News Story

National Park Service Spends $506k to Promote Old Cars

‘It’s a matter of public interest’ says director of grant recipient

Michigan’s Woodward Dream Cruise began in 1995 as a fundraiser for a local soccer field. Today the annual celebration of classic automobiles draws an estimated 1.5 million people and 40,000 vintage cars in August.

Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, holds the Dream Cruise up as the model of how the private sector can promote the auto industry and its heritage. It demonstrates, he says, how society is capable of performing a cultural task with no assistance from government.

The MotorCities National Heritage Area Partnership is a nonprofit affiliate of the National Park Service that uses federal dollars to promote Michigan’s auto-making heritage. The park service gave $506,975 to the partnership in 2015, which was in the news earlier this year when President Donald Trump included it in a list of possible spending cuts.

MotorCities promotes sites in 16 Michigan counties, collaborating with local groups and governments to advertise sites and events with highway signs, websites and educational events in museums and luncheons.

Why should the federal government promote Michigan’s auto heritage?

“Because it’s a matter of public interest that reaches beyond our status as individuals,” said Shawn Pomaville-Size, executive director of the MotorCities National Heritage Area Partnerships, in an email.

“The story of how this region put the world on wheels is an American story of how tinkerers became titans; of how we helped establish and expand the United States as an industrial power, and of how we helped create the middle class,” she continued. “This story should be preserved, celebrated, widely disseminated, and used to inspire the next generation while furthering our economic development.”

Pomaville-Size added that an economic study in 2013 concluded that MotorCities generates $35.4 million in tax revenue each year and supports 4,560 jobs.

One of the premiere programs of MotorCities is Autopalooza, a website that promotes automotive-related activities such as cruises, races and shows during the summer.

For example, Autopalooza promotes the Woodward Dream Cruise, something Drolet takes issue with.

“It looks like they are Parasiteapolooza,” Drolet said. “They want to latch onto other people’s work so the government can take credit for it. I don’t even know what Autopalooza is. I’ve never heard about it. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it. The citizens look forward to the Dream Cruise.”

“There is no greater demonstration that citizens don’t need a government agency to celebrate their history and their heritage,” Drolet said. “The Dream Cruise is a perfect example of this. It wasn’t led by government.”

Janina Jacobs, who is involved with Eastpointe Cruisin’ Gratiot, said that Autopalooza has distributed promotional materials and put together a video highlighting all member organizations’ events and cruises.

“As a golfer, I can compare AP [Autopalooza] to organizations or sites which collect all the golf charity and celebrity event dates and post the schedule as a way to promote golf events, as one-stop shopping instead of having to look up cruises individually,” Jacobs said in an email. “Personally, I think it is a very worthwhile endeavor, that is, if people can spell it! That may be the largest hurdle to overcome, but once people know it, it catches on.”

The MotorCities initiative is not government’s first adventure in promoting Michigan’s auto heritage. In 1984, a $70 million theme park called “Autoworld” opened in Flint, with half the money coming from state, federal and local taxpayers. Big promises were made about the economic impact an expected 900,000 annual visitors would have on the local economy.

Actual attendance was a shadow of those figures and two years later, the facility closed its doors. In 1997 the dream imploded for good. Literally.