KINGMAN – The Powerhouse Visitor Center marked its 20th year of operation on Oct. 25 with the completion of a $250,000 remodeling project, said Josh Noble, tourism director for the City of Kingman.
Nearly 2 million visitors from around the nation and world have stopped into the Powerhouse.
The City of Kingman funded the remodel, with contributions from the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona.
The project was coordinated by Burley Hambrick of Public Works, and construction was completed by TR Orr, the same contractor that managed the original renovation in 1997.
Work included a new welcome desk at the Arizona Route 66 Museum, additional lighting, signage, store displays, new office and storage space, and one of the largest Arizona highway maps in the state, along with brochures from some 100 Arizona towns and attractions in newly installed brochure racks.
The remodel will help to increase revenue at the gift shop, which had been quite limited by space, Noble said. The gift shop will be able to carry more products.
The gift shop grossed $109,000 in 2016, a 31-percent increase from the previous year after buying old bookshelves from the closed Hastings store and expanding its inventory.
With the added space from the remodel project, gift shop sales are expected to reach $150,000 this year, Noble said.
“We try not to compete with other retail in Kingman, mostly offering what is not available in other gift shops so as not to divert revenues from another business in town,” he said.
A remodel of the Visitor Center at the Powerhouse was in the works after an enhancement study was conducted in 2008, but didn’t get under way until May.
The Powerhouse has certainly become a hub of visitor activity, Noble said. It’s the first visitor center in Arizona for travelers coming from Las Vegas on U.S. Highway 93 and from California on Interstate 40.
“Most people understand that Route 66 has some significance to American history and culture, but don’t really know why,” Noble said. “The chronological design of the Arizona Route 66 Museum inside the Powerhouse really tells that story.”
Visitors can pick up Route 66 passports with a checklist of places of interest in the area, along with maps and brochures, and have face-to-face interaction with staff at the Powerhouse.
“We spotted this as we drove on the historic Route 66,” a traveler from London posted on TripAdvisor in October. “The lady here couldn’t (have) been more helpful. She gave us maps and leaflets plus a warning about part of the route where there would be nothing, no fuel, no shops. Worth a visit for shops, information and toilets!”
Built between 1907 and 1909, the Powerhouse originally provided electricity to mines in the Kingman area. For 29 years, it proved to be the primary influence of bringing Kingman into the 20th century with its power generation.
The Powerhouse reopened as a visitor information center in October 1997 with a Memory Lane 1950s-style diner, Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona gift shop and model train store. The Arizona Route 66 Museum was added in 2001.
The diner is no longer there, with the Route 66 gift shop expanding into that space. And the train store is gone, survived by a large-scale model railroad that makes its rounds in the building while the real thing can be seen and heard outside.
Grand Canyon Skywalk opened an information center and gift shop upstairs in the Powerhouse in 2011. Three years later came the “66 Kid Gallery” based on a book by local artist and author, Bob Boze Bell, and Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum, the world’s first museum dedicated solely to electric vehicles, both added during the International Route 66 Festival.