I get jealous when I visit other cities with major tourist attractions.
Birmingham just doesn’t seem to be competitive.
But with a little imagination, we could do much better.
At the end of this piece, I would like to hear your ideas.
Atlanta has the Georgia Aquarium; New Orleans–the French Quarter and Bourbon Street.
Huntsville has the Space and Rocket Center; Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry; Memphis, Graceland; Chattanooga, Rock City, Ruby Falls, the Incline, Chattanooga Choo Choo and Tennessee Aquarium.
But what local amenities do we have to entice families to travel hundreds of miles to experience Birmingham?
Yes, we have some unique tourist attractions which I’ll discuss in a moment, but others are not major national or regional draws.
We love our Birmingham Zoo, Railroad Park, Red Mountain Park, Rotary Trail, Regions Field, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, McWane Science Center and the Alabama and Lyric Theatres, but many other cities have zoos, parks, museums, old theatres, and stadiums.
Recently my family drove to Atlanta to tour the Georgia Aquarium. The number of families visiting that day was staggering.
A guide told us that Bernie Marcus, one of the founders of the Home Depot, gave a gift to the city of Atlanta of $250 million to build the aquarium. The Coca-Cola Company donated the land and another $40 million was raised so that the aquarium opened debt free in 2005. In 2010 there was a $110 million expansion and there is another $100 expansion in the works. The aquarium generates enough money to fund these additions.
Through the years it has been suggested that Birmingham build an aquarium—but we would never be able to compete with Atlanta and there’s a very nice aquarium located nearby in Chattanooga.
I often hear ideas about copying some tourist concept from another city to bring to Birmingham—but Birmingham needs to develop tourist attractions that are unique to Birmingham.
Unique to Birmingham
Here are seven unique attractions that have the potential to turn Birmingham into a mecca for tourists:
- Barber Vintage Motorsports
- Civil Right history
- Alabama Walk of Fame
- Sloss Furnaces
- Red Mountain Cut
- Rickwood Field
These are one-of-a-kind attractions unique to Birmingham and not easily replicated.
1, Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world and our city’s symbol reflecting our roots in the iron and steel industry. It was recently upgraded with new computer generated lights, landscaping, and hiking trail.
But how about building a sky lift from Vulcan into Birmingham?
One of the highlights from our family trip to Atlanta was to ride The Summit Skyride, a high-speed Swiss cable car up and down Stone Mountain.
In 2014 Guinness World Records declared that George Barber “had more motorcycles than anyone else on the planet: around 1,500 bikes, with new ones arriving frequently.”
Mr. Barber has contributed over $100 million of his own money to make the Barber Motorsports complex world class.
3. Birmingham has been designated a Civil Rights National Monument by the U.S. National Park Service. We’re the only city in America with the A.G. Gaston Motel, Birmingham Civil Rights, Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Colored Masonic Temple, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and 4th Avenue Business District.
4. The Alabama Walk of Fame was created in 1989 to honor famous Alabamians similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It’s composed of stars of rose-colored marble in the sidewalk in front of and along the Alabama Theatre.
Since the project hasn’t been upgraded in a generation, young people may not recognize many of the engraved names.
We could take great pride in honoring famous Alabamians who have passed like Harper Lee, Helen Keller and Jesse Owens; or current day celebrities and news makers like Hank Aaron, Lionel Richie, and Tim Cook.
5. Sloss Furnaces, a national historic landmark, operated from 1882-1970 was the longest continually running blast furnace in Birmingham’s history.
6. The Red Mountain Cut likely has more geologic history than any other road cut in the U.S. It was honored in 1987 as a National Natural Landmark.
7. Rickwood Field is America’s oldest baseball park.
Build demand for Birmingham
Let’s juice up our local treasures, create synergies, and turn Birmingham into a national tourist attraction.
What are your ideas?
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. email@example.com