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Virginia Sports Hall of Fame honors the past with an eye on the future

(The story printed below contains a correction of an error that appears in the video version above. The new information is in bold and marked with an *. We regret any misunderstanding. = LC)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame first opened it's doors back in 1972, and in 2005 it opened a brand new $12 million facility in Portsmouth.

But a lack of traffic through it's front doors and a lack of supportive funds led the board of the Hall to make a radical decision. They shut down their building last summer which left critics and fans alike worrying about it's future.

"The headline was, 'The museum closes.'" said Will Driscoll, the Hall's Director of Sales and Marketing.

"They didn't read the story."

"The first time they hear it, they say 'Oh', disappointment that the museum is closing. But when they hear the ideas and that we're looking to innovate and be different than our contemporaries and colleagues across the country, there's some excitement," Driscoll said.

That excitement comes from a new model for the Hall, one they hope will generate more interest in their mission and what they have to offer. Over 15 million people each year pass through neighboring Virginia Beach, making it one of the biggest tourist destinations on the East Coast. With real estate as well as business, location is the most important thing.

"We're trying a new innovative approach to go to where the people are as opposed to always trying to draw people in to us," Driscoll explained.

The Hall has set up displays throughout the Virginia Beach Town Center, and they call it the Walk the Hall tour. Fans can go at their own pace and at their own time to see exhibits that honor the current class of inductees, those honored from the coaching rankd, those who have been enshrined in their national halls of fame, and an exhibit honoring Virginia's colleges and Universities.

While the Hall no longer has the 32,000 square feet of showcase space that their old building provided. These displays will be changed out every 3-4 months keeping the exhibits new.

"The early number are really good," said Executive Director Eddie Webb. "Moving forward, I think that by changing out the exhibits on a quarterly basis will only encourage people to come back."

*Other exhibits have been placed at 4 recreation centers run by the Virginia Beach Parks and Rec department. Those facilities have had 350,000 people check in just since the beginning of the year, helping to raise the overall awareness of the project. 

All this has helped cut out several hundred thousand dollars each year out of the Hall's operating budget. This idea is also generating a lot of interest from other state halls and museums who may fall under the same monetary concerns.

"This could be a blueprint for a lot of Halls of Fame moving forward," Driscoll said.

"I think this is something you're going to see museums across the country move in this direction," Webb added.

The alternative is to become a Hall in name and spirit only. Not every state has a museum to honor their legends, but the board of the Virginia Hall believes it's important to honor those that call the commonwealth home.

"I think every state should have a sports hall of fame," said 2005 inductee and former Virginia Tech and NFL standout Bruce Smith. "It highlights every significant player that has made their mark on sports, and that's history."

"That's something you can be proud about."

"The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame is not a building," Webb said.  "Its all about the inductees and honoring the great athletes from the state of Virginia."

Hall officials are hoping to bring more exhibits to other parts of the state. For example: honoring Richmond inductees in the RVA and doing similar exhibits in places like Roanoke, Blacksburg and Northern Virginia.

For more information on the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and the Walk The Hall tour, visit http://www.vasportshof.com.

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