Tulsa has wanted to build some kind of Route 66 museum since at least 2008, when the city opened Cyrus Avery Plaza in honor of the “father of the Mother Road,” a former Tulsa County commissioner.
During the plaza’s dedication, Tulsa officials pointed toward a nearby hilltop overlooking the historic 11th Street bridge, where the original Route 66 crossed the Arkansas River just southwest of downtown. It seemed like an ideal place to put a major Route 66 attraction, officials said, because it would encourage development along the waterfront and provide a link between the river and downtown revitalization projects.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation had already begun buying up properties a couple of miles downstream from Route 66. But GKFF didn’t unveil plans for a giant park until 2013.
By then, the city had already issued a request for proposals to build and operate a Route 66 “interpretive center” on the hilltop location near 11th Street and Riverside Drive. That led to an announcement in May 2015, when the national Route 66 Alliance kicked off efforts to raise $19.5 million to build the “Route 66 Experience,” which was envisioned to have 42,000 square feet of highly interactive exhibits.
The facility was supposed to open in 2018 and become one of Tulsa’s biggest tourist attractions. But it didn’t. Fundraising lagged and the Experience hasn’t broken ground.
Now Tulsa is looking at an entirely different location for a Route 66 attraction — because a lot has changed in the last 11 years.
The Gathering Place has already given Tulsa a major attraction along the river. And the Mother Road Market has already given Tulsa a significant tourist spot along Route 66.
The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation announced plans for the $5.5 million retail development in July 2017. And when it opened in November 2018 near the southwest corner of 11th Street and Lewis Avenue, the market became an instant sensation among locals and out-of-town visitors alike.
A developer already has plans for a $40 million mixed-use project on the northwest corner of the intersection. And the city might use part of the new development to open a 12,000-square-foot Route 66 museum, according to a report in the Tulsa World last week.
If the museum does go there — and officials emphasized that it’s only a possibility, not a definite plan — the location would make a lot of sense, building on the Mother Road Market’s success and encouraging further development along 11th Street, which is already seeing a lot of revitalization.
But the hilltop overlooking Cyrus Plaza would still make a great location for … something.