Florida firm to handle exhibits at Corvette Museum

Hall of Fame display one of first priorities as Bowling Green site plans massive renovation

By ROBYN L. MINOR, The Bowling Green Daily News, rminor@bgdailynews.com/783-3249
Thursday, September 18, 2008 11:56 AM CDT

A Florida firm has been selected to design new exhibits for an expansion of the National Corvette Museum.

“The main reason we retained an outside firm is that it is very challenging to make exhibits interesting for visitors,” said museum director Wendell Strode. “On any given day the majority of our visitors will be interstate travelers and at best car enthusiasts who we need to engage, entertain and educate. But then at the same time when we have Corvette people here, we’ve got to be able for them to feel they are being engaged as well ... about America’s sports car.”

Mary Frances Turner, president and CEO of Synergy Design Group from Tallahassee, Fla., said she is excited about the project.

“Almost as much as any design award we have won, getting to do this project is very prestigious,” she said. “It is not just that it is a high-profile project but like almost everyone ... we’ve all dreamed about having a Corvette one day. So this is extremely rewarding.”

Synergy has been in business since 1991 and has designed exhibits for the Atlanta History Center, the Nashville Zoo, a George Washington exhibit in Barbados and is currently working on another car museum in south Florida.

“We focus on cultural history, natural history and athletics facilities,” Turner said. “We do a lot of time traveling.”

Turner said the firm’s first order of business is to design a Hall of Fame exhibit for the Corvette’s designers and another area for the Corvette enthusiast.

A Nashville firm, 1220 Exhibits, will fabricate the designs. The current cost of the project is about $470,000, Strode said.

“What we are hoping to do is make the museum represent the Corvette culture in a very interactive way,” Turner said. “It is important from an interpretation point of view to do things for all visitors - young and old and whatever challenges they have. So we will have games, interactive videos, films and try to involve people in the experience as much as possible.”

Turner said the part of the building the new exhibits will occupy is expected to be ready for the exhibits to move in by the spring, with the exhibits open to the public by the summer.

Meanwhile work on the $10 million renovation and 47,000-square-foot expansion is progressing on schedule, Strode said.

“We hope to have everything under roof by November, so that work can be done on the inside and not be impacted by the weather,” he said.

Next month, museum workers will focus on getting an area ready for a new driving simulator it will order thanks to a state grant. That exhibit should be ready in the spring.

Letters to National Corvette Museum members are expected to go out this month that will explain the first phase of a fundraising campaign to pay for land off Grimes Lane the museum purchased for a proposed Motorplex.

“We want to focus this first campaign on paying for the land,” Strode said.

The former property owners financed the $1.1 million purchase over three years.

“During that three-year period we’ll finalize drawings that we can show to the world and do firm bidding so we can get some real costs,” he said. “Right now we estimate it to be $5 million to $9 million. But the main focus now is paying off the land.”

The 70-acre Motorplex would be used primarily for drivers training with an autocross track and short drag strip. It would be used to augment museum activities and not compete with such places as Beech Bend Raceway.

The museum expansion, including exterior work, should be ready well before the museum’s 15th anniversary on Labor Day 2009. More than 3,000 Corvettes are already registered for caravans from across the country to the museum.

“We are anticipating at least 8,000, which would reach the level we had for the Corvette’s 50th birthday,” Strode said. “And we hope to exceed that.”