A recently completed economic impact study sheds new light on the importance of heritage tourism and historic preservation along Route 66 as a contributor to local, state, and national economies. Route 66, which runs from Chicago to Santa Monica and is known as the Mother Road, is America’s most celebrated automobile highway, and a symbol of twentieth-century American culture and history. The study was directed by professor David Listokin of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and was carried out between 2008 and 2011 in collaboration with the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and World Monuments Fund, with the support of American Express.
The study demonstrates the tremendous influence tourists have on the economies of towns and cities along the route:
• More than 85% of Route 66 travelers visit historic places and museums, and these tourists spend $38 million dollars a year in these communities.
• Heritage preservation, through Main Street revitalization programs and museums, add another $94 million in annual investments.
• The national impact is an annual gain of 2,400 jobs, $90 million in income, $262 million in overall output, $127 million in gross domestic product and $37 million in tax revenues.
• At the local level, the restored Route 66-themed motel, restaurant, and gift shop anchor the downtown in many small communities and bring new life and revenue to towns once bypassed by the Interstate Highway System.
In other words, preserving Route 66 is a good investment with significant community and economic benefits.
“We fund the preservation of historic places, museums and cultural institutions because we recognize the critical role that these institutions play in their communities,” said Timothy J. McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation. “This research really showed the potential that Route 66 offers to preserve our cultural heritage, and we look forward to seeing this research create new ways for historic places to drive economic prosperity.”
“The 2008 World Monuments Watch brought attention to the cultural value of America’s Mother Road,” said World Monuments Fund President Bonnie Burnham. “The Watch was the catalyst for developing this study, which now demonstrates the tremendous economic value tied those traveling this historic route and argues for investment in preservation.”
The study draws on a wide array of empirical information on Route 66 from the national decennial census, a first-ever comprehensive survey of Route 66 travelers, a Route 66 museum survey, Route 66 case studies, and other sources. The result is a better understanding of the mosaic and dynamics of America’s Main Street, and the identification of opportunities to improve preservation of this resource and to enhance its already significant heritage tourism and economic contribution. The organizations behind the study are currently working to raise awareness of the significant findings among both the private and public sectors. A follow-up event, including industry, government, and others, is being planned for 2012, with a goal of leveraging the new knowledge provided by the Economic Impact Study toward improved investment and innovative partnerships in heritage tourism and historic preservation.
The National Park Service, Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was established in 2001 to help preserve the special places and stories of historic U.S. 66. The program collaborates with private individuals, organizations, government agencies, and others to identify and address the priority needs of this historically significant American icon. The program offers cost-share grants to assist with preservation, planning, research, and educational initiatives. Learn more at www.nps.gov/rt66.
World Monuments Fund is the leading independent organization devoted to saving the world’s most treasured places. For over 45 years, working in more than 90 countries, its highly skilled experts have applied proven and effective techniques to the preservation of important architectural and cultural heritage sites around the globe. Through partnerships with local communities, funders, and governments, WMF seeks to inspire an enduring commitment to stewardship for future generations.