With attendance and revenue soaring over last year, thanks to the sinkhole in February that swallowed eight classic cars, the National Corvette Museum Board of Directors decided today to pursue keeping a smaller portion of the hole open, pending further study.
The board had considered two other options: filling the sinkhole and returning the Skydome to its previous condition, or keeping the entire sinkhole as it is.
The option the board chose seems to be a good compromise for all sides.
Under this plan, an opening approximately 25 feet by 45 feet wide and 30 feet deep would remain, allowing visitors to peer down into a portion of the cave. One or two of the damaged cars could also be placed on a dirt embankment.
The decision represents a gradual change in the Museum’s philosophy about the sinkhole. Immediate reaction was to repair the damage completely, but after attendance spiked and museum revenues soared, that thinking began to shift.
“I have a responsibility to represent the people who sent me here. We all do for our geographic areas,” one board member said. “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.”
Christy Thomas, CFO for the Museum, told the board that the number of visitors from March to June 23, 2014, compared to the same period in 2013, had jumped 59 percent. Admissions income has climbed 71 percent, Corvette Store sales are up 58 percent, Corvette Café sales rose 46 percent, and membership has grown 72 percent. In all, revenue is up 65 percent.
With interest in Corvettes seemingly higher than ever, thanks to the highly regarded seventh-generation Stingray that debuted last year, the Museum appears to be on steady ground – at least financially.
However, Thomas pointed out that if interest in the sinkhole drops, the Museum always would have the option to fill the hole and repair the damage. “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.
Fourteen of the 16 board members attended today’s meeting, with much discussion. They finally voted to get more information before making a final decision, particularly on how much the construction would cost and the impact that the open hole might have on the humidity in the Skydome. They will try to find out if that humidity would affect cars on display, as well as any impacts on utility costs to heat and cool the room.
That additional information could lead to a change in the plans.
For now, the sinkhole will remain as is, through September, so that the thousands of visitors coming in for the National Corvette Caravan and the opening of the Motorsports Park in late August will be able to see an unprecedented piece of Corvette history.
One board member pointed out that “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.”
Executive Director Wendell Strode pointed out that the Museum has to look at creative ways to generate interest. “It would be so much easier to just be a regular automotive museum with our Corvettes on display,” he admitted, “but we have to think outside the box.”
National Corvette Museum
Photo Credit: National Corvette Museum
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