NASCAR & Auto Racing

Basement boosts NASCAR hall's cost

The cost of the NASCAR Hall of Fame escalated by $2.5 million this week.

The Charlotte City Council voted 9-2 to add a basement to the $154.5 million complex at Stonewall and Caldwell streets after officials said it would be cheaper to add space now than in the future.

Construction crews preparing the site recently discovered less rock in the soil than they had expected. That makes it easier to build a lower floor that can be used for future operations or more exhibits, Assistant City Manager Jim Schumacher said.

The unanticipated expense comes amidst increasing public outcry about the amount of taxpayer money being spent on such projects. The city spent $265 million on an arena for the NBA Bobcats and supported a car rental tax increase to help pay for uptown arts projects.

Council members Anthony Foxx and Michael Barnes, both Democrats, voted against increasing the hall of fame's budget.

"I'm having a little heartburn supporting this," Foxx said.

The hall of fame, scheduled to open no later than March 2010, will be connected by a skywalk to the Charlotte Convention Center. The complex will include a ballroom, an adjacent office tower and a grand hall on the ground floor. The latest designs show a public plaza, possibly with outdoor seating, a water feature and some kind of public art.

The city is mostly using hotel-motel tax money to pay for the hall. In 2005, city leaders persuaded the General Assembly to raise the tax from 6 percent to 8 percent for the project.

The $2.5 million for the new basement will come out of that $40 million fund and will not affect the property tax rate, officials said.

Inside the hall, a ramp will spiral like a ribbon from the grand hall to sections of the complex that offer different activities.

The attractions will include a theater, an area honoring drivers, and exhibits that show what NASCAR drivers and their crews do.

But the cost of the exhibits is another issue.

The city has agreed to spend $13 million. But NASCAR hopes to increase the budget to make the exhibits more interactive. It is working with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to solicit sponsors to help cover the cost.

The number of sponsors will determine what exhibits are built and how much they will cost. It will be months before either question is answered, said Tim Newman, the CRVA's chief executive.

City policy also calls for 1 percent of the construction budget, or $800,000, to be set aside for public art.

But this, week the council opted to delay a decision on how to spend that money until next spring to allow for cost overruns.

"Hopefully we'll have the full 1 percent when we get to April," City Manager Curt Walton said.