The handwriting of Billy Ray’s mother has been dark more than two decades on the large sign posted by the barbecue and catfish joint. A neon sign grant program may help flip that switch.
The Route 66 Neon Sign Grant, announced Thursday, is an effort to re-ignite the Mother Road’s glow in Tulsa with restored vintage or new signs designed in a retro style.
The application process launches April 1 and offers matching funds up to $10,000 per exterior signage containing not less than 25 percent neon or alternative LED lighting within the Route 66 overlay. The Tulsa Route 66 Commission has $40,000 from the Vision Tax for grants, with another $40,000 that will become available after July 1.
The goal is to attract tourism and investment to the 26 miles of Route 66 in Tulsa.
“We’re very excited to be able to use preservation as an economic development tool,” said Amanda DeCort, chairwoman of the Route 66 Commission’s Preservation and Design committee.
People can visit cityoftulsa.org/neongrant for more information, including to apply for a grant. A workshop on April 23 at Circle Cinema will focus on what makes a good neon sign for any business owners interested in a grant.
Rhys Martin, Chairman of the Route 66 Commission, said cheaper alternatives, changes in zoning laws and declining business opportunities led to the loss of countless signs along Route 66.
Martin said feedback for what Tulsans most want to see in future Route 66 developments overwhelmingly were in favor of neon signs.
“These signs, once simply a necessity for small business owners, are now regarded as intricate works of art,” he said.
Cindy Turner attended the announcement Thursday afternoon at Mother Road Market. Turner, the daughter of Billy Ray, hopes to use the grant to restore the original sign that went up when Billy Ray’s Catfish and BBQ opened in 1984.
Turner said Billy Ray asked his mother to write his name on a piece of paper, which he had turned into the rectangular neon sign that still stands at 3524 Southwest Blvd.
“We have always been thankful that we were fortunate enough to get a location right on Mother Road when Billy Ray purchased the land and building,” Turner said. “This is a testament and an honor toward Billy Ray and his mother as both are not with us anymore. So we’re very excited to have that back up and representing all that he wanted Billy Ray’s to be.”
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