Tourism Tuesdays March 19, 2019

Top Chef season 16 winner Kelsey Barnard Clark reveals plan for her prize money

Virgin Atlantic Airways- Beyond Atlanta: A musical Alabama road trip

Southern Living announces the 2019 winners of its South’s Best Awards

Cook Natural Science Museum opening this summer

Huntsville city council OKs $40 million hotel at Von Braun Center

Jason Isbell bringing new ShoalsFest to Alabama

Exploreum Science Center’s IMAX dome theater to undergo major transformation

Sentell: a true leader for Alabama tourism

Statewide walking tours begin in April

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Top Chef season 16 winner Kelsey Barnard Clark reveals plan for her prize money
From the article by Patrick Gomez on (Entertainment Weekly)

Kelsey Barnard Clark spent Thursday night celebrating her Top Chef season 16 win with her family, friends, and neighbors in her southeastern Alabama town of Dothan.

“It was this huge street party; it was just insane,” the Bravo reality cooking competition winner tells EW. “It was just amazing.”

Along with the title of Top Chef, Clark — who is the chef and proprietor of a Dothan restaurant called KBC — picked up a $125,000 paycheck, a $50,000 prize package, and a number of future appearances in culinary magazines and events across the country. She also scored an extra $10,000 when it was revealed she was voted fan favorite for the season — which may mean even more to her.

“The most important thing, to me, is being a good person,” she says. “And I guess people saw that in me, which is great.”

Clark also feels rewarded thanks to all the women who have reached out on social media after watching her on the show. The chef says it was difficult leaving her 9-month-old son at home to compete on Top Chef, but she’s thrilled that others have been inspired by watching her find a way to balance family and business.

“I get a lot of messages on Instagram from women who are having a hard time balancing career and family and are feeling guilty. I mean, guilt as a mother is a real — and that was what I struggled with the most when I was [on Top Chef,]” she says. “I’ve had a ton of women just showing support and providing camaraderie. It’s nice to be able to lift them up and be lifted up by them. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Still, her bank accounts are looking a lot more full thanks to her win.

“Honestly, I haven’t even hardly thought about the money,” says Clark. “I mean in the very, very near horizon I plan on renovating my restaurant, because it’s badly needs it. But the biggest reason to renovate is that I want KBC to become a destination restaurant that people will drive to come to because it’s got such a cool atmosphere. I want them to drive to Dothan and stay and shop at the stores and stay in the hotels. That’s what drives me. I want it to help build our town up.”

And while Clark believes she will always remain a Dothan girl, she does also dream big.

“I don’t see KBC being my only restaurant,” she says. “What does that mean? What does that look like? I’m not sure, but it’ll play itself out over the next few years.”

Looking back on her time on season 16 of Top Chef, Clark admits “it was much harder” than she ever expected, but it also allowed her to solidify her philosophy about food and being a chef.

“I think that in the past we’ve said, ‘You have to be Michelin star restaurant.’ ‘You have to win a James Beard.’ ‘You have to make super-fancy foods that you have to plate with tweezers.’ And I think I still do that a little bit, but I want my food to be approachable,” she says. “I was a little worried how that would translate on a show like Top Chef, but [the show] has given me the confidence to cook the way I want to cook. I like elevated food, but there’s also an art to very simple, classic dishes. That’s what I did all season, and it paid off. It solidified me as a chef, and that’s something I really appreciate.”

For the complete article please see

Virgin Atlantic Airways- Beyond Atlanta: A musical Alabama road trip
From the article by Maxine Sheppard on the blog Ruby by Virgin

Editor’s Note: U.K. travel journalist Maxine Sheppard visited Alabama in September on a trip arranged by Surinder Manku and Brian Jones with the state tourism department. Vickie Ashford with the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, Randa Hovater with Florence/Lauderdale Tourism and Susann Hamlin with the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau planned out local itineraries for Sheppard.

For fans of 20th century popular music, nothing compares to a pilgrimage through the American South

The classic road trip itinerary includes Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, perhaps with a stretch of Mississippi’s Highway 61 for good measure, or a quick Texan detour to experience Austin’s legendary live music scene.

But Alabama often flies under the radar, despite a profound role in the history of American popular culture. Hank Williams was born here, as was ‘father of the blues’ W.C Handy. In the northwest corner of the state, two tiny recording studios produced some of the most important, life-changing music of the last century. Farther south in Birmingham and beyond, you’ll find rowdy Southern rock and soul-stirring gospel alongside one of the last-standing juke joints in the United States. To miss out on Alabama is to miss a vital part of the story of American music.

Fly to Atlanta with Virgin Atlantic, and Alabama will be on your doorstep. You can easily discover our musical highlights on a two-night side trip from ATL, or make them your first port of call on a wider journey through the Deep South.

Deep Blues

Atlanta to Birmingham
From downtown Atlanta it’s a straightforward three-hour drive to Birmingham, a former railroad and industrial hub. The largest city in Alabama is best known for its pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but today it’s undergoing something of a renaissance, with award-winning restaurants, new parks and public art, and a small but booming craft beer scene.

While there’s plenty to occupy our time in Birmingham, we’re here for something slightly off the tourist trail. Our destination is around 30 minutes southwest of the city in the small town of Bessemer, where in a scrappy backyard one of the last authentic blues joints in the nation has been opening its doors to musicians and fans since 1952.

The ramshackle roadhouse is not easy to find, and unless you’re a hardcore blues fan, not even that well known. Turning off the busy highway onto pitch black streets, it’s hard to imagine it actually exists. But just as we’re about to give up, a line of pick-up trucks appears in the distance and the sound of a twangy guitar fills the air. We’ve made it.

Gip’s Place
For Americana-seeking Brits, Gip’s Place is the stuff of road trip dreams. The rickety abode belongs to 98-year-old singer, blues guitarist, cemetery owner and gravedigger Henry “Gip” Gipson, who’s been inviting musicians to play at his Saturday night sessions for more than 65 years – an incredible run considering his various run-ins with the authorities over traffic, noise and liquor laws.

Down a dimly lit driveway, the venue announces itself through a haze of barbecue smoke and the plod of a twelve bar blues. A small crowd of people gathered outside share beers from personal coolers (it’s bring your own booze), while 60 or more are crammed hip to hip into Gip’s converted shed in the backyard where a local band are playing on a plywood stage. Down at the front, some are jiving hard: young, old, black, white. Others stay seated but foot-stomp in time, mopping sweaty brows and erupting into appreciative cheers at the end of each song. The atmosphere is joyous.

When the band takes a break, a dapper figure in a white fedora takes a chair at the side of the stage. He picks up his guitar and starts to sing, eyes fixed straight ahead. Gip’s voice is a little shaky now, but at two years shy of 100 years old, his fingers can still find a tune. Whatever he sounds like at 98, he’s long since acquired the status of legend around these parts. Just ask Keith Richards or Jimmy Page – both have made unscheduled appearances in his soulful tin-roofed shack.

Next to us at the back, a man holds a cowboy hat to his chest and cranes for a better view. His name is Elliott and he’s a college student in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from where he’s driven more than 800 miles to be here tonight. “It took about 13 hours,” he said. “My dad always talked about this place. He wanted me to come and experience it before it’s too late. So I finally did it. You never know how long these things are going to last, you know?”

What’s that sound

Birmingham to Muscle Shoals
A two-hour drive north towards the Tennessee border brings us to Muscle Shoals, the self-proclaimed Hit Recording Capital of the World.

The area has long been sacred ground in musical circles, but it was brought to wider prominence in 2013 with the release of an acclaimed documentary about the extraordinary string of hits recorded here in the 1960s and 70s, including Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You),” Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones.

Record producer Rick Hall is known as the “father of the Muscle Shoals Sound.” Overcoming multiple tragedies and relentless poverty in his early life, he founded FAME Recording Studio in 1959 and put together a supremely talented rhythm section which went on to become one of the most sought after in-house session bands in the world. Early wins included hits by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, who credited Hall for taking her on as a moderately successful artist and turning her into the “Queen of Soul.”

Lured by funding from Jerry Wexler, the head of Atlantic Records – who had fallen out with Hall – the rhythm section that would become known as the Swampers parted company with FAME at the end of the sixties and established Muscle Shoals Sound Studio nearby, setting up an intense rivalry in the process. Over the next few years the two studios between them turned this out-of-the-way corner of northern Alabama into a hotbed of talent, luring stars like Percy Sledge, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Cher and the Osmonds away from more established recording locations in Los Angeles, Detroit and New York.

How did they do it? The Swampers themselves were of course a major draw, but according to Hall one of the main reasons for their success, especially in the early years, was because the studios paid no attention to the repressive racial segregation laws of the time. Blacks and whites could write, play and record together in harmony, which led to a culture of trust and creativity that gave birth to some of the most life-affirming music of the century.

Rick Hall died in 2018 but his legacy lives on in the Muscle Shoals area, where both studios continue to operate to this day.

Studio tours
Separate guided tours of the two studios are led by industry professionals with encyclopedic knowledge of American music history.

Once a coffin showroom, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio has appeared on many album covers, and was restored in all its vintage glory in 2017 after a major investment by rapper and producer Dr. Dre. A working studio at night, the building can be toured at hourly intervals during the day, starting off in the publishing offices housed in the basement before heading up to the live room and mixing desk. Look out for the humble toilet where Keith Richards apparently locked himself away to finish writing “Wild Horses” before it was recorded in this very room in December 1969.

Check out some of the area’s other highlights while you’re on the road:

One of Birmingham’s must-sees is the excellent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, across the street from the Sixteen Street Baptist Church where a bomb blast killed four young African-American girls in 1963, marking a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Both are stops on the wider U.S.Civil Rights Trail. Tours of the church are available throughout the week, or head to the Sunday morning service at 11 a.m. to hear the uplifting gospel choir.

Sit down, New York and L.A., Birmingham’s elegant Highlands Bar & Grill was voted America’s Most Outstanding Restaurant in the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards last year, considered the ‘Oscars’ of the restaurant industry. The long-running venue in the historic Five Points South district also claimed a nation’s best award for its self-taught pastry chef Dolester Miles, whose signature coconut cake is the “superstar” of the entire French-infused Southern comfort food menu, according to our enthusiastic waiter.

Occupying the stately Empire Building in downtown Birmingham, the Elyton Hotel opened in 2017 and instantly became the most desirable digs in the city. Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the 16-story skyscraper is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, though its interior spaces have been re-imagined in a bold contemporary style. Book one of the bright, compact rooms complete with graphic print murals and marble showers, or tuck into pizza and mimosas at the low-slung rooftop terrace bar Moon Shine.

The trendy college town of Florence, Alabama is the most interesting place to stay when visiting the Muscle Shoals area. Hippest of all is the music, art and fashion-themed boutique hotel GunRunner on Tennessee Street – somewhere far removed from the chain hotels mostly found round these parts. The 10 individually themed suites are huge – you could probably fit five people in the shower – and most have sofa beds, wet bars and bluetooth sound systems to boot, along with personal touches like bespoke artwork and guitars. They’re arranged around a seriously cool common area with polished wood floors and an industrial vibe, anchored by a central illuminated bar and cosy sitting areas.

For the complete article please see

Southern Living announces the 2019 winners of its South’s Best Awards
Southern Living announced the winners of its third annual South’s Best Awards, recognizing readers’ favorite Southern destinations across the country. The feature story profiling The winners will appear in the April issue of Southern Living, on sale March 22.

Southern Living launched a crowd-sourced digital survey that received more than 65,000 responses. This year’s categories include Bars, BBQ Joints, Chefs, Cities, Food Cities, Food Towns, Hotels, Inns, Resorts, Restaurants and Small Towns.

Alabama destinations placed in 8 of the 11 categories this year. Here is a list of the winning locations in Alabama:
Best Small Towns- 5th Fairhope
Best Beach Towns- 5th Orange Beach and 7th Gulf Shores
Best Resorts- 4th Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa
Best Chefs- 2nd Frank Stitt
Best Restaurants- 10th Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina
Best BBQ- 4th Dreamland
Best Stand Out Meal/To Try- 6th Johnny’s Restaurant
Best Food Cities- 8th Birmingham

For the complete list of winners and the article please see

Cook Natural Science Museum opening this summer
From the article by Deborah Storey on

The teeming life of a coral reef will be on display in a 15,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. Fish and turtles will glide through a 600-gallon freshwater tank. Kids can crawl through a replica of a typical Alabama cave with no fear of getting stuck.

While the biggest north Alabama attraction — the U.S. Space & Rocket Center — celebrates mankind’s relationship with space, the Cook Museum of Natural Science opening in Decatur this summer will focus on the wonders of Earth.

The $32 million museum in downtown Decatur is expected to be a game-changer for regional tourism with live animals, a jellyfish aquarium, mounted wildlife in lifelike settings and displays of minerals and gems.

A small natural history museum operated in Decatur for decades. More than 750,000 people toured the 5,000-square-foot original Cook museum from 1980 to 2016.

“That was kind of the starting point,” said Mike Taylor, marketing and public relations manager for the new museum, which opens June 9 at 133 Fourth Ave. SE. The expansion will “showcase what you would see in nature if you were to go out right now.”

Exhibits in the new 62,000-square-foot space will focus on Alabama “because our executive director is very passionate about the fact that we are kind of the Amazon of the South here in Alabama,” Taylor said. “We are ranked very high in biodiversity. That’s a fact that a lot of people don’t know.”

Market research told museum planners that people want to interact with exhibits.

“From Birmingham to Nashville and from about Florence to Huntsville what everyone around here is interested in is something that shows nature in its natural state, but something you can see up close and get your hands on,” Taylor said.

Visitors will build biomes, simulate volcanic eruptions, crawl into a beaver lodge, scan exhibit tags to learn more about displays and scramble around in a play area for younger children.

The Discover section will be an introduction to the museum with live amphibians and reptiles, including baby alligators, turtles and snakes. Looking Up will display the meteorite from the original museum. In Foundations, visitors can play with a kinetic sand table. Rivers and Streams will have the 600-gallon freshwater tank with live fish and turtles. The long-range plan includes an endangered green sea turtle.

The big saltwater aquarium is the centerpiece of the Oceans exhibit, which will feature a shell collection, live coral and fish and a smaller aquarium with a species of jellyfish known as Moon Jelly. The saltwater tank will be roughly 35 feet long, 7 feet deep and 7 feet wide, Taylor said. In Forests, dioramas will showcase different kinds of plants such as Alabama’s carnivorous pitcher plant. Birds will be on the second-floor mezzanine.

“If you look at the Forests exhibit, there’s a tree called Big Tree,” said Taylor. “It’s a replica of a tree in Sipsey Wilderness. We wanted to communicate with the public in kind of fun way what you would see if you were to go out in Alabama and North America. Forests will include a tree that kids can climb and a rope bridge to cross to a squirrel’s nest.”

“Rivers and Streams focuses on waterfowl. Obviously, being the River City that’s a big exhibit for us,” he said.

Although the non-profit museum carries the name of the family that owns Cook’s Pest Control, Taylor said the two are not connected. It is, however, the realization of the namesake family’s dream. Founders Hall will explain the museum’s history.

“The opening of the Cook Museum in June 2019 marks the culmination of an approximately 50-year vision in the making,” Brian Cook, Cook’s president and board chairman, said in a statement. “My grandfather started this concept back in 1968 and the dream that was in his heart – to have a positive impact on generations to come – is coming to life in a powerful way this summer.”

Some people mistakenly assumed that the original museum displayed only bugs, Taylor said. The new museum does give a nod to those lowly creatures.

Live and pinned insects will be in the Wonderful World of Insects and Little Larvae area, with insect terrariums and the play area for younger visitors.

Educational classrooms, a café, community space and a retail store are also included. The fund-raising effort just crossed the $20 million mark, Taylor said.

Company beginnings
Most people who see bugs look for the closest shoe or can of spray. In 1928, John L. Cook saw a business opportunity.

He formed North Alabama Termite Control, which is now known as Cook’s Pest Control Inc. and the eighth largest pest control company in the country.

John R. Cook took over after his father died. The company is in its fourth generation of ownership with Brian Cook, president and CEO. The regional pest management company has more than 1,600 employees and serves over 300,000 customers in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee.

In 1968, the Cook family opened a small museum with wildlife exhibits. John Cook Sr. would let the public view his insect collection by appointment. That turned out to be the larva stage for the Cook Natural History Museum opening in June.

Earth and space
Cook Museum Executive Director Schelly Corry moved from Dallas to be part of the museum expansion. Because Alabama ranks fifth in the U.S. in the number of species, “North Alabama is the best place to build a natural science museum that shows some of the most amazing life you can find,” she said.

In the Looking Up area of the museum, visitors will see what would happen if the Earth, sun or moon shifted only slightly.

Taylor hopes the natural history museum will be a good fit with the tourist attraction of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.

“This would be an alternate place to come see,” he said. “It’s just a different feel. Being just outside of Huntsville, which is applied science, and being just outside the Arsenal and a lot of engineering jobs, it’s just a good complement.”

Dr. Deborah Barnhart, USSRC CEO and Executive Director, welcomes the museum.

“Between us the two institutions address every major Next Generation Science Standard, creating a robust science education for Alabama’s children,” Barnhart said. “We address Earth, space and physical science while the Cook museum focuses on natural science and chemical science. We complement each other’s strengths.”

For the complete article please see

Huntsville city council OKs $40 million hotel at Von Braun Center
From the article by Paul Gattis on

The Huntsville city council unanimously approved a new downtown hotel Thursday that will be built within the footprint of the Von Braun Center parking deck on Monroe Street.

The $40 million project will create 150 jobs, according to a letter from developer Ascent Hospitality to Mayor Tommy Battle.

The “select service” hotel – which will have 187 rooms in the six-floor building — will include a rooftop bar and two full-service restaurants as well as conference/banquet space planned to complement such space at the VBC.

The hotel must meet a Dec. 31, 2021, deadline to open under terms of the agreement.

It’s the fourth hotel either planned for downtown or soon to open and Shane Davis, the city’s director of planning and urban development, said in a presentation to the council that there is still a shortfall of rooms.

“We’re three hotels short downtown,” said Davis, citing recent statistics outlining demand for hotels.

Davis also said a yet-to-be-announced hotel is expected to be built at CityCentre, the development at Monroe Street and Williams Avenue near the VBC and the site of the AC Hotel by Marriott that’s expected to open later this month.

“You can’t get a room in Huntsville from Sunday through Thursday,” Battle said at another point of the presentation.

The hotel will be built on the southwest corner of the VBC parking deck across the street from Propst Arena. The city will demolish the older, two-level section of the parking deck and replace it with at least a four-level parking deck that will match the current capacity of the parking deck.

Battle said depending on cost, a fifth level may be added to create about 200 more parking spaces.

The parking deck renovation is budgeted to cost about $9 million, Davis said, and the estimated purchase price of an estimated $1.8 million for the hotel site will be rolled in to cover the parking deck expense. Davis told the council that the parking deck money was earmarked two years ago by the city council.

Another element of the refurbished parking deck is to build a new main entrance off Clinton Avenue to go along with the remaining entrance on Church Street. The Monroe Street entrance will be lost to the new hotel.

The city’s financial protection in the project is that the hotel developers must pay 50 percent of the cost for the garage renovation – which will begin in the coming weeks to make room for the hotel footprint — if the hotel is not online by the end of 2021.

For the complete article please see

Jason Isbell bringing new ShoalsFest to Alabama
From the article by Matt Wake on

It’s official. Grammy winning Alabama native Jason Isbell is bringing a new musical festival to the Shoals area.

The first-ever ShoalsFest is set for Oct. 5 and will feature performances by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples and Amanda Shires on the main stage with a second stage line-up to be announced soon.

ShoalsFest will take place at Florence’s McFarland Park. The festival will be an intimate affair with only 5,000 tickets available.

A special ShoalsFest pre-sale for Alabama residents with take place March 23, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. at Birmingham’s Seasick Records and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Muscle Shoals’ Counts Brothers Music.

Limit four tickets per customer with an Alabama driver’s license.

Remaining tickets go on sale 10 a.m. March 25. For tickets, which start at $60 (plus taxes, fees) for standard general admission and go up to $230 for VIP, and more information go to

Back when he was a teenager, Shoals native Jason Isbell developed his guitar playing and reverence for music history working at FAME Studios and playing with local musicians, including members of storied studio-band The Swampers.

Isbell teamed with his manager Traci Thomas and Outback Presents for ShoalsFest.

“I’ve always wanted to bring a music festival to the Shoals, and McFarland Park is the perfect place to enjoy world-class artists and the beauty of the Singing River.” Isbell said in a release. “These acts are all personal favorites of ours, and we’re proud to bring them to our hometown and show them a good time. I hope y’all are as excited as we are about ShoalsFest 2019.”

In the ’60s and ’70s, Muscle Shoals, and surrounding municipalities Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Florence, collectively referred to as The Shoals, had an immeasurable impact on popular music with what was dubbed the “Muscle Shoals Sound.”

Artists ranging from soul-music pioneers The Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to rock-stars like The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan came to FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound, where they tracked some of pop’s most enduring songs. Local session musicians, such as The Swampers, The FAME Gang and others, contributed to many of these recordings. The music often exuded a country-funk feel. It resonated with millions of listeners, helping turn songs like The Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” (among many others) into smashes.

Isbell is known for vivid songwriting and evocative fretwork, on such solo tunes as “24 Frames” and Drive-By Truckers era songs like “Never Gonna Change.”

ShoalsFest performer Mavis Staples is a direct link to The Shoals’ classic era, as vocalist on such sanctified Staple Singers songs as 1972′s “I’ll Take You There,” which was tracked at Sheffield’s Muscle Shoals Sound.

Sheryl Crow broke-big as a solo artist in the ’90s, mixing rock, pop and folk on such hits as “All I Wanna Do” and “My Favorite Mistake.” Like Isbell, in recent years Crow has resided in Nashville.

Amanda Shires, who is married to Isbell, is an acclaimed singer, songwriter and violinist whose sound stretches from Americana to indie rock, as heard on 2018 album “To The Sunset.”

For the complete article please see

Exploreum Science Center’s IMAX dome theater to undergo major transformation
The Exploreum Science Center is proud to announce a groundbreaking new partnership with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in the digital upgrade of its Dome Theater. Working with D3D, a nationally recognized company based in Evanston, Illinois, the Exploreum will make a huge leap from its current state as a film-based theater into a digital laser-based Giant Screen Dome theater.

“We are thrilled to partner with PCI and D3D on this massive upgrade”, said Don Comeaux, Executive Director of the Exploreum. “PCI’s investment will enable the Exploreum to show, for the first time, the latest digital giant screen films. And, in the very near future, we will be able to show commercial, full-length feature films. We’ll be putting the viewers’ experience in overdrive with greater contrast, clarity, and visually stunning images that are superior to any previous technology. The theater will be an immersive experience unique to the Gulf Coast Region and beyond, and we’re looking forward to this cutting-edge conversion.”

In addition to a drastically upgraded visual experience, the theater will be getting a near top to bottom overhaul in other areas as well. A state-of-the-art sound system will be installed during the conversion process delivering enhanced audio equal to that of the new visuals. Upgraded seating and new flooring will be installed as well as an all new lighting system, resulting in a nearly brand new theater.

This cutting edge technology will enable the Exploreum to greatly expand its various educational and professional programs. Live video conferencing, dynamic and interactive presentations, and streaming broadcasts from entities such as NASA as well as TED Talks will all be possible with the new configuration.

PCI Chief Government Relations Officer Robbie McGhee remarked, “The Tribe is deeply committed to furthering innovative educational opportunities for the entire community, and we are proud to be part of this noble endeavor that helps make the wonders of science accessible to everyone.”

D3D Cinema, working in concert with Christie Digital Systems, will be replacing the existing film projection system with a laser-illuminated system. It will feature ultra-high 6K resolution via a trio of advanced Christie laser projectors, high frame rate capability (up to 120 fps), and outstanding contrast ratios. The state-of-the-art laser system is capable of delivering up to 150,000 lumens on the dome producing incredibly vivid images with a brilliant expanded dynamic range and color gamut far beyond the capabilities of film-based and xenon-illuminated projection systems.  D3D will also upgrade the audio system with a dome-optimized surround-sound speaker array delivering 25,000 watts of power for an incredibly lifelike and immersive aural experience, capable of reproducing the clap of a sonic boom or the whisper of an evening breeze with equal fidelity.

“The Exploreum Science Center has always enjoyed such great success with their Giant Dome Theater, and we’re honored to have been selected to help them usher in the exciting new digital era in Mobile,” said Don Kempf, President of D3D Cinema. “The product that Christie Dome solution and our team will be deploying there is undoubtedly the highest quality solution on the market, and one that will be able to evolve as future new technologies emerge, allowing the Exploreum to do what science museums do best – showcasing the most advanced technology in the world.”

Sentell: a true leader for Alabama tourism
From the editorial comment by Tami Reist in the North Alabama newsletter:

I ask you to consider, what is leadership? To me a leader is a communicator; an individual with the ability to share their vision with those around them. A leader is passionate; their leadership has a purpose, a goal they are dedicated to achieving, through the inspirational motivation of their team. A leader is a teacher; as great leadership will result in the empowerment of others to lead, take risks and develop new skills.

I have experienced many aspects of leadership through mentoring and decision making positions and the best I have encountered is reflected in Lee Sentell. Recently Gov. Kay Ivey appointed him to his fifth term as director of Alabama Tourism. The appointment makes Lee the longest-serving director of the cabinet-level state tourism agency in our history.

Lee was first appointed to the position in 2003 by Gov. Bob Riley. Since that time Alabama’s tourism industry has grown from $6.8 billion annually to $14.3 billion in revenue — an amazing 119% uptick and making Alabama’s tourism expansion one of the highest in the Southeast.

As Alabama’s tourism industry has grown, so have all of us because of Lee’s capacity to lead a team that fosters positive outcomes, not just within the state department, but for all of us across Alabama.

The department has received national awards for its advertising campaigns focusing on Alabama arts, foods and small towns. More importantly, the Alabama tourism industry has finally received the respect it deserves as a vital part of the quality of life in our state.

Leadership is the ability to create an inspiring future that motivates people to engage with it. A leader serves as the anchor needed to turn that vision into a reality. We are blessed to have an inspiring leader in Lee Sentell who will carry us into that future.

Statewide walking tours begin in April
Some 30 towns across Alabama will be on display during Saturday mornings in April as part of the Alabama Tourism Department’s April Walking Tours.

A variety of community leaders will lead the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns. The hour-long tours will start at 10 a.m. on April 6, 13, 20 and 27.

Towns and starting places for the April Walking Tours are: Athens, Athens Visitor Center; Attalla, Gazebo at 4th St. and 5th Ave.; Bayou La Batre, Mariner Park; Birmingham, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Courtland, Courtland Heritage Museum; Cullman, Cullman County Museum; Decatur, Old State Bank Building; Elba, Chamber of Commerce; Elkmont, Elkmont Depot; Enterprise, Pea River Historical Society; Eutaw, Prairie Avenue; Eufaula, Carnegie Library; Fairhope, Fairhope Welcome Center; Florence, various locations; Foley, Welcome Center.

Huntsville, Confectionary Shop at Constitution Village (April 6 & 13 only); Livingston, McConnell Field on University of West Alabama campus; Madison, Madison Roundhouse (April 20 & 27 only); Mobile, Welcome Center at The History Museum of Mobile; Monroeville, Old Courthouse Museum; Montgomery, Montgomery Area Visitor Center; Mooresville, Post Office; Moulton, Lawrence County Archives; Pell City, City Hall; Prattville, Prattaugan Museum; Selma, Selma-Dallas County Library; Sheffield, Sheffield Municipal Building; Shelby, Iron Works Park; Springville, Springville Museum; Tuscumbia, ColdWater Bookstore.

The tours are being coordinated by Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department. “Alabama is the only state in the nation to hold statewide, simultaneous walking tours. These walking tours are a great way to get out and enjoy the spring weather and find out about the history of our state. More than 36,000 people have participated in the walking tours since the beginning of the program 16 years ago and the tours keep increasing in popularity every year,” Jones said.

More information about the April Walking Tours is available on the Alabama Tourism Department website at

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