Mayor G.T. Bynum said this week that Tulsa has had the components to showcase’s Route 66’s prominence in the city for a long time.
He pointed out that the “father” of the Mother Road, Cyrus Avery, was a Tulsan, as is Route 66 biographer Michael Wallis and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who also serves as the state’s Secretary of Tourism and Branding.
Yet, for decades, the city failed to take advantage of the famed thoroughfare.
“People would come from all around the world to drive down Route 66, and then they would hit Tulsa and would be shocked that there was nothing to see here,” Bynum said at a news conference Wednesday.
Much of that has changed in recent years, thanks in part to the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation. In November 2018, LTFF opened up a $5.5 million food hall called the Mother Road Market, following that up with the $1.5 million Shops at Mother Road Market.
This past week, LTFF went a step further to enhance Route 66.
The nonprofit announced that it is providing about $7 million in advance funding to the city for infrastructure and beautification improvements to the Tulsa Market District and a stretch of the Mother Road.
Planned upgrades include updates to traffic lights, waterlines, sewer system and roadways. Beautification projects include the addition of iconic Route 66 signage and lighting, ADA-compliant sidewalks and ramps and more than 77 trees and benches.
The project is scheduled to begin immediately and be completed in about a year.
Funding is through a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to renovate the stretch of Route 66 from just north of East 12th Street to East 10th Street off of Lewis Avenue and from South Yorktown to South Atlanta off 11th Street (Route 66). Funding will be provided at no interest to the city, and LTFF will be reimbursed up to the amount spent on the project over time by sales taxes generated within the district. The city and LTFF will coordinate the projects to hasten their commencement and minimize the interruptions caused by construction.
“The city of Tulsa on a project like this, we can create TIF districts all day long,” Bynum said. “But the only way a TIF district works is if people are investing in it and increasing the property values, which develops the funds that can go back into the project.
“… Everybody wins in Tulsa when we are investing in Route 66 and bringing more people from the world right here to the center part of our community.”
LTFF seeks to decrease barriers for people to attain their goals, and it specializes in building equity through entrepreneurship, particularly in the food and retail sectors.
In the Tulsa Market District, nearly 20% of residents live at 50% below the poverty line, earning a median household income of $16,764, LTFF CEO Elizabeth Frame Ellison said. That compares to a $51,623 median income in the Tulsa metro area, she said.
“Our research leads us to believe that we can improve equitable community outcomes and economic mobility for business owners and residents alike by activating Route 66 as an underutilized asset in Tulsa and creating a model for future, inclusive growth along other parts of Route 66,” she said.
“… We’re concentrating our efforts to make this stretch of Route 66 one that the community and residents and businesses alike are finding benefit from…and really make it a place where people are happy to live and work while attracting tourism from around the world.”