Five cities racing to win NASCAR Hall of Fame

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Kansas City among those in the hunt, although the impact of the shrine is not yet known.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With Charlotte's civic leaders setting the pace for enthusiasm, five cities made it through qualifying in the race to build a NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But once one lands in Victory Lane, it's not clear exactly what that city will take home.

"I don't know if we will really know what the exact scope of NASCAR's role will be with the facility until we get a little further along in the process," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "How it's going to be operated, whether it's going to be not-for-profit -- we haven't gotten there yet. We probably won't get there until later this summer."

When those decisions are made, the business of running the shrine to NASCAR's greats could end up quite a bit different than those in other sports.

But that hasn't stopped five cities -- Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond, Va., Kansas City, Kan., and Daytona Beach, Fla. -- from making bids valued at as much as $100 million each and preparing for site visits later this summer.

Other sports halls of fame -- including professional and college football, baseball and basketball -- operate as not-for-profit entities, in many cases run by foundations that also perform educational and charitable work.

The proposed NASCAR shrine will focus solely on the segment of the motor sports world sanctioned by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, a privately held, for-profit company controlled by the France family. The Frances also control the publicly traded International Speedway Corp., which owns or has a stake in 12 of the 23 tracks where Nextel Cup races are run.

Charlotte in particular going all out for the shrine. "We Eat, Sleep & Breathe Racing," read bright-yellow stickers produced as part of the local campaign to land the facility.

The city's proposal envisions a hall managed by the regional convention and visitors bureau, but does not go into detail about who would pocket profits made at the hall. The city has proposed building it next to the downtown Charlotte Convention Center.

The $137.5 million project would be funded by a 2 percentage point increase in the city's hotel/motel occupancy tax and corporate donations.

Civic leaders, led by Mayor Pat McCrory, have touted a NASCAR hall as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cement Charlotte's reputation as the capital of stock-car racing. In unveiling a preliminary design for the museum, McCrory touted the building as so spectacular "it will have lasting ramifications for generations to come."

According to an economic impact study prepared for the city by University of North Carolina-Charlotte professor John Connaughton, the hall would attract an average of 500,000 visitors a year and have an annual economic impact of $61.8 million during its first five years of operation.

Sports marketer Marc Ganis of Chicago's Sportscorp Ltd. said the shrine would be a big prize.

"The NASCAR Hall of Fame is expected to be the next great sports tourist attraction," he said. The last comparable facility to be built, the NCAA headquarters and Hall of Champions in Indianapolis, has been a "huge success ... far exceeding everyone's greatest expectation," he said.

"These things don't come around very often," Ganis said. "This is a generational decision."

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