The National Corvette Museum (NCM) opened on September 2, 1994, originally occupying 63,000 square feet. The highlight of the new building was the dramatic yellow Skydome that was clearly visible from nearby Interstate 65. In 2009, an expansion increased the museum’s size to 110,000 square feet. During the last 20 years, thousands of visitors have wandered under the Skydome to inspect the historically significant Corvettes on display. That ended on February 12, 2014 at 5:39 a.m., when the museum’s security system alerted NCM employee Betty Hardison of an event inside the building. When the staff arrived, the building was filled with smoke. They called the fire department who quickly located the source. It was a 40-foot-wide hole in the Skydome floor! Deep within the hole a ZR1 was discovered sitting on top of a pile of rocks and debris. Other Corvettes could also be seen. In total, eight Corvettes fell into the abyss.
Museum Executive Director Wendell Strode quickly arrived to assess the situation. When he discovered what had happened he turned to social media to inform the Corvette community. This spread the word and the news soon made the national headlines. Security footage of the collapse was shown around the world and media crews arrived to cover this milestone event. Wendell notified Scott, Murphy & Daniel Construction Company and Chubb Insurance to brief them on the incident. A news conference was held that afternoon to explain what happened. Two notable decisions were announced, Scott, Murphy & Daniel Construction was to oversee the repairs and GM would oversee the restoration of the Corvettes when they were removed. The first priority was to determine if the building was safe. Geologists inspected the entire museum and determined there were no other hidden voids underneath the floor. The other Corvettes that remained in the Skydome were removed so the building inspections and repairs could begin. Micropilings were installed around the outside perimeter of the Skydome to secure the structure. In addition, five micropilings that are at least 100-feet deep were added around the undamaged floor area of the sphere.
Once the building was deemed safe for the workers, heavy equipment was brought in to begin removing the Corvettes. On March 3, the ZR1 was the first to see daylight. Amazingly, it actually started and was driven out of the building! This was the only driveable Corvette that was retrieved. The damage worsened as the construction crew dug deeper. The Mallett Z06 was the last car to be removed, on April 9th, and it was completely destroyed. All eight were moved to the museum’s main exhibit hall and put on display. After the damaged Corvettes were inspected, Monte Doran, Corvette communications manager said, “GM’s goal is sensitive restoration to determine if they want us to restore all of the cars.” Monte will take part in the meetings with museum officials to make the correct restoration decisions on each car. Here is a summary of their inspection:
- 1962 Tuxedo Black Corvette Convertible
- 2009 Jetstream Blue ZR1 Prototype (GM-owned)
- 1984 PPG custom pace car
- 1992 Arctic White 1 Millionth convertible
- 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary coupe
- 2009 Arctic White 1.5 Millionth convertible
- 1993 ZR-1 Prototype Spyder (GM-owned)
- 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06
On a positive note, museum spokeswomen Katie Frassinelli reports that nobody was injured and the sinkhole exhibits are popular. Attendance was up 50 percent in March and continues to be strong while the museum donations continue to increase. As construction continues, museum officials have not yet decided on how to deal with the sinkhole in the future. Opinions differ. Some think the hole should be filled in while others want to secure it and build stairs for visitors to walk down into it. One board member, artist Dana Forrester, would like to build a bridge over the hole so visitors can safely inspect it. “It is now part of our museum’s history. Millions of people in the Corvette culture have pulled together over this. Now, more people outside the community are discovering how special this culture really is.” As this story continues to evolve, Team VETTE will bring you updates on the museum’s progress. The National Corvette Museum is an important treasure that needs to be correctly restored so future visitors can continue to explore our rich Corvette history.