Tuscaloosa: Breaking the College Town Stereotype

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Posted: October 29, 2014, 1:42 p.m.
by Katie Lansford.

It’s no secret that Tuscaloosa is regarded as a college football town. From September to November each year, thousands of football fans migrate to one of Alabama’s most well-known cities to see their favorite Crimson Tide team play. But what about the other nine months of the year?

In the past few years, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports has worked to show that the city of Tuscaloosa is, in fact, more than just about football and college. It along with the city has emphasized long-term and newly developed amenities to increase its viability and worth to those living in and visiting the city. The Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, Riverwalk at the Black Warrior River, Rivermarket (a farmers market), and various arts festivals are all examples of the city’s growth.

According to Brandt Garrison, manager of communications and PR for Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, the organization “has been on a major research project of overhauling the Tuscaloosa brand” for the past six months.

This project includes the #MeetTuscaloosa campaign, which made its debut last October on Twitter. Garrison said the campaign was created after data from an advertising agency revealed that many people aren’t aware of all what Tuscaloosa has to offer. The result? Come “Meet Tuscaloosa.”

Re-branding the city


As part of the re-branding process, TTS is focusing on several categories to find out what Tuscaloosa is: special interests, nature, events, dining and entertainment, culture and heritage, and sports.

TTS wants to ensure that this new brand represents Tuscaloosa well.

“Partnering with the city and different organizations is crucial, and that’s something we are focusing on in this new brand and trying to make sure everybody’s perspective is taken into account,” Garrison said.

As a brand, Tuscaloosa does well in its presence on social media and the way it markets itself to those living in the city and those just passing through. Other college towns like Athens, Georgia, have a brand and push for tourism with similar social media strategies. But, they are not as cohesive as Tuscaloosa’s, which markets itself as more of a destination than anything else.

TTS highlights aspects of the city that are unique to the area. One such aspect is the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, located right on the Black Warrior River. The amphitheater opened in April 2011, just a few weeks before the tornado that devastated the city and surrounding areas.

According to the 2013-2014 Official Tuscaloosa Visitor’s guide, the amphitheater has a 7,470-seat capacity and “has the capability of hosting major performances and countless community events such as the symphony, theater, boxing and mainstream concerts.”

Mark Hughes Cobb, arts and entertainment writer for The Tuscaloosa News, and editor of the Tusk, the newspaper’s arts and entertainment magazine, noted the appeal the amphitheater adds to the city. Cobb pointed out that the concert venue is different in a couple of ways: It attracts artists that need smaller venues, and “people from Birmingham and other surrounding areas come to see the show[s].”

Cobb also explained that the city’s current mayor, Walt Maddox, has helped the city in its progression of recognizing the value it holds in art and culture.

“He understands more of the idea of the city being livable. [A livable city means] that you don’t just want business — but you want arts, restaurants, galleries and coffee shops, all of these lifestyle things that make people want to move here,” Cobb said.

According to Cobb, part of the reason Mercedes chose Tuscaloosa for the production of its M-Class product line was the cultural value the company representatives found in Tuscaloosa’s Symphony Orchestra.

Communication challenges


While Tuscaloosa is doing well to enhance its brand, there are some challenges in doing so. Both Garrison and Cobb point to a central issue: The city does not have one specific defining quality but several that add to the city as a whole.

Garrison explained, “We have all these things, and we have to put them all together and make it fit under one word — Tuscaloosa — and make that all make sense.”
Another communication issue the city faces is not having a cohesive way for residents to know what is available to them.

Cobb offered a solution to this problem: create an app that would “send out either weekly or daily reminders of things that are happening in Tuscaloosa.”

“I think we need to be more active — [the city as a whole] in really helping people understand in their busy day that these events are available,” Cobb said.

 

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