousins helped introduce him to rap music he’d read about but hadn’t heard. The early Public Enemy and Ice-T albums convinced him he wanted to become a rapper.

“I was changed then,” he said. “I said, ‘Take me to the record store.'”

He also talked about his relationship with Ron “Chubb Fresh” Harrison and how they began recording together.

“We just clicked and we both had a love of music,” GMANE said.

His first album was recorded in a studio at the University of North Alabama.

GMANE revealed that it was Brad Holmes, then a disc jockey at Star 94, who played his first cassette on the radio. Holmes went on to work in law enforcement with the Florence Police Department, and is also a Lauderdale County commissioner.

“Brad really broke that record,” GMANE said.

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
It may still be chilly outside, but now is the time for planning summer vacations. Give users a great experience by keeping information and photographs up-to-date on your partner page. Need an example of an excellent partner page? Check out Lulu’s:

Ready to update your page? Head over to today!


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