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Charlotte Area News

CRVA Board Has New Focus; NASCAR Hall Of Fame Still Struggles

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After several months of damage control, members of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority board are moving ahead with the business of tourism marketing and promotion. At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the CRVA board made no direct mention of last week's decision to keep Executive Director Tim Newman on the job without a long-term employment contract. Newman has come under scrutiny for the CRVA's expense and bonus policy, as well as flagging numbers at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Numbers always feature prominently in CRVA board meetings. Hotel occupany, tax collections, conference bookings. . . but the most telling statistic came from the CRVA's head of media relations: her staff has spent one-third of its time since September doing crisis communication. CRVA expense and bonus policies have been under scrutiny. The NASCAR Hall of Fame has struggled to meet expectations. It's been a rough period for the CRVA board, acknowledged chairman Joe Hallow. "Sometimes you need a little bit of adversity in an organization to help redefine what you want to do the next three to five years and that's where we are," said Hallow. Next week the board's operational review committee will recommend changes to CRVA's discretionary spending and expense policy. Some of CRVA CEO Tim Newman's spending to entertain prospects, staff and government officials has drawn public criticism and the glare of increased city scrutiny. The CRVA is funded by hotel taxes and a $10 million allocation from the city budget. The city council has demanded signs of improvement by July 25 when it will vote on CRVA funding. Last week's decision not to renew Newman's three-year employment contract was part of the CRVA board's effort to address council concerns. Newman says he's fine with the change. "As a general rule everybody at the CRVA is an at-will employee, so I'm just like every other at-will employee at the CRVA ," said Newman after the board meeting. "I think from a public input perspective the sense has been 'Let's treat Tim like the city manager serving at-will at the pleasure of the board.' So I'm totally comfortable with that." Newman adds that he's honored to continue serving. He did not receive a raise from his $300,000 salary. Board chairman Joe Hallow says there is no plan to draw up a long-term employment contract for Newman once the city council's concerns about the CRVA have been addressed. NASCAR Hall of Fame Visits Down While the board works to clean up CRVA expense and bonus policies, Newman's ongoing challenge remains the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which the CRVA runs. The Hall of Fame had its highest attendance numbers of 2011 in May with more than 25,000 people, drawn by big races at the speedway and one-year anniversary celebrations for the hall. But visitors dropped off in June to just 17,600. That's one of the lower months since the hall opened a year ago and of particular concern because summer is big tourism season. Newman expects better numbers next month. "The summer promotions are underway now and we're gonna look forward to hopefully a good summer in terms of the attendance with the hall," says Newman, adding the main reason he's focused on the Hall of Fame is the role it plays in recruiting conventions to Charlotte. Hotel and motel taxes collected from convention goers provide a key source of funding for the hall of fame. Since the $200 million hall of fame opened last May, revenues and visitor numbers have been well below expectations. The facility had a $1.2 million deficit for the year, which the CRVA will repay with money from reserves. But Newman also says the NASCAR Hall of Fame and adjoining ballroom have helped attract millions of dollars in convention business that would not otherwise have come to Charlotte.