The National Corvette Museum continues to try to improve the museum experience to bring in new visitors and keep them coming back for more.
The museum opened an exhibit this month designed to give kids something to do, and museum officials met Friday with the recently hired designer of the NCM Motorsports Park.
The new exhibit, the Kidz Zone, features a tot-sized service station where kids can change a tire and play under the hood of a car. They use kid-friendly tools that make noises similar to their real-life counterparts.
There also is an assembly line where kids can turn a crank to move cars along a conveyor belt while other participants put on various parts.
In the first week after opening, it’s been a big hit with kids.
Just ask the Barrington family of Grass Lake, Mich. The family was in the museum Thursday as part of their Kentucky vacation.
“We were going around the corner and saw the Kidz Zone, and I said ‘That’s where we we’re going,’ ” mom Renee Barrington said.
So she and daughters Brooke, 1 1/2, and Breann, who is almost 4, directed their attention to the kid-size car exhibit.
“Otherwise I would have been trying to keep them corralled or in the stroller in the museum,” Barrington said. “This is great.”
It was clear that Breann agreed, dashing from the assembly line to the car on a miniature lift. Using the pretend air wrench to tighten up lugnuts on tires was her favorite thing, she said.
She also spent a good bit of time on the phone scheduling appointments for the shop.
“I’ll be right there,” she told one make-believe customer.
Katie Frassinelli, marketing director for the museum, said the interaction was just what the museum had in mind when deciding to install the exhibit.
Barrington said her husband and father could take their time looking at the Corvettes and reading all the signs that go along with each exhibit while they were occupied.
Barrington said she and the girls still would look at the cars but would likely have to breeze through them.
Frassinelli said it became clear to the museum that it needed something permanent for kids to do after seeing the popularity of an earlier hands-on science exhibit.
The $100,000 Kidz Zone exhibit and an accompanying classroom used for craft projects, which also is available for kids’ party rentals, was paid for through private donations and a special funds grant of $40,000 from the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Making progress on new Motorsports Park
Meanwhile, the museum continues to look for major sponsors to help pay for the planned 184-acre Motorsports Park, according to museum Director Wendell Strode.
The park will likely have a 2.94-mile road course, an autocross area and a skid pad training area.
Strode and others met Friday with their recently hired park designer, Steve Crawford, a Seattle architect.
“This is something he really has a passion for,” Strode said.
Crawford has designed several motorsports parks, including Thunder Hill Motorsports Park in Willows, Calif., and Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Wash. He also is planning the expansion of Thunder Hill.
Strode said Crawford was one of three designers interviewed for the job.
“We were impressed with his willingness to listen to input from others,” Strode said.
A conceptual design for the park had features from other famous Corvette races that Strode and others would like to continue to include.
“He seemed open to that,” Strode said.
But of course Crawford will have to study the topography of the site that borders Interstate 65 and Porter Pike before determining the actual design.
Strode hopes the design will be complete by the end of the year, and then another three months will be spent preparing bid documents.
“Depending on how we do on our fundraising between now and then will determine how soon we put the project for bid,” he said.
Between the buy-an-acre campaign and individual contributions, so far about $1 million has been raised. The museum actually paid $3 million cash for the land already, Strode said.
Anyone interested in supporting the project doesn’t have to buy a whole acre. People also can purchase quarter- and half-acre increments.
“We are still working to get a major sponsor and hoping to have that nailed down by the end of the year,” he said. “Obviously GM is a big target.”
But other car-related entities are also being courted.
Strode said they are hoping to get enough sponsorship annual commitments that would be enough to service the debt for the project.
“We would need about $750,000 to service a $10 million debt,” he said.
The museum leadership is determined to have some, if not all, of the project constructed by the museum’s 20th anniversary in September 2014, Strode said.
The Motorsports Park will be used for education, recreation and training of Corvette enthusiasts. Strode said it won’t be competing with Beech Bend Raceway.
While construction of the park cleared most hurdles with the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County this summer, one remains before a building permit could be obtained.
To obtain the proper zoning designation, the museum agreed to hire a sound engineer to determine how much noise surrounding properties already are facing from I-65.
The park is to be designed so that noise levels won’t increase for those nearby properties, Strode said.