Route 66 in the News

Route 66 Key to Revitalization

2012-02-05 13:05:56

VICTORVILLE, Calif. - Connecting the High Desert to Los Angeles, Route 66 put Victorville on the map during the 20th century, nourishing businesses on Seventh and D streets that offered convenience to travelers passing through the desert town.

With the advent of Interstate 15, however, the Mother Road has become history.

Old Town Victorville, crowded by empty buildings and transients, epitomizes the decadence of Main Street America as do many other small towns along the 2,400-mile road.

But the recent Route 66 Economic Impact Study published by Rutgers University presented potential economic growth for communities along the road. (Click here to read the study.)

A fixture in pop culture like the Disney movie “Cars,” Route 66 not only appeals to Americans but also to international tourists who visit here to experience American culture. The study indicated that “Main Streets” such as Old Town Victorville could generate revenue from tourism as well as from local residents by taking advantage of the Route 66 heritage.

As founder of the Route 66 Preservation Foundation, Jim Conkle knows the ins and outs of the historic road. After all, he’s traveled the entire route, or close to it, more than 200 times.

Conkle has seen small towns along the route flourish by bringing in tourists after they’ve redeveloped their main streets around the Route 66 theme, opening antique shops, souvenir stores and diners.

But few tour buses traveling on Route 66 stop in Victorville, he said, because there’s almost nothing related to Route 66 in Old Town other than the California Route 66 Museum on D Street.

“To attract Route 66 tourists, you have to have places for them to eat, sleep and shop,” Conkle said. “Victorville has not made itself an attraction. There are people within this city that don’t find Route 66 all that appealing. It’s just unbelievable that the city doesn’t embrace Route 66. Route 66 is here, you don’t have to invent it. Tourists are not going to come into the community unless they feel safe and they feel welcomed.”

The city tried to revitalize Old Town using redevelopment funding, but the plan halted when the recession hit. And now, with the elimination of California’s redevelopment agencies, the future of Old Town is uncertain at best.

“The reality is that it takes money to do anything,” Mayor Pro Tem Rudy Cabriales said, “and if you have an area where tax revenue isn’t sufficient, we have to rely on grants and funds.”

Lauren Adkins, assistant director for field services for the National Trust Main Street Center, works with communities, consulting them on how to redevelop main streets across the United States.

She said there’s no single path. But she has a clear answer for what differentiates success from failure.

“That’s an easy question. It’s all about people, if they can come together,” Adkins said. “I’ve seen communities with most amazing historic assets, but they just can’t seem to come together. ... They don’t have to have that great of a story if they can come together and put together what they have and agree that they are all going to work together.”

According to the Rutgers study, Route 66 travelers spend an annual total of $38 million. The money stimulates the local economy because it’s imported from out of the area.

The study collected more than 4,100 survey responses from the travelers, and they represented all 50 states and about 40 foreign countries, with 15 percent of them visiting from abroad. The most appealing characteristics of the road they listed were history, nostalgia, pop culture and roadside attractions.

Green Tree Inn in Victorville is trying to become a destination for those tourists. Since taking over as the general manager in July, Joe Flores has tried to promote the 48-year-old hotel based around Route 66.

The hotel displays Route 66 memorabilia to get the classic and nostalgic feel, Flores said. Working with the Route 66 museum, the hotel offers reduced rates for museum visitors and sends its guests to the museum.

“Coming from a marketing background, you look at what’s the most valuable asset you have. Route 66 is just tremendous and it always has been,” said Flores, who grew up in Victorville. “No one in the area has really embraced it.”

Victorville is hosting the 2012 International Route 66 Festival from Aug. 9 through 12, expecting to attract more than 50,000 enthusiasts from around the world. The host site of the festival, Green Tree Inn has almost been fully booked during that period, said Flores, who is a co-chairman of the festival committee.

“The festival is going to put us on the map as a destination,” Flores said. “Route 66 is not just an American icon, it’s an international icon.”

~Tomoya Shimura,


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