Museum in Kentucky wanted to preserve 40-foot-wide sinkhole, citing significance and appeal to visitors
But preservation would be more expensive than filling it, board says
Sinkhole swallowed eight Corvettes in February; three are to be restored
The other five, still damaged, will be displayed
The virtual cathedral for one of America’s most revered cars will reluctantly fill a monster sinkhole that brought it both pain and gain.
The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, also said Saturday it and Chevrolet will restore three of the eight vehicles that the 45-foot-wide hole swallowed in February, but will leave the remains of the five others – too wrecked to fix – on display.
“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 costs outweighs the benefit,” museum Executive Director Wendell Strode said.
Why was the hole’s filling ever in doubt? Visitor traffic since February jumped 70% compared to the same period last year, as people lined up to see not only the brand’s past but also the newly mangled vehicles and gaping earth, museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli said.
But the board learned that preserving part of the hole would cost $1 million more than it would to fill the whole thing. And the effort required to keep it safe – eyesores like 35-foot retaining walls and steel beams – made preservation even less appealing, Frassinelli said.
“That’s no longer a naturally occurring, interesting sinkhole,” she said.
Frassinelli said the museum isn’t revealing how much the renovation will cost. The project will start sometime after early November.
The privately funded, not-for-profit attraction has gone from shock to proudly displaying its own spectacular damage in months.
The ground opened at the museum’s Skydome section in the early morning of February 12. Surveillance video showed the hole devouring some of the eight cars that it took down.
The hole was measured at about 45 feet wide, 60 feet long and up to 30 feet deep.
Western Kentucky is cave country, and it turned out a previously undetected cave was under the Skydome, Frassinelli said. Sinkholes pop up regularly in the area, sometimes caused by ground water eroding underground limestone over many years.
After experts examined the cave and determined the rest of the facility was safe, the museum reopened – and started letting visitors view the sinkhole behind acrylic glass five days after the incident.
By late April, visitors could walk into the Skydome and stand just feet from the hole’s edge. The museum also brought up the fallen cars – some sliced or mashed – and put them on display as mangled as they were found.
But on Saturday the museum announced three cars would be restored, including a 2009 ZR1 prototype known as the Blue Devil, among GM’s fastest production cars. Also getting restored: the 1-millionth Corvette produced (a white 1992 convertible), and a 1962 tuxedo black Corvette, which was the oldest to fall.
The others were too damaged. But their remains will continued to be displayed – eventually back in the Skydome, where an exhibit will be dedicated to the sinkhole, the museum said.
General Motors will provide nearly $250,000 to help recovery efforts, the museum said.
The damage got the attention of gearheads worldwide. Reports estimated the total value of the cars at more than $1 million.
Experts call the Corvette the most collected car in America, and General Motors calls it the “world’s longest-running, continuously produced passenger car.” Since the ‘Vette’s 1953 debut, more than 1.5 million have rolled off Chevrolet assembly lines. The sleek silhouette has transformed into a pop culture icon across TV, films and advertising.
CNN’s Thom Patterson contributed to this report.