Springfield, Illinois, seeks better marketing plan for Route 66

Business, county and city officials are seeking a better plan to market Route 66 in Springfield, Illinois, after acknowledging other cities on the route “increased their game.”

A lengthy story in the Springfield State Journal-Register states the city is trying to reposition itself to Route 66 travelers at the highway’s centennial looms in 2026.

According to Scott Dahl, executive director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, stakeholders in local government have met with Route 66 business owners twice as plans start to take shape.

“There has been talk in the past and I think it just never came to fruition,” Dahl said. “So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to take the ideas that have been in the past and then the current ideas from the Route 66 community here in Springfield, figure out what everyone’s trying to do and put them all together.”

Putting it all together was a common theme among business owners along the stretch and local elected officials, who note that Springfield often has more things to see and do along Route 66 than places like Pontiac and Litchfield, which have marketed themselves as major stops along the route in Illinois.

“All these other areas just from a Route 66 visual standpoint and a tangible standpoint kind of increased their game,” Dahl said. ”… As they continue to grow, now we’re behind. It seems like we’re a little behind, even though we were the original marketers of it, it seems like now we haven’t kept up with the times.”

Another city that passed up Springfield is Springfield, Missouri, which in the last decade has more readily embraced its Route 66 heritage, including the popular Birthplace of Route 66 Festival.

A few themes emerged in the story:

  • One county official said improvements on Peoria Road (aka Route 66) need to become a priority for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
  • Springfield needs a Route 66 visitor center. The Illinois towns of Joliet, Pontiac, Atlanta, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln and Litchfield already have one.
  • Establishing a “Living Legends” program that would encourage tourists to meet characters along the route such as Ron Metzger at Route 66 Motorheads Bar & Grill, Jeff Fulgenzi of Fulgenzi’s Pizza and Pasta (and owner of the historic Mahan’s gas station) and Michael Higgins of Maldaner’s restaurant.
  • Developing an inventory of Route 66 assets in Springfield, including a possible site for restored neon signs such as Sonrise Donuts signs that were purchased by the city.

Local officials hope to have the plan fully in place by 2023.

(Image of Sonrise Donuts neon signs in Springfield, Illinois, via the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, which are being restored and will be re-erected at a new location)

3 thoughts on “Springfield, Illinois, seeks better marketing plan for Route 66

  1. Hallelujah!

    You just KNEW this had to happen eventually.

    Can’t argue about Peoria road. It needs lots of love as a road surface, and redevelopment as a business corridor. Facilities like Vic’s Pizza and Shea’s gas station need to spring back to life.

    Visitor center, yes! Stretch goal…fulfill the states age-old promise to the Illinois State Police to build them a museum, and share the building with them. Something like the site the ISP is currently on along Peoria Road would work.

    A site for neon signs…might I suggest the old area at the State Fairgrounds behind the Giant Slide? This used to house small rides that were there year-round, which were removed some time ago (and ought to be brought back, but that’s a goal for another time). But, the sidewalks between the rides, and the pads they sat on are still there, doubtless the electric service too. A sign at each pad as part of a walking tour with a plaque describing its history, take a slide down the giant slide, take your picture by the giant Abe Lincoln (mufflerman-like) statue, then a picture at the Main Gate. Now over to Fulgenzi’s for a bite, and more pics with the old Mahan gas station. Sounds pretty good to me.

  2. The article mentions visitor centers in other Illinois towns. Springfield is an obvious place for a visitors center, with many Route 66 and other attractions particularly about Abraham Lincoln. I have visited all of visitors centers mentioned and find all to be worth a stop.

    Here’s a specific pitch for the visitors center in Bloomington, which is located in a historic building (the former McLean County courthouse) in downtown Bloomington with plenty of nearby parking. The museum tells about Abraham Lincoln’s days as a lawyer riding the local circuit as well as Route 66’s presence in the area and other local historical material. The museum is a delight in the quality of the presentations and overall TLC. The gift shop has books and souvenirs that are a step up from the usual Route 66 kitsch. The volunteers are friendly and helpful. I think any subscriber to this Route 66 news feed will enjoy Bloomington’s visitor center.

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