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Charlotte Leads in Hall of Fame Ballot
Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer

FONTANA, Calif. – As the race for NASCAR’s Hall of Fame heads into the home stretch, Charlotte is the leading candidate to land the $100 million-plus shrine to stock car racing, several sources told the Observer on Sunday.

Two high-ranking NASCAR officials and two Nextel Cup team owners, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Charlotte's selection was nearly certain.

Final details must be worked out before any announcement, the sources said.

Charlotte has been competing with four other cities since last year to host the project, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. In January, NASCAR eliminated Kansas City and Richmond, Va. as candidates, leaving Charlotte, Atlanta and Daytona Beach, Fla.

A NASCAR spokesman maintained Sunday the selection process was not complete.

“The process is still evolving. We continue to receive additional information regarding each of the three cities’ proposals and the decision-making process is still active,” said NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp.

Tharp reiterated that NASCAR plans to decide by the end of March.

Mayor Pat McCrory and other city leaders would not confirm or comment on the news Sunday. It was unclear whether any city officials have recently discussed details of their bid or negotiated with NASCAR.

The Charlotte City Council has had several closed-door meetings on economic development issues in recent weeks, including a two-hour session Feb. 13 and one before last week's zoning meeting. Another private session is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday.

“I continue to have confidence in the proposal that we initially submitted, and I will comment no further,” McCrory said.

The proposal calls for a $137.5.million building on city-owned land just across Brevard Street from the Convention Center. The building, which would include a new convention center ballroom, would be designed with banked curves resembling a NASCAR track.

It would be paid for largely through a 2 percentage point increase in Mecklenburg County's tax on hotel rooms, as well as contributions from state government and local companies. All but $15 million would be public money.

City officials released most of its initial bid to the Observer last summer, but withheld a portion known as the “pro forma” that projected the long-term expenses and operating budget for the hall.

Related documents, however, showed that the city would operate the hall and pay the bulk of construction costs, while NASCAR would get payments for the use of its name and merchandise.

Using the slogan “Racing was built here. Racing belongs here,” city leaders and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce launched a high-profile pitch to win the shrine. They touted the city's built-in fan base, financial plan and proximity to race teams. The city is home to 90 percent of NASCAR’s race teams.

Atlanta is largely seen as Charlotte’s biggest competitor, mainly because its regional population is more than triple that of Charlotte, its residents have more disposable income and it attracts more tourists. But Charlotte has a strong financial bid, with heavy backing from state legislators.

Critics say Charlotte is offering too much for an attraction that will mainly pay off for NASCAR.

A study by UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton estimated the hall would generate $62 million annually for the Mecklenburg economy and support 748 new tourism-related jobs.

Landing the hall also would bolster Charlotte's status as the center of the sport, and – officials hope – keep the annual all-star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.