Usually, at least at our homestead, it is also the time of the year for playing catch up after a very full nine or ten months of travel, research, meeting with tour groups, writing, speaking engagements, and related projects. In spite of my dearest friends valiant efforts, I am always amazed by how deep the piles get in the office,and how much work the house needs come mid December.
This year, however, things are a bit different. In addition, to playing catch up there is my role as assistant cat wrangler in the development of the Route 66 International Festival next August, and after the recent Route 66 conference in Anaheim, a need to share the information obtained there in a comprehensive manner.
This afternoon it is the latter I would like to discuss. The sheer volume of information presented during the very busy three day conference was nothing short of staggering.
When I contemplate the potential for transforming the Route 66 community that was contained in this information, I find it difficult to restrain my very active imagination. In no uncertain terms, it is my humble opinion that this could very well be the most exciting era in that highways history since at least 1927 and the creation of the original U.S. Highway 66 Association.
The primary reason for my unbridled optimism hinges on the extensive involvement of the international community in the roads promotion, development, and preservation. Their enthusiasm for the double six and what is has come to represent is infectious.
In the initial postings after the conference my focus was on clarification to ensure this historic event was a unifying rather than dividing factor in the development of the Route 66 community. Now, I would like to sharpen the focus on the practical application of information derived in Anaheim.
Lets start with looking at ways to preserve the unique historical and cultural attributes of a community that ensure visitors get the authentic experience that is at the heart of heritage tourism, and specifically, the Route 66 experience. Usually the most obvious manifestations of these attributes in a community are its buildings along the Route 66 corridor, and in the historic business district.
With few exceptions, the bypass of Route 66 proved to be the straw that broke the camels back and these corridors languished. The surviving remnants often reflect years of abandonment or neglect.
As a result, they may be rather photogenic but this doesn’t pay the bills. So, how do we roll back time, and transform these areas into vital, thriving venues of commerce that generate tax revenues?
Step one is to put a bit of lip stick on the hog. Just because a building is on the verge of being condemned, it doesn’t have to look as though it is condemned. Nor does it have to look like a backdrop for Lightening McQueen at Cars Land.
Several communities have been quite successful in making the initial transformation with a carrot and stick approach. They complete a realistic inventory of historic properties that are salvageable, then they enforce existent statutes, or create ones that require property maintenance.
Next comes the strong arm. This can take the form of fines or penalties, or threats of demolition at the owners expense from the stand point of public safety. There is also the possibility of utilizing imminent domain to acquire a property in the interest of historical preservation.
The City of Albuquerque applied a little of each to ensure the priceless El Vado Motel did not succumb to the wreckers ball. As their innovative program survived court challenges, it should serve as a template for other communities. Why reinvent the wheel?
The carrot at the end of the stick can also manifest in various forms. Among the most intriguing programs is one utilized in Sapulpa that has been a contributing factor in seeing the vacancy rate in the historic business district drop from 93% to 28%.
The long and short of it is a matching funds grant program for facade renovations. If the owner will spend $2,500, the city will match that for approved projects.
Now, in some communities finding the funds for such a program can be difficult to find or justify. However, if it is viewed from the perspective of a resultant potential for increased tax revenue, and the potential for attracting new businesses to the community there is little doubt that institution of such a program should be viewed as a budget priority.
Still, there are two key components that are actually more important than funding. One is articulate, passionate, stalwart leadership. Coupled with this is a unified sense of community direction and purpose that is infused with passion through that leadership.
Albuquerque has developed numerous innovative programs that are rapidly transforming long neglected segments of the Route 66 corridor. These include a commission for the streamlining of permits, and the power to waive fees, facade partnerships, incentives for illuminated signage, creative use of Route 66 signage, street side landscaping projects, and creation of bicycle lanes.
As you contemplate on how to find incentive for development of similar programs in your community consider these little tidbits.
In Atlanta, Illinois, a town with a population of 1,649, six new businesses opened in the past twenty-four months,and in forty-eight months, tax revenues have increased 43%.
Gross year to date receipts at the Route 66 State Park gift and book store in Missouri have exceeded $72,000.
Last but not least, think about this.
Relative economic impact of historical rehabilitation versus other economic activities per million dollars spent in Oklahoma –
Commercial historic rehabilitation – 20.6 jobs
new construction, multifamily, 16.6, non-residential, 17.1, highway, 14.8 –
While you chew on that a bit, I have to find my desk before the search for its top can begin.