Plans for a showplace park in Winslow celebrating the history and car culture of Old Route 66 are a step closer to reality, but the city still has miles to go before the tourist destination becomes a reality.
Visitors from all over the world already flock to tiny Standin’ On the Corner Park to stand on the corner and take photos next to a life-size bronze guitar player named “Easy” or the red flatbed Ford parked on the street and reflected in the slightly suggestive John Pugh mural that faces Kinsley Avenue.
While city officials have long worked toward a unified vision for Winslow’s downtown, they’ve had to do the projects as funding became available. Separately funded roadwork last year brought in new, nostalgic light posts and benches as well as parking “safety extensions” and clearly defined free parking spaces along Second and Third streets, the west- and eastbound lanes, respectively, of Old Route 66, that frame the old downtown commercial district. The intersection of Second and Kinsley now sports a Route 66 medallion that spans the pavement nearly from corner to corner.
The pocket park was a temporary fix for the site of the burned-out Rasco building, which was a charred scar on the back side of the Standin’ On the Corner Park.
The city started planning for the Route 66 Plaza back in 2006, but even then officials knew that finding money for the project would be an uphill climb. That hurdle was cleared in September when the city was awarded a $488,000 federal highway grant for the project. But it will still be six to eight months before the money flows into city coffers, City Planner Paul Ferris said. Until then, not much will happen.
That’s because until the federal money is released, the city has to pay for any design or other work toward the project. That includes three stages of review – environmental, utility and right-of-way – that the city has to perform before any other work is started. At press time, the city was still waiting to find out whether the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) will help shoulder that cost, and by how much.
Nonetheless, the early planning has already paid off, says Sharlene Fouser, byways leader for the National Historic Route 66 All-American Road program.
“We had not planned for it, because the rumor was that because of the economy the grant cycle for 2011 would not happen,” she said. When it did, the application cycle was three weeks instead of the customary three months. “Paul Ferris really had his ducks in a row,” she said. “The city had this on its radar and some of the things had already been done. They did the landscaping and put in irrigation. That helped because they had been working on it even though they didn’t have the money to make it a reality…The city had already earmarked funds for the project so we were able to use that as our matching [incentive] for the grant.”
She noted that this grant was an 80:20 split, making it easier for small communities to secure than grants that require a city to put up 50 percent.
“So many times these grants are a 50-50 match, and small communities like Winslow can’t take advantage of it,” she said. “It was the only project awarded in Arizona, of about 111 nationwide.”
Arizona’s section of Route 66 is the only section to be designated among 24 “All-American Roads” in the country, signifying they are destinations in themselves and securing extra federal tourism promotion.
The city hopes to proceed with the original concept design for the park:
An archway would be cut through a blank section of the wall that has the existing Standin’ On the Corner mural (facing Kinsley Avenue). A path that would approximately trace the line of Route 66 on a map could run from the portal through the new park. At each end of the path, visitors would see a mural of the end of Route 66 they are facing – Chicago on the east side, Santa Monica to the west. As a gateway from the Standin’ On the Corner side, vintage or replica gas pumps would serve as columns to support the arch joining the parks.
The park would include a small amphitheater, which would be a welcome addition for the community, the touring acts that entertain at the park on summer weekends and cross-country motor rallies that use it as a checkpoint. The lighting along the back of the amphitheater would look like headlights. Along Second Street, benches with fins like vintage Cadillacs spread along a tree-lined lawn would beckon visitors. Toward the sidewalk frontage on the east side of the park, plans call for a diner mural with a 3-D countertop and stools for visitors to eat their picnics. But that’s the just the low-budget plan. Other potential embellishments may depend, to some extent, on luck.
“We would like to get a real Valentine Diner in there instead of just the façade,” confided City Planner Paul Ferris. (Valentine Diners were a line of prefabricated diners sold like trailer homes to eager restaurateurs in post-WWII America. Winslow still has a long-shuttered Valentine Diner at Second Street and Colorado Avenue, one of three known to have operated in Arizona during Route 66’s heyday.) “There is also talk of finding and putting up gas station logo signs, but finding them at a reasonable cost may be tricky,” he added.
The original project cost was estimated at $1 million, but some material and labor costs have come down since the project was conceived and Ferris is guardedly optimistic that, like other recent projects, bids will all come in below the original estimate. The city has posted renderings on the chainlink fence around the site. FBN