Six months after the NASCAR Hall of Fame opened, officials with the $195 million publicly funded facility say attendance has only been around 170,000 so far, despite original projections of up to 800,000 visitors in the first year.
Attendance figures were presented at Monday’s Charlotte City Council meeting, where Tim Newman, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said the city will not be asked to bail out the facility.
“We are not going to make an ask of the general fund of the city of Charlotte in this fiscal year or as long as I’m engaged in this role,” Newman said.
CRVA staff pointed to positive feedback from customer-satisfaction surveys and the distance that the average visitor traveled to come to the facility as evidence that it is still a valuable attraction for the city.
But council members seemed skeptical.
Councilman Andy Dulin, who represents District 6, said it was “a huge miss” that the hall was closed on Thanksgiving.
“There are 100,000 people that will be in downtown Charlotte for the parade on Thursday,” Dulin said. With the right planning and marketing, the CRVA could have made it a tradition for Charlotte families to visit the hall of fame after the parade, Dulin said.
“Let that parade march right through the front doors,” he said.
At-large Councilman Edward Peacock asked about the marketing strategy for the hall of fame. Jenna Appleby, president of Charlotte-based marketing firm Wray Ward, which handles advertising for the hall of fame, said that the message had been tweaked since the hall first opened. Originally, the advertising plan had focused on attracting existing NASCAR fans, but now it’s being marketed more to families, she said.
“Whatever reason you want to go to that hall, your story is being told,” Appleby said.
At-large Councilman Patrick Cannon asked if the $3 million marketing budget for the facility was enough. But Winston Kelley, executive director of the CRVA and the hall of fame, said that a business has to work with the income it has, no matter how little.
“I don’t think there’s one number that is the right number,” Kelley said.
Paul Brooks, senior vice president of NASCAR, also defended the facility and the economic impact on the city.
“The impact goes far beyond the attendance numbers,” Brooks said, emphasizing the tax revenue it has brought to the city by creating jobs and attracting tourists. “We are proud of how the NASCAR Hall of Fame is delivering for this city.”
But Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said the hall of fame reminded him of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, an attraction whose attendance and revenue were vastly overestimated for the first year and which ended up posting deficits.
“Honestly I think we need to consider what lessons have been learned here,” Foxx said. “Going back, where are some areas where we could have improved this process?”
Caitlin Coakley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.