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Nascar Hall of Fame free this week

By Steve HarrisonCharlotte Observer

In effort to generate positive buzz, the NASCAR Hall of Fame will offer free admission this week.

The hall’s Open House Week will run until Friday, Jan. 14, from 4-6 p.m. For those two hours, the hall will waive the regular tickets prices - $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for military/seniors and $12.95 for children.

The hall has struggled in meeting its attendance projection of 800,000 visitors for its first year, and it has said it will cut $4.8 million this year from its operating budget. Even with those cuts, the city-owned hall has said it could lose up to $1.3 million this fiscal year.

The hall has said that the vast majority of people who have visited have given the museum high marks in surveys. They believe that by bringing in visitors during a quiet time – the late afternoon during winter – more people in the community will hear good things about the $200 million hall. That will, in turn, attract more paying customers.

“We know for a fact from our reviews that we have a stellar product,” said Kimberly Meesters, a hall spokesperson. “We are giving people an opportunity to look around, and we think once they walk through and check it out, they will want to come back, or they’ll tell their friends and family. We want the Charlotte community to be supportive of this venue.”

During the open house, visitors will be able to see all aspects of the hall, including the introductory movie. The only things they won’t be able to do will be to participate in the digital interactive exhibits, which require a personalized “smart card” that comes with a paid admission.

“You can see everything, but there are some things that you can’t do,” Meesters said.

In November, in a presentation to the Charlotte City Council, the hall’s executive director, Winston Kelley, said consultants had recommended the hall not give anything away in the first year.

November attendance was 20,544, which will likely result in a financial loss when the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority announces financial results next week.

In offering free admission, the hall will almost certainly be forfeiting some revenue. But the hall can generate money from visitors in other ways, including merchandise sales, $5 simulator rides and food and drink sales in its cafe.

The promotion will also mark the opening of a new exhibit, called Short Careers, Lasting Legacy, in the facility's Great Hall.

The hall is owned by the city of Charlotte, and operated by a city-subsidiary, the CRVA. The CRVA has said that it will cover any losses this fiscal year from its reserve fund of $3.4 million. The city has said that general fund tax dollars – which pay for police, fire and other basic services – will never be used to pay for the hall.