The buzz from Birmingham

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The buzz from Birmingham

By Blair Potter | Oct 8, 2021

The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) returns to the world of in-person events when it brings its annual conference to Birmingham, Ala., Oct. 22-24. Like most conferences, the in-person gathering was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

“We are very excited about coming to Birmingham. We’ve worked hard and we’re staying in tune minute by minute to do whatever it takes to keep our members safe,” says Nancy Wall Hopkins, president of the IACP board, who is planning the 2021 conference. “We’ve studied other conferences still going forward and we continue to tweak our COVID protocols. Currently, we have a proof-of-vaccination protocol, a mask mandate and require a 48-hour negative test result at check-in. We’ve also planned nearly all our programming to be outside at the beautiful Pepper Place Entertainment District and Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.”

“We are very excited about coming to Birmingham. We’ve worked hard and we’re staying in tune minute by minute to do whatever it takes to keep our members safe.”

Hopkins says Birmingham is a natural fit for the gathering of culinary professionals because it’s a “buzzy food city” and publishing hub.

“Birmingham is one of the great dinner tables of the South. And we are over 50 percent media as well,” she says. “It’s also a major publishing hub with Meredith, Hoffman Media and Hearst. We are excited to bring our members to this magical city. We’re planning a wonderful conference for our members and our foodie friends in Alabama.”

The success of the annual conference will be evident when “mask-clad members connect with one another, no matter how many members attend,” Hopkins says. But the group has also experienced success during the pandemic through virtual events.

“We had three major virtual conferences last year. They were huge successes,” she says. “We had our annual conference, a Bake the Holidays Festival and a Global Passport Summit. Our members adored them, and they kept us together.”

The community also stayed together through an increased social media presence and more communications such as newsletters and virtual gatherings for special member groups (e.g., cooking schools and teachers).

“We’ve also had quite a few Facebook Live and Instagram Live sessions,” Hopkins says. “Nothing replaces gatherings in person, but we worked hard.”

Prepared for the comeback

John Oros, president and CEO of the Greater Birmingham CVB, says bookings are holding and area events are still on schedule as the city (along with many others) hopes that the COVID-19 delta variant surge has peaked.

“It is important to note, however, that major events here have stringent precautions and restrictions in place for the safety of attendees,” he says, noting that his sales and servicing departments are working with conferences such as IACP and the Sports Events & Tourism Association, also coming to Birmingham this month.

Like many other DMOs, the Birmingham CVB had to adjust course when it became clear that the pandemic was taking a direct hit on its operations, according to Oros.

“Knowing experienced destination sales executives would be at a premium when meeting planner demand returned, we opted to protect sales positions but reduce expenses by making cuts in other categories in the operating budget,” he says. “Outside of our organization, the outlook was bleaker. As happened across the country and the world, our nationally famous restaurants shuttered and/or resorted to takeout only. Our hotels were forced to lay off personnel. It was a dire time.”

“The Birmingham area is beginning to seem a lot like it did pre-COVID, and that’s an enjoyable feeling.”

But the CVB was ready for leisure travel and in-person events once vaccines became prevalent and travel began to resume because that seasoned staff of professionals was retained, Oros says. 

“Our top hotels and restaurants gradually regained strength and added additional staff,” he says. “The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex readied themselves by earning the GBAC STAR Facility Certification, the highest in the industry. The Birmingham area is beginning to seem a lot like it did pre-COVID, and that’s an enjoyable feeling.”

Oros highlights several new developments either under way or recently completed in the Birmingham area that are of interest to meeting planners.

·      I-20/59 bridge. “Demolition and replacement of the interstate bridges through downtown Birmingham is complete, giving a vibrant new entryway into the city. LED ribbon lighting along the edges of the interstate adds dramatic effect to the structure.”

·      CityWalk BHAM. “Planned in tandem with the bridge reconstruction, a massive, 31-acre park beneath I-20/59 is well under way. A large central water feature will be the backdrop for activities such as public art displays. Stages are planned for outdoor concerts. CityWalk BHAM is steps away from the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.”

·      Protective Stadium. “The US$180 million, open-air, multiuse facility will host the grand opening and closing ceremonies for the World Games 2022 in Birmingham.”

·      Valley Hotel Homewood Birmingham, Curio Collection by Hilton. “In the Birmingham suburb Hoover, the new Valley Hotel has opened to rave reviews. The five-story, 12-room property has a ground-level restaurant and bar, as well as a second-level outdoor terrace bar. The hotel has 4,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space.”

·      The Fennec. “Birmingham’s burgeoning Parkside District includes Regions Field, home to the Double-A Birmingham Barons baseball team. Next up is the much-anticipated entertainment concept, The Fennec. The live music venue with a restaurant and bar also has event space for receptions and other social functions.”

·      Legacy Arena. “Renovation of the 18,000-seat Legacy Arena on the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex campus is nearing completion. Upgrades include a new suite level, an upper-level club area, enhanced food and beverage options, new seating and refurbished lobbies. A new glass-and-steel facade is the entranceway to the arena.”

Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, courtesy Greater Birmingham CVB
2017 IACP annual conference, Louisville, courtesy IACP



Blair Potter
Blair Potter

Blair Potter is managing editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).