Southern states ready to roll out new tourism products

he 12 member states of Travel South are kicking off 2002 with new attractions, hotels, celebrations and other tourism products.

A sampling of what each state is offering follows:

Alabama

Mobile, Alabama's oldest city, will commemorate its 300th anniversary in 2002. The city's yearlong Tricentennial Celebration kicks off in the spring with festivals.

A tall ship celebration called Sail Mobile: A Salute to the Seas will take place in July. and the grand finale will be a Homecoming to the Homeport birthday party in the fall.

Package information can be found at www.mobile.org.

Arkansas

The 240,000-square-foot Hot Springs Convention Center, host of the Travel South show, will break ground on a 6,000-seat arena later this month, according to Gordon Mahoney, deputy director of the Hot Springs Advertising & Promotion Commission.

The Best Western Inn of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs, is rebuilding its convention center, which had been damaged by a fire. A late February opening is projected.

Looking ahead, the Clinton Presidential Library and Heifer Project International (focusing on foreign cultures) will open in Little Rock in 2004.

Florida

Considerable hotel expansion is under way in the Sunshine State.

For example, in Greater Miami, the $100 million Bentley Beach Condo-Hotel, in South Beach, will offer 110 luxury suites when it opens in the spring.

Also set is an Extended Stay Studio-Plus, opening in Miami in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Miami's tallest hotel will be the 70-story Four Seasons Hotel and Tower. There will be 222 hotel units and 84 condo units, which owners can assign to the hotel rental pool. It will open in spring 2003 in the financial district.

Opening in the Kissimmee area on Feb. 2 will be the 1,400-room Gaylord Palms, (formerly known as Opryland Florida).

The 266-room Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, which opened in November, will get an adjacent spa and a beach club in late 2002.

Georgia

In the fall, Georgia launched a program that gives a 20% discount at historical sites and hotels to residents. Southeast residents, including the other Travel South member states, also are eligible. The deal is valid through February.

A list of participating suppliers and more information can be found at www.georgia.org.

New on the hotel scene is the 250-room Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Plantation, near Atlanta. The resort is scheduled to open in February.

Kentucky

In May, the Louisville Zoo will open its four-acre Gorilla Forest, transporting visitors to Equatorial Africa, home to the highly threatened gorilla.

Two new attractions are on the horizon for Louisville in 2003. The African-American Heritage Center, set for a spring debut, will showcase exhibits and cultural programming related to the African-American experience as well as works by local artists.

The Muhammad Ali Center, planned for Riverfront Plaza, will focus on the prizefighter's life.

Louisiana

The revitalization of Baton Rouge's riverfront continues in 2002.

The Sheraton Baton Rouge Convention Center Hotel will celebrate its year anniversary in February.

The Irene W. Pennington Planetarium will open in summer 2002 as part of the Louisiana Arts and Science Center complex.

From September 2003 to January 2004, the center will host an Empress Josephine exhibit that showcases clothing, jewelry, silver and other items.

Also ahead for the city is a new convention center. The groundbreaking should take place this month or January with an opening set for January 2004.

Mississippi

High rollers traveling to the Mississippi Gulf Coast will have another option to choose from next summer, when Casino Magic Bay St. Louis unveils a 14-story, 300-room addition to its resort.

The new hotel, which is adjacent to the existing casino, will have 46 junior suites and nine deluxe suites, plus a 24-hour restaurant, pool and deck area, a fitness center, retail space and a spa.

North Carolina

The 530-room Pinehurst Resort will open a $12 million spa on March 27. The Spa at Pinehurst will be a 31,000-square-foot facility with 28 private treatment rooms, a pool and a 1,300-square-foot fitness center.

South Carolina

Hilton Head properties are touting a series of specials for the winter season. For example, the Crowne Plaza Resort has a Resort Options Program with a weather guarantee. Rates start at $89 per night, single or double, through April 30.

The Hilton Oceanfront Resort, the Palmetto Dunes Resort and Holiday Inn Oceanfront also created plans.

Tennessee

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis is set to open in the fall 2002. The facility will honor to the Stax record label and feature interactive exhibits, a performing arts center and a music academy.

The expansion of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is scheduled to wrap up in April. The project involved a new entrance on Main Street and an outdoor park promenade.

Officials at Nashville Zoo at Grassmere claim their facility is about to become the largest zoo in the Southeast.

As part of the 15-year, $60 million plan, the zoo will cover the entire 183-acre Grassmere property.

Also on tap are at least 100 exhibit areas, with geographic themes such as Africa, South America and Madagascar.

Virginia

Sherwood Forest Plantation in Charles City, Va., home of the 10th U.S. President John Tyler from 1842 until his death in 1862, has a newly remodeled Tea Room.

Tour groups can sample traditional Virginia fare including Brunswick stew, ham sandwiches and other light lunches.

The tea room will be open daily for lunch from April 1 to Oct. 31. Reservations can be made for groups of 10 or more. For information call (804) 829-5377 or visit www.sherwoodforest.org.

West Virginia

The state's ski resorts are gearing up for the 2002 season.

Snowshoe is promoting discounts on lodging and special programs, including midweek and weekend getaways. Timberline and Winterplace have a roster of group programs.

Laura Dennis, Paul Felt, Grant Flowers, Henry Magenheim, Barbara Mays and Andrew Zampieri contributed to this report.

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