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E'town tourism commits $200,000 for Hall of Fame

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Also approves $30,000 for 9/11 exhibit at Patton Museum

By Marty Finley

The Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau opened its pocketbook Wednesday, removing $80,000 from reserves to help pay for two projects it believes will attract out-of-town visitors and beef up county tourism.

The bureau’s commission committed $200,000 to the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame for construction and operational expenses, $50,000 of which will be paid upfront from reserves.

The commission also approved a $30,000 grant toward construction of a 9/11 exhibit at the General George Patton Museum of Leadership, which will showcase Foam 161, a fire truck that was heavily damaged during the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

Hall of Fame. The money committed to the hall of fame will be paid in increments and carries a stipulation the facility must be in downtown Elizabethtown.

“I’m not a basketball fan,” said Tourism Commissioner Carl Swope in support of the funding. “I’m a downtown Elizabethtown fan.”

After an initial payment of $50,000, another $50,000 would be given within 18 months to assist with construction, which will be completed in phases. Once the hall is finished, the final $100,000 would be allocated toward a “quasi-endowment” created by the hall for operating expenses and to offset revenue shortfalls.

Mike Pollio, a former high school basketball coach who is leading fundraising efforts, said the hall is committed to assisting in redeveloping downtown.

Elizabethtown City Council authorized the hall to lease city-owned downtown property at 133 W. Dixie Ave. for a temporary facility. Pollio said the hall has not made any final decisions but may forgo a temporary facility to start working toward its permanent home.

While evaluating several downtown buildings, Pollio said one option is the former First Presbyterian Church property adjacent to City Hall. Pollio said the symbolism is fitting because the hall will be a cathedral for the sport.

“Basketball is like a religion in Kentucky,” he said.

Hall officials consulted an architect, who evaluated both buildings and was intrigued by the church. Pollio said he is not certain the property could be salvaged and told the commission significant renovations would be needed. Yet he sees potential with the ability to build out on an adjoining lot.

Organizers need $3 to $4 million for construction and another $500,000 for its reserve with annual expenses expected to fall around $85,000, Pollio said. The hall conservatively could generate $45,000 yearly in revenue through local events, building rentals and a modest admission charge, he said.

Pollio already has requested more than $1.1 million, including a $500,000 pitch to Russell Athletics. Pollio said money from ETCB sends a strong message to other potential donors about Elizabethtown’s commitment.

To ensure the hall attracts visitors, Pollio said the museum must invest in interactive exhibits and games for young people and develop new and diverse exhibits to keep the concept fresh.

“This will not be your father’s museum,” Pollio said. “Museums have changed completely. They are not static anymore.”

Hardin McLane, a former coach and local real estate agent, said the hall will tap into stories that make the game special because basketball is a touch point for entire communities who gathered in small gymnasiums several nights a week.

“It was a social gathering,” he said.

9/11 exhibit. The investment by tourism into the Patton Museum exhibit is 10 percent of the money needed for the interactive exhibit. Russ Gold, vice chairman of the Patton Museum Foundation, said about $16,000 has been raised to complete the blueprints.

“We have the skeleton,” Gold said. “We just need to put meat on it.”
The exhibit will be constructed as the money is raised, Gold said.

“What I really like about this is the communities are coming together” for a noble cause to honor first responders, he said.

Tourism officials said the exhibit is as viable as the hall of fame in promoting the area even if it is not in Elizabethtown. Swope said he could see it attracting more out-of-town visitors.

Capturing a professional re-creation of the Pentagon crash scene, the exhibit will be littered with rubble and a gash in the building visitors must pass through to see the damaged truck. A movie theater is under development inside the exhibit to display information about the attacks. Instead of theater seating, the screen would be placed inside a replica of a heavily damaged Pentagon office.

It is part of a larger overhaul of the museum that includes several interactive exhibits and the addition of digital elements with computer-generated input such as sound, video, graphics and GPS data.

Ultimately, Gold said, the goal is to mold the museum into a laboratory for leadership revered throughout the country.

A series of events promoting the truck are scheduled next week as three firefighters who responded to the attack arrive in Hardin County to take part in several events, including a parade down U.S. 31W through Elizabethtown and Radcliff and a Patriot Day ceremony at Fort Knox.

Tourism officials said both projects are well organized and worthy of the support given. As for the hit to reserves, Elizabethtown Councilman Marty Fulkerson, tourism liaison, said he has no worries.

“We will make that back quickly through people eating in this town,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.