A planned Route 66 Museum, overlooking the Arkansas River in Tulsa, is in jeopardy.
The City of Tulsa, a key backer of the project, is considering redirecting support into an alternative site at 11th and Lewis. A lag in private fundraising since the initial approval gave the City time to reconsider whether to put $6.5 million in public dollars behind the original location.
The Cyrus Avery Plaza, with the statue, the Route 66 pedestrian overpass, and most importantly, the Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge, might seem to be the ideal spot for a Route 66 Museum. Avery is considered the "Father" of the Mother Road.
A group called The Route 66 Alliance, including noted author Michael Wallis, proposed a $19 million dollar museum that would span Riverside and offer a view of the bridge. The City obligated Vision funding towards it to help spur private fundraising, but that's lagged behind the original goal.
"It's just slower than we ever anticipated, or ever thought would happen," said Ken Busby, the CEO of the Alliance.
An alternative site has been offered by a developer at the corner of 11th of Lewis. Chris Ellison, who is connected to the Mother Road Market, and the Shoppes at Mother Road Market under construction next door, wants to build a residential and retail project on the Northwest corner of the intersection and leave space for a museum.
The City of Tulsa confirms they're considering redirecting the funding.
"We do have an option at 11th and Lewis that we're doing some of our initial due diligence on right now," said Nick Doctor, the City's Chief of Community Development.
Tulsa's Route 66 Commission has not taken a position on the preferred location.
The Alliance is concerned a museum that's one-fourth the size of what they proposed would become just another brief stop for tourists to take a photo or buy a souvenir.
"We're just thinking about scale more than anything," said Busby.
Ellison said he envisions 11th and Lewis becoming a "destination district" with enough of interest there to have tourists stop and spend a night in Tulsa. He hopes to break ground on the project late next year and is in the process of selecting an architect now.
The city says consultants selected several "hotspots" for Route 66 tourism through Tulsa - and none were around the Avery Plaza, which has nothing around it except highways and apartments. The consultants identified 11th and Lewis, Downtown and Southwest Boulevard between 17th and 25th as the best places to boost tourism, according to the City.
Busby believes while the Riverside location lacks supporting tourist options now, building the museum, with restaurants and a theater, and shopping inside, would create a new economic development opportunity in an area that is not developing otherwise. He says fundraising continues, and a $500,000 pledge was made recently.
The City has not set a timeline for their decision on where to direct public funding, and Ellison, the developer at 11th and Lewis, said he didn't have a firm date by which he would decide whether to build his project around a museum - or build it without one.