It was the summer of 2014. The historic heart of Kingman had been on a downward spiral since completion of I 40 and the bypass of Route 66 in the late 1970s. Weed and trash strewn empty lots had replaced century old railroad warehouses, and services stations, motels, and other businesses along Route 66. Hotels that had once hosted Edsel Ford, Buster Keaton, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart were shuttered, tarnished gems.
But the summer of 2014 was also the dawn of a new era in downtown Kingman, Arizona. Led by Dora Manley, a downtown business owner, Steve and Mike Wagner, real estate agents, and author Jim Hinckley, and a network of partners within the community, the historic business district was infused with vibrancy when the city hosted the International Route 66 Festival.
People from more than thirty states and a dozen countries were in attendance. There was live music, speakers, authors, walking tours, and a sense of excitement. And there were also artists. This was the dawn of a renaissance that has transformed the old business district.
Fueling that renaissance was a thriving arts community, and passionate artists with vision. The evidence is overwhelming that a vibrant arts and cultural district is an important component in the revitalization of a neglected historic business district.
Shortly after establishment of the Pittsburgh Cultural District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the number of events held in the area more than doubled. Within a decade more than a million people attended events in the district in just one year, and that led to gentrification of the area.
Restaurants opened. Warehouses and hotels were renovated as apartments. Other historic hotels that had been candidates for demolition were renovated.
A detailed study determined that in its first decade the district was responsible for the generation of $33 million in public investment and $63 million in private and philanthropic funds. This in turn resulted in $115 million in commercial investment. Tax revenues in the district from real estate development and performances increased from $7.9 million to $19.1 million in eight years.
Within thirty-six months of establishment of the Tucson Arts District in Tucson, Arizona, more than 25 new businesses had opened. More than half the businesses recorded dramatic increase in sales volume. Retail vacancy in the district plummeted.
The arts district that has blossomed along Beale Street in Kingman continues to fuel revitalization of the historic heart of the city. The old State Theater is being renovated as a performing arts center. Avant Print & Frame that provides giclée fine art printing and museum quality custom archival framing is a focal point for local artists. The ArtHub, Kingman Center for the Arts, Sara Peterson Gallery, and Gallery 66 Art Shop are garnering national and even international attention.
And as in Pittsburgh and Tucson, this arts community is fostering a sense of excitement in the district that is manifesting in investment. The historic Brunswick Hotel is undergoing renovation. Restaurants, microbreweries, and eclectic shops have opened.
In the historic business district, it is the dawn of a new era. It is the age of renaissance.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America