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)