Bloomington Eyes Pontiac's Success For Route 66 Visitors Center

Published 07/30 2014 05:06PM

Updated 07/30 2014 06:19PM

PONTIAC - The Illinois Office of Tourism announced a third straight record-breaking year. Nearly 106 million people visited the state, generating $2.6 billion in revenue. Now, the success of one of the more popular Route 66 destinations in the state has Bloomington looking at it for inspiration.

It's a part of downtown Pontiac that Ellie Alexander has known well, as Pontiac’s director of tourism, for the last nine years.

"The romance of the road, it's the American icon,” said Alexander.

When this Route 66 Visitors Center Museum opened in 2004, less than 5,000 people stopped in, but a lot has changed in a decade.

"Because of this museum, we've actually broadened our horizons a little bit, and we've actually now got four museums here in Pontiac,” explained Alexander. “But this is still the driver."

More than 50,000 people visited this museum in Pontiac last year, and it's those types of numbers that have Bloomington excited as well.

"Surpassing 50,000 would not surprise me at all, given where we are, and being on the crossroads of 55 and 74,” said Bloomington’s mayor pro tem, Karen Schmidt.

Thanks to a grant from the Illinois Department of Tourism, Bloomington now has $249,000 to put towards its own visitors' center.

On Wednesday, a special ceremony honored the latest addition near the historic highway.

"A wonderful celebration of the mother road and McLean County and Bloomington and McLean County's role in that, as well as the chance to really highlight more of Lincoln's heritage that we love down here,” said Schmidt.

"We don't think that we're going to be bypassed any more,” said Crystal Howard, Bloomington-Normal Convention Center and Visitors’ Bureau director.

While visitors have been stopping in Pontiac, and in Atlanta, for an eclectic look at history, Howard says Bloomington's future may be just as bright.

“I think there's plenty of room along all of Illinois Route 66 for everyone to tell their story,” said Alexander.

The new visitors' center should be ready for the public by next spring.

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