Tourism Tuesdays April 16, 2019

State tourism award nominations

Welcome Center greeting tourism partners

Birmingham: A city using theaters to reinvent itself

U.S. Space & Rocket Center highlighted in Travel Weekly-UK feature on Apollo anniversary

$100 million expansion at OWA park could affect nearby Florida beach resort towns

10 reasons to visit Alabama this summer

Judy Ryals is a Yellowhammer News 2019 Woman of Impact

Launch of the Cahaba Blueway: a 200 mile-long “water trail” through the state

Protective Life gets naming rights for Birmingham’s new stadium

Lake Martin Tourism Association seeking an executive director

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio starting new podcast series

Swiss tour brings staff and agents to Alabama

More than 1,000 have taken part in April Walking Tours

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


State tourism award nominations
The 2019 Tourism Award nominations are now open. Please submit your nomination for a Tourism professional you feel has gone above and beyond the call of duty. There are 13 categories to choose from: Tourism Hall of Fame, Attraction of the Year, Event of the Year, Governor’s Tourism Award, Tourism Advocate Media, Tourism Advocate Government, Tourism Professional of the Year, Tourism Executive of the Year, Tourism Organization of the Year, Tourism Partnership, Welcome Center Employee of the Year, ATD Employee of the Year, Rising Star, and Themed Campaigns.

The deadline for nominations is May 3, 2019 at 2 p.m. If you have any questions please contact Cynthia Flowers at 334-242-4413 or by email:

Welcome Center greeting tourism partners
The Alabama Tourism Department-Welcome Center Program will be welcoming guests throughout the state to increase the awareness of the economic, social and cultural impact that tourism has on the local, regional and statewide communities. We invite our tourism partners to participate at each Center from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. (central standard time) by bringing special promotions, coupons, etc., and share in our hospitality on the following dates:

May 9: Lanett Welcome Center, Grand Bay Welcome Center and Houston Welcome Center
May 10: Baldwin Welcome Center
May 15: Cleburne Welcome Center
May 16: Sumter Welcome Center
May 23: Ardmore Welcome Center
May 30: DeKalb Welcome Center

Please contact the Welcome Center managers to RSVP.

Birmingham: A city using theaters to reinvent itself
From the article by Vicky Baker on

“The idea of saving a theatre is so common that it is the plot of the Muppets,” jokes Glenny Brock, a resident of Birmingham, Alabama, who left her job as journalist to work full-time on such a project.

She cites a past headline on the satirical news site The Onion: “Community loses interest three days after rallying to save local theater.”

Yet in Birmingham’s case, the locals have made it work. Its theaters are undergoing a renaissance.

First came The Lyric, which reopened in 2016 after decades of neglect, then the Alabama Theatre set to work restoring the second of its dazzling, 60ft signs.

Now work on the art-deco Carver Theatre, which served the African-American community, is also under way.

Birmingham, named after the U.K. city on account of its industrial aspirations, remains best known for being the centre of the country’s civil rights struggles in the 1950s and 1960s, and that is why the restoration of its past, through a modern lens, is seen as so important.

Next in line for a makeover is another abandoned African-American theatre, The Lincoln, in Bessemer, 15 miles (24km) to the city’s south-west.

It has been bought by actor André Holland (“Moonlight;” “Selma;” Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe), who grew up in the town and remembers it as an empty shell next to his childhood barbers’ shop.

He says people are really excited about his plans to turn it back into a cinema and arts space, especially as it sits in a predominantly African-American area that feels like it is often left behind.

“It’s good for people – particular young people – to have something to be proud of in their neighborhood,” he says. “The Lincoln was the only movie theatre you could go to [as a black patron in segregated Bessemer]. Everyone who went has memories of it. They remember first dates there, they remember the titles of all the movies they saw.”

The actor picked up the keys a year and a half ago, and is currently still in the early stages of planning its resurrection.

“It looks like someone just locked the door and walked away. The movie reels are still there, there is an old projector,” he says, clearly in awe of its history and potential.

The Lyric returns
The Lyric, in downtown Birmingham, has been the most jaw-dropping of the theatrical transformations to date.

For more than 45 years, it was largely abandoned – aside from brief spells of use, including as a retail space and an adult theater.

To a passerby, it looked like a forgotten corner of standard office block. The birds, bats, rats and cats had moved in, according to Ms Brock, who works for non-profit organization Birmingham Landmarks, which spearheaded its renovation.

An $11 million dollar project has brought it back to its full glory, recalling days when Buster Keaton, Mae West and the Marx Brothers all trod its boards.

The Lyric closed in 1960, four years before Birmingham’s segregation law was overridden by the Civil Rights Act. Before then, black patrons had to enter through a separate entrance and sit in the “colored balcony.”

When restoring the building, the lobby’s separating wall was knocked through and a glass panel was put in to highlight this. An engraving reads: “Historic colored entrance. You are standing before a reminder of Birmingham’s history and the struggle for civil rights.”

One city, two theatre scenes
For most of the first half of the 20th Century, Birmingham had more than 20 theaters within five blocks, but they catered to different races.

With much of the city out of bounds to black customers, a cluster of streets – now known as Fourth Avenue Historic District – developed as a separate business district, with its own barbers, restaurants and theaters.

“It was an independent economy and ecosystem,” says Elijah Davis, who works at Urban Impact Inc, the area’s non-profit development agency. “And it was not razed to the ground in the 70s like many such areas in other places.”

Urban Impact was founded 39 years ago by the city’s first black mayor, Richard Arrington. Among other things, it helped the district’s businesses buy their premises from absentee landlords.

Most of the area’s theaters were never black-owned, says Mr Davis.

The Carver’s comeback
In its heyday, Fourth Avenue Historic District’s theaters had four theaters. Two are no longer there, one has been transformed into apartments and the fourth, the Carver Theatre, was bought by the city in 1990.

It is currently closed as its renovation begins and the project is expected to be completed next year.

The Carver was a thriving venue in its heyday, says Leah Tucker, its executive director. “It was somewhere to get dressed up and feel comfortable.”

She says its restoration is important for the African-American community – to show its heritage is worth protecting too – and for all residents and visitors. “Most tourists visit for Birmingham the civil rights experience. It [the preservation] can help the city.”

In 2017, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument District – including part of Fourth Avenue area – was protected via a proclamation signed by then President Barack Obama.

Birmingham reborn
All of the theatre restorations are helping the city move forward.

Ms. Brock says the Lyric’s restoration has led to businesses – from a hip coffee shop to a ramen bar – springing up around it, and new apartments are making the downtown area an appealing place to live.

The 2011 inauguration of Railroad Park, which transformed industrial space into parkland, was also another key marker in this apparent turnaround, while the ever-expanding University of Alabama at Birmingham is also bringing new investment and more downtown residents.

However, architecturally, the city still mourns the loss of its grand, Byzantine-inspired train station, which was demolished in 1969. “That is like a civic wound,” says Ms Brock, adding that Lyric presented “an incredible opportunity to get things right.”

Mr. Davis agrees that the new Lyric is a “hallmark” of downtown revitalization. “And we also have buildings that are really able to subvert ideas on what African Americans were able to accomplish in Jim Crow times in the South.”

He said there was a lot of excitement brewing around the long-awaited new Carver.

“Birmingham is very much wrestling with the type of city it wants to be,” he says, referring to issues of gentrification and displacement. “But contrary to other cities of its size, it is probably having the right conversations early on.”

For the complete article please see

U.S. Space & Rocket Center highlighted in Travel Weekly-UK feature on Apollo anniversary
From the article “Celebrating Apollo 50: Space-themed attractions in the US” by Laura French in the UK edition of Travel Weeklymagazine:

US Space & Rocket Center, Alabama
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama – the biggest space museum on the planet and the official visitor centre for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (the place where NASA’s rockets and spacecraft are developed and tested).

It was here that the Saturn V was engineered, and its heritage is marked across the city – not least by a 110m-high replica of the rocket that soars up from outside the museum, punctuating the skyline.

This year, the centre is doing everything it can to commemorate the achievement, with highlights including a Guinness World Record attempt on July 16 that will see 5,000 rockets launched into the sky at 8.32 a.m., the exact time the rocket ignited in 1969. It will be followed by a ‘homecoming dinner’ with brass band entertainment, and an all-out street party with dancing aplenty in downtown Huntsville.

There’ll also be a celebration car show on July 13 featuring cars from the Apollo era, a special concert on July 20 to mark the landing date, lunar landing re-enactments at the museum’s new planetarium, and an all new exhibition, “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon, tracing the Space Race journey.”

It doesn’t end there, though. It’s here that you’ll find the much talked-about Space Camp – an immersive, unique learning programme where wannabe astronauts and space lovers of any age stay on site while taking part in team-building activities and completing simulated space missions to give them an idea of what it’s really like to fly in space.

For the complete article please see

$100 million expansion at OWA park could affect nearby Florida beach resort towns
From the article by Ken Storey on

When the Park at OWA amusement park opened in Alabama in 2017, it left many wondering what its owners, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, were doing, but now two years on, it’s clear that the tribe is set on becoming a major player in the hospitality industry.

Before opening OWA in Foley, the Poarch Creek tribe made much of its money via a few small casinos found in Alabama. In 2015, when a previous investor pulled out from the OWA resort project, the tribe stepped in. Working with the city of Foley, who had built a multi-sports complex designed to attract tournaments and youth sporting events, the Poarch Creek tribe developed the 520-acre resort to celebrate local Southern culture while giving tourists visiting nearby beaches something else to do.

The $240 million resort was viewed as an oddity, and many questioned how sustainable it would be. No new park had opened in the U.S. since the short-lived Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach opened nearly a decade earlier. OWA opened with a “downtown” entertainment village mostly filled with empty storefronts while the park featured rides exclusively from Italian manufacturer Zamperla, best known for their large roller coasters and carnival-style flat rides.

Now two years on, OWA is starting to find its footing, and the Poarch Creek tribe are taking their lessons learned to invest in new hospitality ventures. A $100 million planned expansion at OWA is designed to address many of the early criticisms of the park, and that might mean bad things for nearby beach resort towns like Pensacola and Panama City.

The old downtown-themed shopping village at OWA already has a Wahlburgers, but a new Paula Deen restaurant will bring another nationally recognized name to the line-up. Las Vegas’ famous Legends in Concert will open this summer. The popular tribute show (which at one time had a venue in Daytona Beach) will add some entertainment to the resort beyond the amusement park and a small arcade. The celebrity look-alikes from the tribute show will also do appearances at the nearby Tanger Outlets mall. A future Warehouse District entertainment complex is also planned for the resort.

A massive new flagship hotel is planned for OWA, which currently only has a TownePlace Suites. The new hotel will have an indoor water park attached to it. Details on the new water park are still being worked out, such as if it will be open to guests not staying at the hotel. A resort-style RV park is also in the works.

Inside the amusement park, a haunted house shooter ride, similar to Legoland Florida’s Lost Kingdom Adventure, will open soon. Both the indoor haunted house dark ride and the indoor water park address one of the other big criticisms of OWA. Currently, every single ride in the park closes during rainstorms, a time when guests from the nearby beach might be the most interested in visiting.

“Being a substantial economic driver for the state of Alabama, we have continually invested into OWA’s diverse entertainment offerings in an effort to provide visitors and residents with a one-of-a-kind resort experience,” says Cody Williamson, president and CEO of Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA), the economic development arm of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

With the addition of new indoor and evening entertainment along with celebrity-driven dining venues, OWA is becoming not just an anomaly along the Gulf shore but a destination as Florida resort towns continue their endless pursuit of trying to rebrand themselves away from their Spring Break cash cows. Even MTV has noticed with new reality shows, like Floribama Shore, focused less on Panama City itself and more on the region, including Alabama.

The Poarch Creek tribe isn’t just focused on Foley though. In the past six months, the tribe also bought two hotels near one of their casinos in nearby Atmore, Alabama. They also partnered with five other tribes to form a hotel development fund, The Doradus Fund. Out of the funds eight current holdings, more than two thirds of its $80 million investments are centered on four hotels slated for Walt Disney World’s Flamingo Crossings.

They are also owner partners in other hotels including the Holiday Inn Resort and Hilton Garden Inn in Fort Walton Beach; the Hyatt Place Hotel in Pensacola; and the Westin Hotel in Lake Mary.

In 2017, they purchased their first international resort through their Wind Creek gaming brand, a 431-room casino resort in Aruba. Wind Creek recently purchased another casino in Willemstad, Curaçao.

The Poarch Creek tribe look to follow the investment path first laid out by Florida’s own Seminole Tribe, who now own some of the largest casinos in the world and have a portfolio of globally recognized businesses, including Hard Rock.

Already, between the Doradus Fund and their own private investments, the Poarch Creek tribe now own or co-own more than a dozen hotels. With OWA growing more every year, things are only looking up for the tribe.

For the complete article please see

10 reasons to visit Alabama this summer
From the article by Tracey Teo on (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

If you have a bad case of spring fever, there’s just one cure — a road trip!

Why not drop by and say hello to our neighbor to the west, Alabama. If it’s been a while, you’ll have some catching up to do because much has changed — for the better. Here are 10 reasons to visit now.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Young, aspiring astronauts are over the moon about the recent opening of Intuitive Planetarium and digital theater, a state-of-the-art facility that whisks viewers away on a thrilling exploration of the cosmos. Advanced technology that makes IMAX look about as cutting-edge as a manual typewriter provides a breathtaking tour of the Milky Way and a flight through Saturn’s rings. That’s not the only reason to visit this massive space museum. “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon,” is a new exhibit that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It chronicles space exploration from the turbulent Cold War Space Race era to the first footprints on the moon and takes a look at how that historic achievement brought nations together to work toward a common goal of learning more about what lies beyond our Earthly boundaries.

Alabama Safari Park
Kids may leave this new drive-through park believing unicorns are real. Arabian oryx have two long horns that align so perfectly, they look like a single horn from the side, and some believe these very real creatures gave rise to stories of a mythical one. By the early 1970s, this antelope was extinct in the wild due to over hunting, but captive breeding programs in American zoos saved the species. Calves grazing quietly in a verdant pasture are a welcome sight to those familiar with the species’ struggle for survival. But eventually, you’ll have to tear yourself away from these cuddly babies because, with more than 700 animals on 350 acres, there’s much to see. In the walking section of the park, kids can feed giraffes and get acquainted with small, gentle birds at the Budgie Adventure Aviary.

Noccalula Experience
The Noccalula Experience is an outdoor performance at Noccalula Falls Park and Campground in Gadsden that recounts the legend of Indian princess Noccalula and her true love. It debuts May 31 and runs for five weeks this summer. The audience physically follows the action, which takes place in the state park’s most scenic spots and concludes at Noccalula Falls, a natural marvel that seems to have all the power and strength of the Indian maiden herself.

Hangout Music Festival
The only thing better than a music festival is a music festival on the beach. The annual three-day Hangout Music Festival rocks Gulf Shores May 17-19 with headliners Cardi B, Travis Scott, the Lumineers and Khalid. Come for the music and stay for the party. Boogie down in a ‘70s-style roller disco rink, show off your beach volleyball skills or bust a move in the Malibu Beach House. For a bird’s-eye view of the action, hop on the giant Ferris Wheel.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home
For many, a stroll through Bellingrath Gardens is a rite of spring. The 65-acre fragrant oasis is the legacy of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, prominent members of Mobile society that opened their gardens to the public in 1932. More than 1,000 delicate white Easter lilies bob in a soft breeze, while hydrangeas the color of a summer sky stretch as far as the eye can see. But for many, the highlight will always be the award-winning rose garden blooming with dozens of varieties. It’s whimsically shaped like a Rotary Club emblem because Walter Bellingrath was a founding member of the Rotary Club of Mobile. Allow time to tour the Bellingrath home, a 10,000-square-foot English Renaissance mansion that houses an impressive collection of antiques.

Little River Canyon National Preserve
In the spring, Little River Falls gushes forth in all its glory, a powerful force of nature that cascades 45 feet to the river below. Nature lovers come to admire the falls and take in the colorful carpet of mountain laurel, daffodils and rhododendrons that bloom along Little River, unique because it flows most of its length along the top of Lookout Mountain, the only river in the country to run along a mountaintop. Hard-core hikers welcome the challenge of descending into the canyon, the deepest in Alabama, from Eberhart Point. Step-by-step, they navigate past rugged rock formations, the sound of the river below growing louder as they overcome each obstacle. What goes down must come up, and climbing out of the canyon is a true test of strength and endurance. For something less challenging, Canyon Mouth Park offers easy access to the water, picnic tables, restrooms and an easy one-mile hiking trail alongside the river.

‘The Miracle Worker’
Ivy Green, the modest clapboard house where the blind and deaf Helen Keller spent her early years, is open for tours year round, but live performances of “The Miracle Worker” only take place in spring and summer. The powerful drama by William Gibson relays the miracle at the water pump when teacher Anne Sullivan finally gets her unruly young pupil, frustrated by her disabilities, to comprehended that everything has a name. Understanding language sparked Helen’s transformation from a feral child with a violent temper to an intelligent woman who earned a college degree and devoted her life to helping others.

The F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
If you’re struggling with that novel you’ve been writing for years, stay in F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s former home in Cloverdale, Montgomery’s historic district, and see if you can channel some of the Jazz Age couple’s literary magic. Two apartments above the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum are for rent through Airbnb – The Zelda Suite and the Scott Suite. This stop on the Southern Literary Trail is where F. Scott wrote “Tender is the Night” and Zelda penned her only novel, “Save me the Waltz.” Among the museum artifacts are first editions of all of F. Scott’s novels, childhood photos, Zelda’s flapper headband and 11 of her paintings.

Capitol Hill Golf
Warmer weather means it’s time to dust off the golf clubs and see if your swing got rusty over the winter. Capitol Hill near Montgomery boasts three 18-hole courses and is one of the most popular sites on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a collection of championship-caliber courses spread throughout the state. Bring your “A” game if you are facing the Judge, the most difficult of the three Capitol Hill courses. The moment you tee off at the first hole 200 feet above the fairway, you’ll know this is not your average country club course. Set along the scenic Alabama River, it’s a mine field of water hazards that frustrates some and thrills others. The Senator, a Scottish links-style course with a maze of bunkers and mounds, presents its own challenges. If you’re really just out for the fresh air and picturesque views, play the Legislator, a traditional, more forgiving course with play in and out of pine trees.

Alabama Adventure & Splash Adventure
What kid isn’t up for some wringing-wet fun, especially when water slides are involved? Take the plunge on two new ones this season at Splash Adventure, which opens for the season on May 18. The Twister spirals through a series of turns and thrilling drops, while the FreeFall is a flume-style ride with a heart-in-your-mouth vertical drop that splashes down in six inches of water. If you prefer to stay dry, Adventure Amusement Park has lots of exciting rides that don’t require a bathing suit. The Galleon is a new swinging ship that sends riders on a voyage that, with a little imagination, mimics sailing a stormy sea.

For the complete article please see

Judy Ryals is a Yellowhammer News 2019 Woman of Impact
From the article by Erin Brown Hollis on

Judy Ryals is paving the way for a brighter future in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Huntsville/Madison area has experienced tremendous growth and success, particularly in the travel and hospitality industry over the past few years. Serving as the president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Judy Ryals is one of the most influential leaders impacting the growth.

Ryals joined the Bureau in 1978 and is the longest serving director of a tourism bureau in the State of Alabama. But her impact in the industry goes well beyond the Huntsville region. Over the course of her career, there is little in Alabama’s tourism sector she has not touched.

She has been appointed by six governors to serve on the Advisory Board of the Alabama Tourism Department due to her success in promoting the Huntsville/Madison areas. She currently serves as the chairman and was one of the first females to serve as a board member of the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, which is now Destination Marketing Association International.

Ryals has served on a number of statewide boards, including the Alabama Council of Association Executives, Alabama Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus and Alabama Travel Council. She received the state’s top award and was inducted into the Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame, the first CVB representative to receive this award.

The Huntsville/Madison County CVB was chosen as the organization of the year by the Alabama tourism industry, as well as by Alabama Mountain Lakes Association, the north Alabama regional tourism marketing organization.

She is a graduate of the University of Alabama where she received a degree in public relations in 1976. Mrs. Ryals, an Alabama native, is married to Davis Ryals, Jr. and they have two sons.

She finds it especially satisfying to make a difference and improve the quality of life for the community in which she lives, works and plays. In a recent article, she points specifically to “the expansion at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the growth of Huntsville Museum of Art and the emergence of the old textile factory at Lowe Mill into a nationally recognized arts and entertainment area,” as improvements she sees paying dividends.

Regarding the growth and success of Huntsville/Madison, Ryals states, “Looking back, it becomes evident that much of our success as a city is due to our ability to rise to the challenge of change, to recognize the need for growth and to embrace it.”

When asked about Mrs. Ryals, the leaders in the Huntsville/Madison area praise her leadership and service.

Mayor Tommy Battle said, “Judy Ryals has been one of the City’s most active and dedicated leaders. Through her role championing Huntsville as a prime tourist destination, Judy has elevated our brand throughout the Southeast and the world.”

Similarly, Chairman of the Madison County Commission Dale Strong states, “For more than 40 years, Judy Ryals has been a leader in executing a distinct vision to not only grow tourism in our region but to also position Huntsville and Madison County as the premier tourist destination in the State of Alabama.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mrs. Judy Ryals a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham.

For the complete article please see

Launch of the Cahaba Blueway: a 200 mile-long “water trail” through the state
The University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, or UACED, along with its program partners at the Cahaba River Society, The Nature Conservancy of Alabama, the Freshwater Land Trust, and the Cahaba Riverkeeper, recently announced the official start of the Cahaba Blueway, a 200 mile-long “water trail” through the heart of Alabama.

Canoeists, kayakers, outdoor enthusiasts and others who take advantage of Alabama’s bounty of beautiful rivers and waterways will find their access to Alabama’s longest free-flowing and most biologically diverse river will soon improve thanks to this collaborative effort.

Flowing from Trussville, just northeast of Birmingham, to Old Cahawba Archaeological Park in Dallas County, the Cahaba River is among the most biologically diverse rivers in North America and is an outstanding natural asset that has been underutilized for nature-based recreation and eco-tourism, according to the partnership.

UACED and its partners developed the Cahaba Blueway program to enhance public awareness of the river as a recreational destination, to make available the information needed for safe navigation on the river, and to facilitate the development of access infrastructure to make getting on and off the water with a canoe or kayak safer and easier.

Program partners developed a website at where visitors can obtain information to plan a paddling trip on the river. The site features an interactive map with information about each access point and river section, paddling and river safety information and links to local paddling outfitters and retailers as well as local hospitality and tourism information resources.

For more information about the Cahaba Blueway program please see

Protective Life gets naming rights for Birmingham’s new stadium
From the article by Roy S. Johnson on

Birmingham’s planned $174 million open-air downtown stadium will be branded by Protective Life, in a deal with the Birmingham-based insurance company expected to last 15 years.

Protective will pay $15 million—$1 million annually.

Regions is also contributing through stadium-connected deals, paying $500,000 per year for 10 years, Tad Snider, executive director of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority said.

There are “some discussions with other possible contributors, but not at this time,” Snider said.

Suites in the stadium will sell for around $50,000 annually, he added.

“Protective is an organization with deep ties to the Birmingham community, so their participation is going to add huge value to the project,”Snider said.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the 55,000-seat stadium happened at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center on Dec. 13, 2018. Construction is not slated to begin until late summer or early fall.

Although officials say the design phase is moving at a “rapid pace,” it is not clear whether the stadium will be complete in time for The World Games 2021 and the 2021 UAB football season. Snider said work to prepare the foundation for the stadium should begin this summer.

“Like many great things that have happened in Birmingham, this project would not be possible without a number of dedicated partners working together,” John D. Johns, executive chairman of Protective, said in an announcement provided at ceremonies on April 11, 2019. “The city, county, BJCC, UAB and the business community have all come together to form a collaborative coalition, and that teamwork has been instrumental in pushing this project forward. The fulfillment of this dream confirms that truly amazing things can happen in this community when we focus our energies on coming together to create our future.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the stadium is projected to provide the city with $10 million in additional tax revenue yearly. He said again the money will be going to a Neighborhood Revitalization Fund to restore areas in desperate need.

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens says the new stadium will be part of a “new skyline that shouts that we are growing and we are innovating.”

For the complete article please see

Lake Martin Tourism Association seeking an executive director
The Lake Martin Tourism Association (LMTA) in Alexander City is seeking an Executive Director to develop, coordinate, direct, implement, and administer a strategy for marketing Alexander City and the Lake Martin Area as a tourism destination. LMTA is a new community organization and the successful candidate will have the opportunity to build the organization from the ground up.

Qualifications: College degree in Hospitality/Tourism Management or other comparable field with a minimum of 5 years’ hospitality/tourism leadership experience; or a combination of comparable education and related experience to meet the position requirements.

A full job description is available at

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio starting new podcast series
From the article by Russ Corey on

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio’s first major recording session in 1969 will be the topic of the iconic recording studio’s first podcast, which is expected to debut Sunday, the same day Cher’s “3614 Jackson Highway” session concluded.

Debbie Wilson, the studio’s executive director, said the subject of the first podcast is appropriate since “3614 Jackson Highway,” which features the musicians and producers standing in front of the building, is being released by Run Out Groove Records to commemorate the album’s 50th anniversary.

The album featured the studio’s rhythm section — Barry Beckett on keyboards, Roger Hawkins on drums, David Hood on bass and Jimmy Johnson on guitar. Eddie Hinton played lead guitar and Jeannie Greene, Donna Jean Thatcher, Mary Holladay and Sue Pilkington provided backing vocals.

“That’s the thing that got us started,” Wilson said. “The Cher sessions will be literally 50 years old on the 19th. They finished on the 21st.”

A podcast is a series of audio or video files about a topic that can be downloaded and listened to, or subscribed to through various services like iTunes. The term was created from the iPod media player and the word “broadcast.”

Podcasts can be listened to on various music file players or cellphones.

Wilson said the podcast idea came from studio Manager Anna Hyde, First Impressions Coordinator Mallory Kirk and tour guide Terrell Benton, who will record the podcast.

“It’s really good exposure,” Wilson said of the studio entering the podcasting world. “We have so many stories to tell. It’s another marketing tool to get it out there. It will take marketing to the next level.”

Hyde said each edition of the podcast will last 20 minutes. Hyde said research indicates listeners lose interest after about 20 minutes.

During staff discussions, Hyde said Benton asked who would actually speak on the podcast. Hyde said she responded, “You.”

“I volunteered him to do that,” Hyde said. “His voice tells a story. That’s what you want a podcast to do, and it’s easy to understand his voice.”

Benton said he’s getting some help from Nina Jackson, the production manager at Big River Broadcasting, who will serve as his de facto producer.

Hyde said the podcasts will be quarterly at first, but could expand in frequency in the future.

“As it grows, we may amp that up,” Hyde said. “We hope at some point to do video recording at the same time on a YouTube channel so people can watch.”

Benton already has numerous ideas for future podcasts, including a history of some of the more recognizable albums recorded in the studio, including Boz Scaggs’ second album.

“David told me some great stories of that recording,” he said.

He’d also like to take a look at the Leon Russell sessions where producer Denny Cordell called the rhythm section the “Swampers,” a name that stuck with them for decades.

Producer Jerry Wexler could be the subject of a future podcast, as could the Swampers themselves and the unsung guitarist and songwriter Eddie Hinton.

“It’s storytelling,” Benton said.

Above all, Wilson said the podcasts are another way to promote the studio, and they could end up creating revenue if advertisers can be secured. The first episode has already received sponsorship from Florence-Lauderdale Tourism and NuWay Vinyl in Muscle Shoals. They will also promote them through the studio’s website and Facebook page.

“More than anything, it’s a good marketing tool and good exposure for the sponsors,” Wilson said. “We want to market it internationally, too.”

Hyde said the podcasts must be approved by whoever is offering them before they area made public, at least for the first few releases.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was only open for 10 years at 3614 Jackson Highway before moving to a building on Alabama Avenue.

For the complete article please see

Swiss tour brings staff and agents to Alabama
Twelve Swiss travel agents and tour company officials just ended a research trip from New Orleans to Nashville with several stops in Alabama. It was all part of a plan by four Southern state tourism departments to boast tourism from the company to the Southern region of the USA. Their visit in Alabama was between March 30 and April 5.

The trip in Alabama started after the group’s visit to New Orleans. In Alabama they checked in at The Lodge at Gulf State Park and a tour of the area with Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.

In Mobile, they stayed at the Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa. The Mobile Bay CVB organized special events including a historical tour of Mobile and seafood dinner on Mobile Bay.

From Mobile the group visited stops in Mississippi before returning for a final Alabama night.

In Huntsville, the group toured top attractions with the Huntsville CVB. Those include the Huntsville Botanical Garden, Lowe Mills Art & Entertainment Center, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Campus 805. After a night’s rest at the Drury Inn, the group departed for Nashville and then returned home.

Alabama’s German Partnership Representative Janin Nachtweh accompanied the group as they visited Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Mobile and Huntsville.

Responses from the travel agents and tour operators were very positive. “They were really pleased to see that each of the Alabama destinations had so much to offer, with each city being completely different,” said Nachtweh. “Not having been to Alabama before this surprised the group as they expected each Alabama city to be similar. Now they know they can suggest to their clients need to visit more than just one city to experience Alabama,” Nachtweh added.

Swiss visitors spent an estimated 9.3 million dollars in 2018.

The Alabama Tourism Department would like to thank all the local DMOs in Alabama that helped make this research trip possible.

Several regions and cities in Alabama contribute to the German Partnership. For more information,

More than 1,000 have taken part in April Walking Tours
More than 1,000 people across the state have taken part in the April Walking Tours, so far this year.

A variety of community leaders lead the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns on Saturday mornings in April. The remaining tours start at 10 a.m. on April 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.

Livingston, McConnell Field on University of West Alabama campus; Madison, Madison Roundhouse; 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

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
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