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Charlotte in Final 3 for NASCAR Hall

Source: Charlotte Observer  

January 06, 2006

Richmond, Kansas City out of running

The race for the NASCAR Hall of Fame has come home to the South.

NASCAR on Thursday dropped Kansas City and Richmond, Va., from consideration for a project that would draw hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

That leaves Charlotte, Atlanta and Daytona Beach, Fla., as the final three competitors for a $100 million shrine to stock-car racing, a sport with deep roots in Dixie.

Geography apparently played a big role in the decision. NASCAR was originally eager to consider sites outside the Southeast, in hopes of further expanding the sport's appeal (Detroit was on the list at one point).

But in the end, NASCAR executives decided the hall needed to stay where love for racing runs deepest, said a source with knowledge of the choice. Officials have said repeatedly that long-term sustainability is their biggest consideration.

The cities got the news Thursday from Mark Dyer, NASCAR's vice president for licensing, who has led the hall of fame process. He said Kansas City and Richmond both had strong proposals. "It had nothing to do with deficiencies in the quality of their bids."

Josh Lief, chairman of Virginians Racing for the Hall of Fame, said NASCAR gave no indication of why his city was off the list. "We knew, going in, there would be four losers," he said.

Dyer wouldn't say what happens next, other than that NASCAR hopes to have a decision within three months. NASCAR had originally wanted to choose by the end of 2005.

"Obviously, we're getting closer," Dyer said. "At some point in the calendar, we have to have negotiations with the one it comes down to."

Charlotte leaders said they're not sure what's next, either. "It's their process," said Tim Newman with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which is leading the effort. "They haven't asked us for anything new."

Speculation over the hall of fame has seesawed, with Kansas City seen as an early front-runner because of its political leaders' strong ties with NASCAR's ownership and the sport's desire to gain more national cache.

More recently, several Atlanta leaders said they believed the choice would come down to their city and Charlotte.

Atlanta wants to put the hall near Centennial Olympic Park, to strengthen a growing tourist district that got national media attention when the new Georgia Aquarium opened just before Thanksgiving.

The Charlotte proposal calls for a $137.5 million building next to the Charlotte Convention Center in uptown.

It would be paid for largely through a 2 percentage point increase in Mecklenburg County's tax on hotel rooms.

Still In the Running

ATLANTA

Money: Planning to raise $92 million for construction, with as much as $30 million from city and state governments and the rest from corporate sources.

Location: Downtown real estate owned by mogul Ted Turner across from Olympic Park.

Spokesman: NASCAR driver Bill Elliott, who hails from nearby Dawsonville, Ga., (known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville").

Architects: E. Verner Johnson & Associates of Boston, a prominent museum-design firm whose work includes the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla.

Projected visitors: 1 million a year.

Banking on: Corporate ties between local companies and NASCAR.

DAYTONA BEACH

Money: Expecting to spend about $105 million, mostly from private sources.

Location: Near Daytona International Speedway.

Spokesperson: None.

Architects: Three firms collaborating, including Ralph Appelbaum Associates of New York, which worked on the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn.

Projected visitors: 500,000 a year.

Selling point: Home to NASCAR headquarters and the sport's owners, the France family. Proximity to other big Florida tourist draws, such as Walt Disney World.

Charlotte's Pitch

Money: $137.5 million on construction, including private funds and a 2 percentage point hotel tax rate hike approved by lawmakers.

Location: City-owned land next to uptown Convention Center.

Spokesman: NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick.

Architects: Pei, Cobb Freed & Partners of New York, whose work includes Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Projected visitors: 400,000 a year (officials say they're being conservative).

Slogan: "Racing was built here. Racing belongs here."