The people behind the National Corvette Museum really know how to turn lemons into lemonade. In February, a 40-feet wide by 60-feet deep sinkhole opened up in the middle of the museum's Skydome, eating eight rare 'Vettes on display. But the folks in Bowling Green, KY, are turning the tragedy into opportunity. The natural disaster has turned into a major attendance windfall for the museum, pulling in record crowds. And now, as previously hinted at, the museum's board has officially voted for new plans to keep the crater in place in modified form – even displaying cars in it.
Since the catastrophe, attendance has shot up 59 percent.
The museum's board felt that it had three options available: completely repair the sinkhole, leave it as-is or modify it slightly to be somewhat smaller. In a vote, the members decided on the third option, which would reduce the cavity's size to 25-feet by 45-feet wide and 30-feet deep. That might be further modified after studies into how having an open hole in the Skydome will affect the humidity and heating costs. Regardless, the hope is to leave enough room to display two Corvette models down there, possibly the ones most badly damaged in the collapse.
"We have to look at creative ways to generate interest in the Museum. It would be so much easier to just be a regular automotive museum with our Corvettes on display, but we have to think outside the box," said Executive Director Wendell Strode in the museum's statement.
After the initial shock of the sinkhole subsided, the museum's administrators realized that the giant crater might turn out to be one of the best things to ever happen to the institution. Since the catastrophe, attendance has shot up 59 percent compared to last year, with increased revenue at its gift shop and restaurant, as well. It has become a real tourist attraction.
Of course, going with the option of a reduced-size sinkhole always leaves the door open to fill it in completely, notes Christy Thomas, the museum's chief financial officer. "If the interest in the exhibit wanes, or if down the road we decided that we don't want the hole any longer there is always an option to put the room back how it was," she says.
If you want to see the original 60-feet-deep hole in all its glory, then don't worry. The museum is leaving it open until construction begins on the modifications, which are scheduled for September. Scroll down to read the full announcement.
The National Corvette Museum Board of Directors met today to discuss and decide on the future of the Skydome building. Three primary options were presented: 1) Fill the sinkhole and replace the floor so that the building is much like it was previously; 2) Keep the entire sinkhole as is; 3) Keep a smaller portion of the hole open.
With 14 of the 16 board members present, the group decided to move forward with Option 3, keeping a portion of the sinkhole open, but pending review of further information. This option as it stands would include an opening approximately 25' by 45' wide, and 30' deep, providing views down into a portion of the cave. The opening could have some existing ground and rock face, and a dirt embankment where one or two of the cars could be placed for display.
Each board member expressed how the decision was not about them or what they thought but rather what is best for the Museum, and what most of the members and visitors would want. "I have a responsibility to represent the people who sent me here. We all do for our geographic areas," said a Board Member. "My own personal opinion changed as time went on. I come here today with my marching orders from my members. About two thirds of my organization says to leave it open in some form or fashion," he added.
After much discussion the Board decided that additional information was necessary before making a final decision. Some changes discussed could affect the cost estimate. More information was also requested on the impact on the humidity in the room and potential impact on any cars displayed within; the temperature control of the room and any associated impact on the Museum's utility costs; and review and consideration of any other costs associated with the maintenance of the Skydome if the hole is left partially open. The additional information could result in the plans being modified.
Mike Murphy, C.E.O. of Scott, Murphy and Daniel Construction, was on hand to answer questions and provide his feedback on the proposals. "You come in and you have all these displays of the history and life of Corvette, and then you come into the Skydome to see this new part of history," said Murphy. "I think it will always be a part of history, but will the increased attendance continue? I don't know, but it will always be of high interest."
As expected, the group deliberated greatly as to what is the right decision.
Christy Thomas, CFO for the Museum, shared that an estimate had been provided for filling in Option 3's small portion of the sinkhole should the Museum decide later to end the exhibit. "If the interest in the exhibit wanes, or if down the road we decided that we don't want the hole any longer there is always an option to put the room back how it was," Thomas said.
Thomas shared with the Board some numbers – including a 59% increase in the number of visitors from March to June 23, 2014 compared to the same time period in 2013. The Museum has also seen an increase of 71% in admissions income, 58% increase in Corvette Store sales, 46% increase in Corvette Café sales, 72% increase in Membership for a total of a 65% increase in these revenue areas overall.
"We have to look at creative ways to generate interest in the Museum," said Executive Director Wendell Strode. "It would be so much easier to just be a regular automotive museum with our Corvettes on display, but we have to think outside the box."
The construction plans also included eliminating the two level display space that once existed in the Skydome, both making it easier to get cars in and out, and increasing the number of cars that can be accommodated for display.
"We only have one chance to do this right. As a board, we owe it to everyone to explore all possibilities, to completely investigate all financial aspects and impacts, and to make a fully informed decision," added one Board Member.
Plans are still on track to leave the sinkhole and 8 Corvettes on display "as-is" through the end of August and then begin construction in September. The Museum will celebrate its 20th Anniversary with an event August 27-30, and the Grand Opening of the NCM Motorsports Park is slated for August 28. "We have a lot to be thankful for right now," said Strode. "We really want to thank all those who have stood by us during this difficult time, and we are looking forward to celebrating with everyone in August! "
The Museum is located at I-65, exit 28 in Bowling Green, KY - just one hour north of Nashville, TN and less than two hours south of Louisville, KY. Open daily, 8am-5pm CT, admission to the Museum is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors age 65 and over, $5 for kids age 6-16 and children age 5 and under are free. Access to view the sinkhole is included with regular admission. Guests who enter the Skydome to view the sinkhole must be age 8 or older. For more information on the Museum, visit their website at www.corvettemuseum.org or call 800-538-3883.