There is an old adage about not missing something until it is gone. This aptly sums up the economic impact of Route 66 related tourism. Many communities along the highway corridor either took it for granted, or were not aware of its scope, until the COVID 19 pandemic travel restrictions were imposed.
The Route 66 renaissance has been a literal gold mine for communities along that highways corridor from Chicago to Santa Monica. Surprisingly few communities have really tapped into the opportunity. But to be honest, only a few communities fully harness the power of tourism for economic development, historic district revitalization, and for showcasing their communities to potential new residents.
With that as introduction I would like to tiptoe through the mine field, and test my diplomatic skills. This past weekend the first (annual?) Kingman 66 Fest took place in Kingman, Arizona. And the internationally acclaimed artist Gregg Arnold introduced a campaign sculpture to Giganticus Headicus at Antares Point Visitor Center.
As per request, I shared a few photos from both events on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page. I also made an attempt at diplomacy as I responded to notes, emails, and comments about the events, how they were organized, the successes and the failures. As the inquiries have become a tsunami it seemed best to respond with a a blog post since there are simply not enough hours in a day to respond individually.
With that said, please don’t shoot the messenger. Civility may have become an endangered species in our country but it is still the order of the day at Jim Hinckley’s America. And if you have criticisms to share, make sure that it is done respectively and that you provide ideas on how issues should be resolved.
Choosing Lewis Kingman Park as a site for Kingman 66 Fest was innovative. This is an expansive park with access to ample parking. It is a great green space with mature trees and so is a good location for an event such as this. And it has an historic connection to Route 66 as it was a popular roadside rest area at the junction of U.S. 66 and U.S. 93.
Only a small portion of the park was utilized for this initial Fest. There simply were not enough vendors, etc. to fill the space. But it was a first year event so this is understandable.
But I am not sure if it is to be an annual event or if it will be linked to Route 66 centennial events. And that is the first issue, in my opinion. It also underlies the primary issues with the event, lack of promotion and failure to harness the promotional network that was available. If this is to be an annual event, shouldn’t the 2002 Kingman 66 Fest have been promoted during the event? It could have been something as simple as see you next year on … for the second annual Kingman 66 Fest.
Small business owners everywhere have taken a beating this past eighteen months. In an effort to regain some solvency, First Friday is promoted as a means to draw people to the historic business district. Kingman 66 Fest was held the same evening, several miles from the historic district. So business owners were obviously upset. Even worse, business owners learned that the event was taking place at about the same time as the general public, which was just a couple months before the Kingman 66 Fest.
The lack of communication, especially with vested parties, fueled discontent and as a result, contentious post event debates on social media. It left many business owners wondering why the event was not held downtown in Locomotive Park and Metcalf Park. These parks are across the street from each other. They are also the usual location for festivals.
Use of these parks would have had the added benefit of allowing usage of two of the city’s primary attractions, the Powerhouse Visitor Center and the newly installed, and very popular, Route 66 drive through arch. In addition the recently built neon lit Welcome to Kingman arch would have become an instant promotion for the city as it would have figured prominently as a backdrop in many photos.
But, as I said, Lewis Kingman Park was a good choice for the event. But let’s take a moment and unleash the imagination. What if this park was used for a food truck festival and vendors as well as activities such as the zip line? What if the Powerhouse Visitor Center had extended hours, a music festival was held in Metcalf Park, and a car show in Locomotive Park? And what if all the activities had been promoted in coordination with Gregg Arnold’s big reveal just 15 miles east of Kingman? Think of the diverse promotional opportunities!
Kingman Main Street is developing an innovative narrated self guided historic district walking tour. Kingman 66 Fest was in part a fund raising initiative for this project. And so their booth was prominently placed.
That provided a promotional boost for Kingman 66 Fest. There was also local promotion – banners, local press stories, etc.
But the historic district merchants were out of the loop. The Kingman Route 66 Association was not informed about event development until everything was set. This organization has more than 100 members, and international contacts. But they were not consulted or asked to assist with promotion or marketing. Route 66 associations were not provided with press releases. Car clubs and organizations such as the Studebaker Drivers Club did not receive an invitation and they have active chapter just one hundred miles away in Las Vegas.
And Route 66 News picked up on the event resultant of the contentious discussion about the events location. This major source of information for the international Route 66 community had only how divisive the event was as a story.
The developer of the Route 66 Navigation app offers free event listings. And this company also manages the largest Route 66 centered Facebook. They were never consulted about promotion or marketing.
This shortcoming was magnified by an array of competing events being held in Lake Havasu City just sixty miles away. Some of these were annual events held for a number of years. And they all benefitted from months, and in some cases a year, of promotion.
So, in my humble opinion there are two key areas that need to be addressed if the event is to be held in 2022, and if it is to be a successful event that builds a sense of community rather than foster divisions. One, is the immediate holding of meetings with key organizations that are in a position to assist with promotion and marketing. The second is to keep downtown business owners apprised as event development progresses.
With the Route 66 centennial fast approaching, Kingman 66 Fest in historic Lewis Kingman Park has tremendous potential. But, first, event developers need to honestly evaluate and address shortcomings of the first Fest. And then they need to utilize all available assets.