Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: April/May 2009
The African-American Guide to Meetings, Incentives, & Traveling in the South
By: Sonya Stinson

The South is turning on the charm, ramping up the fun, spotlighting the region's rich African-American heritage and moving toward a greener hospitality industry. All of which are excellent reasons for choosing a Southern destination for the next meeting or incentive trip on your horizon.

You'll find meeting and lodging accommodations to fit every group size and budget, a wide range of cultural and entertainment attractions and a climate favorable to year-round outdoor recreation and sightseeing.

ALABAMA

From its space city in the north to the Gulf Coast destinations along its southern edge, Alabama offers a variety of great gathering spots for meeting delegates and other groups.

In Mobile, the largest city on the Alabama Gulf Coast, a must-see attraction is the National African American Archives & Museum, which houses an exhibit on the history of Black Carnival traditions. In Gulf Shore, you can bring an off-site event right to the beach at the Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. An itinerary for Tuscaloosa might include a visit to the Murphy African-American Museum and the storied campus of the University of Alabama. If it's football season, you might catch the famous Crimson Tide in action at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

For those who'd like to spend some leisure time hitting the links, the state's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail includes eight cities with a total of 21 courses.

BIRMINGHAM

Birmingham's largest meeting venue, the Jefferson Convention Complex, contains 220,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 60 meeting rooms, and a 10-story Medical Forum. The lodging inventory includes 14,000 guestrooms citywide.

A visit to the six-block Birmingham Civil Rights District is not to be missed. The area is home to several notable historic attractions. Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls, is now a venue for a variety of cultural, educational and civic activities. Kelly Ingram Park, which made news as the site of civil rights demonstrations and for the violence of police dogs and fire hoses attacking the protesters, is now filled with sculptures created to memorialize those events. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute houses multi-media exhibits that chronicle the human rights struggle in Birmingham and beyond.

Other landmarks in the Civil Rights District include the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, a dedicated space in the historic Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts for honoring great musicians with Alabama ties; the Fourth Avenue Business District, which had its heyday in the early 1900s; Alabama Penny Savings Bank, the state's first Black-owned bank; and A.G. Gaston Gardens, formerly a motel for African-Americans during segregation, as well as a civil rights meeting place.

The Barber Village Motorsports Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham Zoo, McWane Science Center, Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Alys Robins Stephens Performing Arts Center - all of which happen to offer after-hours event space - are just some of the other local attractions that might merit a spot on your group's itinerary.

For outdoor recreation, the options include the Oxmoor Valley Golf Course, Birmingham's contribution to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail; Ruffner Mountain, a 1,000-acre nature preserve; and Oak Mountain State Park, which offers golfing, picnicking, tennis, swimming, hiking and a host of other activities.

HUNTSVILLE

The Von Braun Center, Huntsville's most spacious setting for meetings and conventions, offers more than 130,000 sq. ft. of total space. There are 82,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space and a 20,000-plus sq. ft. lobby and pre-function area in the South Hall, plus more than 50,000 sq. ft. of flexible space in the North and East/West Halls.

Home to two historically Black institutions of higher learning - Oakwood College and Alabama A& M University - Huntsville also showcases its African-American heritage at the Imhotep Art Gallery and the State Black Archives Research Center & Museum.

The city's best-known attraction is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, where a hands-on astronaut training experience for visitors is a popular feature. The Huntsville Botanical Garden is located next to the space center.

For those who love to explore history, some notable points of interest include the Twickenham historic district, the EarlyWorks Children's Museum and Alabama Constitution Village, where "villagers" dressed in period costume guide tours of eight reconstructed buildings. At Burritt on the Mountain, you not only can survey the X-shaped mansion and restored 19th century cabins and farm buildings and roam the nature rails, but you'll also enjoy a great panoramic view of the city below.

MONTGOMERY

Overlooking the Alabama River, the Montgomery Convention Center is the premier meeting venue in Alabama's capital city, containing 73,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 1,800-seat performing arts theater. The adjacent Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa offers 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 14,000-sq.ft. ballroom. The recent $29 million convention center expansion is part of a major development of the downtown riverfront that also includes the Riverwalk Amphitheater and the Riverwalk Stadium.

A Civil Rights audio tour can guide visitors through a self-paced exporation of several local landmarks, including the spectacular Civil Rights Memorial, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was pastor) the Parsonage Museum in the King family home and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. Another local Black heritage site, the home of Nat King Cole, has been moved from its original site to the campus of Alabama State University.

Other local attractions include the Historic Union Station - which houses the Visitor Center and Depot Gift Shop - the Governor's Mansion and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Blount Park, which hosts the famed Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Another point of interest for literary buffs is the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum.

TUSKEGEE

Accommodations at Tuskegee University's Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center may be the ideal fit for a small group. All with a full-service hotel, the facility offers 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in several rooms and a ballroom that holds up to 350 people.

The National Park Service conducts tours on the Tuskegee campus of the George Washington Carver Museum and The Oaks, the home of the school's founder, Booker T. Washington. There also are guided tours available of the National Tuskegee Airmen Museum and Moton Field, where the legendary pilots received their flight training.


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