Atlanta official: NASCAR Hall should've been here

Observer Staff Reports
Tuesday, Apr. 12, 2011

An Atlanta tourism official says he thinks the NASCAR Hall of Fame would have been more successful if it had been built in his city instead of Charlotte, according to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, told the newspaper NASCAR erred in 2006 when it picked the Queen City for the facility, which has failed to attract the number of visitors it had expected.

"I'm not going to say 'I told you so,' but my guess is that the number of visitors would've been higher in Atlanta than in Charlotte," Robinson told the Journal-Constitution. "And in Atlanta, they would've been exposing their brand to a wider, more diverse audience."

Atlanta and Daytona Beach, Fla., were finalists for the Hall of Fame.

Instead, Charlotte landed the facility, which opened last May. NASCAR officials said Charlotte was a good location for the Hall of Fame, given the long history of stock car racing in the Carolinas and the success of NASCAR races annually at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But the Hall of Fame has not lived up to expectations in attendance.

Officials initially predicted about 800,000 visitors. Latest predictions are that between 250,000 and 300,000 people will visit the facility in Charlotte's uptown. The Hall is expected to lose more than $1.3 million in its first year.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said earlier this year it will contribute up to $1 million to help the Hall of Fame meet expenses, but Visitors Authority officials said they would have to go to Charlotte City Council to cover any potential future losses.

Meanwhile, NASCAR, which licensed the Hall, is not taking its anticipated 10 percent cut of revenues. In addition, the Hall has cut staffing and says it won't changes exhibits as often as originally planned.

Hall of Fame officials have said they believe the deep recession was a big reason why attendance at the facility has fallen short of predictions.

Winston Kelley, executive director of the Hall of Fame, disagreed with Robinson's assessment of the facility's location.

"I don't want to get into a 'he said-she said,' but Charlotte can support three NASCAR races a year, and Atlanta can't support two," Kelley told the Journal-Constitution. "Charlotte is a more NASCAR-friendly town. I would be worried if we had a bad product. But the fact is we have an exceptional product. And we will continue to learn, grow, and be successful."

Atlanta officials, who are building the National Center for Human and Civil Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame, say they have learned some lessons from Charlotte's Hall of Fame experience.

For example, they delayed construction, pared costs and reduced the size of the civil rights museum, the Journal-Constitution reported. They also say Atlanta's size -- its metropolitan area is three times the size of Charlotte -- will help.

"In today's world, you have to be known for more than one thing," Robinson told the Journal-Constitution. "Charlotte is a wonderful town, but it does have this one identity (NASCAR) now, and it will sink or swim with that identity."

But Charlotte officials say they have been able to attract major conventions -- the Democratic National Convention next year, notably. And they say tourists will help the Hall of Fame grow.

"Anybody who comes here and sees the facility will say, 'Wow, that's the crown jewel of that city!' " said NASCAR vice president Blake Davidson. "But we have to get people to see it first."

Atlanta Journal-Constitution story: