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NASCAR Hall To Offer Meeting Venue

Source: Charlotte Business Journal  

September 01, 2006

The new NASCAR Hall of Fame is expected to include a corporate meeting facility, but how much space and what it will look like rests in part on whether NASCAR exercises an option to build an office tower at the site.

The deal to bring the hall of fame to uptown gave NASCAR 180 days to tell the city and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority whether it wants to build the 300,000-square-foot office tower. That decision is expected early this month.

"It's our intention to make that work," says Scott Warfield, public relations manager for NASCAR's Charlotte division. "We're confident there's going to be something done and it's going to be a go."

Groundbreaking for the $107.5 million hall of fame is expected next spring, with an opening date of no later than March 31, 2010.

Winston Kelley, executive director of the facility, says the design work is still conceptual.

"We have talked about meeting space, about being able to host corporate meetings or motorsports events," he says. "We hope to be able to host events of varying sizes in conjunction with the convention center."

Kelley hopes race teams will be among the businesses using any hall of fame meeting space. "I think they host events at various places now. I think there would be quite a bit of interest."

Patrick Perkins, director of marketing for Hendrick Motorsports, agrees.

"We do a lot of conferences and events with sponsors, and having those facilities -- especially a place that focuses on the sport -- as a resource would be fantastic," he says.

For example, he says, the hall of fame would be ideal for the company's twice-a-year sponsorship conferences, each drawing about 70 guests.

"Historically we have it (at our headquarters) or a hotel, but I could easily see holding it at the hall of fame with the theme of the sport, the history of the sport and maybe some of the technology right there," he says.

The hall also has great potential as a hospitality site, Perkins says, hosting receptions even if business meetings are held elsewhere.

Although it's unclear what kind of meeting space the hall will contain, the city plans to build a ballroom that would connect the Charlotte Convention Center with the facility. The city will build and own the new ballroom and the hall, which the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority will operate.

The new facilities will be on the block bounded by Stonewall, Brevard, Caldwell and Second streets, directly east of the convention center.

The convention center ballroom is about 35,000 square feet and has a seating capacity of about 2,000.

"That's an important number for a lot of conventions," knocking Charlotte out of contention for large gatherings that need to seat up to 3,000 attendees, says Tim Newman, chief executive of the visitors authority, which also operates the convention center.

The new ballroom could be about half-again as large, or around 55,000 square feet. The details are in flux.

"It depends on how much space the office tower takes up," Newman says. "If they do build it, it affects things one way. If they don't, it affects it another."

He declines to describe either scenario in detail, but says the ballroom would seat at least 2,500. Tying the ballroom into the hall of fame's non-exhibit area also allows the convention center to handle bigger crowds, he says.

"We have two major national conventions looking at Charlotte for 2010 only because the hall of fame is coming to Charlotte," he says.

Although the additional meeting and ballroom space is important, the hall is the real draw, Newman says.

"If we were just building a new ballroom, it would not be as enticing to folks," he says. "The last thing a market needs to do is add more space just to add new space."

The hall is being designed by New York architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. The project manager, Yvonne Szeto, says the silver, swooping "ribbon" along the outside of the hall will also wrap around the new ballroom, uniting the two facilities.

Julie Bird is a Belmont-based free-lance writer who can be reached at hedline@carolina.rr.com.