BOWLING GREEN, KY -- The famed Chevrolet Corvette began a new era in its 41 year history with the opening on Labor Day weekend 1994 of The National Corvette Museum, which is expected to become a worldwide tourist attraction.

The dedication celebration started with more than 4,000 Corvette owners converging on Bowling Green after traveling a total of 250,000 miles across the country. Four days of nonstop activities, expected to draw 100,000 "Vette enthusiasts," focused international news coverage on the $15 million museum.

The sweeping 68,000 square-foot structure -- topped by an illuminated 11-story Mobil 1 Spire -- is the largest and most comprehensive nonprofit museum ever dedicated to a single automotive nameplate, said Dan Gale, president of The National Corvette Museum Foundation.

"The museum's mission is to celebrate the Corvette's invention and to preserve the legendary sports car's past, present and future," Gale said. "It will serve as a hub of education and research in automotive sciences and will be the prime source of Corvette history and lore."

More than 50 Corvettes spanning the car's history, plus exciting one-of-a-kind concept cars, fill the museum. Around them are a myriad of Corvette-related videos, photos, advertisements, lifelike figures and tributes to personalities who have made the sports car great. The Bill Mitchell Library will become the leading source of general and technical information about the Corvette.

"The museum is a delight, not just forr the auto buff, but for every visitor of every age," Gale said. "The opening is only the beginning. Ours will be a 'living museum' constantly changing and updated with new Corvettes and exhibits. It will deserve many a return visit."

Mirroring the distinctive design of the car it honors, the museum flows over a 33-acre site. Striking full-scale dioramas show periods in Corvette history, and huge racing murals encircle famous performance Corvettes. Feature in the huge, two-level circular salon are show cars like Stingray, Mako Shark and Aero Vette. Also displayed is the historic one-millionth Corvette, donated to the museum by Chevrolet.

"This museum is like the Corvette itself -- there isn't a straight line in it!" said Jay Facemire, the building project supervisor. He directed about 120 workers who spent 72,000 hours to erect the building.

Gale agrees with Jim Perkins, Chevrolet General Manager, that the combination of the museum with the only assembly plant that builds the Corvette -- less than a quarter mile away --will make Bowling Green famous as "Corvette City U.S.A."

"Kentucky tourism officials expect the museum to draw 500,000 visitors to Bowling Green each year and become one of the state's top five tourist attractions," Gale said. "They also expect the museum to pump $39 million annually into the state's economy, which means more than 1,000 new jobs could be created."

Gale is President of The National Corvette Museum Foundation, established in 1987 after a small group of the National Corvette Restorers Society talked about a need for a library and archives for the Corvette. The idea expanded into plans for a full-blown museum. Gale has headed the volunteer group that has planned, financed and built the museum over the past seven years.

"What makes The National Corvette Museum especially significant is its grassroots base," Gale said. "We are proud the museum is a broad-based effort by Corvette enthusiasts. It is not a money-making venture, but is, instead, in the hands of a nonprofit foundation representing most of the 700 Corvette owner clubs around the world. "

He said the museum's potential role as a major tourist attraction is underscored by its proximity to the General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant, which attracts 70,000 visitors a year without advertising, and by its location 22 miles South on I-65 from Mammoth Cave National Park, which draws 2.2 million visitors annually.

"Corvette enthusiasts are a very dedicated group," Gale said. "They love their car and everything associated with it. Even our mini-museum, which has been operating in a Bowling Green shopping center storefront since 1990, has been averaging 60,000 visitors a year. The logbook annually includes visitors from throughout the U.S. and dozens of foreign countries."

Gale said the land for the museum was contributed by four Bowling Green-area residents and that there has been great city and state support for the project.

"The $15 million needed to build the museum has come from a consortium of public andprivate funding sources," he said. "This includes nearly $4 million from Corvette club members, Chevrolet dealers, Corvette suppliers and Corvette owners worldwide. Also, UAW-represented and salaried employees at the Bowling Green Corvette plant pledged $170,000 through payroll deduction."

Gale said the list of contributors and sponsors is too lengthy to enumerate, but he paid special tribute to Chevrolet and General Motors and its employees, Mobil Corp., Goodyear and American Sunroof Corp.

Gale praised the "superb cooperative efforts of the museum's designers and builders." The architect was Neumann/Smith Associates of Southfield, MI; exhibit design was by Exhibit Works of Livonia, MI; and construction management was by Turner Construction of Cincinnati, OH, in a joint venture with Alliance Corp., a Bowling Green-Glasgow, KY firm.

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