Route 66 News

Will Route 66 Rendezvous leave or stay in downtown San Berdoo?

The annual Route 66 Rendezvous may depart or remain in downtown San Bernardino, Calif., according to somewhat contradictory reports Friday afternoon from two area newspapers.

The Press-Enterprise said the classic-car extravaganza may leave downtown because the city, which recently declared bankruptcy, may not have the money to pay for the event’s police patrols. A few hours later, a report in the San Bernardino County Sun quoted several officials saying the Rendezvous will stay in downtown as usual, contrary to rumors.

The Route 66 Rendezvous annually attracts 500,000 visitors to see hundreds of classic cars over a 35-block area. The 23rd edition of the event this year is scheduled for Sept. 13-16.

However, the City of San Bernardino declared bankruptcy earlier this month after being roiled by the bursting of the housing bubble, the recession, and alleged financial mismanagement. A report this week in the Los Angeles Times said San Berdoo will likely have to chop spending by a whopping 30 percent.

According to the P-E, San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy said Friday he couldn’t see how the cash-strapped city would be able to pay for police overtime required during the Rendezvous:

Handy said the department last year was reimbursed $65,000 to $70,000 for overtime to police the event.

But with the bankruptcy, unless money can be found elsewhere, the Police Department doesn’t have the resources to provide enough officers required for a safe event.

“I can’t put just 10 officers down there it during the day on weekends and evenings, with all the cuts. I can’t just carve it out of our normal staffing,” Handy said.

A county spokesman also confirmed to the P-E that the San Bernardino County regional parks department has been approached by organizers to possibly move the Route 66 Rendezvous to Glen Helen Regional Park in nearby Devore. The county board of supervisors would have to approve the park’s use for such an event. The park is 12 miles northwest of downtown.

Rendezvous organizers have publicly committed to keeping the event going. A message Thursday on the event’s Facebook page, responding to a question about whether the Rendezvous would be canceled, said: “We are moving forward! We will have some exciting news coming soon.”

In the Sun’s report, Handy was more conciliatory. And the San Bernardino Convention and Visitors Bureau also announced it was committed to the event in downtown:

“We’re working through that now,” Handy said. “We’re trying to get a handle on that now, for what we can pay. There’s discussions about whether it’s going to move. … We’ll find a way. It’s a signature event for the city.”

There were talks about moving, said SBCVB President Wayne Austin, but he’s confident the event is proceeding as usual.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re still moving forward with the city, trying to figure out how to move forward,” he said. “We’re still focused on downtown, still focused on the same week in September. … Barring me being fired, it’s happening here.”

Mayor Pat Morris was more adamant to the Sun:

“It’s happening, and it’s happening downtown,” he said. “I don’t think (city support) is critical to it happening.”

Morris said the event was particularly important this year.

“Route 66 is our iconic celebration of our city and its history, with the Mother Road,” he said, “and in a time of depression, in a time of economic upheaval, continuing in some way to celebrate the dignity and the history of this great city is important for our constituents and those half million people who come celebrate with us.”

Rumors about the Rendezvous’ cancelation were fueled this week by emails purportedly from Shelly McNaul, events coordinator with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. One of the emails read, in part:

Downtown is canceled! With no support from the City we can’t fund the PD and City bills. […]

As you know from our meeting, if we don’t move the event, we will have to close our doors and we (the CVB, Route 66 Staff, and the Welcome Center) will have to close and we are in the unemployment line.  This is our last ditch effort to save the event and move it to Glen Helen.  We are trying to keep everything that we had in town intact with the cruise and the contests. […]

I suggest that you move your reservation, or you can keep it, it isn’t not that far to Glen Helen.  They also have a huge grass area for RV’s/Trailers.

Emails, phone calls, and direct messages from Route 66 News to the CVB and the Rendezvous were not returned.

Even with the Sun’s more-optimistic tone, it’s apparent the situation with the Rendezvous remains fluid. It may be prudent to move the Rendezvous so the event can be preserved. But such a move would prove economically damaging to nearby hotels and businesses that benefit from the downtown event.

San Bernardino has endured a lot of bad news in recent weeks. It doesn’t need more.

UPDATE 7/28/2012: An updated story by The Press-Enterprise contains some interesting quotes from Jack Brown, CEO of Stater Bros. Markets, the Rendezvous’ primary sponsor:

Brown does not support moving the Rendezvous to Glen Helen, a rural park north of the city, where the event was held in 1990, its first year.

“We are all aware of the bankruptcy of the city of San Bernardino, Brown said. “And should that bankruptcy entail reducing the quality and participation of the Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous, then I believe it should be canceled for 2012, with the promise that we will all work hard to make the 2013 (event) the best ever.”

He was particularly disturbed to hear rumors that fees would be charged for admission and parking if the event moves to Glen Helen. “A major part of our sponsorship has been to ensure it was free,” he said.

Brown also said 60 of the supermarket chain’s suppliers participate in the Rendezvous downtown, and he couldn’t guarantee they would follow it to the park.

The suppliers pay for the fun zone with games and prizes, and also distribute samples of their products, food and drink. They also help pay for the entertainment, Brown said.

“If we can’t do it right, we should just cancel it for this year and I think everyone would understand,” Brown said.

MORE: An updated story by the Sun provides an inkling on why the city’s poor finances are endangering the event:

The city has historically supported the Rendezvous, which is celebrating its 23rd year, with money from its Economic Development Agency, said Mayor Pat Morris.

But the EDA was dissolved earlier this year, along with all redevelopment agencies in the state.

The council will have to decide whether it can make up that support with other money as it struggles through a bankruptcy filing, but the event should go on regardless, Morris said.

MORE: Cassie MacDuff, in a column for The Press-Enterprise, wrote Saturday:

I have it on good authority that a letter will land on the mayor’s desk Monday morning demanding that the city provide the same service to the popular classic car show/street fair as in past years.

That means extra policing for crowds of more than 500,000 and clean-up after the four-day event, which includes a cruise, burn-out, live entertainment and food booths.