The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 months ago

Alabama chefs and bar named James Beard semifinalists for 2019

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Some familiar names in Alabama’s culinary world are semifinalists for the 2019 James Beard Awards, announced Wednesday morning by the James Beard Foundation.

Birmingham’s The Atomic Lounge for the second year in a row is a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program, one of 20 across the country to make the cut. The Outstanding Bar Program award is for “a restaurant or bar that demonstrates exceptional care and skill in the selection, preparation and serving of cocktails, spirits and/or beer,” the foundation said in a news release.

David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn, Bill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs in Orange Beach and Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood again are semifinalists this year for Best Chef: South. The South region includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Puerto Rico. Bancroft and Briand are semifinalists for the fourth year in a row, while Hontzas was chosen for the third straight year.

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A James Beard Award for a culinary professional is akin to those in the movie industry earning an Academy Award or journalists winning a Pulitzer Prize. Being a Beard semifinalist often will propel a chef, restaurant or bar to regional fame and beyond, while capturing the prestigious award can bring national fame.

That was certainly the case for Highlands Bar & Grill pastry chef Dolester Miles, who won a Beard Award last year for Outstanding Pastry Chef and soon after was profiled in The New York Times. Highlands, which had been a finalist for a decade and already was well known on the national restaurant scene, also won a Beard Award in 2018 for Outstanding Restaurant.

The awards, established by the James Beard Foundation in 1990, “recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and furthers the foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable for everyone,” the foundation said in a news release.

Nominees for the awards will be announced March 27, with winners honored at the James Beard Foundation Awards gala on Monday, May 6, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Dolester Miles enjoys sweet success after James Beard Award

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The second morning after Dolester Miles won the 2018 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in America, her Instagram account lit up with its first posts.

Miles, who has worked for Frank Stitt at Birmingham’s Highlands Bar & Grill since he opened in 1982, posted photo after photo of her, of her desserts, of her with her desserts, of her with Stitt, of the James Beard Award medal. Eighteen photos in all in the account’s first nine posts, all on May 9, 2018.

The publicity-shy Miles was ready to share with the world, not that she needed any validation from the Beard Award as a top pastry chef. Anyone who has eaten her beloved coconut pecan cake, peach cobbler, lemon meringue tart, or any of her desserts, had validated those skills with thousands of empty plates over more than three decades.

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Miles begins her workday before sunup, baking in the kitchen at Stitt’s Bottega restaurant. She takes great joy in knowing that diners in all of Stitt’s restaurants ­– Highlands, Chez Fonfon, Bottega and Bottega Café – relish her desserts.

“Sometimes, I go in the café during lunch and I can see people eating desserts and you can see how they really enjoy it, like they almost lick the plate like ‘that’s the best thing I ever ate,’” Miles said in the 2018 short documentary film “Dol” by Ava Lowrey, filmmaker for the Southern Foodways Alliance.

For many diners, it just may be the best thing they ever ate.

Bill Addison is the national restaurant critic for the website Eater and chairman of the Beard Foundation’s restaurant-award committee. Last May after Miles’ Beard win, he raved about her peach cobbler to The New York Times.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “It’s the best peach cobbler I’ve ever had. All of her cobblers are great, but the peach is the one that makes my soul burst into four-part harmony.”

The sweet harmonies Miles’ pastries invoke have their beginnings in Bessemer, where she was raised. When she was growing up, she and her mother and aunt would gather on Sundays to bake cakes.

“And I used to get in the kitchen with them, like, ‘hey, let me get in on this, let me lick the spatula,’” Miles said in “Dol” and laughed.

She joined Stitt even before Highlands – itself a Beard Award winner in 2018 for Outstanding Restaurant in America – opened its doors. Miles and her sister Diane helped clean the restaurant and pitched in on sewing the first set of curtains in Highlands’ front windows all those years ago. Miles’ first job had nothing to do with pastries. She made salads and hors d’oeuvres.

Because of her interest in baking, though, she talked Stitt into letting her prepare a dessert for Highlands. Thus began her career as Stitt’s pastry chef.

“Dol combines traditional Southern ingredients with the professionalism of a French pastry chef, and she does all of that with a big pinch of love,” Stitt told Alabama NewsCenter in 2016.

That big pinch of love, along with her considerable skills, has Miles at the top of her profession.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama’s Hope Institute cultivates a culture of character

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Seeds of hope planted in some Alabama schools are sprouting into tiny yet vigorous sprigs that signal a bumper crop. The shoots will grow over the next few years as those schools work to reap the harvest of a Hope Institute program that cultivates character in students.

Housed at Samford University, the nonprofit is the brainchild of Drayton Nabers, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, and Liz Huntley, a lawyer and child advocate whose memoir, “More than a Bird,” recounts overcoming a harrowing childhood to become a successful attorney and a member of Auburn University’s board of trustees. The two bonded over “education with values,” as Huntley put it, as board members of Cornerstone Schools of Alabama.

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In November 2016, Nabers and Huntley birthed what became the Hope Institute in Samford’s Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership, which Nabers directs. Eight K-12 public and private schools took part in a pilot program for professional development in character education.

Buoyed by the pilot’s promise, they created the Hope Institute and then the Hope Academy. This past year, the academy recruited education leaders from 20 K-12 schools in north and central Alabama to study character development through education. Six daylong workshops for about 100 teachers, administrators and counselors featured national leaders in character education, designing a character development plan for schools, visiting schools with existing character education programs and networking with other school leaders.

“It is really exciting to go into those schools and see how they are developing a culture in the schools such that good character can be generated and formed in the students,” Nabers said. “Once you do that, everything else will fall into place. Grades will go up, problems with discipline will go down, and the spirit and joy and energy of the school will be elevated.”

Early signs of progress are unmistakable to the school leaders who gathered at Samford earlier this month to kick off the second year of the program.

At University Charter School in Sumter County, counselor Meghan Dunn spoke of place-based projects that have brought together black and white students for the first time. Students take walking field trips, and last month visited a graveyard.

“They found a headstone of a baby that had passed away. You see several students, obviously all different colors, which is a big deal for our community, holding hands and praying over that headstone,” Dunn said. “That was really huge to us.”

Students also noticed a fence in the graveyard that separates the gravestones of white people and of black people, Dunn said. Their new place-based project is to get the fence removed.

Ben White, assistant principal at Walker Elementary School, recently heard a student say the word “initiative,” which is used in character education lessons.

“I heard a student the other day say, ‘Hey, don’t throw that away. I’m going to clean up this area. I’m going to take some initiative,’” White said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a word we would not have used before this point,’ but they want to do things.”

Debra Harvel, assistant principal at Hartselle Intermediate School, loves seeing the terminology of character education infiltrating student conversations but also watching students model that terminology. The sixth-graders, in particular, have taken to service learning projects.

“They’ve come to us with more ideas,” she said, citing projects such as being pen pals and raising money for an orphanage. “They just keep coming with ‘let’s do this, let’s do that.’ It’s exciting to see that.”

A thirst for character education

Longtime educator Jodi Newton, superintendent of Homewood City Schools for more than a decade and now the Hope Institute’s executive director, leads Hope Academy’s introductory first-year course, which this year includes 25 new schools. Newton is thrilled to see school officials thirst for character education.

“We do know that schools in this country were developed for literacy, and for virtue. That’s what they did,” said Newton, former associate dean of Samford’s School of Education. “Our Founding Fathers told us you cannot have a democracy without literate people of character. They had it right.”

Kara Chism, the Hope Institute’s director of programs and curriculum, is leading the first 20 schools in their second year of the program, which includes book study, workshops on Samford’s campus, site visits to other schools, focus groups and on-site consulting at the participating schools. While schools spent the first year building a culture of character by adopting core values, putting them on posters and T-shirts and holding character education classes, the next step is to infuse the curriculum with character content, she said.

“Right now, a lot of them are having a time where they teach character, but we want to see that integrated into their classrooms, in all their subjects and instruction,” Chism said.

The case for character

Why does character matter? Huntley offered the case for character driven by today’s divided society.

“We can’t think of a time it is more needed in our society than today, regardless of what aisle you sit on,” she says. “It’s a very polarizing, negative environment and our kids are watching grown folks – adults who are supposed to be their examples – how they’re behaving.”

Newton says schools will have better attendance, fewer disciplinary problems and improved academics. Character education can play a huge role in a successful workforce development program for the state, she said.

“If we have people graduating from our K-12 schools who are people of character and they have learned performance character, things like resilience, and responsibility, and work ethic, then they are going to be better workers,” Newton said.

Ultimately, the Hope Institute is built on the idea that developing people of good character can cure, or at least lessen, a litany of ills in society. As the institute’s website puts it:

“Without good character in its citizens, our country will not succeed with its democratic institutions or free market economy. Nor without such character can our families flourish, nor can anyone obtain happiness. Virtually everyone acknowledges that the nation’s most pressing social problems such as crime, school dropouts, poor work ethic, incivility and broken families have at their core the absence of good character.”

To learn more about the Hope Institute, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

World Cup 2026 may yet have Birmingham presence

(Pixabay, D. Brossard/Flickr)

Timing is everything.

And Birmingham’s timing for becoming a host city in the North American effort to secure the 2026 World Cup was awful. Wednesday, a combined bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada won the hosting rights. Sixty of the 80 matches, including the final, will be in the U.S.

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Last August, Birmingham was one of about 50 cities that received a bid package to become one of at least 11 U.S. venues, said Gene Hallman, president and CEO of the Bruno Event Team.

“It was the worst timing,” said Hallman, who was a key player in bringing Olympic soccer to Birmingham in 1996. “Our challenge was, we had to bid Legion Field. Legion Field was not competitive.”

Hallman said he called U.S. soccer officials about bidding the new stadium at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) as the city’s venue for games. At that time, though, funding for the stadium was not in place.

“You can’t bid a hypothetical,” Hallman said.

Still, Hallman said Birmingham may benefit from the winning North American bid. Atlanta “most certainly” will be one of the 11 U.S. venues, he said, and because Birmingham is close to Atlanta, the Magic City stands to gain. It helps, he said, that Birmingham has an “outstanding” relationship with U.S. Soccer.

“We have a very strong possibility of being a host for a team, a country, to do all their training prior to the World Cup in Birmingham,” Hallman said.

Also, Birmingham could become a medical hub for soccer players training and competing in the region to receive treatment, he said, as well as hosting large viewing parties of games that in previous cup competitions have been attended by thousands.

Once the stadium at the BJCC is finished, Birmingham “will definitely be in the mix” for “friendlies,” Hallman said.

“We’ll have a good five years of run-up where we can host a lot of competition prior to the World Cup,” he said.

Hallman said it’s premature to talk about the potential economic impact the World Cup could have on Birmingham if the city ends up playing a prominent role.

“But I can sit here and look into a crystal ball and tell you it’s going to be tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Because if you look at five years of potential activity at the new stadium, and given the fact that so many of the tickets that we sell to soccer events are to people who do not reside in this community, that’s a big economic impact,” he said. “That’s heads in beds and a very positive impact on the retail sector. So it will be a big economic impact and it will boost our image and reinforce our image as a very good host of international sporting competitions.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Oprah chooses Alabamian’s ‘The Sun Does Shine’ as latest book club selection

(OWN/YouTube)

The Alabama Legislature for three years running has refused to approve reparations to Anthony Ray Hinton, the Jefferson County man who spent almost 30 years on death row before prosecutors dropped all charges against him. Tuesday, Oprah Winfrey announced a decision that could help Hinton financially.

Winfrey Tuesday morning revealed that Hinton’s memoir “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” is her latest Oprah’s Book Club selection. Oprah’s Book Club’s popularity is credited with increasing sales of the books she selects, often driving obscure titles to best-seller status.

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“Over the years, I’ve chosen many great novels – very few memoirs for my book club,” Winfrey said in a video posted on www.oprah.com. “But this story reads like an epic novel, and it is all true.”

Hinton was convicted of two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of two Birmingham-area fast-food restaurant managers. A restaurant manager in Bessemer who later survived a similar attack identified Hinton from a photo lineup, even though Hinton was working in a secured warehouse 15 miles away on the night of the crime. Hinton passed a lie detector test before the trial and maintained his innocence – something on which he never wavered.

Hinton was convicted based largely on state forensics experts’ testimony that a rusty .38-caliber pistol recovered from Hinton’s mother’s home had fired the bullets that killed the two men. Hinton’s “expert,” a civil engineer by training, was such a disaster on the stand that Hinton said he knew he was doomed.

For almost 30 years, Hinton tried to survive Alabama’s death row while a series of lawyers handled his appeals. His break came after a dozen years on death row when acclaimed lawyer Bryan Stevenson took Hinton’s case. “Today is the day that God opened up my case,” Hinton wrote of that moment.

Even with Stevenson’s expertise – he had won a MacArthur “Genius” Grant for freeing an innocent man from Alabama’s death row – Hinton remained on death row for more than 15 more years and suffered through crushing legal defeats. In 2014, though, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Hinton had not received a fair trial and vacated the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling upholding the state court verdict. The appeals court sent the case back to Jefferson County, where prosecutors dropped all charges against Hinton rather than trying a case with new testing on Hinton’s gun that couldn’t prove it fired the crime scene bullets.

“Mr. Hinton was falsely convicted of murder and spent 30 years on death row before he was finally released,” Winfrey said. “It’s unimaginable. And you will throughout the book try to imagine yourself falsely accused and in a 5-by-7 (-foot) cell for 30 years. He is a remarkable storyteller and when you read it, you will be swept away into this unbelievable, dramatic true story.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)