Tucumcari, Santa Rosa compete for museum

Russell Anglin

Johnnie Meier has an important decision to make.

Meier, former president of the New Mexico Route 66 Association and current owner of the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, has officials from Tucumcari and Santa Rosa competing to host his collection of Route 66 memorabilia. Meier said he wants to establish the first New Mexico Route 66 museum with his “priceless” artifacts.

Meier said the museum would also host displays from donors who have agreed to show their collections, which are significant to different aspects of the region’s history and include railroad, western, colonial heritage and rock and roll exhibits.

Meier’s current choice is between Santa Rosa’s Ilfield Warehouse and the site of the former Shipley’s truck terminal in Tucumcari.

“In Santa Rosa they have this wonderful 8,000-square-foot warehouse that was built in the early 1900s, made of stone with oak floors and beamed cathedral-type ceilings. It lends itself to that ‘wow’ experience when you walk into the room,” Meier said. “The building in Tucumcari is almost 12,000 square feet, which is a very large space, which I’m looking for, and the construction is nice. It’s brick and glass and architecturally it’s kind of interesting, so I think that building has a lot of potential, so I like both buildings.”

Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce director Bob Beaulieu said Meier has agreed to supply some of the museum’s needed funding, pending an agreement, while Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation members seek additional funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program, the federal scenic byways program and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Beaulieu said EPA agents took core ground samples from the Shipley’s site Tuesday to monitor fuel lines and potential contaminants to ensure the area is not hazardous.

Meier said he would ultimately prefer Santa Rosa’s proposed facility for its historic value and downtown location, but also said he thought Tucumcari’s building may have more “near-term potential” for remodeling and conversion to a museum space.

He said both Santa Rosa and Tucumcari currently lack the appropriate planning to assure the museum’s development and management, leaving the decision of which city to choose up in the air.

“I think if people really got busy, a museum could be opened up within the next 12 months. I don’t think that’s a problem at all if people really made it a priority. Right now in Santa Rosa it doesn’t seem to be a priority, and in Tucumcari it might be a priority. I’ve got to wait and see,” Meier said.

City manager and Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation member Bobbye Rose said community leaders have been discussing the possibility of displaying Meier’s collection for about six months, and that the main obstacle for hosting the museum is funding.

Santa Rosa economic development coordinator Richard Delgado said officials in Santa Rosa are considering using the city’s Local Economic Development Act agreement to lease the Ilfield Warehouse to Meier at little or no cost. Delgado agreed with Meier that time is the primary factor in determining which city gets to host the museum.

“I think probably whoever gets something ready to move into quicker might be Mr. Meiers’ preference. I personally believe that the location here in downtown Santa Rosa and right on Route 66, right in the middle of downtown, to me is a better location, but that’s going to be his choice,” Delgado said.