Route 66 News

A tourism director worth watching

Those who are in charge of chambers of commerce on Route 66 probably should observe closely the guy who’s just been hired for the same sort of job in Springfield, Ill. — Fred Puglia.

Puglia still needs City Council approval to be named chief of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. But, rest assured, the Council will sail it through if it knows anything about his background, especially in the region. One of the events he’s promoted was the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival in Springfield, a one-time event that became so popular, it’s now annual.

The State Journal-Register reports:

Puglia said Friday his goal is to take city tourism to a new level, but he intends to start cautiously. […]

He knows the job won’t be easy, because Springfield competes against other popular nearby convention destinations — Peoria, Chicago and St. Louis — for tourism dollars.

“My experience tells me that I have to be careful,” Puglia said. “Everything that I’ve done is based on tourism, how many people you can draw into your event or into your community, so I’m just thinking that if I do it by the book it all will work out.”

Honestly, I don’t expect Puglia to be cautious. His crowning achievement, the Decatur Celebration in Decatur, Ill., worked because he was bold. I lived in the region at the time the festival began, and this description of its history rings true:

In 1986 ….

Fred Puglia brought a “crazy” idea to City of Decatur Mayor Gary Anderson. His idea was to produce a festival in the city streets of downtown that would be absolutely free to everyone who attended.

At the time the City of Decatur was experiencing a recession, labor disputes, and several other issues that resulted in a less-than-attractive image. With the concern of the community’s image and morale on his mind, Mayor Anderson loved the idea believing an event like this was just what the city needed to boot community pride and quality of life. […]

The first year was major success with an estimated 125,000 people packed in to the downtown streets of Decatur on August 1, 2, and 3, 1986. The weather was perfect. The timing was perfect. And the enthusiasm from the public was overwhelming. […]

Revenues from the three-day event were more than enough to cover the expenses the first year, leaving some cash to start planning for Celebration #2. And according to the public’s response, a second Decatur Celebration was inevitable. The rest is history!

It’ll be interesting to see whether Puglia takes a more pro-active approach to Route 66 landmarks, like Geoff Ladd has in Lincoln, Ill., or whether Springfield will try to hype its museums to tour groups like Ellie Alexander and Pontiac, Ill., do. Maybe Puglia will steer to an unexpected or unexploited course. Regardless, it’ll be intriguing to see how he tinkers with Springfield’s tourism strategy.