The proposed upgrades will improve the town’s economy to make Catoosa a Route 66 destination.
An iconic relic of Route 66 since 1972 may be in for a makeover. Standing at 20 feet tall and 80 feet long, the Catoosa Blue Whale has been a pit stop on the pilgrimage across Route 66 for decades now. Currently, the Blue Whale is nothing more than a 20-minute stop for tourists to snap a quick picture and marvel at the size of the attraction. However, local officials from the Catoosa City Council envision a new future for the Blue Whale: a future of extended stays and a new addition to Catoosa’s economy.
City Council member Kyle Gibson wants to “Keep [tourists] here to show them everything Catoosa has to offer.” To do so, the City Council partnered with Hampton Creative to reimagine what the Blue Whale could be. Their goal is to make the Blue Whale a destination, not just an attraction, to compel people to “come, stay, and spend money.” Hampton Creative’s design is intended to pull travelers off the road to see all the fun the Blue Whale offers. They plan to do this first by creating a sense of nostalgia for Route 66 by incorporating neon signs into their design. Wishing to have constant income, visitors will have access to vending machines and modern bathrooms day or night to help the city earn revenue without providing costly overhead. The visitor’s center will be a modern take on a 1950s or 1960s-era gas station, adding to the nostalgic feel. Looking to target avid Route 66 fans, a “curated themed rental experience” has been proposed, which will include eight trailers representing each of the states that Route 66 connects. The trailers will be open all year and the interior will reflect the Route 66 attractions of the state each trailer represents.
Keeping with the theme of nostalgia and money-making, a miniature golf course will be installed with decorations that pay homage to the iconic landmarks from all along Route 66. Hampton Creative is also taking advantage of the 23.5-acre property and looks to create a short hiking and biking trail for traveling guests to stretch their legs. The trails will include interactive signs and a working waterfall with a viewing deck to encourage visitors to take photos. The proposal ends with a drive-through sign experience, allowing cars, trucks and motorcycles to be photographed within a giant Route 66 sign. The renderings also include a fire pit, playground and ice cream shop.
City leaders are backing Hampton Creative’s design, hoping to get moving on the project soon, as Route 66 will turn 100 years old in 2026. The centennial will lead to large celebrations along the Mother Road, an economic opportunity that Catoosa needs to participate in. The project’s cost is still being determined but leaders say money is available from the state. “I think that’s the plan, is to try and get some of these funds available, work with the state, and try to get some of this up and running for that anniversary,” said Denise Carlton, the Catoosa Parks Board Secretary.
Though this proposal has yet to be voted on, it would be a substantial economic boost to the town, which boasts just over 7,000 residents. Known chiefly for the Hard Rock Casino, the Port of Catoosa and the Blue Whale, the town could use the revenue generated by the Blue Whale to improve the area further. Driving through Catoosa is a sad experience filled with reminders of the great opportunities and wonders Route 66 had to offer. If the town does not go through with the signs to improve the Blue Whale, it will continue down the path of allowing an iconic destination to become just another mindlessly driven section of Route 66.
“We’re little small-town Catoosa, but we offer some great things, and I think this is just another thing to add to what we have here,” said Carlton. “So, I’m very excited.”