Cover Story: NASCAR Hall of Fame turns 1

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Happy birthday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  The crown jewel of Charlotte tourism parties hard on its first birthday.

But cake and ice cream aside, some people say the Hall really doesn't have much to celebrate.

One year ago Wednesday Charlotte celebrated the grand opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  It's a shrine to the sport of professional racing and the men who made it great.

Opening the Hall was supposed to cement our status as the NASCAR capital and a genuine vacation destination.

Now, the reality check.  So far, the Hall is operating at a $1.2 million loss.  The Hall was projected to bring in 800,000 visitors in its first year.  It actually drew around 270-thousand people.  Number crunchers missed the mark by a 66-percent.

Hall officials fully admit they botched the attendance projections and anticipated revenue.

But despite badly missing the mark there's wide support for the NASCAR shrine.

So much hope and promise when it opened one year ago Wednesday.  But the good vibe didn't last long once the race got going.

This was the feeling then.  Former Mayor Pat McCrory said in 2009, "It's desperately needed to fill hotel rooms.. fill plane seats.. fill taxi cabs.. it helps our economy."

But the economy didn't help the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The worst recession on record will mean the Hall instead of making $800,000 the first year in operation as they were predicting is on pace to lose $1.3 million dollars.

Sid Smith who heads the Charlotte Area Hotel Association says despite the red ink, "The impact has been great. Everybody keeps talking about numbers. This is a long-term proposition. And this Hall of Fame's going to pay off big bucks to this community in economic impact over the life of the Hall of Fame."

The hospitality industry which threw its weight behind increasing the hotel-motel tax (a two-percent tax enacted to pay construction costs) says the hall has already paid off for them.

It's generated spending in the area of $224 million.. $24 million over what it cost to build.

  • 82-percent of the people who visit are from more than 80 miles away.
  • 67-pecent of them stay overnight.
  • Average stay - according to tourism officials - is about two and a half days.

Jim Trotter, who was admiring a commemorative brick his mother-in-law bought for him, is from Asheboro.

He said, "I would think it would be great for the city of Charlotte.. a huge boom to your economy I'm sure. Are you spending money today?.. we'll see."

This is his third visit to the Hall.  On Wednesday he was bringing a friend with him from Asheboro.

Wednesday's birthday party marking its freshman year wasn't a huge celebration.  They invited about 300 students from nearby Metro School to cut the cake.

Hall of Fame officials know they have their work cut out for them to deliver a profit.

But Tony Crumbley,  vice president of research at the Charlotte Chamber says the Hall is helping boost the city's image.

"These are the kinds of things you've got to have in a major city. We battled long and hard for it.. and it's delivering the rewards that we anticipated," said Crumbley.

Since January the Hall of Fame slashed its operating budget by a third.  The Hall will dip into its savings account to make up its deficit.

They're counting on an improving economy to boost the bottom line.

While they missed the mark on attendance projections the Hall had more than 270,000 visitors making it the second-most visited sports hall of fame in North America.  It was beaten out by the Baseball Hall of Fame which of course has been around since 1939.

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