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[News] Corvette Museum rebounds strongly

Rob

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Corvette Museum rebounds strongly

Ten years after the C5 was introduced, tourism site on strong footing

By AMEERAH CETAWAYO, The Daily News, acetawayo@bgdailynews.com

Saturday, January 6, 2007 12:18 AM CST

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the General Motors C5 Corvette.

For the National Corvette Museum, it marks a day that helped keep the once-struggling venture alive.

Ten years ago, the museum was in default on its loans and was facing potential foreclosure, according to director Wendell Strode, who took over around that time.

Strode, a banker who had never driven a Corvette prior to managing the museum, faced a $12 million debt and several problems.

“The surprising thing to me was how many bridges had been burned,” Strode said. “The relationship that existed was adversarial between the Corvette clubs, with GM, with the museum and the community.”<TABLE class=photo-bdr cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 align=right border=0><TBODY><TR><TD vAlign=top></TD></TR><TR><TD class=cutline vAlign=top></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
Overconfidence in the Corvette brand, Strode said, may have led the museum's leadership to think the name itself was enough to draw people.

It wasn't - and Strode saw that the museum had to have better customer service and reach out to the community.

In December 1996, Strode met with a friend - who owned a Corvette-related business in California - and they devised a fundraiser that tapped into the launching of the Corvette C5 in Detroit on Jan. 6, 1997: A satellite viewing of the debut of the C5.

More than 200 Corvette enthusiasts came to be a part of the unveiling event. In addition to a $25 admission fee, many purchased merchandise in the Corvette Store, bid on donated auction items and spent the day touring the museum.
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“It gave us a little financial boost that we needed desperately at that time,” he said.

The auction raised $75,000 for the museum, which helped keep the museum open for a couple of months - just long enough to ease Strode's transition in as director.

At the time, the museum had only 1,620 members. Now it has 2,430 members, Strode said, and has only $3 million in debt.

“It never once entered my mind that this place would never succeed,” Strode said.
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For Strode, it is not so much the car that's special - it's the people he gets to meet, from all over the world, that make his position rewarding.

“The car is beautiful, the car is special, but it facilitates us being in the people business and the people-serving business,” he said.

One of those people was 32-year old Jeremy Hatt, a Blanchard, Mich., native who helicoptered in from the Fort Campbell army base to pick up a Monterey Red Corvette Coupe.

“The guys I work with were doing a training flight and dropped me off,” Hatt said.
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He said he'd always wanted a Corvette but couldn't afford one until now.

Hatt was the second person who has helicoptered in to pick up a Corvette.

“We had someone from Pennsylvania that parachuted in last fall,” Strode said.

About 50 percent of Corvette buyers are new owners, according to Strode.
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Old friend relocates to BG, brings Corvette business

Jim Van Dorn, the friend that helped Strode raise funds during the museum's crisis period, recently relocated to Bowling Green from Torrance, Calif., and brought his business, Auto Masters, with him.

Just how much of a crisis wasn't clear until later - a week after the fundraiser, he said, the two found NCM was just two days short of closing.

“It was a whole lot of work within a very short period of time, and it worked,” Van Dorn said. “The donations made, pledges and memberships are really the mainstay of the museum. It's hard to believe that was 10 years ago.”
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The southern California native is a self-proclaimed “surfer boy” who has operated Auto Master for more than 20 years, building a reputation for professionalism and honesty along with loyal GM customers, he said.

Now that the kids are grown and in college, a single Van Dorn jumped at the chance to relocate to Bowling Green.

“What better place to have a Corvette shop than the home of the Corvette?” he said.

Van Dorn's business depends heavily on museum traffic, he said, and his Web site, www.automastersofbg.com, even runs a live Web cam of the museum.
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Auto Masters specializes in all GM cars and trucks, including the Corvette. The business performs a wide range of services, from routine oil changes to engine replacement.

Museum seeks funding for building addition; completion set for summer '09

After an unsuccessful attempt at a $1.2 million grant, funding for a major building addition will now be borrowed.

About $2.5 million has been raised thus far, and an additional $6 million or $7 million will have to be borrowed, Strode said.

The 40,000-square-foot addition - which will include a 400-seat conference center, a 75-seat cafe, an enlarged gift shop and archives - is set to be completed in summer 2009, just in time for the museum's 15th anniversary, according to Strode.

Strode met with Lexington architects Sherman-Barnhart-Carter on Wednesday to finalize plans and said he hopes to sign a contract this year so the project can be bid out soon.

Construction is set to begin in spring 2008, and the museum will host the fourth National Corvette Caravan in 2009.

“We're hoping for 10,000-plus Corvettes for the caravan,” Strode said.

The event's numbers have grown steadily over the years, from 4,300 when the caravan was first held to 8,100 last year, Strode said.

Source: http://bgdailynews.com/articles/2007/01/06/local_news/news/news6.txt
 

Pseudomind

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Construction is set to begin in spring 2008, and the museum will host the fourth National Corvette Caravan in 2009.

Does CAC have any plans for this? I would imagine a hotel room would almost have to be reserved now.
 

XLR8

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Good article, Rob. Thanks for posting it. Hard to believe 1997 was ten years ago!

For Strode, it is not so much the car that's special - it's the people he gets to meet, from all over the world, that make his position rewarding.

“The car is beautiful, the car is special, but it facilitates us being in the people business and the people-serving business,” he said.

Many Corvette people are among the finest individuals one could ever hope to meet. I'm glad Wendell recognizes that.

:w Jane Ann
 

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