by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Charlotte, where almost 30,000 people make a living off Nascar auto races, would seem the perfect place for a museum honoring driving legends such as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
As it turns out, the $192 million Nascar Hall of Fame, with vintage cars dating to the 1940s, is drawing fewer than half the visitors forecast when it opened in 2010, leading officials last month to use $5 million of public funds to settle bank loans. The move is raising questions about how North Carolina’s largest city has financed economic development.
“It was a bad deal for the taxpayers,” said Kenny Smith, a City Council member and Nascar fan who opposes the funding of the museum. “The city invested taxpayer money based on faulty assumptions that didn’t come to fruition.” …
… Officials originally predicted the museum would draw 800,000 people its first year and 400,000 annually thereafter, said Laura White, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. The average has been about 170,000, she said. Attendance doesn’t reflect the 300 or so convention-related events at the site each year, she said.
“It was going to be a huge economic-development project that would pay for itself,” said Don Reid, a former City Council member who runs a marketing firm. “It sounded good because Nascar is a big financial industry, but it’s a colossal failure that has harmed the taxpayers.”