In the journey to protect, preserve, and tell the larger story of Route 66, partnering can be essential. The power of Partnership can bring financial assistance, expertise, opportunity, sharing, and scope.
Partnering can be an essential part of your Route 66 Preservation Project. Some partners bring financial assistance, others expertise. There are many opportunities to collaborate along Route 66 — an eight-state, 2,400-mile-long linear community.
Partnerships occur when an individual or organization works with others to achieve a short-term or long-term goal. They can be as simple as a business owner working with a bank to obtain a loan to restore a building. They can also be much more involved, such as a city government collaborating with a group of business owners to create a special Route 66 planning area, complete with a tax-based capital improvement financing. National partners such as the NPS Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and the National Trust for Historic Preservation can bring resources and information on Route 66 as a whole, and link you to the larger community working to preserve the Mother Road.
No, absolutely not. Partnerships, not unlike other working relationships, inevitably have productive as well as frustrating encounters. While collaborative endeavors can generate results that individuals and organizations could not achieve on their own, the strength of a partnership comes from hard work and cooperation. It is really up to you if you want to work with others. Some people can work more effectively on their own.
Download the worksheet and work at asnwering the questions listed there. They will help you set up the next steps in getting your property restored.
It is important to make partnerships a two-way street. Don't just think about what they can do for you, but think about things you can do for them, which they would value. Sometimes it’s as easy as helping spread the word about the help they have given your project.
Note what type of assistance such as planning, financial, advocacy, etc. that they could bring to your project.
Which partners should you approach first? How will you approach them? Who else do you know that might be able to suggest new potential partners?
In 1973, Pontiac’s leading newspaper warned that “I-55 will demote Route 66 to just a frontage road.” And that’s exactly what it did. While local businesses continued using their Route 66 addresses in advertisements, the highway’s name and presence soon faded.
Like many bypassed by the interstate, Pontiac’s business community worked to “try to pull cars off I-55,” as recalled by current and longtime city administrator Bob Karls. However, there was no thought of capitalizing on the city’s onetime link to Route 66.
All of this changed in the early 2000s when an opportunity — and future partnership — fell into their lap.
The Route 66 Association of Illinois, one of the first state associations to form, found its headquarters in McLean had run out of space. The group approached the city with a proposal to move their operations to Pontiac. Pontiac officials were receptive to the idea and offered their former city hall and fire station.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the two-story Romanesque brick building proved to be a near-perfect fit. Using a tax increment financing (TIF) program established in the 1980s, the city helped the association bring the building up to code and carry out other improvements.
Opened in 2004, the new Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame Museum put Pontiac back on the Route 66 map.
However, work remained to be done. The museum’s back wall, a blank brick façade, beckoned to be decorated.
Local artists at Diaz Sign Art, a family-owned sign shop, came up with the idea of a huge highway shield. Spanning nearly the entire façade, the six-sided sign — with its black double sixes painted over a white background — became an immediate attraction.
The town’s mayor, Robert Russell, understood the pull of the mural — and Route 66.
As the story goes, one glum day, near the height of the Great Recession, Mayor Russell told his staff: “We can either sit by the curb and wait for someone to help us, or stand up and do what we can do.”
Working with the Diaz family and the Walldogs, a loose association of artistic sign painters, city staff envisioned an event where the entire downtown became a canvas for imaginative history-themed murals.
In June 2009, the “Walldog Mural Festival” attracted more than 150 artists, who worked with locals over three days to create 18 murals. Now it has 23 murals. There was some initial skepticism, but Karls says that the event, which one night brought 5,000 people downtown, “just energized the community.” To the mayor and his city administrator, it was a turning point.
Route 66 opportunities and partnerships then began to pile up.
On his way to Chicago, Oldsmobile car collector Tim Dye stopped off in Pontiac and liked what he saw. The mayor and city administrator were out at Dye’s home in Oklahoma within a week, working out a deal. As with the Route 66 association, the city offered Dye an attractive deal with a building improved through TIF money.
Today, the Pontiac-Oakland Museum and Resource Center —a first-class display of Pontiac cars and auto memorabilia — is tucked within the city’s museum.
Another opportunity — and partner — came with the family of Bob Waldmire, the famed Route 66 artist. Before his death in late 2009, Waldmire had traveled to Pontiac to look at a site for a mural. Pacing off the brick wall in the 300 block of North Main St, he delighted that his canvas measured precisely 66 feet. Waldmire died before he could start the mural, but his design, dubbed the “Waldmire Memorial,” was completed in 2011. It is a significant attraction.
Waldmire was a Springfield native, who had spent time in Pontiac, and his family thought the city was a fitting place for his legacy. Located on the 2nd floor of the Pontiac Museum Complex, the Waldmire Experience presents the artist’s life — from artist to naturalist to Route 66 icon. Part of the exhibit includes his famous mustard color VW van. Parked outside the museum is his “Road Yacht,” a school bus he made his home for many years. Many visitors approach the van “as if they are almost walking into a shrine,” observes current tourism director, Liz Vincent.
City Administrator Karls recalls that before the Route 66 Association of Illinois came knocking, the legendary highway was not on the city’s radar as a way to generate tourism, let alone a catalyst of economic development. But with the museum, the murals, the “Big Shield,” and a cascade of opportunities, Route 66 now plays a big part in Pontiac’s tourism marketing.
“Every time an opportunity arrived, we ran with it,” remembered Karls of the Route 66 renaissance. Once a community that didn’t even make it into Route 66 tour guides, Pontiac is now a “must-see.”
An outstanding example of period historic preservation shines with the Standard Oil Station in Odell, Illinois. Erected in 1932 to match a 1916 Standard Oil gas station plan, it looks like a spry house that just happens to have a gas pump.
A fixture on Route 66, Odell Station served both locals and travelers until the 1960s when it was converted into an auto body shop. Shuttered in the 1970s, it fell into disrepair and would have been destroyed had it not been for the dedication of history-minded volunteers.
With the assistance of the Route 66 Route Association of Illinois, the gas station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The association then started to restore it with their own volunteer labor. At one point, this included a poker run to raise money.
Then a fantastic partnership blossomed. As recalled by former association president, John Weiss, volunteers from every walk of life along with businesses far and near along with schools and qualified tradespeople from virtually all over the country joined the effort. Sometimes the preservation meetings would have up to 100 people. Weiss remembers, “Yes, the magic was there!”
In 2000, Hampton Inn, the national hotel chain, took an interest in the association’s work, providing funds to pay off a loan and lending volunteers. The NPS Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office provided technical assistance.
Completed in 2001, the project won a national preservation award the following year.
“What you are enjoying today is the history of yesterday. What we do today will become the history of tomorrow,” Weiss wrote of the association’s persistence and the countless hours of volunteer work.
Covering a 30-mile, mostly urban stretch, Tulsa’s main alignment of Route 66 passes through diverse communities. Old motels and gas stations mix with a vibrant downtown stacked with Art Deco buildings. In 2005, the City of Tulsa created a master plan to generate economic development along the route.
A master plan provides a long-term document guiding future growth and development, and the “Route 66 Master Plan” aggressively promoted economic development through large capital projects. These included the highly visible Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza and Route 66 Skywalk. The plan also created the Tulsa Route 66 Commission and a zoning overlay for the route. It was a great success.
In “Plan 66,” its 2020 update, the emphasis has shifted from capital-heavy projects to encouraging private ventures and supporting emerging businesses and entrepreneurs on the route. Its goal is to create a Route 66 that “will offer a variety of experiences to people of different ages, cultures, and backgrounds, while sustaining what exists and encouraging economic development.” This includes continuing to preserve the historic route and the buildings and communities that surround it.
Like Tulsa, Albuquerque boasts a long section of Route 66, running through mostly urbanized areas. It includes sections struggling with decline as well as neighborhoods thriving with development. Route 66, or Central Avenue, continues to play a vital role in transportation and economic generation as the city’s main thoroughfare. Released in 2014, the “Route 66 Action Plan” sets forth a long-range plan with a set of strategic goals to support projects that will create economic development — enhancing the city, which has a strong identification with Route 66. The plan is divided into corridor-wide objectives, including streetscape and façade enhancement programs and discrete nodes for redevelopment or special projects. Like the Tulsa plan, it sets out goals to foster the preservation and celebration of Route 66. One of these is to establish a Neon Sign Design Overlay Zone, to preserve historic signs and encourage new neon signage.
In 2003, the Atlanta Public Library and Museum board, as recalled by its former president Bill Thomas, found itself “all of sudden in full possession” of the Downey Building, a two-story brick commercial structure fronting Route 66.
Little did Thomas and the board realize they were embarking on a six-year project to bring back a Route 66 icon and create a new space for their museum.
Erected in 1867 by local businessman Alexander Downey, the double storefront Italianate style commercial building had gone through many uses over its nearly 140 years of existence, holding at different times a bank, law office, millinery, and grocery. Important to Route 66 was a small café occupying the north storefront.
Opened in 1934, Palms Grill Cafe catered to tourists and locals alike and claimed to be the “brightest spot on 66,” due to its bright neon and over 200’ of mirrored wall in its interior.
But in 2003 what Thomas and the board possessed was a darkened building with a severe backlog of deferred maintenance. There was “absolutely nothing left of the cafe,” Thomas recalls.
He knew that the first step in applying for grants to fix the old cafe would be to get it listed on the National Register. Working as chair of the Atlanta Historic Preservation Council, Thomas and his colleagues prepared a nomination highlighting the cafe’s 19th century and Route 66 history. It was listed in the National Register the following year.
Then came the hard work. Thomas and the board "scanned the wide horizon," searching every potential funding source, identifying several pots of money that could build a shoestring restoration program. They planned the project strategically — realizing that, first, the severely deteriorated building would need stabilization. The NPS Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program provided funding to create a historic
structures report to identify the building’s needs and guide its future restoration.
But with all the changes over the years, no one quite knew what the cafe looked like. One day, while Thomas was working in his front yard, a pick-up truck stopped in front of his house. A window rolled down, and a local resident handed Thomas a sheath of black-and-white photos of the cafe, saying, “I think you’re going to want this.”
The project was launched using an Illinois Office of Tourism grant and assistance from the Illinois Landmarks Preservation Council. Bricks were removed and carefully numbered to be cleaned and put back on the façade. The interior was gutted, and a new roof was installed. Another grant refurbished the all-important blue and white neon sign. Still, more money was needed.
Thomas and the board knew where to look — high school students. Tying into Atlanta High School’s centennial celebration, the board worked with the alumni association on a campaign to bring back the grill. Residents and those who had left Atlanta decades ago contributed generously — providing, along with local donations, the largest amount of funds the project would receive. All told, the various sources of funds — local, state, federal — brought in over $500,000, which was enough to complete the project.
After six years of hard work and creative fundraising, the restored Downey Building opened to the public. The south storefront, opened the year before, contained the new Atlanta Museum, which previously had been squeezed into the town’s public library basement.
The restored Palms Grill Cafe opened in May 2009. Its interior — a long tiled hall flanked by a counter and square tables — accurately recreated the cafe shown in old photos. Its menu offered period-correct fried bologna sandwiches as well hamburgers and homemade pie.
With imaginative fundraising and a strong preservation plan, the dilapidated two-story brick that fell into the library’s lap in 2003 turned a potential nuisance into a public asset — and brought back one of the Mother Road’s landmarks.
Partners need time to get to know one another, to discover each other’s capacities and limitations, to build trust, and develop a shared vision to accomplish the project
The keys to an effective collaboration or partnerships are:
Before looking for funding, prepare a budget that includes all anticipated expenses and potential funding gaps. Be realistic and project on the high side.
Don’t be discouraged if a potential partner turns you down. If they can’t participate fully in the ways that you would like them to, ask them if they have any feedback on your plans, or whether they know somebody else you should talk to.
See if you can find a similar project that was successful in another community, or another project in your community that had some success (even if it wasn’t a preservation project). Talk to the people involved to find out what worked for them.
The most important first step is to create — and be able to articulate — a vision for your project. Potential partners will want to hear this to understand if they can help — and if you can help them. Your vision, prepared as a simple goal statement, should include a name for your project, how you think it will improve your community, a general timeline needed to accomplish it, and the type of assistance you might ask from each partner. It should include a basic budget; what you think it may cost to get it done. Articulating a clear vision will ensure that potential partners understand your project and how they may or may not be able to assist you.
The mission of local government is to enhance the physical, economic, and cultural development of your community, which makes a perfect partner for your Route 66 preservation goals. Work with your local government to get help and information regarding long-range city planning and development, community revitalization, historic preservation, and business services. Collaborating with your local government has the potential to provide funding sources for Route 66 projects through city lodgers’ taxes, tax increment financing, and other programs. Learn more about what your local government is doing and how they can support your preservation efforts.
With your vision statement and list of potential partners, start reaching out. When talking with your partners, ask them if they know others who might want to know about what you are trying to accomplish. Even if your partners aren’t able to provide all the help you might hope for, they may be able to connect you with others they know, and they will be excited to learn of your progress as you go.
Is there a group of people in your area that benefit from collaborating together, such as a Better Business Bureau, a Chamber of Commerce, a Rotary Club — or even an informal “liars table” at a local restaurant? These can all be your partners and collaborators.
State tourism offices work to encourage travel to their states. Many have embraced Route 66 as a significant component of their travel marketing, and some states (as well as counties) have funds for tourism advertising. While each program is different, some states provide funding for historical research and bricks and mortar preservation.New Resource Link Coming Soon
Main Street America has been helping revitalize older and historic commercial districts, including many communities on Route 66. The Main Street communities share a commitment to place and to building more vital cities and towns through preservation-based economic development. Local programs are established by interested business and property owners, historic preservationists, and civic and economic development organizations. Services include access to resources of the National Main Street Center and local assistance from local Main Street staff. As the Main Street of America, Route 66, and the national program have much in common.Link to "Main Street America" site
The U.S. Economic Development Administration is to build a foundation for sustainable job growth and strong regional economies throughout the United States. Communities along Route 66 can benefit from these multifold programs, including financial assistance for revitalization plans, tourism development plans, and statewide planning and research.Link to the "Economic Development Administration" site
Overseen by the Federal Highway Administration, America’s Byways is the umbrella name for over 150 roads designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as roads important for their scenic or historic qualities. Each Route 66 state has at least one scenic highway designation highlighting the route. The entire route is named nationally as an All-American Road and National Scenic Byway. Through their state departments of transportation, communities can apply for designation as a State or National Scenic Byway. Some states have separate programs marking byways at a regional or local level. When funding is available, grants can be used to enhance designated byways. Projects that protect historic resources and promote marketing and tourism are typically eligible for funding.