Saturday, August 30, 2014
A massive sinkhole that swallowed eight prized sports cars won't be a permanent attraction at the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky.
The museum's board of directors voted Saturday to fill in the entire hole that opened up in February and became an Internet sensation. Curiosity over the hole revved up attendance and revenue for the museum in Bowling Green, an hour north of Nashville, Tennessee.
Board members reversed course by deciding against preserving a section of the gaping hole.
Mindful of the hole's popularity, museum officials in late June were leaning toward keeping part of the hole open and putting a crumpled sports car back in it to memorialize what happened when cars toppled like toys amid rocks, concrete and dirt when the sinkhole opened up in the museum's Skydome.
The option of keeping part of the hole open lost favor because of added costs due to safety features, museum officials said.
"We really wanted to preserve a portion of the hole so that guests for years to come could see a little bit of what it was like, but after receiving more detailed pricing, the cost outweighs the benefit," said museum Executive Director Wendell Strode.
To keep part of the hole, workers would have installed 35-foot-tall retaining walls and inserted beams in the hole to prevent future cracking, said museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli. Costs mounted to about $1 million — double earlier estimates — due to safety and humidity-control features.
Another worry was ongoing maintenance costs if a section of the hole stayed open, they said.
"It just wasn't practical to do it," Strode said.
The museum didn't disclose how much it will cost to fill in the 60-foot-long, 45-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep sinkhole. Repairs are expected to start in November and take about six months, officials said. The museum will remain open, but the Skydome will be sealed off from visitors, who will be able to watch the repairs through a Plexiglas wall.
The hole will be filled completely with rock, then workers will drill into it to install steel casings, Frassinelli said. Crews will pour grout into the casings, creating a steel and concrete pillar to provide additional support under the floor.
Bowling Green, in south-central Kentucky, sits in the midst of a large karst region where many of Kentucky's longest and deepest caves run underground. A karst region displays distinctive surface features, including sinkholes.
No one disputed the bonanza the Corvette Museum reaped from the sinkhole as more people ventured off the nearby interstate to visit.
Security camera footage showing the floor's collapse has been viewed nearly 8.3 million times on YouTube, the museum said.
The Corvettes were pulled out of the hole to great fanfare. Visitors have been able to take a close look at the hole and the damaged cars.
Attendance surged by 66 percent since the hole opened up and revenue shot up 71 percent, Frassinelli said.
Museum membership has increased, and sales of merchandise are up at the museum, she said. The museum sells sinkhole-related shirts, postcards, prints and a 39-minute DVD about the sinkhole.
Meanwhile, the museum and Chevrolet have decided to repair three of the damaged cars.
Chevrolet will restore the 1992 white 1 millionth Corvette and the 2009 ZR1 Blue Devil, which was the first car pulled from the hole. Chevrolet will fund restoration of a 1962 black Corvette, but the museum will oversee the work. The other five were too badly damaged but will be displayed in their dented and crushed conditions at the museum.
"As the cars were recovered, it became clear that restoration would be impractical because so little was left to repair," said General Motors global product development chief Mark Reuss. "And, frankly, there is some historical value in leaving those cars to be viewed as they are."
The museum owned six of the cars and the other two were on loan from GM.
In all, General Motors will provide nearly $250,000 in support to help the museum recover from the sinkhole, the automaker said.
Announcements about repairing the sinkhole and cars came as thousands of Corvette enthusiasts converged on Bowling Green during the holiday weekend to celebrate the museum's 20th anniversary.
The museum is located near the Bowling Green factory where the iconic Corvettes are made.