The Macoupin County Enquirer-Democrat published a comprehensive report about two experts giving a presentation in Gillespie, Illinois, about how to parlay Route 66 into tourism dollars.
The experts were Bill Kelly, executive director of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, and Bill Thomas, economic development director for Logan County, tourism booster for Atlanta, Illinois, and chairman of Route 66: The Road Ahead Partnership.
The whole article is worth reading for any Route 66 town that wants to beef up its tourism revenue. But here are a few items worth mentioning:
— Kelly says Route 66 tourism will continue to grow as the road’s 100th anniversary approaches. “I believe in 2026, there will be hundreds of thousands of people traveling Route 66 in Illinois,” he said.
— Kelly revealed what will be done to draw tourists to the old Macoupin County Cannonball Jail in Carlinville once its lead paint is removed. “You can put on a vintage prison uniform, get your picture taken behind bars, photo op, send that back. That’s going to work. While they stop there, you have to hand out the coupons that’ll give them a chance to go over to the square, stop and translate your picture into a t-shirt if you want it, put that picture onto a coffee mug or other kinds of things. […] You get them out of the car, you give them other things to do and spend money on.”
— Thomas said simply preserving a historic building isn’t enough — it has to be used in a way to generate revenue or involve tourists. He gave an example of the J.W. Hawes Grain Elevator in Atlanta that ultimately wasn’t successful. “They saved something that was historically important to our town, but they didn’t figure out anything to do with it. It just sits there, and people can look at it. That’s it, so the principle isn’t working because the public doesn’t support it real well. There’s no money for that project, because we never figured out how to effectively used it.”
— Conversely, Thomas said officials figured out a way to make use of the preservation of a 1908 clock tower from Atlanta’s old high school. The clock now stands near the city’s library. The clock had to be wound regularly by local volunteers, but they figured out how to get tourists involved in it. “They now get to go in the tower and wind the thing. They also get a little card that tells them they are now an honorary keeper of the clock. It is hands-down the most popular activity in the community, and it’s simply because we finally figured out the principle of experience and how to take something we already had and just use it in a slightly different way.”
— Thomas said the now-popular Palms Grill Cafe in downtown Atlanta is a good example of a something that almost wasn’t used fully. He said the library board that took possession of it wanted to turn it into non-working replica of the cafe and let people only look through the window at it. Thomas insisted it be converted into a working restaurant, and it remains the No. 2 draw in Atlanta.
— The Colaw House in Atlanta has proven so popular with tourists, the contractor purchased and renovated a second house in town for overnight stays.
— Each tourist spends an average of two hours in Atlanta.
— Moving the Paul Bunyan fiberglass statue from a Route 66 restaurant in Cicero, Illinois, to Atlanta was not a popular decision at the time. “… That did not go over well nine years ago. It is now embraced by the town, because that statue is known globally, and people from all over the world come just to have their picture taken with that thing,” Thomas said.
(Image of the Paul Bunyon statue in downtown Atlanta, Illinois, by Gouldy99 via Flickr)