Museum directors, reversing course, vote to fill hole, citing costs

GM, museum to restore 3 of 8 prized 'Vettes damaged by sinkhole

Museum directors, reversing course, vote to fill hole, citing costs

A 1993 40th Anniversary Chevrolet Corvette is lifted from the sinkhole at the National Corvette Museum.

Photo credit: STEVE FECHT
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General Motors and the National Corvette Museum will restore three of eight prized Chevrolet Corvettes damaged in February when they tumbled into a giant sinkhole that developed beneath the floor of the museum in Bowling Green, Ky.

Chevrolet said Saturday it will restore a 2009 Corvette ZR1 prototype, nicknamed the Blue Devil, and the 1 millionth Corvette built, a white 1992 convertible.

Chevrolet will also fund the restoration of a 1962 Corvette, which the museum will oversee.

GM, in a statement Saturday, said it will provide nearly $250,000 in financial support to help the museum recover from the sinkhole. The museum, about an hour’s drive north of Nashville, marked its 20th anniversary over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

GM and museum officials said five other Corvettes damaged by the sinkhole will remain in their “as-recovered state” to preserve the historical significance of the cars and event. They will become part of a future display at the museum.

“Our goal was to help the National Corvette Museum recover from a terrible natural disaster by restoring all eight cars,” Mark Reuss, executive vice president for global product development at GM, said in the statement. But Reuss said efforts to restore the remaining cars would be impractical because so little was left to repair.

“Frankly, there is some historical value in leaving those cars to be viewed as they are,” said Reuss.

Wendell Strode, executive director for the museum, said Corvette fans all over the world have pressed museum officials not to restore all of the cars.

“For Corvette enthusiasts, the damage to the cars is part of their history, and part narrative of the National Corvette Museum,” Strode said in a statement. “Restoring them all would negate the significance of what happened.”

The restoration shop that will handle the repairs has not yet been selected, GM and museum officials said. And a timeline to start and complete the restoration of the three Corvettes will be established and announced at a later date.

The museum's board of directors also voted Saturday to fill in the entire hole that opened up in February -- becoming an Internet sensation around the world.

Curiosity over the hole -- measuring about 45 feet wide, 60 feet long and up to 30 feet deep -- sparked a surge in museum attendance, revenue and merchandise sales.

Museum officials, mindful of the popularity of the hole and damaged cars, initially leaned toward keeping part of it open and placing one of the crumpled ‘Vettes back in to memorialize the event in the museum's vaunted Skydome.

But the option of maintaining part of the hole lost favor with museum officials because of added construction and engineering costs to meet safety, environmental, and ongoing maintenance requirements.

Museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli told the Associated Press the extra costs to keep a portion of the sinkhole open would total about $1 million -- double earlier estimates.

The sinkhole -- first detected by motion detectors and museum security personnel at 5:44 a.m. local time on Feb. 12 -- swallowed eight historic Corvettes. Two of the vehicles were on loan from GM and six are owned by the museum:

• A 1993 ZR-1 Spyder (on loan)

• A 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil” prototype (on loan)

• A 1962 Corvette

• A 1984 PPG Pace Car

• A 1992 1 millionth Corvette

• A 1993 40th Anniversary Corvette

• A 2001 “Mallett Hammer” Z06

• A 2009 1.5 millionth Corvette

The 2009 Blue Devil was the first car recovered, on March 3, and was started and driven out of the Skydome, despite significant damage.

The 1.5 millionth Corvette and Mallet Corvette were the last cars recovered from the sinkhole on April 3 and April 9. Workers initially were unable to locate them amid the collapsed earth and debris.

The eight damaged cars were displayed in a special exhibit that sparked a nearly 60 percent jump in visitor traffic in the first four months after the sinkhole opened.

Museum revenues from admissions and special merchandise marking the event surged 71 percent, Frassinelli said, the AP reported.

Security camera footage showing the floor's collapse has been viewed nearly 8.3 million times on YouTube, museum officials said Saturday.

You can reach David Phillips at dphillips@crain.com.


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