Finding Inspiration In Unexpected Places

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.

Kix on 66 in Tucumcari is indicative of how this community is being transformed.

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.

 

 

 

End Of The Rainbow

For the Route 66 enthusiast Santa Monica Pier is the end of

the rainbow. Yes, I know that the pier isn’t located on, or even near Route 66 but who will make the amazing cross country journey on this storied old highway and stop at a nondescript highway intersection when something as magical as the pier is a few blocks away.  Well, this past weekend I was within spitting distance of the end of the rainbow but a couple of detours, lots of road construction, and a very tight schedule prevented me from making it to the proverbial end of the road, the Last Stop Shop and Bob Waldmire memorial at the end of the pier.

Still, as always, the trip to, from, and in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area was filled with adventure. Even though I have an aversion to communities with more than three stop lights, the museums, the history, the rich cultural diversity, the restaurants, and opportunities for new discoveries ensure my journeys into the Los Angeles area are always interesting as well as memorable.  Still, once again, my only complaint was spending a week stuck in traffic during my weekend visit.

On a serious note, many enthusiasts skip this dynamic section of Route 66 because of traffic congestion. Yes, that can quickly put a damper on things, especially when that congestion is compounded by road construction, detours, closed ramps, and similar issues. Still IT IS possible to cruise most of Route 66 from the foot of Cajon Pass to Santa Monica and experience relatively light traffic. The secret is in timing – early Sunday morning is best but for sections such as in Pasadena early Saturday evening evening will work as well.

Colorado Boulevard (Route 66) in Pasadena early Saturday evening.

This particular trip was two parts business and one part personal. The business end was a book signing and video introduction at Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, a delightful store in business since 1953. The personal end was a long overdue father/son outing that included a visit to the extraordinary Peterson Museum, and a quest for good food.

If your an automotive or aeronautical enthusiast, or you simply enjoy a good old fashioned book store, a stop at Autobooks – Aerobooks (2900 Magnolia Boulevard) in Burbank should be added to the list of stops when in the Los Angeles area. The store was recently relocated a few blocks from its original location but it still has a timeless feel. Travel books, repair manuals for most anything with wheels built in the last century, quirky automotive sculptures, DVD’s, magazines new and old, books on almost any automotive or aeronautical subject you can imagine, and a rare book section are but the tip of the iceberg. Needless to say, the shop is a haven for area auto buffs and as a result, especially on Saturday mornings, the parking lot becomes a car show in itself.

Autobooks-Aerobooks

The Peterson Museum needs to be experienced.  Mere words can not do it justice. First, cast aside preconceived notions of a what an automotive museum is. The exhibits are well designed and include something for everyone and every age group. The stunning artistry of murals on traditional low riders blends with the jaw dropping body designs from Bugatti, historic hybrids and electric cars are intermixed with futuristic fuel cell vehicles, cars from the movies are displayed against a looping back drop of the films they appeared in, and showcases highlight the evolution of dashboards and road maps. For the youngster (in age or at heart) there are an amazing array of interactive exhibits on everything from the workings of the internal combustion engine to modern computerized automotive design.

On this particular trip the Petersen Museum marked the limit for exploration as the adventure had commenced at three o’clock in the morning. So, we set out for the oasis that is the Saga Motor Hotel in Pasadena, and dinner. Of course, since this was Los Angeles that was no easy task. Road construction, traffic in the historic theater district, and a couple of accidents transformed the drive of thirty miles or so into an hour and half long odyssey. The upside was that this long, slow drive through unknown territory provided ample opportunity to take in the sites, and make new discoveries.

As always, the trip to Los Angeles, Burbank, and Pasadena was a grand adventure, a voyage of discovery that leaves me grateful I live close enough to visit but not close enough to deal with the frustrations of daily life in this dynamic metropolis.

 

The Well Laid Plans of Mice and Men

For those familiar with my aversion to towns that have more

Colorado Boulevard (Route 66) in Pasadena, California.

than three stoplights it may come as a surprise to learn that I really enjoy the Los Angeles metropolitan area with its diverse and fascinating museums, architecture, neighborhoods, restaurants, and culture. What I don’t enjoy is spending a week in Los Angeles traffic during a two day visit.

While exploring historic Route 66 corridor in Pasadena at sunset, a thought came to mind. I wonder how many visitors or new residents  have similar feelings about Kingman, Arizona, my adopted hometown. How many people enjoy the diverse landscapes, the stunning scenery, the climate, the eclectic shops, the vibrancy of the historic business district being swept by renaissance, the people, and the history but lament the lost opportunities, what seems to be a lack of vision, the apathy, and the factions that would prefer the ship run aground than change course if they can’t be at the helm?

When thoughts turn toward Kingman, more often than not I find myself deeply saddened. Such potential, such opportunity, so many wonderful and passionate people, and yet we seem content in our quest to set a record for finding new ways to avoid success. We commission studies, and shelve them. Then, we commission new studies that mimic the first studies, and shelve them.  We catalog a lengthy list of assets but year after year, rather than develop them, we fund programs to catalog assets.  From throughout the world we receive offers of assistance to market the city and develop attractions, but choose to reject or ignore them.  The talents of leaders with vision, with knowledge, and with experience are squandered until these people tire, and with bitterness, relocate to a progressive community where the windshield and not the rear view mirror is used to chart a course toward the future.  Grassroots initiatives fueled by passionate people who love the town wither after years of fighting the currents and rapids on their up stream swim.

At every turn, there are signs of revival in the historic district.

Solace only comes from a comparative study.  In five short years  the owners of Black Bridge Brewery, Floyd & Company, Diana’s Cellar Door, House of Hops, Southwest Trading Company, Kingman Center for the Arts, Rickety Cricket’s, Grand Event Center,  Beale Celebrations, and Gracie’s Vintage and other business have transformed the historic business district.  The Route 66 Association of Kingman, and initiatives such as Promote Kingman and the Kingman Progressive Alliance For Positive Change are forging partnerships within the community that stand in glaring contrast to organizations that squandered years by providing an illusion of leadership while fostering division and obstruction behind the scenes.  Leaders are questioning the status quo, and passionately point toward a future full of promise.

Kingman has such promise, such potential, but for at least one hundred years it has deftly avoided fully capitalizing on its assets or even striving to reach its potential. There is a sense, however, that this time things are different.  Time will tell. Still, meanwhile, I like to dream of a Kingman that mimics the best of historic Burbank but without the traffic, the best of Pontiac but with a twelve month tourism season, the community spirit of Cuba, and the vibrant diversity of Los Angeles.

 

 

Paradise Lost, A Tale of Two Cities, And Jousting At Windmills

You can’t help but feel sorrow for the young man

that squanders his inheritance and becomes a derelict living on the street, the talented artist that in the depths of alcoholism trades works of art for the next drink, or the whiz kid in school that pursues a life of crime instead of grades in college.  There is something heart wrenching about the person who trades unlimited potential and opportunity for pursuit of self destruction, or short term gain. Compounding the tragedy are the people affected by the downward spiral. This analogy is never far from my mind when trying to understand why some communities succeed and others fail or languish as I prepare to speak on economic development.

This advertisement from 1917 hints at the progressive nature of Kingman, and the bright future envisioned in 1917. Mohave Museum of History & Arts.

How does a community with limited or few resources become a destination for travelers and business owners, and a community with boundless opportunity languish? In Arizona, Seligman has flourished in the era of Route 66 renaissance and Ash Fork withered. Why?

For more than ninety years Kingman, Arizona has been proclaimed a community with a bright and promising future. Still, even though there has been slow and steady growth, that community has largely been eclipsed by its neighbors to the west, relatively recent additions to the Arizona landscape. This is in spite of the fact that the climate in Kingman is more hospitable. Additionally, Kingman, unlike Bullhead City or Lake Havasu City, is a hub for interstate commerce, highway as well as rail, is centrally located to a staggering array of diverse all season attractions, has an industrial park that could be the envy of any community in the country, and an historic business district with tangible links to more than 100 years of film and celebrity association. As a bonus, Kingman was forever linked with Route 66 in the hit song about that highway recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946.

For just a moment consider a few of Kingman’s assets. Let’s start with the twelve month tourism season.  Then, within a radius of sixty miles, there is the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon Caverns, opportunities to partner with neighboring communities and offer white water rafting as well as Native America cultural history, more than 100 miles of scenic Route 66, the Colorado River, Hualapai Mountain Park, Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, wineries, award winning microbreweries, one of the best mountain bike trail systems in Arizona, the world’s only electric vehicle museum, an extensive film and celebrity history, a railroad history, WWII and aviation history, and critically acclaimed museums.

Tourism is but one component in building a long term economic development plan. As Bob Russell, mayor of Pontiac, Illinois, a community that has established a new standard in revitalization and development, says, “It is important to note, however, tourism without positive economic development does not work.  It has to result in economic development to be sustainable.”

Now, consider one of the communities primary assets, the industrial park. Created from a former military air base this incredible resource has an internal rail system recently modernized and upgraded by Patriot Rail, and it is located on a main east west rail line. Additionally, there is I-40, and soon, I-11.

When evaluating just the tourism potential, and the industrial park, the question must be asked. Why isn’t Kingman a major destination for tourists, for potential business owners, and for families?

It isn’t because the community, especially at the grassroots level, lacks passion. Opposition from an entrenched faction with a captive public bully pulpit have been largely negated by the Route 66 Association of Kingman that has slowly but steadily forged alliances with business and property owners, as well as the city, and worked to transform the historic business district and Route 66 corridor into a destination. Photo op signage, restored neon signage, and public art projects are some of the most notable endeavors.

The Promote Kingman initiative, through video, social media, and educational programs has worked diligently to “create a community of the future, one partnership at a time.” The recently established Kingman Progressive Alliance for Positive Change has made remarkable strides in fostering community awareness.  The Route 66 Cruizers is quick to assist with event development and provide charitable services.  The Kingman Center for the Arts, another newly formed organization, has made tremendous contributions in forging a sense of community, and contributing to the historic business district renaissance. The Arizona Main Street initiative is another manifestation of a passionate grassroots movement.

In stark contrast to the vibrant grassroots initiatives, and the young Turk entrepreneurs opening businesses in the historic business district or running for public office are the abandoned projects that once had such potential,  glaring manifestations of apathy, and people who simply never learned how to play well with others.

The Route 66 Walk of Fame, a brilliant low budget project that generated revenue, and international media attention,  became a destination in itself and fostered foot traffic along the Route 66 corridor was abandoned. This in spite of offers of assistance, including financial, from throughout the world.

Development of the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum, the only museum of its kind in the world, has languished.  With the exception of the annual Route 66 Fun Run, the state Route 66 association headquartered in Kingman has done little in regards to partnering with local organizations such as the Route 66 Association of Kingman on development of projects.  The industrial park, is at best, stagnant. Promotional assets are undervalued and underutilized.

As I prepare a series of presentations on heritage tourism and its role in sustainable economic development, it is impossible for thoughts to not turn toward my adopted home town, and its long history of flirting with fame and fortune.  In turn, these thoughts inspire reflection on my long history of jousting at windmills in Kingman. Though I am inspired by the passion of a new generation of grassroots organizers, my optimism is guarded. Time and again I have watched inspired and ambitious initiatives run aground, especially when the focus is on the symptoms, not the problem.