Desert city capitalizes as highway collapse diverts drivers

Associated Press

Yvonne Peach was up late posting a new special on the website for her historic Yuma hotel.

The deal - $159 for two nights at the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel plus a $25 dinner gift card - was aimed at the steady stream of drivers passing through the desert city to avoid a collapsed freeway bridge on Interstate 10 to the north.

Yuma is usually a sleepy town on the way to San Diego. But it has seen thousands more visitors as traffic between Phoenix and Los Angeles is rerouted, prompting a brief but welcome boom.

Fast-food parking lots and gas stations have been packed all week as travelers make their way to and from California.

"I just thought it would be nice for those people who are inconvenienced," Peach said about her deal. "I don't want them to think that Yuma's gonna rip them off."

Summer is generally the slow season for the farming city of less than 100,000 people near the Mexico border that counts on "snow birds" in the winter to keep its economy afloat.

But the rerouted drivers have meant more traffic for businesses, both in Yuma and other towns along the detour from I-10.

Parker, Arizona, about 36 miles north of I-10 near the California border, saw a huge spike in traffic on Monday, said tourism coordinator Josh Savino.

The Parker Area Tourism office has been posting messages on social media that offer discounts and tout the town's attractions. One post features a postcard of a lake with the caption, "Parker, Arizona. Best Detour Ever."

"Come back on purpose next time," it reads.

John Courtis, executive director of the Yuma Chamber of Commerce, said a McDonald's that normally has a dozen cars in the parking lot has been packed. A truck stop that typically has six to eight big rigs had more than 25.

"We got our welcome mat out and helping folks the best we can," he said.

But the effort by business and tourism officials to capitalize on the freeway closure caused by flooding was shortened when California announced it was reopening the highway Friday.

Courtis said his office had been planning a Lynyrd Skynyrd-themed ad campaign dubbed "Gimme Three Stops," a play on a song by the group, urging people passing through to visit the McDonald's, a gas station and one shop in town.

"If the I-10 was going to be closed for two or three months, we'd really do some fun promoting," Courtis said.

Ann Walker, a spokeswoman for the Yuma Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the organization has been using social media to entice drivers to stop and take a look around.

"People don't realize how big Yuma actually is. The city population is under 100,000 but there are almost 4,000 hotel rooms here, which surprises people," Walker said.

Collie Bernabe, who also works at the visitor's bureau, has been selling her city.

On Wednesday, a woman and her young daughter dropped by to ask what they might do while crossing town. Bernabe said the family had been in Anaheim, California, and was returning home but had to take a longer route.

Bernabe touted the city's museums and the Yuma Territorial Prison, a historic site. The woman had planned on leaving that day but decided to stay the night and explore.

"Before they left the lady said she was really glad that they had to come to Yuma because they had never come here before and they were very impressed with the city," Bernabe said.


Associated Press Writer Josh Hoffner contributed to this report from Phoenix.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.