It has been a week of contrasts. Last weekend I was in
Burbank, Los Angeles, and Pasadena. This week business took me to the original Las Vegas, Tucumcari, and a few points in between. At every stop, in every meeting, in every conversation, and with each presentation made, I found inspiration and was introduced to innovative plans for community development and revitalization. To balance that out I also found ample reason for despondency when meditating on communities that seem to have made the squandering of opportunity a goal.
When you roll into Tucucmari from the west there is no indication that this is a community ripe with passionate optimism or enthusiasm about the future. The highway, old U.S. 66, is lined with empty and vandalized motels and truck stops, and overgrown foundations. The surprisingly modern and expansive convention center parking lot is peppered with weeds growing through the cracks. In the historic business district the collapse of a building necessitated closure of a street, vacant lots between buildings hint of what once was, and there are empty store fronts on every street. Simply put, there is ample evidence to support a rather sobering statistic – the population has dropped almost 16% since 2,000.
Not quite as obvious is the evidence that this community is still vibrant, that it is still looking toward toward the future with eager anticipation and even vision. Three historic motels along the Route 66 corridor, one of which is in need of extensive refurbishment, recently sold to investors that have relocated to Tucumcari. The state of the art Tucumcari Bio Energy Company is about to commence production. This coming week a new restaurant will open. During my visit I enjoyed an open air dinner and lively conversation with fifty people from Norway, clients of a company that now includes an overnight stay in Tucumcari with each Route 66 tour. An event that centers on touring the area by bicycle this fall is under development, and is already attracting interest from enthusiasts from Texas as well as New Mexico and Colorado. At a meeting of the city commissioners, there was not one public comment that contained a complaint without suggestion of a solution.
I was in town to teach but as it turned out, I also was a student. David Brenner, owner of the Roadrunner Lodge (a formerly abandoned and vandalized 1960’s motel that is now a destination for Route 66 enthusiasts) had facilitated sponsorship of my presentation on the utilization of heritage tourism as a component in the creation of an integrated economic development plan, and as a tool in community revitalization, with the Tucumcari Quay County Chamber of Commerce, Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation, and Tucumcari Main Street initiative. In addition to the presentation where I shared a summary of successes in Pontiac, Illinois, Galena, Kansas, and Cuba, Missouri, and outlined ways the community could capitalize on its heritage, I also introduced Steve LeSueur of My Marketing Designs. LeSueur’s company is producing the Jim Hinckley’s America: A Trek Along Route 66 video series, and is developing the Promote Route 66 initiative utilizing the Promote Kingman template.
The Q & A session was spirited and lively. It was also inspirational and educational. These community leaders are well aware of Tucumcari’s history but they are looking toward the future. I confirmed this when speaking before the Rotary Club, attending the city commissioners meeting latter that day, and at an informal reception with the owners of the Blue Swallow Motel, their friends, and the president of the Route 66 Association of New Mexico.
Rounding out my visit and exploratory tour of Tucumcari was the weekly Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook live program. This episode took place at Kix on 66, a great place for breakfast and a living time capsule. Guests on the program were Steve LeSueur, Melissa Beasley, president of the Route 66 Association of New Mexico, and KC Keefer, producer of the Unoccupied Route 66 video series as well as promotional videos for the city of Tucumcari.
To say the very least, my visit to Tucumcari was educational and inspirational. It was also sobering and even a bit depressing, especially when my thoughts turned toward another Route 66 community, a place where self serving factions, apathy, divisions, indifference, and obstruction negate opportunity as well as blunt the promise of bright future.